Phoenix Gala: Building Community

FAMHAS Foundation Team pose for group pic

We came to be in community.

We held our first Phoenix Gala on August 17, at the Infinity Centre in Ottawa.

Fabiola’s Addiction and Mental Health Awareness & Support Foundation (FAMHAS) is a non-profit organization. Our goal is to raise awareness, educate, and provide support to the black community in Ottawa who suffers from mental illnesses and addiction.

The Phoenix Gala

The Gala brought the community together to start the process of de-stigmatizing mental illness and to celebrate the life of Fabiola Philippe. The Foundation was launched on November 30, 2018, in her honour and to commemorate what would have been her 36th birthday.

The reoccurring theme throughout the evening was: community. With community comes a support system that can overcome any challenge, even mental illness.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is the combination of our psychological, emotional, and social well-being. When we don’t have good mental health, it affects how we think, feel, and act. It helps determine how we manage stress, relate to others, and make decisions, and it is important at every stage of our lives.

Our guess speaker, Renee Taylor, reminded us that by the age of 40, 50% of the Canadian population has or has had a mental health issue.

And when it comes to mental health, we tend to think of individuals who hear or see things. This perception must change as this affects only 1% of the Canadian population.

Instead, we need to understand that mental health is:

  • anxiety;
  • depression;
  • bipolar;
  • personality disorder;
  • substance abuse; and
  • trauma-related disorders.

Through her research, one of Renee’s key findings was that black Canadians have little intention on seeking professional help as we fear judgment from others and from ourselves.

This is a known fact to our community, but to have the scientific evidence to support this claim can help us show the gravity of the problem and help us open doors to start conversations that can lead to finding solutions.

When the subject of mental health is brought to our community, negativity is attached to it. We must redefine what mental health is. Tanisha Laroda-Valcin’s story is one that sprouts hope. Sharing her experience with mental illness, she couldn’t stress enough that it is not something to be ashamed about. We need to encourage one another to talk about mental health the same way we talk about other medical conditions for it to be normalized.

Tanisha gave practical advice, to listen more, as mental health is not something that is visible. Because she was surrounded by a community that listened, she was able to not only overcome mental health, but also thrive.

Our last speaker of the night, David Lewis-Peart, guided us through a group exercise, where we revisited happy and hard times in our lives. With a bit of hesitation at first, but our guests started to share thoughts and feelings they once felt. We said out loud words and feelings that we might not usually share.

The lesson we pulled from this exercise is that, we first need to get uncomfortable, ask the hard questions, and share our feelings as a community if we want to overcome mental illness.

We had amazing guest speakers, but also great talent that evening.

Manouchka Elinor delivered a chilling monologue.

Allan André painted a beautiful canvas throughout the evening that was donated to the silent auction.

Verlyne Leconte and Vox Sambou gave a wonderful performance of a song written by Fabiola.

Lydia Philippe, Fabiola’s daughter, paid her tribute with a song. [FD1] 

We thank all of you who attended the first Gala. The fact that we came together demonstrates that each and everyone of us wants to make a difference and see things change.

“Have this conversation about mental health and mental well-being with your friends, family, and community, because you never know who’s going to need it.”
– Renee Taylor

We hope to see you next year as we continue to build our community.

Source: FAMHAS Foundation

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