Harlem Pastor Opens Mental Health Center

It’s not uncommon within the Black church – and Black community at large – to be told “just pray on it” when it comes to matters of mental health. Prayer does change things, but Rev. Michael Walrond is very clear that prayer is “not the same as having a mental health practitioner.”

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On December 15, Rev. Walrond, lead visionary of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, opened the HOPE Center at 228 W. 116th St. as a safe, stigma-free space for mental health services.

Located just a few blocks from his church, the HOPE Center, which stands for “Healing On Purpose and Evolving,” will offer services to children, adults and groups, according to a DNAinfo feature story.

Like many within his congregation and in the community, Rev. Walrond, affectionately called Pastor Mike, has struggled himself with depression.

“As a pastor, I’ve always talked about it from the pulpit,” he told DNAinfo.“When you hear the pastor talk about it from the pulpit, it makes it easier. They feel affirmed.”

Informal counseling with part-time staff was already offered at First Corinthian Baptist, a historically Black church. However, the plan was always to expand.

Rev. Walrond told DNAinfo, ““There’s a normalization of trauma in this community,” he said. “We don’t engage it, we don’t address it.”

The stigma attached to mental health in the Black community is in large part due to language, Walrond believes. In his experience, people fear being called “crazy.”

Chirlane McCray, wife of mayor de Blasio and a mental health advocate, attended the Center’s opening and spoke to how transformative the Center will be to the community.
“Now folks who live, work and worship in this community are only a short walk away from high-quality affordable mental health care and that care will be delivered by people who understand this community,” said McCray.

HOPE will parter with Columbia University and work closely with noted psychiatry professor Dr. Sidney Hankerson, a thought leader on the topic of mental health and the Black church.