San Bernardino nonprofit connects with Black community to combat mental health stigmas

Founded in 2019 by Linda Hart, the African American Health Coalition (AAHC) employs grassroots efforts to connect the community to free, low-cost and quality health services. Mental illness runs in Hart’s family, and she watched her mother dealing with the stress of trying to find services when her sister was diagnosed with a mental illness.

“I wanted to advocate for the underserved and unserved,” Hart said. “I gathered community members, faith-based community providers, and caregivers. We started advocating at the county level, making sure the funding went to underserved and unserved communities.”

AAHC became a service provider in San Bernardino County, created curriculum for the African American community and trained outreach workers. The organization uses grassroots efforts to connect with the community at laundry mats, barber shops and beauty shops. AAHC also built relationships with housing authorities, connecting with the community in housing complexes as well as at food distribution sites.

This one-on-one interaction is critical because historically, what happens in the home stays in the home in the Black community, according to Hart. She posited that this attitude might have been passed on from generation to generation beginning when slaves would be sold if they had a physical or mental challenge.

“The word mental illness in the Black community is stigmatizing,” Hart said. “We want to educate others and help them understand mental illness for what it is. It’s through education that we reduce ignorance and the stigma of mental illness.”

So far, Hart feels AAHC has seen success in helping the community embrace discussing issues of mental health and to dispel the myths. It has also been successful helping those who need resources, whether that is health services, assistance with food insecurity or simply an understanding listener to their problems.

Recently, a mother with a son who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia reached out to the organization, AAHC reported. The mother felt she had to make a decision to let him go but was unfamiliar with resources that were available to her and how they could support her. AAHC was able to help her son get evaluated. He was able to enter counseling and into a program where he had housing and his medication was monitored.

“I’m a mother with a child who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as well and because I’ve gone through that whole process was able to help her navigate,” Hart said. “She told me that we helped her save her son and her family’s life.”

Recently, AAHC received a grant from the Black Equity Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The funds supported the organization’s community engagement programming on mental health topics. The organization has held roundtables and programs for caregivers, female veterans, men’s mental health, and to address Black youth and suicide.

While AAHC has worked as a county provider for five years, the organization is growing partnerships with funders whose missions and goals are similar. The organization hopes to expand and continue to meet people where they are and to be more intentional about its focus on the community’s needs and addressing gaps in services and barriers to receiving them.

“I believe the 15,000 people we have touched wouldn’t have the information they needed and those people who say we saved their lives wouldn’t be here,” Hart said. “If you can save one life you have a purpose more meaningful than any amount of money.”

See or call 909-880-1343 for more information.

Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.

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