Magnolia, Miss. still buzzing about Saturday’s Arts 2 Health 2 Wellness Event – Lead organizer receives Senate resolution for dedicated efforts in raising mental health awareness

Sen. Kelvin Butler (left), Dist. 38, presented a Senate Resolution recognizing the significance of the Arts 2 Health 2 Wellness Event to co-sponsors Traci Patterson Cook (center) and Mayer Tammy Witherspoon. PHOTO BY GAIL BROWN

By Gail H.M. Brown, Ph.D.,

Contributing Writer,

Sen. Kelvin Butler (left), Dist. 38, presented a Senate Resolution recognizing the significance of the Arts 2 Health 2 Wellness Event to co-sponsors Traci Patterson Cook (center) and Mayer Tammy Witherspoon. PHOTO BY GAIL BROWN

While many around the state of Mississippi may have been out Easter shopping Saturday, April 16, a crowd of folks in Magnolia, Miss. was packing city hall as early as 10 a.m. for the beginning of something unique.

They gathered for a city’s first: Arts 2 Health 2 Wellness Event. Spearheaded by hometown native-returning Traci Patterson Cook, along with co-sponsors Mayor Tammy Witherspoon and Edward “Bull Moose” Johnson, the event raised awareness as to how the arts can be used to promote mental health wellness.

“I am so excited about this day,” Patterson Cook told the audience. “This day was a vision that God gave to me.”

She later shared with The Mississippi Link that having grown up in Magnolia, she was exposed to the arts and civic engagement at a very young age. “I was involved in public speaking, and community projects that taught me leadership skills and public service. These experiences definitely gave me confidence and strong interpersonal skills, but it was my exposure to music through piano performance that gave me even more. Playing the piano was a way to express my feelings, an outlet for my emotions and it gave me a way to tell my story.”

The Arts 2 Health 2 Wellness visionary also said, “That’s what the arts do for us. They give us a common language of storytelling. Our stories resonate with others and empower them to tell their stories. And from art we can move to holistic healthiness and sound mental health and wellbeing. That is what this event is all about.”

Using theme, “Art as Storytelling and Healing,” Magnolia’s city hall had been transformed in to an art gallery. The gallery featured such exhibits as “Expressions of Blackness: Across the African Diaspora and Beyond” by resident artist, Charmagne Andrews; “What If?” artwork by Eva Gordon Elementary (Assistant Principal Chander Jenkins and Community Activist Kevin Brown); and Otken Elementary students (Instructor Sara Doman). The gallery also featured “Abstract and a little Picasso” by talented fifth-grade guest artist, Carrie Patterson, of Glen Burnie, Maryland.

During the morning half of the event, local, area and visiting attendees were treated to an artistically and colorfully decorated table of refreshments and an information table of valuable health and wellness resource materials secured by Patterson Cook and also provided by an outstanding panel of presenters.

Speaking of the panel, the audience listened attentively (some on the edges of their seats) to professional expertise on the topic: “Preventive and Mental Health Matters!” Panelists included Health Educator Ida Anderson of the Mississippi State Department of Health, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Strategist for The Jackson Medical Mall David Bickham, and Mental Health Therapist Kontonya Barfield, MSW, CMHT of Hattiesburg, Miss.

Anderson told the audience it is very important to know “how do you feel about yourself; how do you feel about you?” She said it is also important to know your numbers (i.e. vital signs, cholesterol) because all of these play an important role in one’s holistic well-being. She also brought along some home COVID-19 test kits for those who might need them.

In addition to their professional mental health training and knowledge each panelist also shared heart-touching trauma and/or mental health testimonies.

Bickham admitted that Saturday was his “first time speaking publicly” about what he went through during his “mental health journey” as a youth and during his early college years. “In my case, I had suffered severe depression as a child as a result of trauma abuse,” he said.

Barfield, who gave a powerful testimony of how her brother’s tragic death affected her. She pointed out that although she is a licensed certified social worker, she had to seek professional help to get herself together.

A strong advocate for children’s mental health, Barfield told the audience in working with children and parents, educators have to recognize that children are uniquely different and they all do not learn the same way. She warned against labeling children as “bad.”

Bickham, who describes himself as a futurist, and all the panelists stressed never be ashamed to seek professional health from a therapist or other specialists.

During audience participation, retired educator Geneva Patterson said, “We’re going to have to break this stigma that we put on our children and on ourselves. There is a difference in being slow and being special.”

Artist Andrews said that not only does art help with the mental health issue but the growth and development period. “It is something that is used for our enjoyment but it can also help us to work out stress; just working with coloring books …it can be an enriching experience to help people to feel better,” she told The Mississippi Link.

During the event, Mayor Witherspoon recognized two members of her Youth Council for the role they played in helping with the event: Miss South Pike High Alexis Smith and Council Vice President Samuel Nimox. “They are dynamite. If I need anything, these two are here for me,” Mayor Witherspoon said.

Patterson Cook recognized Johnson for his dedicated help as well as sponsors, including First Unity Federal Credit Union, Rosehill Missionary Baptist Church, South Pike High School Class of 1979 and Schools Against Vaping. Others are still sending funding support for the art2health2wellness event.

“Members of the community are still talking about how meaningful and needed the wellness event was,” Patterson Cook said. “Everyone is asking when is our next event and saying, “we need more of this.”

“People listened to jazz music after the event under the City Hall pavilion and shared personal stories of trauma and healing. It was such a day of community caring and sharing.”

Musical entertainment featured Jackie Clemmons, Braxton Cook and sound by Clifton O’Bryant. 

Other helping participants included the Rosehill Missionary Baptist Church Student Ambassadors; Graphic Artist, Christina Eaglin; Caterer Dee’s Creations; Construction and Design by Marcus Steptoe.

A crowning presentation of the event took place when Mississippi Senator Kelvin Butler, District 38 and a Magnolia native, showed up to present Patterson Cook with a Senate Resolution for her efforts from the State Senate. 

“This is a big deal for Magnolia,” Butler said as he thanked the mayor for allowing the event to take place. “Magnolia, Miss. in the house; how about that?” “I love my little town and look at what God is doing in our town.”

See photos, page 15.

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