By Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photography by Hillary Schave
It wasn’t until Dominique Christian had an all-consuming mental breakdown in 2015 that she sought help, even though she was aware there were resources that could help her.
“There was that fear that if I go into a space with a white provider and tell my story, what is going to be the punishment behind that?” she says. “Are you going to remove my children because you may fear I’m not going to be able to provide for them? … There’s still a fear amongst the Black and [nonwhite] community that when you’re accessing resources, the outcome could still be negative.”
Christian has experienced a lot of trauma in her childhood and adulthood, including poverty and homelessness. This accumulation of pain and hardship has led her down a fierce and passionate path to serve the Black community in Madison, so they can get support from someone who not only looks like them, but has also overcome similar experiences.
In addition to working for The Road Home, an organization that serves homeless families, Christian is growing AYA Advocacy Group, which she founded in 2019. She created AYA as a multi-pronged organization where she aims to empower marginalized communities with supports and resources for kids, teens and adults — whether that be access to youth activities or mental health programs.
Right now, under AYA, Christian is mostly acting as a peer support specialist for adults dealing with mental health and substance use. She describes the role as a “significant friendship,” of sorts. Unlike a client-therapist relationship, being a peer support specialist allows Dominique to share her own experiences with the people she works with.
This year, she plans to graduate with a Master of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so she can become a licensed clinical therapist — one who has an understanding of the ripple effects of mental health and sub- stance use. She also wants to open a youth center where kids can explore their interests and tell their own stories through the creation of a youth magazine.
While describing all of this, Christian pauses. She feels like she’s rambling. The lack of equity, justice, culture, accessible activities for Black children and the greater societal struggle to provide compassionate and nonjudgmental resources for Black people have all weighed heavily on her.
When asked if she’s hopeful about the future, though, she answers with a resounding “absolutely,” because of the people who are doing this work and because of those who are supporting it.
Christian explains, “When individuals from marginalized communities — who have experienced a greater number of traumas — are humanized and given an opportunity, we can overcome those obstacles.”