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Dr. Thomas Vance - Black Mental Health Advocate

From the 6th grade, I knew I wanted to be a psychologist and pursue my Ph.D. I have always had a fascination with people and often wondered, “why are people the way they are?”. I also wanted to be an ear to listen and an encourager of others to reach their greatness. Coming from a small rural town in Southeast Georgia I had never met a black person with a doctorate until college. However, once I got to college in the Atlanta area and began to meet black doctors, I was inspired to get mine. With this degree came with a set of responsibilities I gladly embraced including,  mentoring others, being visible in white spaces and using my voice to advocate for other under represented and oppressed identities.

Some of my best experiences during my graduate training were the lifelong friends that would became family over the years. Attending a historic White Institute and not having many peers of color gave me the opportunity to bond with students of color who I call my village. We are now in various parts of the country, but our bond remains close. They pushed me when I wanted to give up, listened to the many times I wanted to  quit and validate all of these experiences, yet told me to keep pushing. These relationships allowed me to grow and to be vulnerable. They also allowed me to process the feelings I had stored inside, while solidifying a new meaning of family.

Black Doctors Matter is one perspective, but I believe black doctors are needed. In a time where racial and cultural differences are continually increasing in the United States, so does the need of black doctors. Black Doctors Matter because we bring a cultural lens to the dialogue of our professions. We have been marginalized out of import conversations historically, and decisions made on our behalf.  Black Doctors Matter because it is time for a new direction, a new definition of what it means to be great and to serve and inspire our communities.

My "why" is linked with my observation of black people being overlooked in many spaces. It is linked with my intersectional identities that are constantly playing out, even when amongst black professional peers. It  is linked with not seeing myself reflected in my medical providers and academia. My "why" is driven by "why not"!

I plan on impacting my community by discussing mental health and specifically cultural trauma dealing with blacks. I want to highlight my work with people from historically oppressed communities. Increasing the awareness of mental health in the black community and encouraging individuals to not be afraid to seek mental health. As well as call out sexism within our community, process toxic masculinity, deal with internalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism.

This process is not a natural process, but like any, it will be full of ups and down. You may doubt yourself and feel like an impostor at times. Even complain, cry, want to give up. Know that a lot of these spaces were not made for us, but also know that I am rooting for you, we, as doctors on the other side are cheering you on and supporting you. We want to mentor you and want to be an ear to listen. Rest on the hopes and prayers of your ancestors. You are more powerful than you realize.  Whatever you do, whatever you want to be, be only great.

And when things get rough, find your village. We are a collective group of people who did not make it to graduation alone. Reach out to someone to just process or vent. Protect your mental health and your peace.

Dr. Thomas Vance can be reached online on Instagram: @Vanceology; Twitter: DrTvance; LinkedIn: Thomas A. Vance, Ph.D

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