BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As the Buffalo community continues to grieve the lives lost at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue on May 14, advocates are coming together to address racial factors that impact the community, as well as ways to close the mental health equity gap.

On Wednesday, national mental health experts, educational advocates and the City of Buffalo, held a panel to discuss how racist trauma impacts communities of color — including their mental health.

“A lot of times, counselors will pivot away from these issues related to racism and culture rather than lean into them,” said Dr. Norma L. Day-Wines, a panelist at the discussion and the Associate Dean of Diversity at John Hopkins University. “People’s problems are often intractably bound through issues related to racist culture.”

Panelist pointed out the resources provided in response to racist actions, including structural racism, generational trauma, and other factors that impact mental health. They noted that, especially after the attack on Jefferson Avenue, these actions have not only been highlighted in Buffalo, but also the Black and brown communities throughout the nation.

“We have to get to work in the communities, starting with listening, learning and them moving the sources and making the changes that are necessary,” said Fredrick E. Kowal, President of United University Professional (UUP).”

UUP wants to organize these discussions throughout the state, especially on SUNY college campuses, to help younger generations understand the resources out there, and the communities around the schools. They also plan to take these discussions and turn them into legislative proposals to turn talk into action.

“I think from conversations like this, we will see reform. We will see action. We will see kinds of changes that will improve the mental health of all of us,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown (D). “Buffalo, our state, and nation is at a pitiful moment where we must do the work necessary to rebuild even stronger.”

For more information regarding UUP and their efforts, head to their website at this link.

For suicide and crisis resources and to talk to a counselor instantly, call 988, or visit the website here.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.