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Promoting Health Equity, Wellness, and Empowerment of Black Women

Stories | 05.06.21

Octavia Sampson, MCP ‘20, wants to help support the holistic health needs of Black women. A graduate of the Master of Counselling Psychology program in Vancouver, Sampson is a full-time mental health counsellor working at a nonprofit organization in Toronto. Recently she has spent her evenings and weekends to create Afya Collective, a community organization to promote and advocate for the mental, social, spiritual, and physical health of Black women in Canada.

Sampson and her close friends Odelia Bempah and Britney Bryan were inspired to start the collective in early summer 2020. They had noticed that the connections they had with fellow Black women had diminished during lockdown and many aspects of their health had also been deteriorating.

“We chose the name Afya because it refers to being in a state of health in Swahili and we believe in advocating for equity of wellness for Black women and girls in Canada,” Sampson said.

Octavia Sampson, Britney Bryan, and Odelia Bempah

Helping Black Women Navigate Through Barriers to Holistic Wellbeing

Sampson and her team receive consistent feedback from Black women in their communities to draw inspiration for their programming. The collective addresses:

  • Physical wellness by providing awareness and tools, such as workshops, discussion groups, and a database of Black-friendly healthcare professionals, to Black women to ensure they receive the best care. “Black women in Canada often experience systemic disparities related to holistic wellness, including developing health conditions and medical complications at an alarmingly disproportionate rate than non-Black women,” Sampson said. “There is a shocking lack of research supporting a cultural understanding of BIPOC health data. This can lead to a discrepancy within the culturally relevant expertise of medical professionals that serve BIPOC populations. We want to tackle the lack of knowledge that individuals have regarding their own health to provide an in-depth look behind the curtain of the health care sector; giving women the power to choose the best path for their health care need.”
  • Social wellness by supporting and empowering women to reach their career goals. “Unfortunately, Black women face injustices in the workforce,” Sampson said. “This includes having the largest wage gap inequalities compared to non-Black women and facing microaggressions in the workplace. We want to help Black women in navigating the culturally relevant pitfalls in employment, including addressing microaggressions and wage inequalities in the workplace.”
  • Mental wellness by tackling the stigma in the Black community surrounding mental health struggles expressed through a lack of open and vulnerable conversations. “We want to create a safe space to connect, learn, and heal from the inside out,” Sampson said.

Finding Multiple Pathways to Advocacy

“Since I was a young girl, I had a dream to become a counsellor,” Sampson said. “Thanks to my education at Adler University, I was able to fulfill this dream. The University also fostered my passion for promoting holistic wellbeing which I now continue through my profession as a psychotherapist and my work through the Afya Collective.”

She moved to Vancouver from Toronto to attend the counselling program. “As I investigated attending the Master of Arts in Counselling program at Adler University, I found that the philosophy underlying the University resonated with my desire to incorporate the power of social advocacy with developing into a socially responsible clinical practitioner.”

During her time in Vancouver, she became an active member of the Adler University community and served on the Adler Student Association, and Common Book Committee, while also working part-time as a campus reception assistant and library assistant.

“This was my first experience living away from home and I firmly associate my time at Adler University as helping to solidify my identity not just as a clinical practitioner but as a person,” Sampson said. “I have a personal mission to advocate for education on mental health, spirituality, and the empowerment of the African diaspora, along with increasing social justice.”

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