Organization Spotlight: Sista Afya
How Camesha L. Jones Made Mental Health Care Affordable and Accessible for Black Women in Chicago.
At rē•spin, we believe in the power of giving. We strive to continue the conversation around charity, gratitude and believing that once we are able to make giving back a component of how we live, we can reach eternal beauty. With Black History Month only a week away, we think it’s necessary to highlight organizations that are doing their part in uplifting and providing essential services to their communities.
Sista Afya is an organization that has set out to bridge that wide gap to provide low-cost mental wellness services that specifically center on the experiences of Black women. In the United States, approximately 18% of adults have a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year. Despite this affecting nearly a fifth of the adult population in our country, not every group receives the level of care, or culturally competent care, needed.
Camesha L. Jones, LCSW, founded the Chicago based organization in 2017, citing her own personal struggles of living with a mental health condition as her driving force.
“When I was in recovery on my path towards healing I would be the only Black woman in the room in therapy and support groups,” she tells rē•spin. “I thought to myself, why weren’t their spaces for young Black women to heal and get support from women just like them.”
Jones took what she learned from both her personal and professional experience as social work to create the organization. The name, she says, encompasses the vision for healing within her community.
“Sista is a word of endearment and connection within the Black community in regards to women,” she explains. “Afya is Swahili and means to be well and free from psychological and physical illness. Both together, Sista Afya is our vision for Black women to experience freedom from psychological and physical illness.”
Sista Afya has shifted the viewpoint of mental health, intentionally referring to it as mental wellness as a way of looking at our mental well-being from a more holistic perspective. “How we are mentally is more than what we think, it’s about our social lives, our physical wellness, our environment, our finances, our politics and so much more,” Jones says. ”Mental Wellness allows us to take a step back and improve our lives with total healing and wholeness.”
“Wellness is wholeness,” she adds. “It is taking care of all of you so you can reach your highest and fullest potential. When we are well, we can truly thrive in life.”
Sista Afya’s first program started in 2017, called the Sister Support Group. Since then, they’ve expanded to offering individual and group therapy, education workshops, wellness classes, and social events. Throughout the past few years, Sista Afya has been able to serve over 1,500 Black women both directly in Chicago as well as abroad through the vast resources they provide. Having lost-cost services was essential for Jones and the organization, citing it as one of the biggest barriers for Black women to receive quality care. Through their location, cost, and vast services, Sista Afya has been able to make mental health care not only accessible but achievable for Black women.
“By offering low-cost and free therapy we remove the stress from trying to afford therapy,” she says. “Also, we are located on the Southside Chicago in a vibrant Black community. People who come to us can find services right in their community and don’t have to travel downtown for services.”
Sista Afya holistically approaches mental wellness through culture, community, expression, and healing. Community groups and workshops are held monthly, focusing on topics that are relevant to Black women’s experiences, like burnout and stress, balancing multiple responsibilities, and being the strong black woman. Sista Afya also holds holistic wellness and expressive events with partners in the community, like yoga, art, dance/movement, and fitness activities.
Individual therapy is provided for community members who need more one-on-one support from a therapist who is culturally and gender-responsive. But last and most certainly not least, the organization makes it their mission to uplift black culture, healing, and traditions through their services.
“We have a Juneteenth event every year, use movies such as Eve’s Bayou and Crooklyn to talk about generational trauma, and use cultural icons like Jill Scott and TLC to talk about Black womanhood and healing at different stages in our lives,” she explains. “All together, we strive to support Black women’s needs in a variety of ways that fit for them and feel like home.”
Now more than ever it is supremely important to support organizations like Sista Afya. Mental health has historically been an underfunded sector in our country, so funding is essential for many organizations. Jones says that in addition to donating to these organizations, it’s important to also encourage people in positions of power to make funding mental wellness services a priority to contribute to our society’s wellness as a whole. But beyond monetary contributions, sharing their services within your own network as well as to those who need support is a way to amplify their message and ensure support for years to come.