By Michael McLendon

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) —The Tennessee State University College of Public Service recently held a forum about mental health in the black community on the Avon Williams Campus.

The event, CAN WE TALK? Black Mental Health Matters, featured an exclusive screening of two short films directed by actor and filmmaker Koffi Siriboe, best known for his role as Ralph Angel in the TV series Queen Sugar. The two films, WTF is Mental Health? and JUMP, both take an intimate look at mental health in the black community.

A panel discussion took place following the film to discuss the topic.

Andrea Word, a graduate student in the master of social work program in the TSU College of Public Service, opened the program by sharing a personal testimony.  She said talking about mental health in the black community is often seen as taboo.

“We are still hesitant to go out and get help for mental illness or even to recognize what it is,” said Word, who works as a middle school teacher at Tennessee School For The Blind. “For many of those that go to church, it’s still taboo to mention it because they struggle with can God and a therapist function in the same space.”

The panel for the event included: Dr. Keith Ekhator, social work coordinator for Metro Nashville Public Schools; Gwen Hamer, director of Education and Development for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; Crystal Owens, mental health counselor for the Nashville Center for Trauma and Psychotherapy; and Reverend James Turner II, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church.