From Interest to Lifestyle

September 18, 2017

Kenesha Chalemon, 16, was born and still resides in Delray Beach, Florida. She is a student at Atlantic Community High School. She is an advocate for anti-bullying and mental health awareness, creating and participating in community awareness projects and events. She is the co-founder and co-president of Teen Life in Healthier Delray Beach, a school club that brings mental health awareness and knowledge to youth. She is interested in photography, psychology, food science, mental illnesses, and the effects and influences of social media on youths. In her spare time Kenesha loves napping, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.

Recently, I attended a Mental Health First Aid Training intended for teens in my community.  I was primarily interested in this opportunity to get more information about mental health, mental illness, and how to respond in crisis and non-crisis situation.  This experience increased my level of interest in the mysterious mind.

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the brain and why it works the way it does?  I would read books about neurologists in hopes of becoming one myself. I also loved playing Brain Stimulation Surgery Games online. I would get a great feeling in my heart after seeing the positive effect of my surgery as the patient goes on to live a happier and healthier life. As I grew up, however, I drifted away from the high pressures of being a neurologist, but I was still interested in the mind and how it works.

As a social worker and therapist, my aunt has a lot of insights into my interests.  This is something we can continuously talk and bond over as a family.  However, a topic that brought us closer together also personally affected our family.  With my grandma dealing with depression after the loss of my mother, my desire to be an advocate for those who have mental illness was now my new mission.  My mental health interests were sadly on hold during my middle school years, because there was not much talk about mental health at school to educate students.  I, however, wanted to see a change.

During my sophomore year in high school, my friends, our community, and I created the Teen Life in Healthier Delray Beach Club with the goal of promoting mental health awareness in our school community.  When we presented our idea to our principal, she was all in. With the green light on Teen Life, we decided to start advancing our mission as soon as possible instead of waiting for the next school year. And, with the power and drive of a talented team, we planned a lunch event at Atlantic Community High School for Mental Health Day on May 25th.  Here, people showed their support by wearing green.  To spread more awareness, we had games, poems, and bookmarks filled with fun facts about mental health.  While the students were learning, they also had a blast dancing to great music.

During this event, we used the opportunity to promote our club.  We placed interest sign-in sheets at our table and got over 200 people interested in our club. This was when I knew mental health meant more to the school than I could have ever imagined, and where there is a big army, there is an even greater impact.

As the school year came to an end, the work continued. We continued to plan our school year activities, to find collaborative partnerships, and recruit even more members.  This process led us to a successful first meeting, where we discussed the topic of stigma.  This meant a lot to me because it is one of the main things stopping those with a mental illness from receiving the help they need.  During the meeting, we had interactive activities, poems, and even raps.

Throughout the year, we continued to have meetings, which are now called “Open Space” to promote a safe place to speak from the heart with confidence and no fear of judgment.  We also hosted special guests from NAMI, a game night, meditation, and cooking tutorials.

With more student support, our Second Annual Mental Health Awareness Day lunch event would be even greater.  We also began to gain local and county-wide support.  I first started out speaking to our City of Delray Beach and then to the School District of Palm Beach County.  I talked about Teen Life in Healthier Delray Beach and on how they can get involved and show their support by just wearing green on May 25th and posting Online.

Now with the school year over, as a club, Teen Life in Healthier Delray Beach will host a Teen Summit July 14th promoting Racial and Health Equity. This is a gathering of teens in our community to discuss several topics to aid them towards success in life, a live Q&A with a panel and a fun dance party to end it. As the Lead Volunteer for this event, I am more than ecstatic to share something I love with young people just like me.  The club will also spread the word to middle and high schoolers, since we expanded to two other schools after our first year, while we play fun games and get to know each other as a community.

My love and interest for the importance of mental health inspire me to love and serve those who may be struggling.  When I had the opportunity to be a panel guest at Miami Dade College to guide discussions on Mental Health with Channel Kindness I was more than thrilled to share my knowledge and get people more involved in this issue.  Discussing mental health doesn’t come easy in my culture, but you can’t break the barriers if you don’t start talking about it.  That’s why I was excited to be involved in such a deep conversation, and I can only hope we can keep the conversation going to break the barriers and stop the stigma of mental health.