Creating Spaces and Inviting Healing: A Q&A with Marika Reese, M.Ed., LSW

Oct 20, 2023

A former Guild mental health practitioner, Marika Reese, M.Ed., LSW, is now a Guild board member and executive director of Ubuntu Cares, among many other efforts aimed at supporting community mental health and healing.

She was gracious enough to talk with us about her work, how we can all address systemic barriers and gaps pervasive in our communities, and why she serves on Guild’s board. Meet Marika.

What is Ubuntu Cares?

Ubuntu Cares is a nonprofit organization concerned with positive social change on the grassroots and reform levels. We partner with governmental and philanthropic organizations to create solutions with and through community. 

Our Community Healing Team works to create spaces for historical and intergenerational trauma to be acknowledged and invited to heal. Our work is rooted in a mental health framework and we know the issues in our communities are systemic, generational and rooted in poverty, oppression, and trauma. Not addressing mental health and the negative impacts of systemic racism for the community is equivalent to putting a band-aid on an open wound.

Our consulting services and trainings help organizations take on their diversity, equity, inclusion and systems change commitments and priorities without feeling burnt out or overwhelmed. 

We typically work with adults but also families, groups and others through our community healing circles. Our work is tailored to the African American community but all are welcome in our safe, inviting spaces. We move around communities to meet folks where they are at. Some people follow our circles around wherever we’re serving. 

I am most proud of just how many people we are able to serve, how many people are filling the spaces we’re creating. It’s clear that we’re filling a gap and meeting a need in the community. 

What community or cultural barriers exist amongst who you serve in accessing mental health and housing services?

More than anything, there is a lack of awareness or familiarity with available services. There are a host of reasons for this. People might not have access to resources such as a case manager or support group. Or systemic barriers might not qualify them for ARMHS because of a lack of diverse providers, because symptoms look different and the people who are taking the applications don’t always have the lived experience or cultural competency to understand that.

There’s also a pervasive and disproportionate lack of access to care. A lack of cultural providers. A lack of providers at all. Financial barriers. Stigma—especially in the global majority/minority communities. A lot of time folks use religious practices and prayer. I saw a post on Instagram that really resonated around that issue—it said, “Get a therapist–God will understand!”

How does your work address social determinants of health and systemic racism, barriers and gaps to care and support?

Social determinants of health are real! Your zip code and your skin color play a huge part in what your health outcomes are going to be. If you grow up in a resource-scarce environment, if you’re a person of color, you experience microaggressions and economic impacts. All of these factors play a role in your health outcomes, both mental and physical. It drastically increases the likelihood of struggling with mental health.

One of the biggest barriers, but also one we can address, is access to knowledge. It’s one of the most important things to health and healing. For example, with many of the folks we serve, no one ever saw anyone going to therapy or talking about therapy when they were younger. It’s difficult to achieve things you haven’t seen or learned about growing up. Our Community Healing Team works to address this. Each of us can make a difference here, too, in how we think about mental health, in reducing the stigma around it, in taking care of ourselves and encouraging those around us to do the same.

What systemic gaps most urgently need filling to help ensure people can access the support they need?

We have to look at the individual needs of every community. We too often group people of color together, and that can encourage a kind of ‘Oppression Olympics.’ Each community has unique needs. For example, recent-immigrant communities likely have very different needs than, say, the African American community. We have to acknowledge past traumas and experiences of individual communities in order to fully serve them.

We must also keep equity at the forefront. DEI and DEIB are often an afterthought. The work is rarely invited to the table at the beginning of ideation and decision making. We tend to turn toward equity only after something has happened. Why aren’t we proactively changing systems and processes to ensure people of the global majority can access employment, funding for research, access to education, and so on? We know, for example, that people of color on the whole have less access to education, but we aren’t doing anything about it.

Equity feels like a ‘should’ while it is a ‘must.’ In the mental health world, we’re taught to make concrete goals and meet objectives. We must do the same with equity. 

Why do you support Guild and serve on its board of directors?

I believe in Guild and its mission. Guild is one of the only large organizations I’ve seen that talks about creating a difference, uses the principles of social justice, and is doing the work. I appreciate how progressive Guild is and how in-tune it is with not just delivering mental health services at the individual level but in operating at the macro level and in identifying community needs.

 We’re so grateful to Marika for taking the time to share her work and wisdom with us. To learn more and support Ubuntu Cares, visit their website.