As an Anguilla native, Dr. Oluwakemi M. Linda Banks could see that there was a need for qualified mental health specialists on her island to combat the internal oppression they have been facing for years. At that time, the only resources available for the islander’s mental health were social workers, guidance counselors, and a psychiatrist who visited every two months. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no funding available for mental health resources, as it was not considered a priority within the government.
Resulting from a lack of knowledge surrounding the importance of psychology, no one saw a need for her services at first. If anything was going to be done, she would have to look for her own financial assistance. This financial assistance manifested through teaching assistantships, small grants, and loans. According to Dr. Banks, “I had three strikes against me; I was black, I was a woman and I was a national.”Determined to help her community, Dr. Banks studied at Pennsylvania State University to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Education, a Master of Science degree, and finished with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. “When I returned from studying, there was no job available for me, so I was forced to do consultancies in other islands where there was also a scarcity of psychologists,” explained Dr. Banks.
With “reverse racism” playing an ever-present role within the community, “We have internalized the oppression which has told us that black people cannot aspire to some levels,” says Dr. Banks. “So even now, we tend to value the potential of persons of Caucasian origin more than we value that of people of African heritage.” Fortunately, within recent years there have been more qualified black Nationals returning every year. Including many medical doctors who are returning home to work; a majority of which are female.
When her daughter later expressed an interest in the field, Dr. Banks accessed funding along with her own personal financial resources to fund her daughter’s studies in psychology. Her daughter has since returned home to the island of Anguilla to serve as a doctoral-level clinical psychologist, bringing the quota of clinical psychologists to two.
Dr. Banks embodies her cultural heritage every day within her office décor, clothing, hair, and home. Believing that if you are looking for a change in the world, it must start with you! She has become a beacon for African culture; preserving and documenting cultural practices and icons so they may withstand the test of time within her community. She has also made it a point to provide meaningful and empowering African names for herself, her daughter, relatives, and friends.
When asked about her opinion on today’s leaders within the black community she said, “The majority of them do not understand or fully appreciate the psychological burden involved in the concept of internalized oppression and do not intentionally help the community to have these introspective discussions. They are not aware of the crippling effect on us as black people and how it contributes to the violence in our communities. So, they also do not fully participate in or support events that help to empower black youth and adults to accept their heritage and triumph over the hurdles we face every day.”
Dr. Banks is the current Associate Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Science at Saint James School of Medicine and has been with the school for ten years. “I wanted to help students work with ‘persons’ and not ‘sick’ patients, and to value the dignity of every human being,” says Dr. Banks. “I love teaching, and as a trained educator, I wanted to help change the focus of my student’s relationship with clients to a “whole person” approach. Research has shown that patients comply with treatment regimens if they feel that their doctors really care about them and respect their opinion.” In her personal opinion, by helping the students learn more about themselves, they will grow to appreciate the difference they can make in the lives of their clients, their families, and by extension, their communities and the world. Because in the words of Bob Marley, you have to “liberate yourself from mental slavery”.
Dr. Banks’ Involvement Within Her Community
Dr. Banks has taken it upon herself to do everything in her power to showcase, maintain, and incorporate African culture within all aspects of her community. In 1994, she started the Omololu International School in Anguilla to provide a well-rounded and holistic educational environment for students to value themselves and their culture. She also enjoys speaking at various schools and community events in Anguilla during Black History Month and Anguilla’s revolutionary month.
By preserving and documenting cultural practices and icons through audio, visual, and print media, Dr. Banks is ensuring that future generations will still be connected to African culture. She then utilizes her television production company, Sunshine Lady Production, to air programs surrounding cultural and historical memories that have been collected over the years. These videos have been showcased via social media by the Anguilla National Trust, the Anguilla Library, and the Anguilla Archaeological & Historical Society.
In line with promoting African culture, Dr. Banks participates in and moderates discussions on black hair, loving your body, and the dangers of skin whitening. She believes that the first step to making a difference within the community is creating an open dialog about cultural issues. Her book, “Starfish: A Journey in Healing” encompasses just that! It hopes to utilize cultural songs and poems to empower all those who read them.
Finally, Dr. Banks opened an Afrocentric boutique, “Oluwakemi’s Afrocentric,” that showcases African styles and patterns. It also incorporates the African practice of having a “traveling boutique”; taking clothes for sale within exhibitions, as she travels around the region and the world doing consultancies.