By Tanya Dennis
In April 2020, Oakland Black nonprofits and physicians formed a collaborative organization titled Oakland Frontline Healers (OFH) to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its adverse effects on the Black community. Oakland’s frontline healers raced to the problem, providing PPE, testing, vaccines and services. Committed to providing the best knowledge and service, OFH member Umoja Health has stopped giving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine due to lack of effectiveness after 60 days.
“We are staunchly black in everything we do,” says Daryle Allums, founder of OFH. “We are from the neighborhood and for the neighborhood, committed to healing our people during times of stress and hardship.”
As Oakland Frontline Healer members distributed food, housing vouchers, COVID-19 home testing kits and other life essentials, reports of escalating violence and episodes mental health led members to assess their next frontline mission. Black sanity has won a landslide victory.
“We have young people here who are going wild, and we can’t let the police be the only solution,” Allums says, adding that “we are also tackling the violence. Soon, Oakland will see more Adamika Village and the believable messengers of Men of Influence patrolling the plains.
OFH members have met with the Bay Area Association of Black Psychologists and, with the help of Dr. Noha Aboelata of ROOTS, are creating holistic approaches to bringing strong, ethnically sensitive mental health services with rapid response. As usual, securing funding is hurdle number one, number two is finding enough qualified practitioners. Dr. Aboelata said “developing a training curriculum for more black service providers is something we need to consider.”
OFH hopes to establish two African American healing centers, in West and East Oakland. They are also working on a larger center that will take years due to its complexity and scope, run by the Association of Black Psychologists. The Black Mental Health Coalition project will meet the needs of people who are off the radar in Alameda County.
“Currently, the only place the county offers mental assessments is Santa Rita Jail, and to be seen by a therapist, your illness must be severe. This profile misses 75% of black people who may need help with their stress or their crisis. Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome is real and COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem,” says OFH Senior Facilitator Tanya Dennis.
“There are few places black people can go when they are in crisis, and the services available are difficult to access. In a crisis, people have to trust the person offering help, and in the black community, it’s usually someone who doesn’t look like them. Despite the best intentions, not everyone can relate to our experience with America,” says Dr. Tony Jackson of Pranamind and president of the Bay Area Association of Black Psychologists.
“There is unspent money at the state and county level, and federal money is available as well,” says Dennis. “We approach these organizations for funding, but our first step is to get community support. Black people can do that by telling us what they need.
Dennis asks the public to go to the OFH website and fill out their Black Mind survey, so leaders know what authentic and relevant service looks like. When the coalition presents itself to the county, state and federal government, the collective black voice must be heard. United, African Americans can get what has been denied them for so long, culturally sensitive and restorative mental health care.
Visit Oaklandfrontlinehealers.org to complete the survey and have the opportunity to tell your story.
Interview with Karyn Tribble, Alameda County Behavioral Health and Dr. Noha Aboelata