A Message From Urban Wellness Founder, Maureen Werrbach, LCPC
The past few weeks have been very hard and very heavy. We’re seeing the culmination of COVID and quarantining and the mental health effects of that building up, along with the growing unrest, awakening, learning and unlearning our country (and the world) is experiencing around racism in reaction to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans.
Where We Stand
At Urban Wellness we stand against racism, hate and intolerance. As therapists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors, our work is strongly guided by our social justice values. Our values of equity and inclusion are woven into the work we do, how we carry ourselves, and how we show up in our community. It’s woven into our graduate curriculum, is a part of our ethics, and is a big reason most of us get into the field of helping people. In our 8 years, we have built an office of diverse and talented therapists and we work daily to support our community, erase the stigma around mental health, and make wellness something that is accessible to every member of our community.
About the Owner of Urban Wellness
As a long time resident of the Northwest Side of Chicago, having gown up in Norwood Park (former Onahan, St. Thecla, and Resurrection student) and now living in Sauganash, and having built a mental health business with 3 locations in the Northwest Side of Chicago that provides over 24,000 counseling sessions a year to help this neighborhood thrive, my heart beats for the NW Side to be healthy in home and in life. My roots are in this neighborhood. My family, my friends, my business and my life are here. But we have work to do, NW Side. And I’m here to say, it’s time for this neighborhood to embrace the work that needs to be done.
Our Country’s History
There is a dangerous double standard in this country when it comes to who gets to be afraid, and it’s time for us to reflect on that. Protests and riots don’t happen in a vacuum – usually they are a last resort after other avenues have failed. Looking at the long, inarguable history of the treatment of Black folks in the United States and the continued murdering of Black folks by law enforcement, people are done allowing the system to continue as is. Even though we think of slavery as a long-ago national shame, the ripple effects are very present. Combine that with the other ways the United States as a government has tried to disenfranchise and control Black people, and you can start to see just how unfairly the cards have been stacked for people in our community who are not white and cis.
First Responders Call Our Community Home
The far Northwest Side of Chicago has a well-regarded and protected reputation as a predominantly white area where many Chicago first responders and city workers (including my household) call home.
At Urban Wellness, we specialize in working with first responders, many of whom are Chicago law enforcement and their families. We understand the hard work, trauma, and danger our City’s first responders take each day and are honored to provide that safe space to help them be their best selves, both at work and in their personal lives. We also acknowledge that it is our ethical duty as a both a business deeply invested on the Northwest side and a mental health provider to reduce stigma, discrimination, racism, microaggression, and bias for our clients of color who also live in this neighborhood and to help dismantle this either/or thinking our community overwhelmingly has.
We know many NW Siders have been particularly unwilling to call out racism in America. Many residents in this community inherently feel that calling out racism and police brutality towards Black Americans means that you’re anti-cop and that standing against racism means standing against your partners, parents, friends, family or neighbors who are in law enforcement. Or if you’re a first responder yourself, it may feel like it means that you are abandoning your profession, your second family. This is not the case, and I’ll explain why in a minute.
This fear and unwillingness to acknowledge systemic racism are the barriers our neighborhood has to face in order to accept responsibility for our own actions, reexamine the roles we play in systemic racism, and work together as a community to make our part of the world safer for people of color who live here.
Dialectics: AND, not BUT
As a licensed clinical therapist, I understand that people have a hard time holding space for two things to be true at the same time. People may acknowledge that the way Black people are treated by law enforcement is driven by systemic racism, but they might also have loved ones in law enforcement who are kind and caring people. In mental health spaces, this is called dialectics. Dialectics is where you focus on “AND” instead of “BUT”.
Let me give an example. Let’s say you love your partner who drives you up the wall when they don’t return your messages. Your love for them is there AND your annoyance is there at the same time, even though they seem like opposing feelings. They both exist, and one doesn’t negate the other.
Similarly, we need to embrace the “AND” when we consider Black lives in America.
You can be sure that the cops in your life (or you, police officer) would never treat anyone brutally, AND you can also acknowledge the fact that Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed by police. You can also recognize that you might not consider yourself actively racist, AND be aware of the implicit bias that we all internalize growing up in the same culture and the need to be anti-racist. Even our industry of mental health counseling is acknowledging that white therapists are causing harm to people of color because of lack of diversity training and anti-racism work. Our profession isn’t immune to causing harm to people of color and so many of us are acknowledging that we have work to do.
As you can imagine from our history, growing up in the US means being exposed to a culture that values whiteness over non-whiteness, and that idea is internalized by all of us who are white. If you feel ashamed that you have implicit bias, remember that literally everyone else does. It’s important to acknowledge our biases and work to override the ones we grew up with.
When we experience protests and dissent as a country, it can be tempting to fall into an “us versus them” mentality. Ya’ll, I am seeing this big time in our neighborhoods. Whatever our feelings, they are probably drawn from our life experiences, the people we value and hold dear, and our own personal values. Instead of doubling down on our first instincts though, it’s important to think critically about racism in our community, the power of privilege, and the legacy of racial injustice in this country, and the ways in which we can do better, collectively and individually. Take some time to explore where you can focus on AND instead of BUT.
The social justice movement Black Lives Matter is not focused on discrediting other lives. It’s not either/or. Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean other people don’t matter. There is space for everyone. Yet, our community needs to understand that until Black lives are actually valued as much as everyone else’s, the focus should not be on anyone else. The burning house analogy comes to mind. If someone’s house is burning and the fire department comes, no one would argue that their house that’s not on fire needs to be hosed down too, just because someone else’s is being taken care of. Right now, we need to focus on the fact that Black lives matter and do the work to end racism, and not center ourselves as white people and our white needs.
What can we do right now as a neighborhood?
- We can commit to learning (and un-learning)
- If you’re looking for resources to use to educate yourself and others, there are many floating around. Make sure to do your research and make sure you are learning from Black educators and compensate them for their labor!
- Here are some places to start:
- We can amplify Black voices.
- We can acknowledge our privilege.
- We can work hard for diversity and inclusion in our workplaces.
- We can advocate for anti-racism training in our workplaces.
- We can advocate for diversity in local political offices.
- We can educate ourselves.
- We can educate others.
- We can get coaching.
- We can donate to Black owned organizations.
- We can buy from Black owned companies.
- We can vote.
- We can make sure we elect local officials who value social justice.
- We can take action.
We can use this pivotal moment to come together and move forward to make our NW side neighborhoods safe for everyone who lives here.
We can’t dig our heels into the ground and stay aligned to a system that only benefits our white residents. We can embrace change, big change, so that racism is dismantled and equity is established.
As a long-time resident and business owner with three NW-side locations, I am committed to putting my money where my mouth is too. Urban Wellness prioritizes its financial support for anti-racist organizations supporting Black residents, businesses, and communities. We value creating an anti-racist culture in our practice, prioritize inclusiveness and diversity in our teams, and do our own individual work. You can do this too. Advocate for diversity in your workplace. Commit to learning and unlearning what you’ve been taught about racism. Look at where you spend your money.
There are so many local businesses and families also stepping up and standing up against racism, (re)committing to do their part to do anti-racism work and support Black residents, businesses, and communities while teaching their children about oppression and systematic racism. I hope you’ll join us!
It’s time to dismantle racism and white supremacy in our NW side neighborhoods. Let’s do this work together.
Maureen Werrbach, LCPC
Founder + CEO of Urban Wellness
30+ year Northwest Side Chicago Resident
Northwest Side business owner (Edison Park, Sauganash, Old Irving Park)