The Washington Post published an article a few years ago about the increase in African-Americans who now seek mental health treatment; this news is a welcomed and dramatic shift. For centuries, our ancestors were used as medical experiments, which made it impossible for the average Black person to trust that going to a doctor would be beneficial for their overall life.

And even after the advent of Black doctors, there are still the stories that are passed between generations that haunt family lines of grandmothers who were raped, babies who were never returned, and men who didn’t have a say over which surgical procedures they received—all at the hands of white medical professionals.

For those who live in poorer or lesser evolved areas around the country, the reality of racism and the inability to access quality education still exists and makes it almost impossible for people to receive, or trust that they will receive, adequate medical care.

As an alternative to seeking professional medical care, many religious members of the Black community utilize the Black Church as a place to cultivate wellness.  For these members, the role of the pastor is more than worship leader. Black pastors are trusted more than medical professionals and provide the care that therapists, counselors, life coaches, and spiritual directors would typically provide.

Growing up in the Midwest, even I was told that going to a doctor was only for white people. I’ve been told the horror stories of family members who were abused, disrespected, and tortured. And of course, these stories were never reported because we are conditioned to know that we won’t be believed.

It’s a new century, and there are many prominent medical professionals in all fields from all backgrounds who treat people fairly and who provide quality medical care that saves lives and inspires well-being. It’s possible to live longer, healthier lives and no one has to suffer in silence or in isolation.

Our mental and physical health greatly impacts our children and grandchildren, and how we care for ourselves influences future generations. American slaves became free and received no medical treatment for their trauma or the injuries they sustained while being held captive.

How did a life of violence, oppression, and untreated sicknesses shape Black culture and the generations of people who are now alive post slavery? How can we heal the wounds of people whose stories and experiences determine their overall health and their capacity to contribute to a meaningful, productive society?

Rev. Lawrence T. Richardson is a United Church of Christ pastor, writer, and digital evangelist. 

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