Symposium examines black mental health and wellness

By Derek Devine

Presenters and attendees come together for a group selfie at the fourth annual Black History Month academic symposium.
Presenters and attendees come together for a group selfie at the fourth annual Black History Month academic symposium.

The College Hall Music Room played host to the fourth annual Black History Month academic symposium Feb. 9 as New College continued its commemoration of Black History Month. The symposium provided an opportunity for the larger campus community to have an interdisciplinary conversation that brings together artists, academics and activists while focusing on healing justice and transformative justice work.

“During our planning sessions throughout the fall 2018 semester, it became clear that we wanted talk about some of the specific stressors and “toxicities” impacting black communities as well as provide strategies for healing,” says Queen Meccasia Zabriskie, assistant professor of sociology and head of the Black History Month committee. “The focus was developed from a conversation on race and ethnicity about health and wellness that took place during the 2018 program.”

Cabrini Austin, a third-year student on the Black History Month committee, introduced New College to the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM). BEAM was represented by Dr. Michael Chan-Frazier who kicked off the symposium and touched on the importance of rethinking mental health and lead a workshop that taught emotionally intelligent leadership and social justice. Dr. Micah Hobbes Frazier, who participated in the Day of Dialogue discussion that members of the New College community organized in 2016, returned to campus to join a panel discussion on the toxicity of gender and lead a workshop that touched on somatic shape and transformative justice and healing.

“We asked both of the speakers to provide the audience with strategies and techniques to address the gendered and race-based trauma,” says Zabriskie. “They both walked us through activities that helped individual audience members critically reflect on how we have been shaped/ socialized by the different institutions (i.e. the family), norms, and expectations in gendered and racialized ways.”

Throughout the day, the audience was given the tools to develop resiliency strategies and address some of the ways that previous experiences help shape the ways each person wants to shift moving forward.

The symposium concluded with a keynote presentation on the use of West African drumming for mental health interventions by Dr. Kyaien Conner of University of South Florida. Conner talked about alternative and culturally oriented approaches to mental health and showcased music therapy as a possible nonpharmacological intervention that could increase mental abilities and independence, including therapeutic intervention for senior African Americans struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. She discussed the history of the Djembe drum in West Africa and how drumming has been a part of healing rituals worldwide, stating “The Djembe drum was created as a sacred drum to be used in healing ceremonies, rites of passage, ancestral worship, warrior rituals, as well as social dances.”

The session ended with a drum circle where Master Drummer Cheikh N’Dong taught students a rhythm on the Djembe and Dundun Orchestra drums. Dr. Conner taught a master dance class on campus during the 2018 ISP session, and Cheikh N’dong has drummed for a number of West African dance workshops on campus and taught drumming to students during the Fall 2018 ISP session.

New College’s Black History Month committee has programming scheduled through the end of the month. Click here to see the New College’s full Black History Month event schedule.

– Derek Devine is social media manager at New College of Florida.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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