CANTON – The Rev. Sherman Martin Jr. knows what it’s like when unspeakable tragedy strikes a family.
On Aug. 7, 2014, Martin’s toddler grandson died of undermined causes. Hours later, his daughter Kayelisa, 20, stepped in front of a moving truck on Interstate 77 in Summit County.
After Ronda Hawkins lost her only son to murder, she left Akron and moved to Canton, where she joined Martin’s church.
Her sister LaTrice Snodgrass recently shared how the shock of losing three family members in close succession nearly left her unable to work.
Because grief, depression, and anxiety can adversely impact and upend a person’s life, they have organized a free Health & Wellness Symposium from 10 am to 2 pm Saturday at Union Baptist Church at 415 Cornelia Ave. NE, with an emphasis on mental health.
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The event will include a panel discussion; local vendors; community service organizations such as the Greater Stark County Urban League, Akron Children’s Hospital, Stark and Canton City health departments, and Stark County Community Action Agency; and health insurance information for people 65 and older.
The Stark County Black Nurses Association and Beacon Pharmacy will offer Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines and booster shots for adults and children.
‘Peace is so important.’
Scheduled panelists include Hawkins, holistic health expert Courtney TK Chester, and nurse practitioner Latoya Dickens Jones of Massillon.
“From Union’s point of view, health and wellness, with that mental health piece, is so important,” Martin said. “Peace is so important, and so we want to have a space where people can come and know there’s help out there in those areas of mental health. And I think the more symposiums and gatherings you have, people become more comfortable with sharing their challenges .
“The Bible says a lot about mental health,” Martin said citing several scriptures including Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”
He said offering help is important because mental health is an issue that impacts families who often aren’t always sure where to go for help. He stressed that it’s a myth that Black people don’t commit suicide, adding that shame often keeps loved ones from acknowledging it.
“We probably haven’t talked about it enough,” he said. “My daughter died from suicide; she had a breakdown. It was a chain of events. Her anniversary and my grandson’s anniversary is Aug. 7. It wasn’t just the breakdown on Aug. 7, but it was a chain of events of things that occurred that weakened her mentally.
“I think with the younger generation, when it comes to dating, you’re seeing a lot of mental stress and breakdowns. … I just think with my daughter, she got into a very stressful relationship.”
Martin noted that his family’s grievance and mental stress was exacerbated by what he said were inaccurate media reports that were based on inadequate police investigations.
“I did my own investigation,” Martin said. “I told them I needed to get some truth, not just because I was a grieving father, which I was, but because this means a lot to my wife, my children, and my family. The good Lord gave me the information I needed , and I was OK with it.”
‘We have to take the delivery of health care outside of the four walls of the hospital.’
Snodgrass is owner of the Equity House Consulting, which is cosponsoring the event, and author of the book, “Justice for the Health of it,” which examines health disparities in Black and brown communities. She said the idea for the symposium came from a conversation she had with her friend, Shermell Martin, whose company Coco’s Oils and Creams is a cosponsor.
“Being a health care professional for 25 years, what I’ve noticed is that we have to take the delivery of health care outside of the four walls of the hospital,” Snodgrass said. “In order to change the delivery of care, we’ve got to come to the people.”
Snodgrass said some of the resistance in seeking mental health treatment is because it’s viewed as “one more thing” minorities have to endure. COVID-19 killed a disproportionate percentage of Blacks, who already have higher infant mortality, diabetes and breast cancer rates.
Enlisting the help of pastors, she added, makes sense because they are still considered trusted leaders in the Black community.
“So, we have to begin to bring the faith-based community into these health and wellness discussions, mental health and physical health,” she said.
‘Faith without works is dead.’
Snodgrass said that too often, people feel that if they seek help outside of their church, their faith has faltered.
“Take it to the Lord, but also go and talk to somebody,” she said. “Faith without works is dead. I speak from personal experience.”
Snodgrass said when her dad died in 2015, her grandmother died a year later, followed in two weeks by an uncle.
“I spiraled into a space of severe depression and anxiety, but I didn’t tell anybody, OK?” she said. “I just suffered in silence, and it was bad, and I did that for almost a year because I said ‘I ain’t going to no doctor’ because they’re not putting anything on my (work) record.”
Snodgrass said she finally felt compelled by God to seek help, which she did.
“So, I think we have to start talking to people about these things so they can be comfortable enough to get help,” she said.
‘I feel grievance is different for everyone.’
Hawkins, whose son was killed the same month that Martin lost his daughter and grandson, is using his experience to help others. Upon joining Union Baptist in 2015, Hawkins met her husband and organized the church’s grievance ministry.
“I feel grievance is different for everyone,” she said. “I feel like the Lord sent me here because of the pastor’s and first lady’s experience with losing their daughter the same month my son was killed. I shared hands with him because I believe the Lord gave me a grievance ministry prior to my son’s murder. “
At her lowest point, Hawkins said she was unable to organize her son’s funeral, and was only able to do it with God’s help and consistent support from close friends.
But she also got professional help.
Hawkins said adults and children alike have experienced grief and stress from the pandemic, school shootings, and other crises, but they don’t always express it, adding that her surviving daughters hid their grievance.
“We just don’t want you to come to church,” Hawkins said. “We do want you to come to church, but we want to provide resources to help you get not only spiritually whole, but also emotionally mentally and physically whole.”
The church has hosted previous minority health fairs in partnership with the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
“Churches are a resource and not just for Sundays; not just for spirituality,” Snodgrass said. “We’re just trying to have a full-circle approach to health care and wellness.”
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP
If you go
What: Health & Wellness Symposium for minorities, with emphasis on mental health. It will feature a panel discussion; local vendors; community service organizations; COVID vaccines; and health insurance information for people 65 and older.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Union Baptist Church at 415 Cornelia Ave. NE, Guangzhou
More details: 330-454-7450 or https://ubc-canton.org