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Local BIPOC support group launches to address trauma of long-COVID

A Black female sits in front of a desk, motioning her hands, as a Black male sits behind the desk looking in her direction.
Ashley Kang
Dr. Ednita Wright recaps an April 19, 2023, long-COVID support group meeting with organizer Gerald Seals at the South Side Innovation Center in Syracuse, N.Y. Both were struck by the ease the evening’s group felt speaking on grief, isolation and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Central New York’s Black residents were hospitalized for COVID-19 at significantly higher rates than other groups, state data shows, leaving many impacted by the disease's long-term physical and emotional effects.

To address this trauma, a new Syracuse long-COVID support group has launched to specifically serve people who identify as Black, indigenous or communities of color—BIPOC for short. It has now held two sessions led by clinical social worker Ednita Wright. A Black woman herself with 30 years of counseling experience, she stressed there is a process one must go through to feel better.

Talking, Wright said, is the first step.

“People have some thoughts about Black people in terms of mental health," she said. "First of all, nobody thinks that we have mental health problems, because we're supposed to be so strong. And you know, we can take it. We're out in the street, blah, blah, blah. But that's not true. What's really important is that we get together so we start talking positivity to each other.”

Wright noted, too, that Black men greatly struggle with sharing emotions. She said she was struck with the ease and comfort two Black males displayed during the session, which was also attended by three Black females.

To maintain the group as a safe space, none of the five participants’ comments are shared directly, but one shared openly how it’s been instilled in them to cry on the inside, while remaining tough on the outside.

“Sometimes I come unglued,” said one member, but quickly pivoted and said he’s been conditioned to bear it — the grief of losing his wife and then a close friend to COVID-19. Others add they often block feelings and are reluctant to express themselves for fear of being seen as crazy.

The group’s organizer, Gerald Seals, who leads the mental health servicesBaby B.A.C.K. Inc., said that’s why he created the space.

We got to eliminate that stigma," he said. "Because actually, therapy is the new thing. It's kind of like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna go see my therapist.' I mean, it's really kind of cool. ‘You got a therapist?’ ‘Yeah, I know.’"

He continued: "'I'm happy. I'm feeling good.' I mean, you know, [therapy], it's the new Black thing.”

The next support group meeting is set for May 24 and is intended for those in the BIPOC community who have suffered over the course of the pandemic. Seals said the group is still welcoming new members.

Ashley Kang is a content producer for WAER 88.3 FM under Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She supports the station with community-driven story ideas; planning of the monthly public affairs show; Syracuse Speak; and the launch of an education beat.