Category Archives: Office of Diversity & Equity

BHRS’ ODE Internship Program – Deadline 5/13

The BHRS Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) advances health equity in behavioral health outcomes of marginalized communities throughout San Mateo County. ODE is dedicated to addressing health inequities and stigma in the areas of mental health and substance use and supporting wellness and recovery in San Mateo County. ODE works to achieve these goals by promoting cultural humility and competence, which are rooted in principles of
social justice. To learn more about BHRS ODE’s work, visit www.smchealth.org/bhrs/ODE.

More information about the internship in the application below.

Happy AAPI Heritage Month: Updates from the Pacific Islander Initiative

PII Co-Chair, Brittany Afu

This year, BHRS ODE’s Health Equity Initiative, Pacific Islander Initiative (PII) welcomes a returning co-chair, Brittany Afu, who is currently working with long-time partner, Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center. Luci Latu and Brittany have been focusing on rebuilding past partnerships and cultivating new ones to strengthen PII’s membership base.

Some of the initiative’s focus this year has been on COVID outreach – raising awareness around COVID testing, vaccines and linking families to COVID relief programs and services. Other focuses include outreaching for partner events and community classes, sharing information about services and completing community presentations to raise awareness on critical issues affecting the PII community.

Recently, the PII co-chairs presented to a class at UC Berkeley discussing Pacific Islander health disparities and how the initiative and other partnering agencies are developing strategies to address community needs. It is an ongoing effort, and we hope to make community impacts by filling future Parent Project courses, hosting Mental Health First Aid trainings and getting more families connected to needed care.

Blog written by Brittany Afu
Co-Chair of Pacific Islander Initiative of San Mateo County, 


To learn more about Pacific Islander Initiative and other health equity initiatives, visit SMCHealth.org/HEI.

The Health Equity Initiatives are funded through BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity. For more information click here.

To learn more about Pacific Islander Initiative, visit smchealth.org/pacific-islander-initiative.

2022 May Mental Health Month #SMCTakeAction4MH

Hello, 

As many of you know, May is Mental Health Month or, as we also like to call it, the lime greenest time of the year! This year’s theme, adopted from the statewide campaign, is #SMCTakeAction4MH. The theme encourages everyone to take actionable steps to address mental health and substance use matters. Over the past two years, the pandemic has been especially challenging for many of us. Your mental health is more important than ever. Throughout the month, learn ways you can take action to improve your communities’ mental wellness!

Each year we partner with local agencies and community members to offer free events throughout San Mateo County. This year, we are offering both in-person and virtual events!

To find our full calendar of events, learn ways to get involved, and find behavioral health resources. Visit our website here: SMCMentalHealthMonth.org.

Please promote Mental Health Month with your communities and networks by sharing our promo flyer and utilizing our virtual backgrounds.

In community, 

Kristie & Sylvia
Co-Chairs, May Mental Health Month Planning Committee
Behavioral Health & Recovery Services Office of Diversity and Equity

Sylvia Tang | She/Her/她
stang@smcgov.org | 650-578-7165

Kristie Lui | She/Her/她
kflui@smcgov.org

Kwentuhan: Y(Our) Story Matters: You heal. I heal. We heal. 

Panel from Equity Through Art Series: Kwentuhan on 3/31/22

Kwentuhan in Tagalog,  translates to “storytelling.” By exploring our personal and collective narratives we can find ways to deepen our connection to Self, & others, including our ancestors (seen and unseen). Research has shown that the practice of storytelling, whether you are sharing or witnessing, can offer a pathway to healing. The Equity Through Art Series webinar: “Filipinx Kwentuhan” on March 31st embodied that relational experience for me, as I spoke my truth as a panelist, as well as witnessing the soulfully moving & resilient stories shared by my fellow kapatids (siblings) on the panel. As a 2nd generation Pinay-American, this cultural tradition of kwentuhan has served as a wisdom transfer, and ancestral healing tool in my family and community.  

This healing arts practice is at the heart of the newly founded Kapwa Kultural Center/Kafé in Daly City (a state-funded project by the Mental Health Services Act Innovation Funding) that, in collaboration with Daly City Partnership & Daly City Youth Health Center, the Filipino Mental Health Initiative of San Mateo County has developed to honor our Filipina/o/x lineage and culture through preserving our individual and collective narratives. Expected to officially launch late 2022 to mid-2023, the center/café will offer a welcoming, culturally affirming, healing space to access an array of mental health & wellness services and support—as well as a home for kwentuhan: a place to talk story, grab a Filipino-inspired drink, and merienda (afternoon snacks). Please stay tuned for more updates on our progress. If you are interested in getting involved and/or learning more about this historical North San Mateo County landmark development, please feel free to contact us at fmhismc@gmail.com or visit us at fmhi-smc.org. 

