YOTP Diversity Stories

Msafiri Yoko Makembe - My Recovery and Passion for Music

I consider myself an artist, and I hope this literature paints an accurate picture of me to supplement the reader’s recovery journey as positive support and hope. I adore music and the wonders many musical artists have instilled in me throughout my experiences. One may conclude that I shelter behind the rhythms and beats I listen to daily to ease my automatic negative thoughts due to mental illness.

My name is Msafiri Yoko Makembe and I experience post-traumatic stress disorder and schizoaffective disorder. I am an East-African in America who discovered music in my elementary school years in the South. When my mother lost her job, she gifted me her office radio/alarm, which I adored. Every night, I tuned into pop/rhythm and blues stations to help me get the rest needed for a nine -year old in the 3rd grade. The smooth melodies created by many of my favorite musicians would send neurotransmitters along the millions of synapses in my nervous system signaling a time for escape and dreaming.

I needed this escape from the physical and mental abuse I endured from a violent father between the ages of two and nine. My mother gathered her belongings and children one night in 1986 to leave my father in search of more peaceful pastures. My sister, Malaika, my mother, Josephine, and I moved in with my uncle, Victor, and aunts, Lucy, and Annie for safety and comfort. My mother’s siblings introduced me to new age music like the Pat Metheny Group and Enya.

I did not realize that music would ignite a healing pathway to sustain me through life events that would bring the strongest man to their knees. As an adult, I lost my job, I got sick, and thought my family was behind it all. Music provided the protection required to aid me amidst emotions of anger, doubt, low self-esteem, solitude, and suicidal ideation. I received mental health care from community services more openly because music helped me stay in rhythm. Music also complimented my grit to keep fighting for wellness, no matter the obstacles. I pay tribute to peer support and cognitive processing therapy.

As I compose this essay, I am listening to a meditation station on the Pandora Music streaming application. I am not alone in my recovery or in my love for music. There is no one method to recover, and, for me, listening to my favorite tunes gives me the calm, the inspiration, and the ease of mind to have a positive day. My maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, would be sincerely proud of me.


When I think about how my diverse background impacted my recovery journey the first word that comes to mind is: invisible. While I am a woman, which places me in a minority group, I have so many more hidden diverse groups that I identify with that people do not see daily. Until I started to think about diversity, I did not realize how impactful this has been on my recovery.

I am a former clinician on a recovery journey, I have an SMI diagnosis as well as a substance use disorder, and I have fibromyalgia. While I could focus on how my recovery journey has been negatively impacted by these additional hurdles, I try to remind myself how each gives me strength. With each unique challenge presented to me I have a different perspective on life and can build resiliency. I do not let a label define me as I could continue to add label after label to my identity and bury myself in labels. I try to give myself grace and work toward the life I want to live. Some days are harder than others. Some days I feel like my story does not make my recovery journey as meaningful as individuals who have a visibly diverse background. Then I try to remember how many other people are out there who feel the same way I do and that makes my story even more important to tell.

I am worthy. We are all worthy of love, acceptance, and recovery.

Risa - Supporting the Adoptee and Foster Experiencers

What happens when a person has experienced being placed in foster care or being adopted? There isn’t one simple answer, but statistics show that the effects are far reaching and deep. Did you know that children in foster care:
  • are seven times more likely than non-foster youth to have Depression, and
  • five times more likely to have Anxiety.
  • In comparison to veterans, former foster youth are twice as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Read that last one again!

And that adoptees:
  • Without resolution of the developmental trauma as a child, adopted individuals could have the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and complex PTSD as adults.

  • Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees.
  • Adoptees are over represented in the juvenile criminal system, prison system, psychiatric institutions, drug and alcohol rehabilitation settings.
Because of the emotional and mental health challenges that children “in the system” manifest - and into adulthood, it is easy to think we are innately flawed. But it’s important to know that abuse and neglect are rampant in the foster/adoptee community. So, where does the problem lie?

I can only speak from experience and what I have witnessed. I was adopted. I had an adopted, non-biological older sister. I also had a foster sister who lived with us for one year and a foster brother who lived with us for 8 years. Me, my sisters and brother, which is how I always feel about them, were “outsiders”. We followed an unwritten understanding to never talk about our pain, grief, or voice any questions about our natural families. We were treated very poorly by extended family and by neighbors as well as teachers. We all experienced what felt like living in a strange void. Everything was secret and had to be kept that way. To this day, at middle age, I am still not allowed to access my birth records. The powerlessness and infantilization continues.

It’s important to know that abuse and neglect are rampant in the foster/adoptee community. Although statistics are contradictory, I would venture to agree based on the many people I’ve known who were adopted or in foster care. I know that people raised with their birth families can experience abuse and trauma, too. I contend that being adopted/fostered magnifies these experiences significantly.

With our over-representation in myriad systems and services, what is missing? How can we heal?
I think that alternative modalities can better serve our population. These would include Emotional Freedom Technique, EMDR, NLP, Core Transformation and other less mainstream techniques.

