This First Person article is the experience of Martha Nduwayo, an organizer and public servant in Quebec. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I’ve always loved helping others work through their problems. For years, I wanted to be a therapist or psychologist.

Even when I was in high school, I would play the psychologist role to all my friends (with my 14-year-old life experience). There was something compelling about being present for others and providing them a listening ear in a trusting environment, even if I couldn’t fix all their teenage dilemmas.

Following my heart, I went to Concordia University in Montreal to pursue a degree in psychology. But my journey as a Black undergraduate in that field was very different from what I expected.

Ironically, I found myself depressed and anxious — all while studying depression and anxiety.

The passive anti-Black comments made by students and teachers and lack of representation within the learning material, the studies and the professors at times left me feeling alienated and unmotivated.

I also learned that in order to advance to the master’s level in psychology, you have to be very well connected to professors who can provide you research experience and vouch for you. And by research experience, I mean volunteer research experience. Not all psychology students can afford that, and I was one of them. I had student loans and a part-time job to help cover my bills.

Taking on an unpaid internship on top of my full-time course load would have meant I couldn’t pay rent at the end of the month.

In order to help cope with the pressure, I joined cultural student associations on campus. I flourished there — emotionally and socially — as I formed meaningful connections with so many students who understood my background and who shared some of my struggles. Most of the students at these events were of African or Caribbean descent, and I felt a sense of community, shared experiences and belonging.

It was not therapy, but it was extremely helpful in finding the energy every morning to wake up and earn my bachelor’s degree in psychology and business studies 2019.

I did not continue my studies in psychology at the graduate level, but I always found ways to advocate for mental health in my everyday life. I attended workshops that discussed mental health within academic life, encouraged my male friends to talk about their feelings more and even talked about stress and depression with my African parents. Those who know, know that the latter is not an easy task, since mental health is still a taboo subject within the Black community.

When the pandemic arrived in March 2020, I had been working a full-time job at the federal government for about a year. I was suddenly working from home, in a crowded house and never had a moment to myself.

I realized that so many of us were struggling. Not only was the pandemic affecting Canadians across the country, but Black people were also living through a second global crisis. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, in tandem with the pandemic, meant that Black people were being re-traumatized daily — witnessing Black death and our communities being brutalized, bearing witness to dehumanizing conversations in the news, online and in our social circles.

By June, my mental health had never been so low. I was suffocating in my house. There were never enough walks to calm me down; I was constantly grieving, and Black trauma was constantly being shared and reshared online.

In-person therapy was not an option, and I did not have the privacy to have virtual sessions at home. Plus, the average therapy session is around $120 for one hour. That is not an accessible price, especially if you don’t have a job that offers health insurance. I’m sure I was not the only one who was frustrated by all of these obstacles to my well-being and access to resources. Something had to be done.

When my best friend reached out to me to start a fundraising organization to help Black people access therapy and other mental health-focused resources, I knew that was my calling.  A team of six members was created, and the Black Healing Fund was born.

What started as a GoFundMe project a year ago is now an ongoing funding body. The fund provides a list of mental health experts and healers from all walks of life, who have anti-racism instilled in their practice.

Martha feels like a money fairy when she’s able to deliver cheques in person to those selected by the Black Healing Fund. (Submitted by Martha Nduwayo)

We have raised more than $75,000 since August 2021, and through a lottery system we have redistributed $60,000 so far to Black Montrealers so they can get the help they need, from the expert of their choice.

Whenever I have the opportunity to give the funds to an applicant in person, I feel like a fairy delivering a gift. It’s amazing how incredibly generous people can be when we rally together to support those around us.

Our plans for the future include creating a healing centre that provides different mental health-focused services. Something similar to a community centre, where members can join workshops, panel discussions or even attend a group therapy session.

I think back to how important that support from cultural student associations was in helping me get where I am today. I might not have become a therapist myself, but I can still advocate for mental health and work on improving access to those services to my community.

By making therapy more accessible, we’re giving more people the tools they need for their healing journey. It warms my heart knowing I can be a part of that.

CBC Quebec welcomes your pitches for First Person essays. Please email [email protected] for details.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Source From CBC News

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