Silence the Shame:  A Community Conversation

Grammy nominated singer Keri Hilson having a community conversation to knock out stigma around mental health and HIV in the Black Community in the Intramural Sports Complex on September 18. (Te'yanah Owens/DIGEST)

On Wednesday, September 18, a conversation around mental health for students on campus occurred in the Horace J. Moody, Sr. Intramural Sports Complex. The focus of the event was to have “A Community Conversation to Knock Out Stigma Around Mental Health and HIV in the Black Community”. 

Southern University partnered with Silence the Shame to host guest speakers, Founder and Director of Silence the Shame, Shanti Das, Grammy nominated singer, songwriter, actress and community activist, Keri Hilson, and Advocacy Consultant at AIDS Healthcare Foundation Louisiana, Sashika Baunchand. 

Both Keri and Shanti opened up to the audience about stressful times in their lives, and how their mental health was affected. Shanti spoke vulnerably, “My father took his own life when I was seven months old, it was really hard for my family… we never went to counseling, we didn’t talk about it… I didn’t have a lot of healthy coping mechanisms for my own depression.” 

Commonly considered to be taboo in the black community, mental health has been a generational issue recurrently ignored. In fact, Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health documents African Americans as 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress. Culturally, other factors such as faith, fear of humility, and lack of resources typically stand in the way of many black Americans from reaching out for the help many may need. 

For celebrities, and those with high visibility, the issues still persist. Speaking to Keri about her transition from singer/songwriter/actress to community activist, she shared, “The transition was about life happening, it was about me having that experience… It was a natural transition, it was never really a decision that I had made...” Keri went on to consider Shanti as the “catalyst” in her transition over recent time. Shanti actually gave Keri her first speaking opportunity with Silence the Shame. 

Bringing them to Southern was a partnership between Silence the Shame and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who have targeted Southern before. The audience was very receptive of the panel. There was also free HIV testing, with the opportunity for VIP meet and greet with Keri Hilson. The counseling center was in attendance as well, acting as an additional resource for the students. 

Taylor Bolton, junior computer science major from Memphis, Tennessee spoke of her experience, “The Silence the Shame event was great! Mostly the panelists discussed mental health in the black community. I felt that it was good having a celebrity, Keri Hilson, to discuss mental health with us to show that she can relate to issues facing young, black college students. What I truly enjoyed was the discussion on “Self Care Time”.  I usually give myself some time alone, but it’s usually secluded.”

Silence the Shame as a growing movement now has a national holiday on May 5, National Silence the Shame Day. 

“When you’re talking about something so personal, it’s difficult for people to open up.” Shanti Davis wants students to know, “It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s okay to get the help that you need.” Hilson also had some advice, “Don’t be afraid to go see an on campus therapist if you need to.”

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