The West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders, Fathers Who Care, and various community organizations gathered with numerous West Side elected officials for the fourth annual West Side Violence and Substance Abuse Prevention Day. The event was held Oct. 3 at the Allison Foundation for Better Living Center, 4540 W. Washington Blvd.

Rev. Walter Jones, the director of West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders, said the event was designed promote dialogue and the exchange of solutions. 

“We come together to empower each other, to love each other, engage each other and hold each other accountable,” Jones said. “What we’re trying to do is bring the elected officials out in front of the community, in front of the people and let the people talk about what they don’t like.”

Jones said his community organization hosts a monthly informational meeting to address mental health, substance abuse, stress, trauma and more. He created a task force comprising local medical professionals who help aid the community in his initiative along with strategic efforts.

“Now, it’s about awareness,” he said. “People used to be afraid to talk about mental health, but we’re trying to make folks understand you don’t have to be afraid; it’s OK to need help.”

Jones advocated for community residents dissatisfied with their current public and elected officials to vote them out of office. He also said he’s been hard at work dispelling the notion that African American fathers are not present within the lives of their children.

“When real men stand up, boys sit down,” said Jones. “Folks believe in this community and other communities on the West Side that African American fathers aren’t in the lives of their children. That’s a lie.

“I want folks to understand the power of us and that teamwork can make the dream work,” he said. “In spite of what you may be going through, there’s people and resources that you can plug into.”

U.S. Congressman Danny Davis was the keynote speaker for the evening’s festivities. Throughout his remarks, he encouraged attendees to vote in the upcoming election in November. He said it’s the most important election that’s taken place since he’s been alive. Davis, an early Clinton supporter, didn’t explicitly endorse a candidate at the event. Instead, he encouraged people to work for the results they feel would be in their best interests.

“Some people want to sit it out, some people don’t want to be in it, but I can tell you if the wrong people win this election, you’re talking and weeping and wailing and that runs deep,” said Davis. “Anyone that doesn’t understand how politics really works is in a hatchet fight where everyone has a hatchet but you.”

Dr. Rashad K. Saafir, President/CEO at Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health, addressed the mental health crisis facing multiple communities, noting that “culturally competent care” is a critical element to treating the mental health care crisis within the African American community.

“This is a serious issue and if we don’t address it, then our mental health is only going to suffer more,” Saafir said. “People who are suffering will become a commodity for someone to make a profit and not improve the quality of life for people who are trying to live on the West Side.”

Dr. Saafir said the most important factors of mental health are feeling good about who you are; feeling good about where you are; and feeling good about what you’re doing.