I had been in and out of therapy much of my life. We were in family therapy, too. Never once did any therapist acknowledge the elephant in the living room! It wasn’t until I pursued alternative modalities that I have been able to dissolve layers of grief, trauma, and other deep and primal wounds.

I propose that these types of services be made available to the adopted/fostered community and the community at large. I also think that it’s important for people working in the mental health and judicial systems to have training to understand this level of trauma.

I once thought to myself, “Imagine if every human being was relinquished/fostered/adopted.” Food for thought.

https://afth.org/adoptee-suicide-awareness/#:~:text=Although%20suicidal%20thoughts%20can%20be https://drtracylcarlis.com/adopted-children-syndrome


The community could have programs for people with mental illnesses to obtain jobs. Also a more comprehensive bus system. It is not a joke that there are a lot of mental health consumers that a re not able to drive. Therefore, it would make sense to have a system of transportation for those that cannot get around and make it great too. I identify as a Christian. And I always feel like I have the things that I need because I believe that God is always providing for me. I feel like I have always been good at speaking and understanding people which has gotten me very far in life. I think what needs to change is our attitudes towards consequences. It’s my personal belief that regardless of what we have done in life, we will face the consequences of our actions at one point or another. However, if we are responsible with our actions and speak the truth about our wrongdoings, we will obtain help to fix our situation. That is my personal belief.


I am a 46 year old, African-American woman, and I am also an Attorney and a Mother. I have Schizoaffective disorder, which is a severe mental illness that affects a very small group of people. I have lived with this illness for approximately 22 years, and I have finally reached a point in my recovery where I am able to live a productive and fulfilling life.

Before I reached this point in my recovery, I struggled with stigma, isolation, and a lack of self awareness - all while dealing with the debilitating symptoms associated with my illness. As an African- American woman, I know better than anyone how discouraging and destructive it is to be labeled as someone who has a mental illness. Many people in my specific racial group, profession and community do not understand the nature of my illness, and they often assume that my mental disorder defines who I am and what I am.

Because I am a fighter who refuses to allow my illness to determine my identity and my destiny, I have been able to overcome many obstacles and beat the odds. My faith is the most important dimension of my wellness, and it is the foundation that supports all other aspects of my wellness. I have also been very fortunate to have a strong support system consisting of my family and my beloved peers with lived experiences.

Learning about my illness and acceptance of my diagnosis has given me a sense of control and has empowered me to never give up. There is so much that needs to be done to erase the stigma of mental illness, prevent discrimination, and improve treatment options for individuals with mental illness. I can continue to do my part by advocating for myself and my peers because I know for myself that recovery can be achieved and maintained. Recovery is hard, but possible through education, self determination, peer support, and hard work.

My recovery journey has been incredibly difficult at times, but I am determined to keep going. It is my continuing hope that I and my fellow peers will keep fighting to never allow anyone or anything to diminish our potential to make a meaningful difference in our communities and the world.



It was the early nineties. I was just coming out of agoraphobia (couldn’t leave my house without a friend). I was still living in PTSD hell, in that constant flight or fight mode. I was convinced everyone I came into contact with was out to hurt me. I was working diligently with a Doctor who specialized in PTSD (yes, I even had trust issues with her).

Anyway, it was at night, and I was living in a smoke free home. So I would step out on our side porch and smoke there. In terror. Right next to our side door. There wasn’t much of a yard. It was a cookie cutter subdivision. Boring neighborhood but affordable. That particular evening the boy next door was at the curb with his friends. About 3 of them. They might have been 15 years old, but I’m not sure. They yelled ‘freak’ while looking right at me. I pretended not to notice.

I guess I didn’t hold any ill will toward them. I understood they were a product of their parents, who clearly disliked me and all the single women who rented a room in our house. Just judgemental people who continuously sent off angry jujus toward us.

But back to that word. It was kind of the story of my life. I really didn’t know how to be in the world. And lived in continuous terror. My diversity in the world showed up in the manifestation of my mental illness symptoms. I didn’t experience that awful feeling of being different with my Doctor, she understood PTSD and my other illnesses quite well and was merely interested in our work together. And I guess I didn’t make an issue of it because I knew I was doing the right thing with my life, attempting to heal from deep soul pain and abuse.

I sure experienced the pain of being different at various jobs, which I could barely hold for long. And my gosh trying to find a medical doctor I could connect with and communicate my issues with was, in fact, impossible.

Thirty years later I have to say I’m fairly successful. Often I still find it difficult to relate to people. It’s impossible to know what you do not know. I have been lucky at times in the school of life to learn some skills. I often feel isolated and alone, but never lonely. I wonder if people really get me. I doubt they do. But I hope they can feel my heart and see the work I have dedicated my life to. I hope I have taught some skills to others.

Mostly, I hope we see a day where ‘freak’ is not in our vocabulary. Because after writing this I think it really did and does hurt.

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