Seeing Mental Health and Empowering Others
Recently, Hennepin County partnered with creative agency KNOCK Inc. and Metre to launch a $1.7 million mental health awareness campaign, “See Mental Health.” This campaign intends to normalize mental health conversations and reduce stigma through education and connections. By normalizing conversations about mental health, we recognize that mental health and mental illness affect us all, and we don’t have to face it alone. When we recognize we are not alone, we have hope, and we can find a way forward in our communities.
This initiative was paved by Hennepin County’s principal planning analyst, Jocelyn McQuirter. This extraordinarily important campaign was shot in our YWCA Downtown facility. Jocelyn had a rich history with YWCA Minneapolis before this partnership. Read below as she shares how her family has been involved with our programs, why our mission matters to her and much more.
Behind the Scenes
About Jocelyn McQuirter
How long and in what ways have you been involved with YWCA Minneapolis?
I’ve been involved with the YWCA Minneapolis for several years. In 2015, I took the training and became a certified YWCA Racial Justice facilitator. Since then, I’ve contributed to numerous community conversations as a table facilitator and volunteer at the It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race™ events. In 2019, a new job in downtown Minneapolis brought my almost-toddler to the Early Childhood Education center. We’ve done swim classes, and I’ve done yoga on the rooftop and taken classes at various locations.
It was easy to be a member with the convenience of fitness and child care all in one place.
In what ways do your values align with YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women and girls?
Magnifying humanity is a core value of mine. I see it as a true driver of progress in teams, organizations and communities. As a Black girl, I grew up in South Minneapolis, being othered at the intersections of race, gender and religion. We lived in white dominant middle socioeconomic status communities, and I was no stranger to racism and prejudice experiences.
Cultivating inclusive practices has led me to work that’s increased workforce and supplier diversity, advocated for Black maternal health and strengthened community engagement with systems. My values align with making the world better for all. Like many ancestors before me, I dream of a more antiracist future for my child and future generations.
Why does the work that YWCA does matter to you?
YWCA is creating so many avenues for the community to be. The avenues for the community to be seen, valued and healthy are all things I know YWCA does well. I appreciate the range of programming that parallels the lifecycle of people and their lived experiences. The advocacy on racial and gender justice makes YWCA a strong partner in education, workplace inclusion and public policy.
We need people and organizations at all levels to drive better systems and outcomes – the organization does a good job of helping communities thrive.
What would you want others to know about YWCA’s programs and work?
I’ll speak particularly to the Early Childhood Education programming as it was our longest commitment. It was important for me and Kaiden’s father that our child have experiences with teachers that affirm his identity. Unfortunately, having a Black teacher in Minnesota is unlikely, with just 1.4% of licensed educators represented. There’s so much research on the benefits of having a Black teacher for Black, white and other students of color.
We’ve been fortunate to have several African American teachers at YWCA Minneapolis who’ve raised Kaiden to be so curious, assertive and kind. The anti-bias curriculum went beyond heroes and holidays and made for positive preschool experiences.
While Kaiden’s now graduated from the center and kindergarten bound, the community of YWCA kids and families made the experience special. I still stay in touch with some of his teachers and have play dates with families. When we drive by downtown, Kaiden sees the tall buildings and remembers. He still talks about his old school and misses his friends and teachers. The experience left a warm impression on him that I’m forever grateful for.
Who have been the leaders and mentors in your life’s journey? Why and how have they affected you?
Big question! So many have. So many are still living, and others are now ancestors. I give a lot of credit to my parents because they gave me life. They poured into me an appreciation of my Black heritage and work ethic that really sees people’s humanity. A good amount of the leaders and mentors in my life are Black women. From the beginning of my days in the workforce, they’ve guided and protected me.
If I could center one person, it’d be my late cousin Jasmine Iordachi. She recently passed away after a four-year battle with breast cancer, a condition that’s unfortunately impacted many of my loved ones. Like me, she was 35 years young and left behind a beautiful and bubbly toddler. Jasmine was warm, honest, and illuminated light in the world. I think about her often and the strength she had to choose life every day before her sunset. When I think of her life, I remember to live. I’m reminded I get to choose life every day when I wake up with the chance to breathe again.