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On Your Mind: Meet the helpers looking to encourage mental health awareness within the Black community in the Coastal Bend

For one local woman, this meant making mental health her pageant platform. For local mental health experts like, Melica Wiley, it's a daily conversation with others.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In her Corpus Christi apartment, 74-year-old Corina Jeanette Johnson (who says you can call her "CJ") struts her stuff and shows us how to do a proper pageant wave. 

She's got it all: the poise, the fun personality, the walk, the wave. She proudly holds up her "Ms Senior World" sash and tiara, in which she recently competed, winning 2nd in her category.

"I've always loved pageantry," said CJ. "I grew up doing competition, my mother always had me in competition."

It's something that she's done since she was a baby, winning her first contest titled "Twinkle Little Star." Other shows she's competed in over the years include: winning "Little Miss Red Velvet," "Miss New Year's Day," she even won "Miss Navy Corpus Christi Beauty" title in 1972... the list goes on. 

But as with most success, there's more to the story. Beneath the tiara and behind the glittery sash, lingers the memory of her daughter, Kimberly.

Credit: KIII
Credit: KIII

When asked why mental health was her pageant platform, CJ gently picked up a picture of a young woman, and responded with:

"This is my daughter. Her name was Kimberly Nkechi Obinna Johnson. She passed away in 2015."

CJ shared that her daughter had a severe mental illness - that she struggled with Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"She’d hear voices. And the voices would tell her to do anything."

CJ said there were times things became violent and dangerous, and that then a wave of sadness would come over her daughter. 

"I had to stop working. I had to resign from my job. Just to take care of her," CJ explained. "Just to watch her."

Seeing first-hand the struggles her daughter endured with mental illness, up to her death, motivated CJ to make mental health her pageant platform, so that it might encourage more people to have those conversations.

Conversations that local mental health experts, like Melica Wiley, have daily with people. She is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and the co-founder of Youvolve Healing Center in Corpus Christi.

'"I am more than just a therapist, I am also an advocate," Wiley said. "I want to be that safe place for people of color, especially black men and women, to have a space where they can talk and feel seen and heard."

According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, more than 80 percent of Black Americans are very concerned about the stigma associated with mental health. 

This can make it discouraging to seek treatment or help. Those are just some of the stats and numbers that motivate local mental health experts, like Wiley, to reach more people within the Black community.

"Honestly, we’re starting to have a trend upward of where more Black men, Black women are coming to therapy, which I think is phenomenal because for so long, we have individually and just in the Black community, have been told you don’t talk about your mental health problems," Wiley said. "First of all -- we don’t even have mental health problems -- and if we do, you’re not gonna talk about it to a professional, you’re gonna talk about it with your pastor or someone that we can trust in the family."

Representation matters, but Wiley says in both the profession and those making appointments, there tends to be less people of color. For some, it's still taboo. For others, she said the hesitancy may run a bit deeper.

"Acknowledging the history of racism and oppression that many African Americans, Black people have experienced - so that can really hinder someone from wanting to seek mental health treatment or let alone having one more barrier or stereotype placed upon us," Wiley said.

Wiley said because the experts at Youvolve may very well be meeting and working with clients from all walks of life, that it's important that staff is prepared to "sit with someone who is different" from them.

"What I'm seeing and hoping is that we can have a lot more mental health providers or health care workers that take the time to educate themselves on the different cultural backgrounds," Wiley said. "The different racial oppressions that have come up, so that we can sit with our own biases and sit with these individuals that are coming in for the first time."

Wiley says the upward trend of more Black men and women coming to therapy is a hopeful sign that the world of counseling is becoming more inclusive and that more people who need help are becoming more comfortable in reaching out.

Wellness and self-care look different for everyone. 

CJ shared that for her, staying active is key, and had this advice to share for anyone interested in the world of pageantry:

“Just give it a try!"

To learn more about Youvolve Healing Center, click here.

To learn more about the Ms Senior World Pageant Productions, click here or you can visit their social media on Instagram @ms_seniorworld_official or Facebook page.


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