Seed Grant Award: Racism, Mental Health, Spirituality, and the Role of the Church

M. Katherine Shear - Social Work; Sidney Hankerson, Psychiatry

Shear Hankerson

The goal of this project is to bring awareness and promote community activism to confront racism in the mental health system, focusing on trauma, loss, and grief in the Black community. The role of historical trauma and loss and the Black church in the process of healing is pivotal and is explored through our partnership with The HOPE Center in Harlem, under the guise of First Corinthian Baptist Church. The HOPE Center is birthed by First Corinthian Baptist Church, and is a mental health center addressing the needs of the Harlem community. The church has a pivotal role in communities that branches into a myriad of areas such as combating mental health, combating the tendrils of systemic racism, and helping individuals through loss and grief. Historically, religion and spirituality have served as a protective factor for communities and in forging resilience. The Black church specifically has remained constant as an institution that buffers the failures of systems such as the medical system, and ultimately provides formal and informal mental health support. A historical phenomena that became more evident during the recent months is the impact of systemic racism on mental health.

This project developed and held a half-day conference sponsored by the Center for Complicated Grief (CCG) at the School of Social Work, the Columbia University Wellness Center, Columbia Department of Psychiatry and The HOPE Center Harlem and First Corinthian Baptist Church. The conference will address connections between racism, racial justice and religion and spirituality. The conference was presented in a multi-format method to include a keynote speaker, a panel discussion, and a town hall question and answer opportunity to promote interaction and allow attendees to ask the panel critical questions. The goals of this event were to 1) increase knowledge of the interplay between racial justice, mental health, religion and spirituality,  2) to engage with members of the Columbia/Harlem communities and beyond in lively discussion about issues of racism, especially in the medical field, 3) to reach an audience of at least 2500 for this critical presentation and discussion, and 4) to lay the groundwork through knowledge and partnership development to address the failures of the medical system, while strengthening and furthering the work of the community, including religious institutions to address systemic issues heavily impacting mental health.

Spring 2021 Update:

The conference took place on October 15, 2021. Further details and the registration page were available starting Fall 2021. 

This project was funded through the Addressing Racism: A Call to Action for Higher Education initiative of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement.