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Though office burned in Minneapolis protests, ex-basketball player is committed to helping community heal

JR Radcliffe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On Monday night, Jamil Stamschror-Lott was going to check out a new potential office space. He had a good feeling that it might be The One.

Disruptive as it was to lose the office where he and his wife, Sara, had established a home base for their mental-health therapy practice in Minneapolis, the former Marquette University basketball player considered himself lucky, all things considered. The couple was able to retrieve a number of important documents and items from the old space after it was badly damaged by a fire that broke out during May 29 destruction that accompanied protests over the death of George Floyd. They were just renters and had an opportunity to regroup quickly. 

"Half the the building is in rough shape; the roof is gone, it was flooded with water up to our ankles, but we got my wife's licensure, credentials, some meaningful items out of there," said Stamschror-Lott, 34. "We've gone back since, and the floor is warped so much, you can see below to the next floor down. It's a done deal, not a healing space anymore. It reeks so bad because of all the water and moisture."

The Stamschror-Lotts, the driving force behind Creative Kuponya β€” that's Swahili for "healing" β€” already were spending a lot of their time in the community. The spread of COVID-19 had made it as clear as ever how much their services were needed, and that's even more true now in the aftermath of a city torn apart by the death of Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Former Marquette basketball player Jamil Stamschror-Lott with daughter Zola, 2, and wife, Sara, continue to help Minneapolis heal with their therapy practice, even after their rented office space was badly damaged during protests.

"COVID really showed us how critical mental health was; everybody was affected," Jamil said. "Phones were ringing off the hook. Now we have telemedicine or telehealth, a lot of the work was outside the office anyway. ... It's really a flexible deal and it's really a critical deal, recognizing the importance of it.

"We were already working on the next phase, finding a way to making it free for clients. So many come from an underprivileged situation and can't afford it, or someone can get a sponsor for the first three sessions, but that's it.

"We weren't going to take any money (donations) at first, but so many have asked (how they can help), and we saw GoFundMes going up and people getting funded, so we asked, 'Why make this harder on ourselves?' This is not a situation to be stubborn; let's be smart about this. It's an opportunity to help people like you want to."

Creative Kuponya set an ambitious $50,000 goal looking for a twofold need. One was to help the company get grounded again after the Ivy Art Building was badly damaged, and two was to continue to support free therapy to minority groups in need. On June 3, the couple offered its first of weekly free community healing sessions at nearby Adam's Triangle Park.

"Our first community healing session hosted 100 people in rituals and coping skills for trauma, meditation and a call and response geared specifically towards the healing of people of color," the GoFundMe noted. "The showing of love was so positive that we are already committed to hosting these weekly in an effort to bring as much healing as possible to as many people as possible. We are also committed to offering FREE individual and family therapy to people of color in need."

The big man with a big heart

The St. Paul native joined Marquette in 2005-06 after playing in junior college at the North Dakota State College of Science. The 6-foot-7 Stamschror-Lott led Marquette in blocks as a junior and started 11 games as a senior, averaging 2.1 points 

Stamschror-Lott is candid about his basketball experience; it wasn't an identity he wanted to define him.

"That sort of world doesn't hold you accountable to being humane or being moral," he said. "It's about money, status ... there's a kind of hierarchy where the best-performing players get appreciated and get the most respect.

"I've always kind of gone against the grain with systems; I don't acquiesce with trends when it brings pain to others," he added. "I wanted to be recognized as being a human being. You couldn't find many black men outside of sports to talk to you. All coaches look at you like a dollar sign.

"I remember thinking if I can get to the NBA, I could help my family, my community. My main goal was to get there and get the money and bring it back to the community, but I was never really 100% into the culture."

The basketball team did, however, give him a resource in academic adviser Adrienne Trice. Stamschror-Lott said she pushed athletes to try something other than the route of majoring in communications, and she encouraged him to seek out sociology. 

"She was the closest thing to a mental-health (support staff) that we had at Marquette," he said. 

Stamschror-Lott attained his bachelor's degree and picked up his master's at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. The couple just downsized to a condominium with their 2-year-old daughter, Zola, and have roots in the same neighborhoods impacted by the protests. 

"We live right in south Minneapolis," he said. "Our home that we just sold was two blocks from the Target (store on Lake Street that was looted) and all the buildings that burned down. That's our neighborhood. My wife still gets her medication there. We're not even a mile from there now, with tanks driving down our streets, people marching past our street."

A time to heal

It's essentially the right time for a company like Creative Kuponya, which just surpassed its second anniversary, to make a difference.

"We do individual therapy, group therapy, a communal piece," Stamschror-Lott said. "We have exercises and practices to cope with traumatic experiences like this for under-represented populations, especially black folks. Part of the strategy was to say, 'Everyone else that is not black or brown, just listen. We've been invalidating folks and humanity, and part of it is just to listen and validate.' "

He said one objective is to partner with organizations and train the principles of inclusion and diversity when it comes to mental health. He said the racial aspect is one component, but it's also about equipping an organization to receive workers with mental challenges, retain them and continue productivity. 

"Folks of color or in under-represented populations more readily have mental-health challenges and leave the workplace because of this reason," Stamschror-Lott said. 

The practice also prefers to steer clear of insurance companies, which Stamschror-Lott said can do more harm than good when evaluating mental health.

"When you go into insurance, they can label you," he said. "Someone deciding you're schizophrenic can jeopardize your ability to get life insurance, or insurance rates skyrocket, or you'll need certain meds. We have a number of clients that understand it does complicate matters for them, and they don't want to work that way. What insurance underwriter knows about the right way to treat (mental health)? It's the therapist and client who knows how healing works."

For a community in need of an inordinate amount of healing, the Stamschror-Lotts appear uniquely equipped to provide. 

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.