It is not surprising that our story began with a single meeting and a conversation over food. We met for the very first time to celebrate Black history month in February of 2020 and since then, it has grown to be more than just a meeting.
An adage that best describes why and how we came about is “ when you come up with an idea, it’s because there is already a need for it.” This stands true to the origin of ABTN. The health inequalities experienced by Black Canadians have long been researched extensively and these include black Canadians being twice as likely to be mis-diagnosed,and have two times the delay in accessing psychological support. In addition to the inequalities of Mental Health, clinicians often expressed that they feel as though they were the “only” black therapist within their organizations, hence missing their tribe; a space where they can connect and work with other black professionals.
The clinicians who seldom serve black clients echoed that their clients either intentionally sought them or they expressed a sigh of relief when they finally met them due to being misunderstood in the past by clinicians who could not understand their experiences especially when those experiences involved racism and/or racial trauma.
As founders of ATBN, we are all resilient immigrants who came from countries that did not treat mental health as a societal problem, but an individual shameful one that was at the back burner of their agenda. Therefore, it is crucial that participants of our services see practitioners who look like them, those whom they can trust to understand and connect with them.
Cognizant of these challenges to mental health, the ABTN was formed. The organization began as a network of Therapists from various interdisciplinary backgrounds working in both mental health and addictions.
ABTN understands that it will take and understanding of radicalized trauma and an anti black racism, anti-oppressive and systematic changes to improve the mental wellbeing for Black Canadians. At ABTN we understand that the stigma around mental health conditions is still pervasive in our society. For many Black communities, discussing mental health can be a difficult subject.
We are also aware that black Canadians have been, and continue to be, negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. Conscious or unconscious bias from providers and lack of cultural awareness can result in misdiagnosis, inadequate treatment and mistrust of mental health professionals. These disparities can create a distrust in mental health professionals, which can prevent many from seeking or continuing treatment.
Dr Miriam Sekandi is the CEO of the Break Free Zone Brand. She is a trauma-informed educator, workshop facilitator and healing coach. She supports individuals, families and / or professional groups with addressing ancestral, generational and childhood trauma. Miriam moved from Uganda to Canada in 2006 to pursue graduate Studies at the University of Alberta where she graduated with an MA in Human Ecology (2008) and a PhD in Secondary Education (2018). She is a professional development junkie and lifelong learner. Miriam currently holds the position of President with the ABTN Board.
Sitandekile is a Registered Social Worker with (ACSW) with over 15 years in the non-profit sector working with women and children facing family violence. Prior to migrating to Canada from Zimbabwe in 2001 she worked for the Ministry of Home Affairs and various organizations where she developed a passion to work with families in need. She had a keen interest in working with immigrant women who have experienced abuse as well as cultural based family violence. Sitandekile employs a trauma informed, client centered and culturally sensitive practice to her work. Furthermore, she is a strong advocate for a coordinated and collaborative response to domestic violence, human trafficking and child protection. She holds the position of Vice-President on the ABTN Board.
Teresa Ohawa is the owner and operator of Arion Aire, the first female, black owned HVAC company operating in Edmonton, Alberta. Teresa moved to Canada from Kenya to pursue her education in Business. Before devoting her work fulltime to Arion Aire, Teresa worked as a Jr Accountant. In addition, she volunteers with Women Building Futures(WBF) and Girls Exploring Trades & Technology as a speaker and mentor. She is the Secretary on the ABTN Board.
Admire Dube is an insurance broker in the city of Calgary. He was born in Zimbabwe and attained his Economics degree at Concordia University in Montreal. Admire has a passion to foster economic and financial independence in the black community. He works tirelessly with his clients to ensure they gain financial literacy they need to have a healthy relationship with money. He holds the position of Treasure with the ABTN Board.