Mental Health Awareness: ''We Need More Professionals'' - Speaker Joanna Mcclinton SaysMay 28, 2023 10:00AM ● By Jerrywright Ukwu
Joanna McClinton, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, spoke exclusively to FunTimes Magazine on her new status, how Black communities can be heard, and policy conversations around mental health awareness.
McClinton, from Pennsylvania, is currently serving as the 143rd Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since February 28, 2023. She is the first woman and woman of color to serve as Speaker.
Speaker McClinton was one of the 2018 women of Influence awardees organized by FunTimes Magazine.
Excerpts of the interview below:
What has changed your life or routine since becoming the Speaker?
So, my responsibilities have increased greatly for the last two-plus years, I was in charge of my caucus, and I am excited to be a constitutional officer of the House and be in charge of our entire chamber. So, my responsibilities have ranged from ensuring that anytime we have a session, all of the state representatives' guests are properly recognized and welcomed to the floor of the House, to make sure we have someone every day to open the session in prayer, to make sure that all our procedures and policies are being enforced, and that most importantly when we are on the floor having debates, everybody is heard, and people are not cut off, even my colleagues who are in a different party that I am - the minority party, their voices are heard, and they are respected.
As a political leader and mentor, how do you think Blacks can build on the gains made so far and create systems that enshrine equity?
It is very important - in all forms or professions that there is representation, and when we think about the government, we know the government works for everybody. The government doesn't find just people registered Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, the government works for everybody, so I think it is important, particularly in the Black community, to have someone who, for the first time, is a woman. We had one African American Speaker of the House, Speaker K. Leroy Irvis, in the 1970s, so for us to have a woman of color now is very awesome, exciting and, to me, it's not just symbolic because I am not just a figurehead, I really do have the privilege to work with my colleagues to ensure that we have the best and fairest House.
It's not just a position or title, but it really just provides the opportunity to make sure that our communities' voices are heard when decisions are made. Our lives are improved, and our rights are expanded, not taken away.
Are there policy conversations around mental health at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and what policies will likely be introduced soon?
There is discussion around mental health, especially in May, for mental health awareness. Some people are doing community forums in their districts, and so many people are authoring bills for consideration in the House just to make sure there is more access. One of the challenges we have in urban communities is very similar to Pennsylvania in rural communities have. And that is access to a therapist, to a counselor to a psychiatrist; that is something we have to really figure out a way to create a pipeline for our students/children to have interest in these professions so that they can be there for us. The need is growing. The more we get rid of the stigma around mental health, people are comfortable saying, 'I am talking to a counselor or therapist,' so we need more professionals. This is something I have seen new legislation being offered to support.
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