By Karen Stokes
The inaugural luncheon for the Mary Ellen Strong Foundation (MESF) honoring Milwaukee’s African American Psychotherapists unfolded Saturday afternoon at the Holiday Inn Milwaukee Riverfront. The event celebrated members of the mental health profession and student scholarship recipients.
“We are focusing our efforts at this time on the African American community in general and specifically Milwaukee due to the documented mental health disparities in this community,” said Dr. Stacey Jones, MESF Director.
Hosting the event was WNOV’s on-air personality Michelle Bryant. Carolyn Wright, Co-chair MESF Board of Directors, shared stories about her mother Mary Ellen Strong, whom the foundation is named after, and her service to mankind. Wright talked about going with her mother during Easter collecting toys, candies and gifts for creating baskets to distribute to those in need.
“I learned to be a help to other people. If I can help somebody, that is what I live by, that is what I was taught,” said Wright.
Over lunch, attendees heard remarks from Dr. Ramel Smith, and Dr. Earl Bracy, Licensed Psychologist and the recipient of the MESF 2018 Service Award.
Smith when introducing Dr. Bracy described him as “a brother that changes lives”.
Bracy, a native of Alabama moved to Oak Creek, Wisconsin when he was 12. In Alabama he lived in a racially segregated environment having to endure separate water fountains and separate public facilities.
He talked about how he couldn’t frequent public swimming pools or tennis courts and segregationist, George Wallace was governor.
Growing up in Milwaukee in the 60s, Bracy noticed differences from Alabama that one wouldn’t expect in the north.
“First time I ever saw a KKK member was in Wauwatosa, never in Alabama,” said Bracy. He discussed how people wave and smile in Alabama at people they meet in the street just being friendly. This doesn’t happen in Milwaukee.
“People are just not smiling,” Bracy said. “We have a big job trying to work with this persuasive anger we seem to see.
Bracy continued by telling the audience primarily of psychotherapists “Remain humble to the gifts that we have, they are gifts, they come from God.”
MESF grants two scholarships to students pursuing their Master’s of Social Work degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee every other year.
“These initial scholarships provided were secured from a partnership that we have with a national scholarship fund. All the money they provided goes directly toward the tuition costs for the two students awarded. This event was not a fundraiser, but a vehicle for us to introduce our organization and the Professional Development Program to Milwaukee. Our future events will be targeted towards raising money. We are also looking for sponsors and partners to help us with our ongoing efforts,” said Jones.
Shyterria Sparkman and Kentrell Washington both 2016 graduates of the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater were the recipients of the MESF 2018 scholarships.
“Our hope is that the Professional Development Program will continue to expand, offering more scholarships, continuing to provide support, mentorship and guidance to help grow the community of Black licensed psychotherapists in Milwaukee,” Jones said. “Down the road we would like to expand the program to other cities and partner with other underserved communities. We also strive to continue to improve our website and use it as a portal to provide education, resources and to connect with mental health students and providers.”