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Black History Month 2022 – Michelle’s Experience

Michelle Jackson-Holland, senior vice president, human resources & belonging at Girls on the Run International, shares her experience celebrating Black History Month, her family’s traditions and the many ways she maximizes the 2022 theme ‘health and wellness’ all year long. Get to know GOTRI’s magnificent Michelle (and her beautiful family) more in the post below!

How are you celebrating Black History Month (BHM) this year with your family?

Celebrating Black history is not confined to one month for us – it’s part of everything that we do! I enjoy placing a greater focus on celebrating the lesser-known Black contributors to American History and introducing our little girls to extraordinary men and women of our history. One of my favorite ways to do this has been through ensuring the books and tv/videos that they are exposed to are filled with people who look like them and shows them phenomenal Black women and men. One of our favorite books right now is Vashti Harrison’s Dream Big Little One. She has an amazing lineup of books that showcase Black men and women in a youthful way and she’s an amazing illustrator! books for BHM

I am also a HUGE proponent of supporting Black and minority-owned businesses throughout the year and our family loves to try new restaurants, support Black-owned bookstores or any other businesses. BHM is a good reminder to make sure we’re supporting those in our community that are doing wonderful things!

Growing up were there any traditions that you did for BHM?

Definitely! I have vivid memories of all the ways my family engaged with our community during Black History Month. My parents made it a priority for us to participate in community parades and to attend BHM events and gatherings growing up. A big source of community in my upbringing was my church – for the month of February there was always a focus on BHM and the contributions of Black Americans on American history.

This years’ BHM theme is health and wellness. What do you do for your health? What health and wellness practices have you taught your children? Do you have recommendations for new mothers?

This is an area that always has room for improvement 😊. The saying is true – getting outside is such a mental health booster and I am a firm believer of that. When weather is permitting, I pack up the girls and go for walks. Casual walks, exploring our neighborhood and nature are such a mood and energy booster, great for all of us and has built-in bonding time. A win-win all around.BHM walk in the park

Another fun way this shows up for us is Friday dance parties with our little girls! By Friday afternoon, we all just need to totally unleash and just “wiggle it out” as I tell my oldest, Ava. So Friday afternoons we blast the music and have a dance party together. It’s really the highlight of my Fridays and helps me shift gears into enjoying the weekend with my family (not to mention is a great way to ensure my oldest gets in some physical activity before bed!).

I could go on and on about new mothers and mental health as a mom of two girls under four years old! If I could summarize my recommendations (read – lessons learned!), it’s the following:

  • Build a village – It really does take a village to raise children. I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have a village, but if you can build support systems around you, it will go a long way for your mental health and how you show up for your children and family. And the “village” doesn’t always have to be family – maybe it’s outsourcing things (cleaning, grocery ordering, etc.) so that you have more capacity and bandwidth for the things you need to focus on.
  • Take care of you – You cannot give your family your best self when you aren’t your best self. You must be specific about what you need and find ways to get it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – this was something that I had to learn myself.
  • Take it one day, or one hour at a time – My mom always tells me not to “borrow tomorrow’s trouble” which is something that is very hard for me – I can be a “what if” and worrying person at times and it manifests alarmingly for me during postpartum. I have to sometimes verbally remind myself to just take things a step at a time and to focus on the things that I have control over at that moment. It’s helped me stop the dangerous spiral that my mind can sometimes take!
  • Be vocal regarding your health – Maternal health, especially in the Black community is something very near and personal for me and too often, our concerns and pain are ignored or minimized. I encourage all new moms to be vocal about their health and the health of their little ones. I have no problem calling the pediatric nurse line any time of day or night with questions or for guidance and I’m not ashamed to do the same for my own health.

Michelle and Ava playing in leaves for Black History Month

Why do you feel health and wellness is an important theme for BHM?

Often, there is an unfortunate stigma with health and wellness in the Black community, especially mental health, but I like to think that we’re doing a much better job of addressing how vitally important it is for us and the significant implications of past and current trauma on our overall wellbeing. Knowing the barriers to adequate health and wellness, both physical and mental, can help us all be champions for the Black community. Psycom.net cites the following as the biggest barriers to Black mental health and I think a lot of these translate over to general health and wellness as well:

    • High costs
    • Familial shame
    • Cultural stigma
    • Lack of diversity in health care
    • Poor competency
    • Whiteness as a foundation to mental health care
    • Distrust of the medical industry
    • Difficulty navigating the process
    • Emotional hesitation
    • Negative past experiences

    There are things that we can all do to stand up for ourselves and others in ensuring that access and treatment within health and wellness is fair for all. BHM is a great springboard into action for improving health and wellness in the Black community.

    Ensuring strong mental health is a key part of health and wellness. What do you do for mental health? Are there are self-care practices you recommend? 

    For me, mental health is all about balance. I often tell myself I cannot pour from an empty cup. For us, that shows up as my husband and I having a policy that if one of us “needs a moment”, then we ask for it and take that time to decompress, nap or whatever it is that we need to do.

    Outside of the traditional “self-care” things to do, I find it’s the micro-moments that really make a difference for me. Waking up just a bit earlier to have a moment to myself before the hustle and bustle of the day or yelling kids helps tremendously. And believe it or not, cleaning is really a self-care thing for me. My mood and energy are really affected by my environment and having a clean, tidy home does wonders for me.

    I also recognize the role that working/working from home/working in a pandemic plays on mental health. I am very strict about the boundaries that I set for myself and my family. Next, I intentionally don’t bring any work or laptops into my room as that is my safe haven and space away from work. Finally, I also have blackout periods where my time is designated to my family and I am fortunate to be work for an organization that supports that balance.