By Rhea Riley
Last week marked National Mental Health Awareness Week in the U.S., and to address the importance of mental health services, radio host Faithe Colas invited local psycho therapist Alfonzo Watkins to discuss mental health within the black community on There is Always Something Good to Talk About.
“In order to heal, you have to address how you’ve been wounded,” said Watkins.
A proclaimed student of black psychology and reality, Watkins therapeutic approach is based on an Afrocentric cultural frame of reference. His therapeutic practices stem from the psychological understanding of Dual Consciousness, a term introduced by W.E.B Du Bois that relates to an internal struggle of being conscious of both the color of their skin while in a racist society.
“Individuals of African descent are being forced to think and act like Europeans and that is where many of us struggle with that,” Watkins said about dual consciousness. “There is a constant duality with being red black and green in the inside, and then having to deal with the red white and blue on the outside,” said Watkins.
Watkins—a Milwaukee native—received his master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). Watkins has since worked within the Milwaukee County for the last 25 years—his work includes services for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the Bureau of Child Welfare, the Department for Juvenile Corrections, Head Start, and a psychiatric crisis worker.
He also provides mental health services for individual groups and families with an emphasis on the behavior of youth and their mental status. Watkins currently works as a substitute teacher to further understand the socialization and self-destructive behaviors within black children.
“Our children don’t have the necessary coping mechanisms or survival skills to deal with how they are being socialized,” said Watkins.
Watkins and Colas attributed a lack of access to ancestral knowledge and black culture as a stimulant for the negative behavior seen in youths.
“Many of us struggle with our self-image based on how we have been portrayed here in America,” said Watkins. “A lot of times we don’t get to see the images of our ancestors in their contributions, not only to America but to the planet.”
Watkins stated that introducing curriculum based on African culture is important to understanding and correcting this negative behavior.
“We have to understand that something has happened over time where we are not investing in ourselves and our children the way we need to,” said Watkins. “At the end of the day, we are just destroying children by not creating environments where they can have conversations.”
According to Watkins, correcting this behavior also begins at home. Colas and Watkins suggested incorporating reading into the daily routine to enhance the vocabulary of youths so that they can better articulate how they feel. They also discussed creating positive environments. According to Watkins, “cussing out” one’s child is a form of psychological abuse, which later manifests into behavior acted out in school. Instead, Watkins urged correcting a child when they behave inappropriately and encourage positive communication and conversation.
“The positive about this is that we have resources,” said Colas about the various mental health resources in the area. “There are professionals such as yourself who are committed to culturally providing therapy and counseling and psycho-therapy to all of us.”
Watkins is one of a variety of local providers who specialize in different treatments and services to help with mental health.
Another local service is the Mary Ellen Strong foundation, where they have a list of accessible health care providers. The new foundation was established this April. Their mission is to promote mental health in underserved communities. The foundation provides scholarships, professional growth and aid to developers in the health field, particularly those within the black community.
To visit and set up an appointment with one of their providers go to: https://maryellenstrongfoundation.org