Psychologist BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya promotes culturally based healing
By Dwight Hobbes
Calling psychologist Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya prominent understates the case. Her name, starting with the title denoting her Ph.D., is followed by a small alphabet. As well, among her vast accomplishments, she founded and is executive director of African American Child Wellness Institute, a children’s mental health agency dedicated to the research, delivery and coordination of comprehensive wellness strategies for children of African descent.
Garrett-Akinsanya also serves as the president of Brakins Consulting and Psychological Services, which has the mission of “providing excellent, culturally competent mental health and consultation services that meet the needs of children, adults, families and organizations.”
She certainly is qualified to comment on the importance of Black women making a difference in today’s society. “Women have been oppressed and, of all people, when women got the vote, Black women didn’t. So, our empowerment and sense of agency, especially in this country, is really behind that of all groups.
“Even within our group, we’re often discriminated [against] by gender because of male preference. Even Black men have more privilege. We have a lot stacked up against us. [But] we are the stuff.” Not exactly a clinical term, but it states the case. What she casually calls, with her bent for being off-the-cuff, a Dr. B-ism.
She agrees with the sentiment that it’s vital for women to make difference, if for no other reason than the fact that they can. It doesn’t make sense for them not be allowed to. In fact, when women are obstructed from changing how things are done, when they can’t contribute from the vantage point of women’s sensibilities, they aren’t the only ones who lose. Men, by denying women, shortchange themselves and don’t realize it.
“That’s right. To be so resilient and so nurturing and so successful, we’re all that.” Another not-quite-clinical reference. For all the difference Garrett-Akinsanya in fact makes, for all she has done professionally — with a curricula vitae of some 17 pages — informality is Dr. B’s style.
It is refreshing to enjoy someone to whom prestigious standing does not mean being self-important to the point of terminal stuffiness. After all, a mere partial listing of her credits includes president of the Minnesota Psychological Association, which under her leadership garnered the American Psychological Association’s Diversity Leadership Award and the first board-certified psychologist in Minnesota to be named a Fellow/Diplomat in African Centered/Black Psychology by the National Association of Black Psychologists.
She’s also published, among other titles, “Stress Management” in The Women’s Handbook on Mental Health (Beacon Press), “The Sociocultural Abuse of Power” in The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination (Praeger Press, Inc.), and “Making Spaces for Ourselves” in Women and Leadership: Transforming Visions and Diverse Voices (Blackwell Publishing).
She’s most proud of her innovative work with two Afrocentric parenting programs: Murua Moms: A Pre-Meditated Motherhood Bootcamp, a Prenatal Program for Pregnant and Parenting Women of African Descent, and Project Murua: A Pre-Meditated Parenting Boot Camp. Her Murua model is renowned in the Twin Cities and nationally as a means of violence reduction and wellness promotion among African American low-income, homeless families with female heads of households. Indeed, quite a difference to make.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a psychologist since I was 10,” she cheerfully imparts. “I didn’t actually know what [it was], except I saw one on TV. And I never saw a Black psychologist until I was almost 30.”
The television shrink made a profound impression, moving Garrett-Akinsanya to follow what would become a lifelong path. “She helped this boy who had autism to speak in 30 minutes. I really like the fact that she was able to impact a person’s life by having a set of skills and knowledge and compassion that help people find their way.” It sparked what Dr. B notes as “burning desire and calling in my spirit. I kept pursuing it and didn’t stop.”
She points out, with passion, that sitting there, watching the small screen, her epiphany didn’t occur in a vacuum. “My dad, the son of a freed slave, told [his children about] the importance of an education. He was a very smart man. He said he loved learning so much that he married himself a teacher. My mom taught school for 44 years.”
She grew up in a family where learning was important. “Where,” Dr. B says, “respect for all people of all races of all socio-economic status, that was something my parents honored. I just thought I could cross all those boundaries to help people.”
Dad didn’t get to see his daughter go on to glorious achievements. In a cruelest irony, he sat with her, delighting as she modeled her cap and gown the night before her graduation from Texas Tech University. When she came home from the ceremony, he’d passed away from a heart attack.
“I promised him,” she recalls, “that I would go all the way.” She has, to state the obvious, done that and then some with her three decades-plus career.
Garrett-Akinsanya, in her off hours, enjoys racquetball, writing (she is working on a book), African cooking and traveling. She lives in Minnesota with — sorry, fellas — her husband of twenty-three years, Akinyele Akinsanya.
Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, it can’t be questioned, makes the kind of difference that needs to be made.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.