Every Friday I work at a mental health clinic in Brooklyn in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., I have a caseload of 20 clients with diagnoses ranging from severely mentally ill to mild depression and from six years old to 65 years old. Last Friday most of my clients arrived late. They were fascinated and in extremely high spirits to express their excuses for their lateness. Prospect Park was closed, causing a lot of detours and many areas were barricaded off. Helicopters were flying above them and NYPD was in full force around the area. Snipers were scaling Brooklyn rooftops. I was used to this kind of high security and inconvenience of getting around due to the Annual General Assembly at the United Nations. For my clients, this scene was extremely stimulating and instilled hope and happiness, stirring their emotions. This was all due to Obama's visit to a Brooklyn College High School in the neighborhood.
Last Friday October 25, President Obama's visit to Brooklyn created a completely different atmosphere in the neighborhood as well as in my office. I started each client's session acknowledging their sense of pride in their African-American president for coming to visit their hometown. They were all mesmerized by his presence. Contrary to our usual sessions, they shared with me their political aspirations and expectations from President Obama. One of my older clients expressed to me that he wished Obama would create jobs that would help him get employed. A truant teenager wished Obama also visited his school, where he experienced a lot of bullying. A first grade student expressed that she loves Obama and wished she could take a picture with him. My severely ill client who currently resides at a ¾ house stated,
I wish I can work. I wish President Obama would visit all five boroughs to see how African-Americans are doing.
A teenage boy said, "I wish our president helped to reduce racism and discrimination."
As a teenage girl, when I came to America, I also experienced what it was like living as a minority in the U.S. However, I was unaware of African-American history. Through educating myself -- taking courses on African-American history and attending lots of cross-cultural training -- I became more aware. One of the best models I learned in reducing racism in America was in an Undoing Racism workshop. I learned about white privilege and their lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the richness of both African and African-American history.
Growing up during the Persian era and learning about King Cyrus the Great, upholding human rights was embedded in me. I was always taught to respect other cultures equally and with dignity of their heritage. This was not how I was treated when I arrived in America, especially during the Iranian hostage crisis during Jimmy Carter's presidency. As a young Persian teenage girl, I was extremely discriminated against. Now, in the 21st century, people all over the world are still experiencing racism, discrimination and prejudice.
During the 2008 presidential election, I worked hard on Hillary Clinton's campaign with the strong wishes and hopes that she would be the first woman President of the United States. I was intrigued by her commitment to "women's rights as human rights," and to improve the lives of women around the world suffering from inequality. As I watched President Obama's Inauguration, it occurred to me that African-Americans also deserved to see an African-American president in office, just as much as I wanted to see a woman in office. I imagined he would improve the lives of African-American people who are still struggling with human rights.
When I saw how excited my clients were, simply off of knowing that President Obama was in the area, I realized that he had powerful influence over my African-American clients who are suffering from mental health issues. If they were so happy to see him visit an affluent school, I envision that if President Obama paid one visit to their poor neighborhood he would affect their mental wellbeing even more tremendously.
Last year, I volunteered with Chelsea Clinton in Far Rockaway after Hurricane Sandy. I visited remote ¾ houses, where mentally ill patients live. I was saddened to witness not only the damage that Mother Nature had caused, but also the neglected people living in these poor, unkempt, overcrowded, unsafe, environments prior to the hurricane. Some of my clients also live in ¾ houses and express daily stressors due to living conditions. Can you imagine if President Obama cared enough to visit ¾ houses?
We all know that Obama is facing many challenges himself with foreign policy. Obamacare, etc., but he should take some time to visit poor neighborhoods who can easily be inspired by his presence and eloquent speeches. Within the next three years, President Obama should make some extraordinary effort to improve the lives of African-American youth who are still struggling to improve their academic performance due to racial discrimination and low aspirations. I strongly believe he can improve the mental well-being of African-American people.
I tried to find information about the inclusion of mental health in Obamacare but I didn't find any significant details. I strongly believe if we can provide light training programs to help those living in ¾ houses find work, we can improve their quality of life and sense of purpose, which can contribute to their mental wellbeing. This way we can reduce the fraud of Medicaid and Medicare (SSI, SSD) and improve our economy. I hope Obama can recognize the importance of the work of professionals who work with the population that has been neglected, and increase our salary. It seems as the happy spirits of the American people are decreasing, especially over the last 13 years of presidency. While this makes our work in the mental health field more salient, it also creates a burden which we cannot face alone. How much hope is enough to raise the spirits of the American people?