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LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – On Sunday the Neighborhood Healers Project congratulated their first class or “cohort” of leaders with families and friends on their work to give back to the mental health and first aid needs of the community.

The project centers around a public education campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. They will train 100 leaders within Lexington’s black community in mental health first aid over the next five years and tonight they celebrated their first 20.

The project funded by the substance abuse and mental health services administration will create a support system of first responders within Lexington’s black community to identify signs and symptoms of mental health crises and connect people to the necessary resources.

“It’s really a beautiful thing to be a part of. One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my professional life as a professor at the University of Kentucky is being a community or not just serving the community but being a part of the future of this project,” Director of the Neighborhood Healers Project Candice Hargons said.

Members come from all different backgrounds.

The assistant program director of the Neighborhood Healers Project Rayven Peterson said, “We hope to do that through unique roles that black community members play in the community, so our hair salons, our barbers, our church leaders, our community activists, our kind of like neighborhood Homeboys, those individuals who we tend to lean on the most when we’re going through struggles, challenges, we need to talk to someone. Those are the people that we train in mental health and first aid.”

The members were able to help over 3,000 individuals over the last year with mental health issues.

One graduate of the first cohort, Kenneth Payne said it’s a privilege to be part of the first cohort and help others.


“It really opened my eyes to the stigma that’s in our black community as it relates to health. I would have interaction with just random, you know, random people and some family members about their mental health and well-being, and them being able to express their mental health openly, it just kind of opened my eyes a little but more how big that issue really is in our community,” Payne said.

Within that year the project members were able to provide over 1,000 mental health referral resources to community members. The project opens up applications around November and December to any adult in the black community who wants to give back.

Now the next members of the program will follow in the footsteps of the first class and build a future for the project.