Black Men HealJan 31, 2023 02:00PM ● By Mac Johnson
On Friday, January 27th, the Memphis Police Department released the gruesome body cam footage of the beating death of Tyre Nichols to the public. One minute Nichols was pulled over for a traffic stop, the next he was being beaten within an inch of his life by five police officers. Five officers who were Black, just like him. While five officers have been charged with his subsequent murder and a sixth has now been relieved of duty, the swift legal action won’t put air back in Nichols’ lungs, his family won’t hear his voice again and it won’t stop Black men across the country from once again seeing someone who looks like them die and say “that could’ve been me”.
Public displays of trauma are inescapable for a Black man in America. While they too frequently take the form of police killings, they could be the frightening occurrence of Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest in the middle of a primetime NFL game. What should have been escapism became the subject of fear. In cities like Philadelphia, that fear takes the form of gun violence, with the city surpassing 500 murders for the second year in a row.
To cope with navigating the physical and emotional danger, Black men often subscribe to ideologies of suppression, believing that it’s easier and the more masculine thing to do to deny your feelings, vulnerability and often parts of your personality to fight your ongoing battle with society. This created the need for a safe space and a tool for mental and emotional restoration.
“We created Black Men Heal so they could be their authentic selves and try to work through that trauma of unraveling the norms that their own community has put on them,” said Zakia Williams. “All Black men are capable of being whoever they want to be and we gave them a space to transform the narrative about what a Black man is supposed to look like.”
Williams is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer for Black Men Heal and has nearly two decades of experience in the mental health field. She and a group of male and female health professionals recognized a mental health care system in need or change and actively sought a solution. Through Black Men Heal, those seeking mental health treatment can be assigned a mental health professional that will provide them with eight free sessions. Williams believes that access to those eight sessions is just the beginning of the healing process, but an important first step nonetheless. The fact that those first eight sessions are free helps extend the reach of those who can be treated.
“We chose eight sessions To ensure a great relationship with your therapist,” said Williams. “Licensed therapists suggested to us that eight sessions is the perfect number to build a relationship, trust and a strong rapport.”
Therapy sessions through Black Men Heal are all done virtually, making it that more difficult to develop a genuine connection, but the service's intentionality helps bridge that gap. On top of therapy sessions, Black Men Heal also holds weekly safe spaces called “Kings Corner” that are easily accessible online. Kings Corner brings together men of all ages, economic backgrounds, sexual orientations and upbringings and helps them work toward the common goal of showing up for themselves.
“Men are trying to be what society told them that they had to be instead of being themselves,” said Williams. “The process of therapy helps you peel back the layers of stigma and the false standard around Black men.”
Another major objective for Black Men Heal is to create and promote cultural competency. That simply means to add to the very shallow pool of therapists of color that are available to provide any service. According to the American Psychologists Association, as of 2019, only 3 percent of the psychology workforce in the U.S. is Black, yet many people are specifically seeking a Black therapist. Having a therapist that looks like you and understands the subtleties of your Blackness gives the person looking for care confidence that the person that’s giving them care sees them for who they really are. That means understanding how cultural trauma, systemic racism, a history of economic inequality and a lack of mental health care have created a faulty foundation of emotional support. Black Men Heal says that pursuing cultural competency eliminates complications with their services and has led to a 96% approval rating among Black men and the therapists they’re matched with through the program.
Black Men Heal is currently working to give more opportunities to aspiring Black healthcare professionals through a grassroots effort. The organization is working to create contracts with schools and even hosting an HBCU tour to give more future therapists of color an opportunity to gain real world experience.
Black Men Heal also aims to erase the stigma behind Black men seeking mental health treatment.
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“I was collateral damage of a man that needed to be healed,” said Williams. “If my father had Black Men Heal then my life would've been completely different.”
Black Men Heal believe that “stigma requires secrecy and shame in order to exist.” Williams says even though Black Men Heal creates a safe space for growth and vulnerability, it’s up to the person looking for treatment to step up themselves for help. Neither mothers, wives, sisters or friends are allowed to volunteer for treatment. This is a journey they must agree to take on their own recognizance.
“When we try to heal one Black man, we heal one household,” said Williams. “Then one community, then one city. It’s the inverse of the saying that it rots from the head down, we want to heal from the head down. And we know that healed men heal men.”
Black Men Heal can either work with your healthcare provider or take individual payment for sessions beyond the eight free sessions initially given. Black Men Heal also provides a “Heal With Him Virtual Space” for female counterparts seeking adjacent treatment, gun violence group therapy and individual psychotherapy. If you’re interested in applying for service, just visit blackmenheal.org
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