MONTCLAIR, NJ - Teachers Undoing Racism Now (TURN) concluded a week-long series with a focus on the "Voices of Black Woman" with four very articulate and knowledgeable women stepping to the podium of Montclair High Schools LGI room to share their work, stories and testimonies with the Montclair community and school district.

Moderating the program Joanne Childs-Ash introduced the speakers who offered a look into the realities of life, their lives in particular, as woman of color from the past, present and giving hope towards the future.

Laverne S. Williams (CSW Director of PEWS) discussed the misconceptions and facts dealing with mental illness and mental wellness in the African-American community. Using video and personal testimony, Williams talked about the stigma attached to mental illness and the denial in the black community of dealing with the issue beyond keeping it within the family when seeking professional help.

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Williams asked, "What is mental Illness?

Responses from the audience varied as they called out. She added, "In our community we call people with mental illness crazy."

"People of color didn't suffer from mental illness, they were [considered] slow," she stated.

As she wrapped up her segment, Williams encouraged all in the audience to seek help if needed in order to achieve a mental wellness state of mind. 

Temeka Stafford (Educator), spoke next with a stunning opening, saying, "Hi, my Name is Tameka Strafford and im an alcoholic."

She shared her story of denial, accepting her illness and how she sought recovery. Despite her family not wanting her struggle to become public, Stafford felt strongly in doing so. She trusted that the speaking engagements will help her story to be impactful to others who are in a dependency state.

Organizer Rodney Jackson spoke saying, "It took courage, guts and strength for her to get on stage and speak her truth."  

Upon finishing, Stafford received a standing ovation.

Stepping to the podium next was Kellia Sweatt, Provisional President of the National Independent Black Parent Association. She spoke of concerning issues important to black women as mothers, daughters, sisters and wives marching alongside of her mate or trying to make it on her own.  She delivered words of wisdom to the up and  coming young women in the audience encouraging them to find their strength and voice.

Closing out the panel, Montclair High School senior Olivia Chipepo shared a written piece encouraging her peers to use their VOICES in making change. The piece reassured that black women will continue to be survivors and warriors throughout the 21st century.


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