Philly’s coronavirus response

Online mental health sessions for Black men in Philly are a hit during the pandemic

MBK Cares has reached more than 1,000 people during quarantine.

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Screenshot of an MBK Cares virtual session
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Southwest Philly resident Ihsan Hines has connected with more than 1,000 people over Facebook Live since the pandemic arrived, thanks to weekly virtual conversations that focus on mental health.

The Zoom roundtables span topics like parenting, physical health and veterans services, and general tips on coping with the ongoing situation.

In the before times, Hines, who runs a nonprofit called MBK Cares,  was offering these discussions in person every month from Kingsessing Library, starting with a gathering to calm a neighborhood rattled when an 11-year-old boy died by suicide in April 2019.

He grew the regular base of attendees from seven people in his first session to an average of 20. One of the most recent discussions brought in an audience of 50 people.

“A lot of people are still coming out online,” Hines said. “We’re just encouraging people to take care of themselves and practice self care, and realize what resources might be available to them that they’re not aware of.”

He started the nonprofilt after losing his younger brother, Atif, to suicide more than a decade ago. The mission: to make counseling resources more widely available.

The coronavirus infiltrating Philadelphia made his work feel even more essential.

“The pandemic changed everything,” Hines said. “I’m just trying to help people survive. That’s the goal of these events, to help people come out of this without PTSD, without too many mental and emotional scars.”

Stay curious about the little things

Laurie Smith is a regular viewer who’s attended four of the five quarantine sessions so far.

A graduate psychology student, Smith initially tuned in because it related to her field. But the West Philly resident found the conversations touched her personally, so she kept coming back.

“When you hear other people talk about how they’re dealing with this, it’s like, I’m dealing with that too! That in itself is helpful,” Smith said.

Takeaways she found especially useful:

  • Stay curious about little things in your life — it helps break up the monotony of staying at home
  • Remind yourself to get outside every day
  • Social media will make you crazy if you stay tuned too much

Most of all, Smith loves the Wellness Wednesdays episodes because they normalize conversations around mental health, especially among Black men, a community where she said these discussions have been stigmatized.

“To see all these strong, wise Black men, all speaking from a lot of experience and positions of leadership, talking about, ‘Yeah, I go to therapy regularly,’ or ‘Yeah, I struggle with depression and anxiety,'” Smith said, “it’s so, so refreshing to hear that.”

Virtual sessions are here to stay

In each episode, the pandemic is the jumping off point.

Hines surveys the guests on how they’re dealing with it, and whether they’ve felt any unexpected challenges or bright spots. He makes it a point, he said, to steer the conversation toward actionable solutions that might help people manage.

Theme varies. The first session showcased five Black male leaders in Philly’s mental health community. There have also been veterans’ service providers and finance experts, fitness pros and documentary filmmakers.

The next one, set to air today, is on art therapy. Hines is expecting to bring in poets, musicians and artists to share how creating helps them cope.

Virtual broadcasting is likely to continue even after the pandemic calms down.

“Now we see there are two places we need to do this,” Hines said. “I still want to get back to the intimate environment of being in the library with people, but I definitely don’t want to lose the internet setting.”

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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