We don’t discuss enough the emotional and mental health needs of black men. So in this week’s episode, we make space for it. Tonya Mosley sits down with three Wise Ones to answer our listener’s question:
“Dear Truth Be Told, why is therapy so taboo in the black community, especially amongst black men?”
In order to answer this question, we need to talk about what it means to be a black man in America. Poet and writer Prentice Powell kicks off the episode by performing a poem he wrote in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Being a black man in America means being my brother’s keeper. Being a black man in America means being my brother’s keeper while keeping a distance from my brother because I don’t trust him further than I can see him. It’s believing the cops don’t care about you. It’s learning how not to doubt yourself because when you’re born everyone else already does. It’s a love you have for your mother regardless of her flaws in dealing with your daddy issues so your son doesn’t have to.
Being a black man in America is a gift. A blessing. A blessing God chose for me to receive because he believes I can handle it. It’s also a gamble. It’s knowing every time you step outside the world is a poker table and whether you like it or not your chips are all in. It is the grin you put on your face every time you feel pain just to let the world know they will not break you.
Right after dropping down to your knees praying to God asking him to heal you because the pressure has gotten way too real so you pop 30 pills but it still doesn’t kill you but what will, is something as simple as going to the corner store without a pistol that’s tucked on your mother’s floorboard or what will is not detaching itself from your best friend’s dangerous lifestyle because you know your loyalty won’t let you because you know had he not been around when that incident went down you may not be here right now.
Being a black man in America is Prentice Powell knowing I could have easily been Mike Brown hands up in the air screaming don’t shoot six bullets in your body face down on the ground. It is a spend your constantly finding ways of getting a fair swing at this gang without having the umpire tell you out before you even step to the plate it’s to work minimum wage and be paid in Crackerjacks as a whole world watches you with open eyes as you sif to get to the bottom of the box only to find out that there is no prize. It means that you can die with a pack of Skittles in your pocket. Have your murderer acquitted then deemed that’s a celebrity to participate in a boxing match against a washed up drug addict who used to rap. Have people looked just like you paid a seat on pay per view even though it won’t bring your life back. It means black boy black boy, turn your music down play it loud if you want but that may be the last gas you ever pump. Being a black man in America means stay out of Florida and I have a son who lives in Florida. It’s telling your children what they want but what they need to hear.
Being a black man in America has me telling my two boys at the age of 9 and 7 that they are already feared, being a black man in America not knowing how to swim yet still having to keep your head above water. It’s learning how to patch up your boat while teaching your children how to stay afloat, is to refrain from saying so many things that you want to say. It’s knowing when to run fast and walk slow because I know between me and you in this country it is already a race to the grave, being a black man in America is to literally possess everything that lacks in America. Why do you think they work so hard for us not to succeed. We are hypochondriacs of the soul who bleed when we speak.
Being a black man in America is a full-time job you would never see a single penny for, there are no brakes, no time off no benefits. It is a lifelong commitment and an early death sentence to be a black man in America is to be a black man in America and unless you are a black man in America you will never understand what it’s like to be a black man in America. But please do not pity us, envy us. We are whole pieces of broken. Some too shattered to care and some of us, most of us, are just trying to put the pieces back together.
This poem could have been written today with the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia on Feb. 23, 2020, that attracted national attention almost two months later. Powell’s poem hones in on the lack of freedom and humanity black men experience. It’s a reality that Bakari Sellers, attorney and CNN political commentator, agrees with. He wrote about his lifelong struggle with anxiety, distress and depression in a recently published memoir called “My Vanishing Country.”
“I vividly remember the hot summer evening when anxiety took hold of me and never released its grip. It was June 1996 and I was 11 years old riding my bike when my mother called me to come inside the house. It was nearly dark, but she was beckoning me because I had a telephone call. My friend Crystal was on the line. I heard her voice saying I called to let you know Al died. Everything went quiet except for a silent inner scream. Al is dead. Our friend Alfred McLennon was called Al. He was a year ahead of me in school. An upcoming ninth-grader at Orange or Wilkinson High School. Elena hooped together in middle school. We were not best friends, but his death changed my life.”