Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor
Black men and mental health; that’s still an uncomfortable combination for many people, especially black men. It’s time for discomfort to give way to dialogue and development so that the foundations of the black community and society at large can be strengthened. Not talking about suicide being the third leading cause of death among black males 15-24 years old is not okay. Neither is only talking about it, without directed and informed advocacy or persistent self-education and care. Black men have a universal mantra, “Only a black man can raise a black man.” To whatever extent that might be true, perhaps the sentiment should be expanded to include black men talking to, supporting, and advocating for other black men on issues of mental and emotional health and wellness. Progress in that dynamic is slow but slowly changing.
The tension among black men between perceived emotionalism and necessary stoicism has always run not too far under the surface of interactions, relationships, even music. Remember when Ice Cube commented, “So many people are going soft, so many love songs on the radio that I felt like I probably wouldn’t be able to buy nothing I liked unless I bought my own stuff. It was just time to be hard-core and not be so damn soft all the ***damn time. The mixture of R & B is killing the music.” A big problem with that thought process is that it reveals an insidious assumption that still hinders the full growth and development of black men today: only certain types of emotional expression, about certain topics are acceptable by and among black men. Clearly Ice Cube’s early era music was highly emotional: he passionately warned of the time bomb waiting to explode between residents and police, to the point of threats and some would say inciting violence; he ranted against inequity and oppression; and his intense anger was palpable. To him, those were acceptable topics and appropriate emotional expression. The reference to R & B being soft is a critique of singing about different types of angst, fear, and insecurity. The pain of losing a lover and not being able to cope, the open declaration of love, longing, and desire for a woman just out of reach, or the fear of failing: these too should be accepted ways for men and boys to express themselves.
Thankfully, there is a new wave of black men who understand and appreciate that putting artificial limits on how they feel, what they think, and how they choose to put themselves out into the world creates mental and emotional prisons which they refuse to inhabit. There are medical and mental health professionals who study and help create policy; young survivors who refuse to not tell their whole story and are helping others do the same; athletes and former athletes who shatter stereotypes and show a fuller, more robust image of black manhood. At Ourselves | Black, we believe in highlighting positive aspects of the fight for mental health, so join us in applauding these seven champions of mental health for black men.
Dr. David Satcher
Founding Director and Senior Advisor, Satcher Health Leadership Institute,Morehouse School of Medicine
Former (16th) Surgeon General of the United States
Co-Creator (with former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy) of ‘The System We Need’ and the State of the Union in Mental Health and Addiction
Dr. David Satcher is a powerhouse advocate for mental health who has stated, “I see great opportunity to change the trajectory on mental health and addiction in this country, to reduce stigma, and to ensure has the opportunity to achieve their optimal health potential.” For two years, he and former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, along with other advocates, providers, and public sector leaders worked to develop a new approach to addressing challenges patients and families face trying to access and pay for treatment and receiving resources and support to get well. Dr. Satcher and the work of the Institute is focused on exposing and addressing health disparities, particularly issues like sexual and mental health that get ignored in the public sphere by the black community. His leadership in mental health is longstanding and impactful. As Surgeon General, he issued the very first report of a surgeon general on mental health, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General in 1999. In recognition of his significant work and impact, Dr. Satcher was recently awarded an Honorary Doctor of Public Health from Dickinson College.
Mr. Jay Barnett
Author: Letters to a Young Queen, Finding Our Lost Kings and Queens: Strategies for Empowering Our Future Kings & Queens, Hello King: Claim Your Throne
Creator, Men of Excellence and Women of Excellence Programs
Former NFL player Jay Barnett draws from his personal lessons learned and adversities conquered to mentor young men and women on their journeys to manhood and womanhood. After crushing disappointment left him depressed and suicidal, Mr. Barnett realized he needed help coping and getting his life back on track. Rather than walking in denial and remaining in an unhealthy and potentially dangerous situation, he sought help, received treatment and started his road to recovery. Like any worthy warrior, he began telling his story and reaching out to others, particularly teens in disadvantaged situations facing some of the same struggles he had faced. In his work with them, he noticed certain patterns among both the young men and young women that he felt needed special attention. He has created two mentoring/personal development programs to meet those needs: Men of Excellence (TheMeProject) and Women of Excellence (TheWeProject). He speaks to these future leaders about maintaining identity authenticity despite popular trends and pressures, understanding their heritage as kings and queens of their lives and communities, and fighting through depression and emotional challenges. Notably, he’s outspoken regarding emotional vulnerability and attacking stigma associated with seeking treatment and other support for mental health illness. In 2015, he was honored for his work by being selected as a BE (Black Enterprise) Modern Man.
In July 2015 I had the privilege to talk with Jay more specifically about mental health issues and his approach to the work he does.
Check back for Part 2 of Seven Black Men Leading the Way in Mental Health