As part of the Mental Health Council’s C.A.K.E. initiative, we have called upon our community to demonstrate Compassion, Acceptance, Kindness, and Empathy -- four “ingredients” that are the building blocks of a stigma-free community. 

Empathy is the icing on the cake that fully ties the initiative together.

In light of recent events, the importance of the Westfield Mental Health’s efforts has been even further reinforced.  Our anti-stigma efforts in Westfield are essential.  In the midst of the pandemic, we have witnessed our community doubling up on its delivery of compassion, acceptance, and kindness. We have also seen empathy as we all share in the grief and pain of those who succumbed to the virus.  The sadness, pain and suffering are palpable.  We needed no other crisis to emerge to help us in our mission to illustrate CAKE to the community.  However, the death of George Floyd and the protests that have erupted have challenged us with a renewed opportunity to learn how to strengthen our empathy for all members of our community.  We must step up to this challenge.

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Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another person.” 

Our capacity to imagine “walking in someone else’s shoes”, to accept, with kindness and compassion, the struggles we cannot imagine experiencing ourselves, is to be EMPATHIC.  To march in non-violent protest for the lives lost to police brutality and try to imagine what it might be like to have a family member extinguished without cause -- that is empathy. To say their names, to try to feel what it was like to be them -- that is empathy.  We, as a community, need to allow ourselves to use the art of empathy as a pathway to change. 

Let us go to the side of our minority community and join them in their efforts to address the centuries of systemic racism that have led to the death of George Floyd and so many others.  Let us demonstrate true empathy by reaching out, marching, demonstrating and learning how CAKE can lead us.  Let us seek first to understand; and then, be understood.  Let us learn how to address the pervasive evils that plague us and affect all corners of our diverse town. And, let us stand in their shoes and make a choice to de-stigmatize, and to normalize our relationships with all our neighbors, no matter what age, color, size, religion, nationality, or gender.

There are many in our community in great need of care, support, and hope.  Let us offer CAKE to those struggling.  We, as a community, can make a difference. 

You can find more information on the CAKE initiative as well as additional mental health resources at www.westfieldnj.gov/mentalhealth. Lastly, please feel free to send your CAKE-filled thoughts and ideas to cake@westfieldnj.gov.