Dr. Rashad Saafir, a licensed clinical psychologist, is the president/CEO of the Bobby E. Wright Mental Health Center at 9 S. Kedzie in Garfield Park. He came to the Bobby E. Wight Center in 1981, after working at the National Institution for Mental Health during former president Jimmy Carter’s administration. Wright was recognized for his advocacy of the people and the community. He spoke in December about his life and mental health issues in the community.  

I was born near Jackson, Tenn., in the days of segregated fountains and theaters. I’ll never forget waiting for all the white kids to buy movie tickets; then the black kids would buy ours and watch the movie from a rickety balcony. That was the beginning of my concern for how racism and the institutionalism of it has undermined our wellbeing, and contributed to a lot of problems in our community today.

It’s not by accident that our city is segregated, that 95 percent of black people in Chicago live in a predominantly black community and most of these communities are also poor. There are poor white people in Chicago too, but I challenge you to name one poor white community.

A lot of trauma happens in our community. When you keep struggling people trapped in areas with few resources, the result is conflict and violence — fighting over scraps. That’s why we have a mental health and substance abuse crisis. A lot of people use drugs to control their mental pain, being in a society that relegates them to lower class status.

We all need to start with ourselves and eliminate the stigma for those diagnosed with mental health conditions. We’re all on the same continuum. This is especially important for black people — oppressed people tend to internalize belief systems of the oppressor and see each other as crazy. We don’t have to wait for white people to denigrate us, we tend to do it ourselves. 

We must educate people to restructure their lives and develop healthy relationships. As parents we can reinforce positive behavior, with positive consequences, instead of just punishing bad behavior.  

I’m looking forward to the new Westside Community Triage and Wellness Center, a cooperative effort of Bobby E. Wright Center and Habilitative Systems Inc., to open.

 at 4133 W. Madison St., in a couple of months. It may be the first mental health center based on both crisis intervention and helping people to long-term wellness.