Voices of Unity: Love Akron

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AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Pastor Rob DeJournett knows how defeating this past year has been for so many, including parishioners in his own congregation. 

He’s spent the past six Sundays at St. Ashworth Temple COGIC in Akron, normalizing the conversation about losses and sudden changes of any kind.

“The way I came up, we didn’t really share our feelings. As a young man, as a little boy, it was like, ‘Don’t cry, you know, get up, you’re gonna be alright,’ said DeJournett. “No, I’m not alright. I’m still hurt, I’m hurt on the inside.”

As a kid, Pastor Rob was teased for wearing thick eyeglasses, but it wasn’t until Summa Health offered a grief recovery program to employees that he learned to track his own losses, like being teased and having low self-esteem. 

Through the program, DeJournett realized he was still grieving and during a pandemic, he and other Greater Akron leaders believe others are too.

“Grief also is the result of any unmet dreams or expectations. So, we also have to include in the loss or the change, any intangible type of concepts such as trust, security, dignity, faith,” said Kemp Boyd.

Boyd is the director of Love Akron, a faith-based group, which recently trained 15 grief recovery specialists. Their goal is to offer the program to 60 people in Greater Akron’s African American community at no charge. It’s being funded by Summit County’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board and Summa Health.

Pastor Rob is one of the specialists and says the training has taught him how to help grievers in the program and in everyday life.

“You watch their body language. If they start crying, you don’t want to automatically get up and give them tissue, right? Because that stops the grieving process. So, you want them to continue to let it out and experience how they feel,” DeJournett said.

Those who participate, whether over Zoom or in person, will make a graph of their losses — jobs, loved ones, plans to get out of debt. They’ll also dive deep into their past relationships as specialists help them cope with the emotions that surface.

In addition to free resources and a book, everyone who goes through the program gets to talk with licensed therapists about their mental health history. If there is a different need, it can be met. 

“With the grief recovery method, we’re giving a voice into the urban area to say, ‘Hey, we’re here to meet your need exactly where you’re at’,” Boyd said.

A number of the specialists will target their support to African American men, but whoever you are, both Boyd and DeJournett agree opening up about what has happened during the pandemic and your life is the first step to recovery.

“We can’t forget the things that are behind if we haven’t dealt with the things that are behind. We can’t move forward if we don’t deal with the things that has caused us some grief and some heartache,” DeJournett said.

The grief recovery program is just one part of Love Akron’s mental health initiative. You can learn more about the services they provide by joining their “Love Akron Live” sessions on the first, second, and fourth Wednesdays of the month. 

Click here to learn more about Love Akron.

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