Blog written by Stephanie Balon, MA, AMFT 
Co-Chair of Filipino Mental Health Initiative of San Mateo County, 
Co-Founder/Senior Director of Kapwa Kultural Center/Kafe in Daly City 


Missed the event? You can find the full recording here.

To learn more about Filipino Mental Health Initiative and other health equity initiatives, visit SMCHealth.org/HEI.

The Health Equity Initiatives are funded through BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity. For more information click here.

AACI Black History Month Event | Thank you and Highlights

The African American Community Initiative (AACI) proudly hosted their annual Black History Month Program on Saturday, February 26, 2022. The audience was greeted with a musical interlude by The Glide Ensemble singing “Say Their Names” chanting “Black lives matter- we matter.” This poignant song was followed by Dana Johnson (they/them), Pride Initiative Co-Chair, honoring our ancestors by reciting the Sankofa African Ancestral acknowledgement. Lee Harrison (he/him), AACI Co-Chair, gave an introduction to the national theme for Black History Month: Black Health and Wellness.

Doctoral student from Palo Alto University and AACI intern, Chika Ofodu (she/they) gave a well received presentation on Healing Centered Engagement (HEC), a framework for engaging with youth of color that embraces a holistic and strength- based approach to trauma that involves culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing.

Dr. Kim Rhoads (she/her) told us that the highest rate of COVID infection and deaths are still occurring in Black and Latino communities. Social determinants drive these disparities that are common among all other diseases. Although the total numbers of people with COVID has declined, Dr Rhoads emphasised that Black and Brown communites need to continue to follow precautionary guidelines to reduce our high infection rates:

  • Masking matters: It is most important to block the aerosol spread from the mouth and nose.
  • Protect yourself by getting vaccinated despite community conspiracy theories to the contrary.
  • Omicron is a variant of COVID, there will likely be new variants.

We must act accordingly to protect ourselves from this airborne disease.

Lastly, a cultural cooking demonstration of a Healthy Gumbo recipe was offered by Chef Opal of Daly City. Through-out the event there were presentation polls and raffles. A Black History Trivia Game and raffle ended the day on a high note. All event raffles were funded by the SMC BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity.

Written by Pamela Ward (she/her), African American Community Initiative Co-Chair

March 31: Filipinx Kwentuhan: Equity through Art Webinar

When: March 31st 6pm-7pm

Registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEsce2hrD4vGNcPA4inP9HQmIqwFfTt-0_F

Description: Every culture has a storytelling tradition. In the Filipinx diaspora, kwentuhan (storytelling) is a way of remembering and honoring ancestors, preserving histories, and reconnecting with kapwa. It has also provided a path to resisting invisibility. From the time the first Filipinos landed in California in 1587 to the time they began settling in San Mateo County in the 1920s, storytelling has always been part of the fabric of the community’s lived experience. Equity Through Art Series’ “Filipinx Kwentuhan” will feature unique stories of resilience, healing and bayanihan in the Filipinx community in San Mateo County. The webinar panel will be moderated by Aileen Cassinetto, San Mateo County Poet Laureate, and feature Matthew Abaya, Filmmaker; Stephanie Balon, Co-Chair of the SMC BHRS Filipino Mental Health Initiative; Joanne Boston, events producer with a focus on community art and culture; Carly Burton, Jefferson High school Student and filmmaker; and Rosie Tejada, President of the Jefferson Union High School District Board of Trustees.

As we, in San Mateo County, reckon with racial inequities, it’s critical to understand the history that got us to where we are today. The Equity through Art Series, a partnership between the County Library, BHRS Office of Diversity and Equity, and the Chief Equity Officer at the County of San Mateo, takes us on a journey to understand the experiences of Black, Indigenous, Communities of Color, through their voices and stories. For the full series, visit: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuc5tf7EL6P7G4UatPRBuPqQ0LmP1PHNa. Please join us for Filipinx Kwentuhan Webinar on March 31st from 6-7pm.

