By Edward Henderson
One of the criticisms of youth today is their perceived short attention span. With the constant stimulus of smart phones and social media, it’s hard for many to imagine teenagers staying invested for more than three minutes, let alone three hours to any given thing.
However, on Saturday Jan. 20 at the East African Community and Cultural Center, a group of teenagers sat attentively and engaged with a forum on mental health and substance abuse for four hours.
The event was thrown by Hade San Diego, a community organization dedicated to creating unity within the East African community through engaging the youth in social, educational and skill building activities.
Last Saturday’s event featured a panel discussion covering mental health and substance abuse from both a medical and psychological approach.
The discussion began with a presentation on the adolescent brain and how substance abuse can hinder its development. Many in attendance were shocked to learn that the brain is still considered to be in its adolescent state between the ages of 12-24.
Next, a presentation was given on the opioid epidemic sweeping the country and often idolized in hip-hop music today. The talk highlighted the negative effects that opioids can have to the body and shed light on the structural aspects of the medical industry that promote it as well.
The presentations closed with two discussions on the mental health surrounding mood disorders and how to dismantle them along with a thought provoking discussion on how bi-culturalism within immigrant communities can lead to depression and other mental health issues.
A question and answer session followed the presentations which seemed to light a spark within many in attendance. The candid discussion touched on generational gaps within the family structure and the importance to finding a middle ground between youth and their parents.
“Mental health is a very taboo subject in the East African community in general,” said Maezn Micael, founder of Hade San Diego. “People think that because we’re not like everyone else we’re exempt from problems that people have in everyday life. There was a death recently within the community surrounding the topics we discussed today. It resonated to me because it could have been any one of us. That’s why our group came in to tackle this issue.”
Hade (ha-de) means ‘one’ in Tigrinya, the language of over half of the Eritrean population. Oneness within the Eritrean and other East African communities is the goal of Hade.
“Growing up, we had the most inclusive community possible. Then in the 90’s there was a divide that was politically and religiously based. What we’re trying to do is bring everything back to one community.”
This effort began with a mass text message Micael sent out to his network of friends within the community after he noticed the declining attendance in once popular cultural events and gatherings. The text called for a meeting of the minds to discuss what could be done to engage the community once more. 12 people showed up to that meeting June of 2017 and the idea for Hade was born.
The following month, the organization hosted its first event, a back to school barbecue. In a matter of three to four months of consistent events and meetings, attendance shot up to 83 people.
“This is not my group. This is the San Diego Eritrean Community’s group. We are doing this together. I’m just here to support and help out like everybody else.”
Looking ahead, Hade is focused on attaining their non-profit 501C3 designation as well as facilitating more events that satisfy the needs and interests of the community. In their most recent effort, every first Saturday of the month, the group will gather to do a physical activity. Quarterly workshops and a college tour this March are also in the works.
To learn more about Hade, they can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat at Hade.SanDiego