For Black History Month, #IAMENOUGH and the Eva Longoria Foundation are collaborating to highlight Afro-Latina changemakers. Learn more about the Eva Longoria Foundation’s work to empower Latinas through education and entrepreneurship at @evalongoriafoundation on Instagram.
Mental health in the Black and brown communities – and the stigma that exists around seeking help or discussing it openly – is a vital topic for conversation, attention, and action. There is a lack of resources and safe spaces for the protection of the emotional well-being of individuals of color. That’s especially true of women of color, who often provide emotional labor and care for others, but lack the time or access to care for themselves. The legacy of generationally-transmitted trauma is also a pervasive issue in our community that we must address before healing can begin.
It starts with the right access and outlets to begin the process. Sarah Taylor, an Afro-Panamanian, is the founder of Yo Soy Ella, an organization that provides mental health services to support Latinas and all women of color and enrich their mental and emotional wellness.
Yo Soy Ella tackles critical issues like domestic violence and provides essential services to keep Black and brown women supported. Regardless of ethnic background or economic status, Yo Soy Ella offers free services with open arms to women who have faced traumatic trials and tribulations.
Sarah Taylor is working to decolonize mental health and destigmatized therapy and mental healthcare in our communities of color. As an Afro-Latina and a survivor of domestic violence, Sarah understands the experience of the people she serves, and instills her resilience and strength into every person working with Yo Soy Ella.
How did you decide to start Yo Soy Ella (YSE)? I understand that YSE started as a support group for women of color to share their experiences and daily life challenges as we seek to manage mental and emotional wellness.
YSE resources emphasize [assisting] women who are survivors of domestic violence and women who are faced with less severe mental health conditions. I decided to start this organization while I was navigating resources to help me process and [make my] journey towards healing from a physically abusive three-year relationship. After encountering two different therapists who did not connect [with] or help me, I was motivated to do something for myself and other women with similar experiences. YSE was birthed from a place of sincere desperation to heal.
What programs do you offer that spiritually and emotionally empower Latina women?
We offer therapeutic group workshops, panel discussions, individual and group therapy, our informative online platforms, and our Teen Circle programs, which all incorporate spiritual and emotional empowerment as an approach to strengthening the lives of our participants. [ Services are offered in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.]
What does your team of providers look like, in terms of cultural identity and mental health expertise?
Our beautiful garden of healers encompasses a range of professions, [including]those holding Master-level degrees in business administration, social work, clinical mental health certifications and licensure, speech pathologists, and those in PR and marketing, communications, and other various professions. Almost 75% of our team possesses a Master’s degree, along with various certifications and licensures.
Our team is culturally diverse! We have Mexican, Puerto-Rican, Panamanian, African American, El Salvadorian, and Polish-American women within the team.
How has your Afro-Panamanian identity influenced your work?
It has influenced the importance and prioritization of inclusion. It has also influenced my perspective and attitude on accepting and celebrating how I exist within my duality as a Black and as a Latina woman. I have also recognized the privilege that this duality holds when I express my Blackness amongst African Americans, who historically as a people were stripped of their culture and identity. Witnessing other AfroLatinas and Panamanian women share their narratives continues to inspire me, and the work that I have been called to do to amplify the needs and the voices of the women we serve.
From your work within the Black and brown communities, what resources are needed to provide better mental health support?
We need practitioners who are culturally-sensitive, as well as those who recognize their biases, or racial and prejudiced attitudes towards particular groups. We also need practitioners who are willing to go beyond their textbook and colonized-institutional learnings to really provide culturally-centered work within mental health.
What challenges exist to Latinx folks accessing mental health care? How does your work destigmatize mental health and emotional wellness within the Latinx community?
Some of the challenges include [cultural] stigma, costs, accessibility, and insufficient Latinx mental health professionals in the field of mental health. Our work within YSE addresses these barriers by offering free counseling sessions seven days a week, as well as encouraging group therapy and support groups to help navigate any [less severe] mental/emotional health concerns. Within our sessions, we take time to co-create with our clients/participants a space that is conducive for their healing journey.
That curating process amongst our participants is already in itself destigmatizing what professionals have been influenced to design for those seeking wellness. We also are constantly learning as students to unlearn and decolonize practices that have convinced us that our people heal a certain way. We incorporate our practices from our mothers, grandmothers, comadres, and with other indigenous influences.
How have the young women you work with help impact you and your individual journey?
The young women, in particular the women overseeing our teen program, Yo Soy Ella Teens, have highlighted the “younger me” that needed support and guidance throughout self-discovery and acceptance. YSE Teens was intentionally created to reach back to the younger me or the younger you. This pathway to impact looks different for everyone. And personally, I feel honored to witness firsthand how the young women within YSE and within the YSE Teen program shift as leaders and reclaim their innocence and their free-spirited youthfulness while simultaneously changing lives and their world.
How can we as individuals help break the generational stigma around mental health and resources?
One can continue breaking the stigma by continuing to have conversations about mental health and revolutionizing the way mental health is delivered; we must get creative and not think of office space and a comfy couch as the only way to be seen, heard, and connected. In addition, we must continue the work of dismantling the patriarchy and addressing social justice inequities.
How has Yo Soy Ella helped its members overcome any shame they might feel about seeking help?
YSE has curated opportunities for women who do not necessarily have to feel pressured to have it all together or [to have] all the answers see themselves in other women [experiencing]similar situations and walks of life. This easily creates a sense of belonging and community [so] women who we have reached don’t feel isolated with their life’s difficulties and their mental and emotional instabilities. Seeing yourself in someone else breaks that wall of shame, guilt, and sense of inadequacy. Which, unfortunately, society creates every day in the most blatant and sometimes in the most discreet ways.
What is your advice to someone seeking therapeutic healing, but who doesn’t know where to start?
The best advice I can share with someone who doesn’t know where to start with their healing journey is to talk to a trusted source about their challenges, write or journal [about] what’s happening within their journey, and seek support groups, which are tremendous in collectively helping identify some root causes, and most importantly, listening to your body. You will be surprised how many mental health conditions [and] emotional imbalances could be addressed by simply taking time to REST. Lack of sleep (insomnia) can break down our body’s ability to heal in significant ways. Over at YSE, we preach rest, stillness, meditation, and mindfulness.
Connect with Sarah and her Yo Soy Ella team here: Yo Soy Ella Instagram