Healing diverse communities of their traumas — upcoming summit takes new approach

Photo by Shalom Mwenesi on Unsplash

“A big part of leading people to move towards responsiveness is changing the way that we talk about mental health,” says Tyler Reitzner, consultant for the Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health Programs (MACMHP). He is the lead organizer, along with the Great Lakes Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network (MHTTCN), of the Culturally Responsive Mental Health Summit coming up on Oct. 11. 

According to Reitzner, the goal of the summit is to give the community the resources needed “to be trauma-responsive and not just trauma-informed.”

This year organizers expect a mix of mental health and social service professionals as well as students to attend the summit. Students can receive up to eight continuing education (CE) credits for being in attendance. 

Treatment for everyone

Organizers also hope to see a turnout from community members who want to learn more about mental health—“anyone who is interested in talking about and learning about what culturally responsive mental health means,” says Reitzner. “The truth of the matter is, everyone has mental health, just like we all have [physical] health.”  

Maisha Giles
Submitted photo Maisha Giles, behavioral health director for the MN Department of Human Services will be a speaker at the summit.

It is especially important that community members take advantage of this opportunity to learn specifically about mental health issues that emerge from adverse ecosystems that are prevalent in black communities, says Reitzner.

“Adversity that children face in the household as they’re growing up affects their health. It’s much more of an ecosystem of adversity, poverty, race, sexual identity. Any time someone is marginalized in any way, that is trauma,” he says.

Reitzner’s background of adverse childhood experiences and developmental trauma has drawn him closely to the work that he does today. Still, Reitzner admits, “I struggled with this because I’m the straight white guy trying to organize things.”

While he identifies as white, Reitzner is married to an African American woman and together they have a biracial child. “I want better for my son and my wife,” he says. 

Because of his own background as it relates to mental health, Reitzner has used his experiences as an opportunity to educate himself, not only on the causes of mental health problems, but also on how to effectively heal. He believes that the intersections of race and shared experiences are vital to this process. 

Reitzner has recently partnered with well-known activist and healer Resmaa Menakem, author of “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racial Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies,” to create dialogue around healing within diverse communities.

Reitzner and Menakem’s recently launched podcast, The Chromatic Elephant, encourages listeners to find strength in holistic and resilient healing. “It’s not about a black guy and a white guy talking about race. But we’re trying to literally work through real stuff in real-time and apply what we know about trauma to how each of our respective communities heal,” says Rietzner.

Sam Simmons
MSR file photo Behavioral consultant Sam Simmons will be a featured speaker at the summit.

Featured speakers at the Culturally Responsive Mental Health Summit include Sam Simmons, a behavioral consultant with over 21 years of experience working in trauma responsiveness, especially as it relates to black men and their families. Also participating is Dr. Bravada Garrett-Akinsanya, clinical psychologist; Maisha Giles, behavioral health director for the MN Department of Human Services; Johara Suleiman, advocate for at-risk youth and families; Jose R. Picon, licensed alcohol and drug counselor for the Minnesota Board of Behavioral Health and Therapy; and Vayong Moua, health equity advocacy director for Blue Cross.

“We want to maintain good, solid mental health,” says Reitzner. “We want to move the conversation to how it relates to all of us.”

The Culturally Responsive Mental Health Summit takes place Oct. 11 at Minneapolis College from 8 am to 5 pm. Tickets range from $10 to $25. This event is sponsored by the Great Lakes MTTC in partnership with The Community Healing Collaborative that includes MACMHP and the Minneapolis College and Catalyst Initiative. Register at www.eventbrite.com.