Mental Health Matters
During May-August of 2017, I was the assistant farm manager at Flanner House Community Center. My role was to execute daily tasks on the farm, and co-manage the FEED (farming, employment, education, distribution) program for young adults facing barriers. I started working at Flanner House in the second week of the FEED program, after most of the FEED interns developed rapport with my former boss. One intern in particular, whom we will call Darrin, was close to my former boss and had been attending Flanner House programs since preschool. He lived right across the street in a little blue house, so Flanner House was truly his stomping grounds. Darrin and I had trouble seeing eye-to-eye. He didn’t understand why I was allowed to, in his words, “boss him around” when I had only been working there two weeks into the programs initiation. Taking his perspective into consideration, I completely understood the disposition he had with me being regarded as an authority figure. I then decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest if my former boss, whomst had an already established bond, handle all interactions with him.
About a month later, Darrin became physically aggressive toward his coworkers. He attempted to run a coworker over with his truck and went home early without permission. I knew something was wrong. I fired him after he threatened to fight me.
Fast forward two years later-- I am the farm and FEED program manager. I am standing in our 0.5 acre flower garden, pruning dead roses on a semi-cold day. Darrin walks out of his little blue house across the street, and says, “Hey Sierra! How have you been?” I am surprised to see his physical state. His hair is matted, teeth chipped-- a few of them completely gone, eyes rapid. “What have you been up to? Are you working,” I said in a sad tone. “No, I can’t find a job around here that will take me in, will you let me work here?” I was heartbroken, he didn’t even look like the same person. He spoke nonsensically and fast. I let him know that he is not legally allowed to be in the FEED program because he was over the age of 24. I still didn’t know how I could help him.
In February of 2019, his little blue house was boarded up and Darrin’s entire family was kicked out by the board of health. His family hadn’t paid bills for nearly a year; the lights and water had been shut off, so they were essentially squatting in a house they once owned. No one knows why that happened. After his housing incident, Darrin became a daily customer of Flanner Houses’ Community Food Box. Three years ago I started the Community Food Box Project-- which upcycles old newspaper boxes into small pantries for people to take food when they need. He stopped at the food box multiple times per day. In fact, Flanner Houses Executive Director, Brandon Cosby, purchased Hardee’s sandwiches daily and placed them in the box for him.
The last time I heard from Darrin was in early April of this year. He walked over and picked up some items from the food box and spoke to a few of the current FEED interns. The interns came inside and told me about the situation, and told me that he wasn’t able to articulate sentences. Darrin died a week later due to a face-down seizure.
After his death, I found out that he was living in the little blue house alone with little to no care from family. Unfortunately, it took a person’s death for me to take time to do research on mental health crises in black communities. I was unaware of how severe the problem is. Calling the police to perform an assessment on a black individual during a mental health crisis can have a completely different outcome than calling the police to perform an assessment on a white person in crisis. There simply aren’t as many resources or educational tools surrounding mental health in the black community, and unfortunately, the police won’t help in most cases. That does not mean there is no hope. There are resources out there-- many of us just don’t know about them. Photograph #3 in the article shows a list of emergency and non-emergency numbers for individuals going through a mental health crisis. If you or anyone you know shows signs of a mental health crisis listed in photograph #2, please call one of the numbers listed in photograph #3. Mentors, counselors and financial advisors at these facilities will walk you through the steps necessary to help you or the person you know get well.
I have set up two mental-health-themed Community Food Boxes. One is located at Flanner house-- 2424 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St., and the other at Under The Sun-- 38th st. and Illinois. Mental health resources are painted on the outside of these boxes, and there are pamphlets inside listing names, numbers, and addresses of nearby mental health centers. Please go visit these boxes and donate food for nearby residents and show support of our mental health awareness project. Also, be on the lookout for a mental health center opening in the next year at Flanner House Community Center.