Harlem Church Opens First-Of-Its-Kind Mental Health Center

By Seth Ferranti 12/23/16

The HOPE center provides free therapeutic services and support to Harlem residents.

the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the HOPE center.
The First Lady of New York at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the HOPE center in Harlem. Photo via Twitter

Reverend Michael Walrond Jr. is on a mission. His goal? To de-stigmatize mental illness in the black community. He's decided to use the pulpit to address the issue.

Though his church, First Corinthian Baptist Church, has offered counseling in the past, Walrond wanted to take it one step further. So he opened the H.O.P.E. Center in Harlem. The initiative, an extension of the church which opened its doors last Thursday, offers free mental health services to Harlem residents. H.O.P.E.—which stands for Healing On Purpose & Evolving—provides therapeutic services that support, respect, and respond to the individual’s power to create the life that they desire. 

“There’s a normalization of trauma in this community,” Walrond told DNAinfo. “We don’t engage it, we don’t address it. The traditional response was to pray about it. Not to negate that, but that’s not the same as having a mental health practitioner. Language is the biggest way to take the stigma away.” 

The pastor, who has battled his own bouts of depression, is very aware of the stigma attached to those seeking help for mental health support in the black community. He says people in Harlem are hesitant to seek out mental health services for fear of being labeled as "crazy"—shying away from psychotherapy to alleviate feelings of anxiety, depression, PTSD, marriage and parenting problems. 

The 700-square-foot office at 228 West 116th Street, a few blocks away from Walrond’s church, provides individual services for adults and children as well as group therapy. Chirlane McCray, the wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, was at the grand opening of the center. The first lady of NYC has been a tireless fighter and mental health advocate, and knows the importance of the center’s opening. 

“Government cannot do this work alone and we shouldn’t expect people to travel someplace unfamiliar to deal with people they do not trust when they’re suffering,” McCray said at the ceremony. “Now folks who live, work and worship in this community are only a short walk away from high-quality affordable mental health care and that care will be delivered by people who understand this community.” 

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.