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Heroes For Better

Support for Mental Health in Black Communities

Addressing Health Disparities in Bronzeville

Northwestern Medicine is committed to addressing the underlying causes of violence that persistently plague the City of Chicago. The exposure to violence and the subsequent trauma contribute to long-lasting physical and mental health issues.

It was the need to serve those impacted that led to the founding of Bright Star Community Outreach (BSCO), a community-based organization in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. It is led by founder and CEO Pastor Chris Harris Sr., also the founder and senior pastor of Bright Star Church Chicago. Harris grew up in Bronzeville and recognized the need for an organization like BSCO, which offers a variety of programs, including mental and behavioral health services through The Urban Resilience Network (TURN) Model.

In early 2020, as violence continued to increase in Bronzeville, the pandemic arrived and took a heavy toll on the community. By April 2020, Black residents accounted for almost 70% of the deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago, although they only make up 30% of the population. The initial stay-at-home order and the subsequent economic impact significantly harmed the Bronzeville community. Unemployment and violence increased, and distrust of police remained a problem.

Through the TURN Model, BSCO provides a trauma helpline, which offers free support and counseling to help those experiencing abuse or grief, depression and other mental health issues. This allows a place for callers to develop long-term relationships with community leaders who can address their trauma and grief. Callers who need more intensive services can be connected with additional resources, including mental health professionals.

To better meet the needs of a community struggling from the pandemic, BSCO extended its hours for the trauma helpline. To date, BSCO’s trauma helpline advocates and their ambassadors have impacted 45,000 individuals in the community.

To enable critical programs at BSCO to continue to operate on digital platforms during the pandemic, Northwestern Medicine provided an emergency grant to upgrade technology and support remote access. This has been especially important as the needs of the community have grown substantially during the crisis.

Help Is a Call Away

The support for BSCO from Northwestern Medicine is just one more chapter in the story of a longstanding relationship between the two organizations.

In 2013, inspired by NATAL Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, a nonprofit organization in Tel Aviv created to treat individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder related to war in the region, Harris developed The Urban Resilience Network (TURN) to address the violence and trauma in Bronzeville. TURN endeavors to focus on five core competencies: counseling, parenting, mentorship, advocacy and workforce development.

That same year, alongside University of Chicago Medicine and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, Northwestern Medicine was among the first organizations to support BSCO. With financial resources provided in part by Northwestern Medicine, BSCO was able to establish the organization’s helpline and a program with TURN to train faith and community leaders to provide trauma counseling. These faith leaders now provide counseling services through the helpline and serve as community ambassadors.

As the city grapples with a pandemic, growing violence and protests, the Northwestern Medicine commitment to community partnerships has never been more important.

“When we have the partnership of a trusted brand like Northwestern Medicine, we are the convener, not a competitor for resources,” says Harris. “This support will help all the work being done in the community.”