Access and equity Mental health
Bringing mindful balance to Chicago's South Side
From a converted closet, the mental wellness practice Sista Afya helps Black women face stress and trauma
For the uninitiated, starting therapy can be an intimidating proposition. It takes time, energy, and resolve to make oneself vulnerable in the ways effective counseling demands. Comfort and trust are key; the last thing a patient needs is a needless distraction, an excuse to clam up or stay home altogether.
The staff at Sista Afya—a mental wellness practice in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood—takes great pains to provide a welcoming atmosphere for their target client base: black women between the ages of 25 and 40. The office is in the rear of a squat brick building on 71st Street, behind frosted glass and down a narrow hallway. Truth be told, the space was once a utility closet before Sista Afya founder Camesha L. Jones cleaned it out and applied a fresh coat of paint. Now it’s a cozy sanctuary for South Siders, in a part of town without adequate mental health infrastructure. The room is lit with warm lamps. The leather couch is plush. Copies of Psychology Today and Essence rest on a coffee table for perusal, while a white noise machine drowns out the din. A motivational print hangs on one wall, within eyeshot: YOU GOT THIS.
It’s a refrain that Latania Franklin (MSW ’14), one of Sista Afya’s two therapists, takes to heart. In a sharp white blazer and dark jeans, Franklin won’t succeed if she can’t put her clients at ease. Especially with newcomers, she’s quick with a laugh and cognizant of strained body language. “If a patient is rubbing their hands, I’ll recommend we take a break,” she says. “What do you need in this moment? Do you need water? Do you want to smell some lavender?Let’s go get some! You let me know.”
Franklin is fairly new to the practice, having joined in May. But as a native North Sider and the daughter of a single mom, it’s been her ambition to serve fellow black women since childhood. Franklin vividly remembers her interactions with a caseworker assigned to assist her mother as their family navigated the social safety net. “This lady was so mean!” Franklin says. “And my mom had to hold her composure because we needed the resources.” Even as a preteen, she’d dream about handling those discussions differently, with more care and respect.