‘For our people, by our people’


Turning Point, Inc., a North Minneapolis-based private mental health and chemical health agency, soon plans to open its doors for a “Culturally Specific Service Center.” The one-stop comprehensive approach to addressing dysfunctional individuals and families will take into account the history of Black people and the disparities they must still contend with in their daily lives.

“We have been working on this for a long time,” notes Turning Point President/CEO Vincent “Peter” Hayden, who has long dreamed of establishing a culturally specific “one-stop” service center. He believes that existing local organizations aren’t working in a collaborative fashion to better serve the Black community.

“We are not working together as Black people — we are still trying to be the big person on the block,” admits Hayden.

He credits COO Elizabeth Reed, who joined Turning Point nine years ago, for beginning this past spring to move his dream forward into reality and establishing the Culturally Specific Service Center (CSSC). Two local job training programs, Goodwill/Easter Seals and Twin Cities Rise, will have office space there as the CSSC’s inaugural tenants. The anticipated start date is sometime in October or November of this year.

Speaking exclusively to the MSR, Hayden and Reed defined “culturally specific” as an integrated system of services for people who are members of a specific racial or ethnic group as well as people who are poor and are disenfranchised from mainstream society.  This includes people who may be mentally ill, homeless, dependent on alcohol or other drugs, in jail or prison, military veterans and domestic violence victims.

The CSSC will serve the Black community by providing culturally specific services that address all the issues surrounding dysfunctional individuals and families with the objective of equipping them to become self-sufficient and reducing or eliminating the disparities that ail the community.

Simply put, a client will be able to come to one location for all the services they need. They can be connected to any other social service agency through the CSSC, and if they are receiving services from multiple agencies, they can have one primary case manager, one point of contact who can help them define all their needs and coordinate their services — and all culturally specific.

Says Reed, “This is based on all of us talking together for this one person [the client] to have one general case manager that is interacting with all the other managers in each of those [social service] facilities. It makes us all have better outcomes [and] it’s more cost-effective.

“One of the things that I believe has not been effective in treating our people is based on what our background, what our history is, and all of the things that we’ve been through as a Black community,” Reed says. “The ultimate goal for Turning Point is not only to get [the client] off drugs, but to work with him in all those areas of disparities.”

“It’s not just drugs and alcohol,” says Hayden, “but also it’s employment and education — all these things. The one-stop center is here because it just makes so much sense: 90 percent of the people that everybody deals with have either a mental health or chemical health issue.”

Reed also introduced the CSSC idea to both Cultural Wellness Center Executive Director Atum Azzahir and professor/author Mahmoud El-Kati, two longtime proponents of culturally specific approaches in dealing with concerns that affect the Black community.

“Many of our organizations and institutions talk about having…Black people working with Black people” notes Azzahir. “I don’t know another organization who is saying, ‘What is culture, and how will it look in the programming and the values?’”

The two elders have agreed to serve as members of a CSSC advisory group. “Mahmoud and I have been carrying this mantle about our culture for years,” says Azzahir.

“What I think is really powerful is that [Turning Point] is asking what will it take working with our people to [go] to the next level, and what will make it completely different? What making it cultural might have to do with meaning [that] people are there of African heritage or being Black.

We are going to be very explicit on what makes it cultural,” Azzahir says. “He [El-Kati] and I will get to work together to establish what I believe will be a standard about what is its culture.”

“I think my role will be is trying to make [the CSSC] function [properly],” says El-Kati.

“With the Culturally Specific Service Center, that is exactly what our goal is,” says Reed, “to equip them with dealing with the disparities they face every day. We must do it from a culturally specific standpoint. I think that’s very important. This is for our people by our people.”

The CSSC “is a comprehensive health and human service model” that currently doesn’t exist anywhere else in the U.S.,” she continues. “It is not in the Twin Cities or Minnesota. There’s the person that will work with [clients] on employment. There’s the person who will work with them on housing. All of this is right downstairs.”

Hayden says he envisions Turning Point one day becoming “like a medical arts building” for the Black community.

“We are not trying to come in and take over anything. We are trying to say, ‘What is a successful way to work with a client in a way that is helpful to him?’ We are holistically dealing with the person — all of that person,” he says. “We got all these people who need services — why are we continuing to send them somewhere else?”

Both Hayden and Reed say no additional funds are needed to set up the CSSC. “All of us are funded from one source to another to work with John Doe,” says Reed. “We are landlords, but we are not charging [Goodwill/Easter Seals and Twin Cities Rise] rent. This is something pulled together without a lot of expenses. It is very cost-effective.

“Peter and I are really excited — it is a long time coming.”