A Kansas City man is using his own mental health struggles and his knack for storytelling to bring awareness to mental health issues facing young minorities in the Kansas City community.
Building on the principle that mental health should be addressed and access to mental health resources should be available and prioritized in the United States, Ebrima “Abraham” Sisay created the Freedom Project, an eight-part documentary-style video series. His goal is to use the series to develop a more engaging conversation around mental health that will ultimately lead to change within the Kansas City community and beyond.
“Ultimately, the goal is to create new legislation that will give access and resources to people who might need it the most,” Sisay said. “We have really big goals but it’s a global problem, people need help”
Sisay, who grew up in West Africa, said as a child he witnessed a close friend drown before his eyes. The tragedy left him shaken and vulnerable and his vulnerability led to him being taken advantage of by a close acquaintance which created a deeper hole of depression. “I didn’t know where to turn,” Sisay said. “I didn’t feel like myself for a long time.” It was only after embracing therapy years later that he learned how powerful taking account of your mental health can be. “It changed me, I was a completely different person,” Sisay said.
Using those personal experiences with mental health struggles and combining it with his knack for storytelling and videography and his background in health sciences he was able to create the Freedom Project.
A major portion of the project with focus on mental wellness among youths. Mental health among young people continues to be growing concern nationally and locall. In a report from the Kansas Star mental health issues issues are on the rise among youths in the metro. Freedom Project is working with professionals at University of Kansas Health Systems to develop models for reaching at risk youth. The project is also working with community leaders and athletic coaches to speak directly to children.
The series will also focus on mental health as it relates to childhood trauma, domestic violence, reentry into society from prison, PTSD in military veterans’, and public health, according to Sisay. Each episode of the series will explore one aspect of mental health through discussion with medical professionals, non-profit organizers, and first-hand accounts from community members.
The documentary is just one part of the project. With the help of professional partners, the second part of the project is to create an education platform that health care providers, therapists, and counselors can use to teach young people about their own mental health. The ultimate goal of the project is to use data gathered from the Freedom Project to create legislation to strengthen mental health resources and access for all.
“Creating knowledge is just the foundation,” Sisay said. “We want to make sure every child in Kansas and Missouri is aware of their mental health.”
On September 30, Sisay will premier an introductory documentary at the Kauffman Center. The introductory documentary will focus on mental health struggles within Kansas City. Sisay said the video will examine issues surrounding domestic violence, homelessness, and burnout in Kansas City. The film will be available online and more information about attendance will be available here and on social media.
“The point of the launch is to show the city of Kansas City what we’ve been working on, Sisay said, “by actually showing people what the problem looks like and talking with (medical) experts and policymakers about what the solution looks like, and what we are proposing.”
In the immediate, the project has plans to partner with the community businesses, such as barbershops and clothing stores, that will hold events for young people to attend, view the documentary, and have moderated discussions.
Sisay admits that the project is ambitious and it might be some time before real change is in effect but if he can help build a stronger, healthier Kansas City he will have succeeded.