Black Psychologists’ Convention in Detroit Spotlights African Identity and Mental Health

The Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) is in Detroit this week, where the storied organization is  convening its 54th Annual National Convention.  The four-day Convention runs from Wednesday, July 19, to Saturday, July 22, at the downtown Fort Pontchartrain Hotel.  This year’s event theme is “Homecoming:  Re-Claiming Our Divine African – Knowing, Being, Doing, and Belonging.”

“The theme really emphasizes what our convention is all about,” National Convention Chair Dr. Yuma Tomes told the Michigan Chronicle.  “The last time we convened was in July 2019, so four years ago, we were face to face with each other.  We have had virtual conventions and virtual convenings, which have been wonderful, but there was that physical, in-person touch that we missed.  This year’s convention is the homecoming which is bringing us back together again.”

The Convention, said Tomes, will offer a series of powerful speakers, presentations, healing circles, leadership development, and other activities and events centered on the practice, pedagogy, and theory of promoting and advancing Black Psychology.  The event features forums that address various segments of African and African American communities, such as how to strategically empower the Black LGBTQ population, Black women, Black men, and Black youth from a mental health perspective.

“We will be putting on a full display of African excellence, Black magnificence, and Black scholarship that we have all captured as African and African American people and as psychologists,” Tomes said. “The Association of Black Psychologists is the only psychological association fully dedicated to African American and African issues pertaining to mental health.”

The Association of Black Psychologists was founded in 1968 in San Francisco by a number of Black Psychologists.  The mission and vision were, and still are to promote and advance the profession of African Psychology, influence and affect social change, and develop programs that psychologists of African descent can assist in solving problems that Black communities face.

From a small number of members in the 1960s – the Black Power era – ABPsi, with its Afrocentric roots, has grown to more than 1,600 members globally.

“The Association kind of coincides with some of the aspects of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s,” Tomes said.  “The Association was created at a time when the American Psychological Association was not kind to African American Psychology.  This helped usher in the creation and growth of ABPsi.”

The Convention, which offers the opportunity for in-person and virtual participation, will also focus on policymaking and how best to create policies to better help Black people in need of mental health guidance and care.  Both pre and post-pandemic conditions in Black communities have taken tremendous tolls on the psyche of Black women, men, and children.  The Convention will explore viable pathways for Black people, through the lens of Black Psychologists, to address mental challenges such as  anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns caused by various reasons.

“When we think about mental health, funding and policies do not favor African American communities and African and African American psychologists,” Tomes explained.  “To be prepared to address different kinds of mental health needs within our community,  we need more funding and better policymaking to do that.  The convention will provide us with a platform by which we can have those kinds of conversations of change.”

Interestingly, Detroit hosted the Association of Black Psychologists’ National Convention in 1973, made possible through the diligent work of the Michigan Association of Black Psychologists Chapter of ABPsi.  Ultimately, the Michigan chapter became the Metro Detroit Association of Black Psychologists.

“We were originally scheduled to hold our Annual Convention in Detroit in July 2020, but of course, the pandemic hit in March of that year,” said Tomes.  “We wanted to try again in 2021, but the effect of the pandemic was still being felt.  We decided to push it to 2023 to be clear of the pandemic and find ways to mitigate any aspect of concern with it.”

“It had become apparent that the ancestors have been preparing for this moment in time and saw fit to select Detroit, Michigan as the gathering place for healing and restoration after a turbulent three-year period of atrocities, losses, separations, isolations, and continuing intensified violence against African/Black people,” Dr. Jane Robinson, the only living co-founder of the Michigan Association of Black Psychologists, wrote in a statement posted online about the return of the National Convention to Detroit.  “There is joy in ending this story by proclaiming the glory of ABPsi and all those throughout our history/herstory/ourstory that were destined to make a positive impact on Black mental health by liberating the African mind, empowering the African character, and enlivening and illuminating the African spirit.”

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