The Detroit Pistons organization is intent on going beyond basketball to be an institution that contributes to its local community. In order to do that effectively, it recognized that it needs input from Detroiters on the big issues they confront every day. Thus arose the concept of hosting “community conversations.” The program is only about a year old, but so far the Pistons organization has hosted conversations on education, diversity, equity, and inclusion, mentorship, and voting rights and voter suppression, providing a forum not only to discuss community problems, but also to discuss solutions.
Last week’s focused on mental health. As Pistons Vice Chairman, Arn Tellum, noted when he kicked off the evening’s proceedings last week, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, “a month to educate the public, help fight stigma and to advocate for policies regarding mental health,” and the evening’s conversation was planned as “a candid conversation on mental health awareness and on meaningful ways to help those in need.” Indeed, given how critical mental health is living happy, healthy, successful lives, “we all want out community to be a place where no one feels alone in the struggle and where everyone can get the support and quality care they need.”
Moderated by Jasmine Cooper and David Cassell of Peace Players, the online forum took a deep dive into mental health and its impact on the community and was joined and supported by a host of local and national mental health professionals, including representatives from Henry Ford Health Systems, the Children’s Center, NAMI, the Youth Connections, Starfish Family Services, Detroit LIVE, and Everybody-vs-Stigma.com. The objectives of the session were to highlight the important work being done in Detroit around mental health, engage mental health experts and organizations to help encourage youth and adults to tackle some of the mental health issues they deal with, help break down the stigma of mental health within communities of color, and to provide resources for those dealing with mental health issues.
Participants ranged from teens and adults in the community, to police officers, to health professionals in the community. The conversation also included the members of the recently formed Pistons Youth Council, thirteen dynamic teen youth leaders from all parts of Metro Detroit. As Pistons VP of Community and Social Responsibility, Erika Swilley, noted, “Often youth don’t have a seat at the table and people are guessing at what they think they need. Their participation elevates the group and educates us on ‘what’s cool’ and what important issues they face, rather than blindly thinking we know.”
After the moderators kicked off the candid conversation focused on sharing ideas, experiences, expertise and creating solutions, participants were broken into a series of smaller moderator-led groups, focused on challenges like having the mental health conversation, educating the community on mental health issues, and the intractable stigma around mental health, and community solutions to those challenges. The larger group then came together to discuss take-aways and provide a space for conversation and change-making.
In recent times, NBA players have become vocal leaders on mental health, sharing their own experiences to help destigmatize the issue and to encourage people to get the help they need rather than “toughing it out alone.”
The Pistons organization involvement in this off-the-court community initiative and its partnership with community institutions on that work is another positive step forward. NBA organizations fostering and supporting community conversations like this one that focus on the same can do much to help accelerate and encourage much-needed changes in their communities.
As Swilley noted, “At the end of the day, we are a basketball team. We need to find those who are doing amazing work and amplify them. We are looking to leverage our star power and really make an impact on big important issues.”
Photo Credit: Pistons