“Living Into Our Mission” by Dr Erica Britton

Isn’t it true that “everyday life” teaches us lessons we didn’t know we needed to learn?  Or, that there are events that happen as a part of our daily lives that shine a light on things that need to be seen?  I think so.   Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with a healthy, vibrant, joyful 76-year-old with no major health problems, my mother*, a Black woman who, as a teenager, migrated with her family from the American South to East Palo Alto in the 1960s.  Lately, she has been experiencing pain and other symptoms that are far outside her normal daily living experiences.  The symptoms were starting to take a toll on her emotionally.  She asked me to “sit in” on a virtual Doctor’s appointment with her.  When she described the pain and swelling, she is experiencing, the Doctor asked her several follow up questions which Mom answered succinctly without much elaboration.  Based on Mom’s answers and her upbeat, cheerful tone, the Doctor suggested compression stockings.    That would have been the end of the appointment.  Instead, Mom has two upcoming medical procedures that are going to improve her life both physically and psychologically.  So, what happened? Why does she have two medical procedures instead of compression stockings? After all, Mom reported her experience.  The Doctor who has a good relationship with Mom, listened closely and did an assessment. What had happened was, the Doctor was not aware of Mom’s deft use of African American English and code-switching.  Since I had seen the swelling and knew her actual level of discomfort, I asked Mom some additional questions and asked her to share her answers with the Doctor. Once the Doctor heard the additional information, she insisted that Mom come for an in-person visit.  The result of the in-person visit revealed two significant problems which would have otherwise been missed.

Consider this. Several years ago, a local Black psychiatrist was called to the emergency room of a Bay Area hospital. The ER staff did not know what to do to support or contain a man absolutely overcome with grief. His grandmother had been shot by a stray bullet, just a few houses down from her own home, and now, she lay dead on a gurney in the ER, despite the efforts of determined physicians. The Grandson was not screaming or shouting epithets or kicking over furniture. He was not violent by any definition. He was doubled over weeping, rocking back and forth, and humming amazing grace. ER staff had alerted security because he would not leave his grandmother’s side. He continued to weep, rock and sing. He was not going to leave her. The psychiatrist went to the emergency room, was briefed by the staff, and left them to be with the young man. He stood and watched from a distance for a few minutes and understood exactly what he was seeing. Grandson was expressing grief in the only language that he knew–the gospel music of his home and community–and rocking his body for comfort. In the aftermath of that trauma, he needed to be exactly where he was, doing exactly what he was doing.

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2022 Mental Health Month Planning Committee Schedule

You are invited to San Mateo County’s 2022 May Mental Health Month Planning Committee hosted by Behavioral Health & Recovery Services Office of Diversity and Equity. The virtual meetings are open to the public.

Thursdays 3:30-5:30pm

February 24
March 24
April 14
June 9

Stipends are available for those who identify as behavioral health clients or family members. Language Interpretation is provided if needed. To reserve language services. Please contact us at least one week prior to meeting.

February 26: AACI’s Black History Month Event

The African American Community Initiative (AACI) Health Equity Initiative of San Mateo County BHRS’ Office of Diversity and Equity is hosting its Black History Month celebration on February 26, 2022 from 10am to 12pm as an online Zoom event.

Please register for this free event here.

Pride Center MHSA Project Outcomes

The San Mateo County Pride Center opened it’s doors in July 2016 as a Mental Health ServicesAct (MHSA) Innovation (INN)-approved five-year pilot project. Since then, the Pride Center has expanded the network of services available to the LGBTQ+ community, promoted visibility and belonging, and filled gaps in culturally responsive mental health treatment services.

According to the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission’s 2018 countywide survey of 546 LGBTQ+ residents and employees, fewer than half (43%) of adult respondents felt that their mental health care provider had the expertise to care for their needs. Among LGBTQ+ youth who responded to the survey, three-quarters (74%)
reported that they had considered harming themselves in the past 12 months, and two-thirds (65%) did not know where to access LGBTQ+ friendly health care.

The MHSA INN component allows counties to introduce and evaluate mental health approaches that have not been tried elsewhere, to develop new best practices. The San Mateo County Pride Center was developed as an INN project since the U.S. has no other model of a coordinated approach across mental health, social, and psychoeducational services for the LGBTQ+ community.

The Pride Center offers services in three components:

  1. Social and Community Activities: outreaches, engages, reduces isolation, educates, and provides support to high-risk LGBTQ+ individuals through peer-based models of wellness and recovery that include educational and stigma reduction activities.
  2. Clinical Services: provides mental health services focusing on individuals at high risk of, or with moderate to severe, mental health challenges.
  3. Resource Services and Training: serves as a hub for LGBTQ+ resources. Hosts trainings and events related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and on providing culturally affirmative services.

In FY 2020-21 alone:
• 3,000+ participants served through clinical, social, training, and drop-in services
• 169 unique individuals received clinical services
• 2,700 hours of clinical services were delivered
• 359 community members served across 10 different peer support groups
• 300+ LGBTQ+ older adults were regularly contacted via emails, calls, and support groups

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