The Dallas Mavericks and Mavs Gaming, in partnership with the Dallas Wings and Texas Legends, hosted an event with students at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School Monday afternoon to spotlight the importance of mental health, self-care and trauma healing.

The DFW Bigger Than Basketball Coalition is a collaboration of North Texas professional basketball teams who work together to address racial inequities and other issues the community faces. Once a semester, the pro basketball teams go to a high school and present a program.

Earlier this year, the coalition held a Suicide Prevention event also at FDR.

“We want the kids to know that we love them, we listen, and we care about them,” said Lakisha Thomas, FDR Innovation Principal. “We also want them to know we’re available to them.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Mavs join other NBA teams around the league to provide support, educate the public and advocate for awareness and policies that support millions of people affected by mental illness.

If anyone knows what the local students might face, it’s Sean Reed with the Dallas Mavericks. He’s a former secondary educator and a strong advocate for young people. Reed knows Dallas well. He grew up in Pleasant Grove and Oak Cliff and is now the Mavs’ senior corporate social responsibility manager. He also serves as president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Urban League Young Professionals.

“People have no idea the level stress and trauma students endure on daily and consistent biases,” Reed said. “Especially those that live in under-resourced communities. They are overwhelmed with the pressures of test-taking to prove their value and worth academically and that mindset transfers to self-worth outside of the classroom. Many students are trying to find themselves while trying to fit into what society and their community tells them they are or can be. Many students go home to unimaginable realities and their escape and safe place is the school. Many students are knowingly or unknowingly dealing with the trauma and effects of growing up in under-resourced communities.”

He shared with the students three ways he focuses on mental health daily: “I paint, I go on walks, and I pray,” Reed said.

Mental health guest speakers included trauma therapist Zhen Barrientos and licensed counselor (self-care) J the Therapist. The duo worked to encourage the students to put their mental health at the forefront and do things each day that inspire them.

Other guests included Tiffany Gomez from NAMI North Texas and Nikisha Patton-Handy, an art-inspired healing coach and mental health advocate.

The students went through a variety of exercises during the event, including sessions about breathing, journaling, and mirroring. They also got to ask plenty of questions and engaged in other sessions that boosted their morale.

“You still have the power as a child, and you have to start practicing healthy habits now, so you will execute these [healthy habits] as an adult,” J the Therapist said. “One part of your self-care is not going to the kickback and studying for a test, so that [you] won’t be anxious and prepared. All these little practices really do make a difference.”

Experts say schools must invest in holistic mental health programs to destigmatize some of the issues young people face, especially those in under-represented communities who might not have as much access to therapists.

Many leaders at the DFW Bigger Than Basketball Coalition emphasized the importance of safe spaces and healthy boundaries.

Barrientos gave a great practical lesson for young and old alike.

She said fear and excitement are biologically and chemically the same. The only difference is how we label each emotion. So, students can fear tests, or they can teach themselves to speak “excitement” as they prepare and then conquer the test.

“Anchor it,” Barrientos said. “Before I walk up here, I silently snap and say I’m excited. You’re training your body and brain to respond to that stimulus similarly. Of course, you’ll still feel panicked…so it does take practice.”

During their April 20 board meeting last month, Dallas ISD officials approved a partnership with Healing Hand Ministries to provide health services and mental health care at its youth and family centers. The timing is vital as students are still battling anxiety triggered by the pandemic, mass shootings, and other social justice issues.

The school year is ending this Friday at Roosevelt High School, and school leaders said the event Monday came at the perfect time.

After all, the first step towards mental health awareness is addressing the topic without shame. All the mental health experts emphasized to the youth to toss away any shame regarding self-care.

“I would encourage you to stand guard at your mind,” Barrientos shared. “That’s where self-care starts. Also give yourself permission to say ‘no.’ The other thing is guilt-free me time. You must also give yourself permission to be present.”

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