ROOT Hero Melitta Johnson: Managing Grief and Giving Back

As I drive into the golf course parking lot in Palos Verdes, California, a thick fog begins to cover the horizon. It feels like I’m in Seattle in December instead of Southern California in August. I park, get out and notice how the fog has become so thick that it’s starting to create droplets on my sweater.

The cold doesn’t last long as I’m instantly warmed by my surroundings. I’m welcomed by bursts of warm yellow roses, shiny gold letters that say “ELGIN,” and one bright smile from the host – the energetic Melitta Johnson. I ventured out in the wee hours of the morning to meet Melitta and support her non-profit’s first annual “Swing into Mental Health Wellness” golf tournament and breakfast.

Meet Melitta Johnson – our ROOT Hero of the month! Like our past heroes, Melitta is a busy woman. She’s a mother of three (Jailyn, Orlando Jr., Jacob), a dedicated yogi (follow her 100+ days of handstands on her Instagram story), and mental health wellness advocate. Melitta is the founder of “The Elgin Foundation for Wellness (TEF)”, a 501 c(3) non-profit dedicated to starting healthy conversations about mental health and wellness, eliminating mental health stigma, and preventing suicide. This is especially needed in the African American community where such topics are historically seen as taboo or as a sign of weakness.

TEF’s mission is a topic very near and dear to our hearts at ROOT as we also believe in empowering people to recognize and treat all facets of their health – mind, body, soul – equally. That’s how you get to the root and really create habit change. But it’s not just the foundation’s mission that makes Melitta our hero.

The foundation is named after her younger brother Elgin Olu Stafford who, in 2012, lost his battle with anxiety and depression to suicide. He was only 23 years old. The sudden tragedy shook Melitta and her close-knit family to the core. This type of grief can be all consuming and insurmountable for most people. How would they move forward? How would they heal and still honor the spirit of the one who has passed far too soon?

There is no true “one size fits all” for dealing with matters of grief because everyone grieves differently (see our blog on grief and yoga therapy). It’s a journey that we must approach with self-awareness and self-understanding. Through her personal journey, Melitta found her method for dealing with grief – educating communities on the importance of mental health wellness. She’s set a powerful intention to help people avoid the pain that her family endured due to a lack of knowledge about mental illness and suicide. The loss of Elgin is profound, but through the foundation Melitta can bring real change to others.

Through “The Elgin Foundation”, Melitta has found a way to address the suffering that Elgin experienced while practicing her own self-care. “By doing something for others I’ve been able to start mending my own wounds. This goal has given me so much hope and has inspired me to keep my brother’s memory alive. I have a focus and a purpose to spread love and offer guidance on wellness, just as Elgin would.”

With only one year in operation, Melitta’s foundation has had a real impact. They’ve created a powerhouse founding board (one of the founders is the first African American woman to achieve Chieftaincy within the LGBO tribe in Nigeria), hosted numerous events around mental health, and partnered with other organizations to hand out over $55K college scholarships to local teenagers.

Back at the event, the scholarship recipients are honored as each of their names are called to accept their awards. “Yet another way to feed my soul,” Melitta shares over a cup of coffee that morning. “If I can help young people on their paths and, at their age, instill in them that working on mental health does not reflect weakness and that mental health wellness is wellness, then I know they’ll be off to a great start in anything they pursue.

Melitta’s journey of healing is far from over – this type of pain sometimes never heals – but through her work with the foundation she has a renewed sense of strength and empowerment. She got to the ROOT and found that the best way to care for herself was to be of service to others. For her self-care, she inspires others to slow down, be self-aware and self-forgiving, all vital lessons that we practice here at ROOT.

So, what’s next up for our hero? Melitta is continuing to spread her passion by pursuing her Yoga certification. She’ll soon be able to share yogic tools through “#beeWellwithMel,” which will advance her work in the mental health wellness space. Even Superman has to be Clark Kent sometimes. Let go and be vulnerable when you need to be,” Melitta says to the crowd. “Wellness is a way of life!”

I look back at our ROOT Hero as she poses with a big picture of Elgin. There are happy birthday balloons tied to the frame in celebration – he would have been 29 years old today. Melitta smiles because she knows he’s there with her. I can feel the bittersweet energy of the moment but more so her determination to inspire change.

Have you experienced loss? How have you managed your grief? How have you practiced self-care to begin or continue through the healing process? Share with us!

Join me in congratulating Melitta for being our ROOT Hero of the month! Learn more about Melitta and The Elgin Foundation by visiting their website , on Facebook (  on Instagram @beeWellwithMel @theelginfoundation and on Twitter @ElginWellness.