20 Feb 5 Black Leaders Making History at CHRIS 180
When we think about celebrating Black history, often, Black civil rights heroes, political figures or groundbreaking entrepreneurs come to mind. But another part of honoring Black History Month is celebrating everyday people in the community whose work may go unnoticed.
History comes in all shapes and forms, from groundbreaking inventions to ending generational trauma, each achievement should be celebrated, not just in February, but 365 days a year. We are proud to introduce several members of CHRIS 180’s Executive Leadership Team who are our Black history-makers.
Supporting Youth and Families in the Juvenile Justice System
As CHRIS 180’s first Vice President of Mental Health and Wellness, Ashleigh Dennis-Silas, LPC, CPCS, has made it her mission to support youth and families involved in the Juvenile Justice system.
For several years, Dennis-Silas served as Clinical Director at CHRIS Counseling Center-Gwinnett, where she also managed the the Department of Juvenile Justice Incentive grant.
“We find out that when we provide treatment for these kids and we provide protective factors, safe relationships and community supports, when we create opportunity, these same kids who were juvenile felons destined to long term detention sentences do not recidivate,” said Dennis-Silas.
Transforming the Lives of Youth who Aged out of Foster Care
Another Black history-maker at CHRIS 180, is De’Meco Bell, CPCS, JSOCC, LPC, CHRIS 180’s first Vice President of Community Residential Programs. Bell, who previously served as Clinical Director of CHRIS Counseling Center-Atlanta and in a variety of other roles, has more than 20 years of clinical experience. In Summit Trail Apartments, our permanent supportive housing program, 66% of residents were employed in 2020 and 80.5% of residents received their GED or high school diploma after moving in. Bell shared why the work we do with youth who have aged out of foster care is so important.
“CHRIS 180’s residential programs provide people with safe and stable housing and gives people the opportunity to get the skills they need to so that they can transition to a better next step. Recently, we helped a young mother in her early twenties who did not have a job and lacked employment skills. We got her into a vocational training program and helped her land a job to support her family,” said Bell.
Giving Back to Atlanta’s Historic Westside
AP Thompson, MSW, Director of Zone 1 and Zone 3 Community Initiatives is a leader who has worked to strengthen Atlanta’s historic Westside community. In 2018, Thompson became the inaugural program manager of the Atlanta Police Foundation’s At-Promise Youth and Community Center, where CHRIS 180 is the lead partner. Thompson has since gone on to launch other Westside initiatives that offers many needed resources to adults, in addition to two more At-Promise Youth and Community Centers Under Thompsons leadership in the centers, youth crime has dropped 40% on Atlanta’s Westside.
“We work with a lot of youth that most of society has given up on. We must find new and innovative ways to support them, build relationships with the kids and families in the neighborhood and engage the youth with meaningful opportunities. One youth in our program who previously dealt drugs went on to become a pharmaceutical salesman and learned how to use his business skills legally,” said Thompson.
Spreading Trauma-informed Care Internationally
Haynes Morrison, MSW, Vice President of Community Initiatives is a leader who has affected change in the United States and internationally. Morrison, who joined CHRIS 180 in 2022, has used her expertise in trauma-informed care to implement programs in Nigeria and Ghana.
“It is still very taboo to talk about mental health in many parts of Africa. They don’t realize the level of trauma they have experienced and how it can show up differently and how it can show up in their kids and families. I have done some trainings for teachers in Ghana and Nigeria and South Africa for medical personnel and for social workers,” said Morrison.
Leading the Change in Community-Based Mental Health
Clinical Director Bryan Smith MA., LAC, CAADC, leads CHRIS Counseling Center- Atlanta and has more than a decade of experience in mental health. Smith, who joined CHRIS 180 in 2022, is passionate about therapy, community-based mental health and providing substance use services. He has worked to educate the community about healing from addiction and trains clinicians every day to be able to offer life changing services.
“It doesn’t matter your background, your creed, or your religion–we look past all of those things, and we are totally accepting. CHRIS 180 is a beacon of hope for people to come to and not be judged and get the help that they need being. Every day we can provide support and to be there for someone when no one else can or when they can’t be there for themselves.”
At CHRIS 180, we are so thankful to have committed leaders paving the way for those who will one day follow in their footsteps. Our communities depend on the hard work of our CHRIS 180 team members who commit themselves to providing trauma-informed care, support, and leadership to youth, adults and families across Metro Atlanta.
Briyanna Ferguson is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at CHRIS 180. She can be reached at Briyanna.Ferguson@chris180.org