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A national tour focused on Black men’s mental health comes to Chicago on Monday

Chicago Tribune - 10/27/2023

On Oct. 30, the auditorium at Malcolm X College will be a “no girls allowed” zone.

That’s because the space will be held for Black men, as well as experts and resources that support their mental health. It’s called “Just Heal, Bro,” a mental health tour focused on fostering healing in the Black community through clinical dialogue by and for Black men. The initiative seeks to educate, help develop tools for resiliency, cultivate community and kick-start self-care journeys through a cultural lens.

The free, three-hour event starts with grooming, wellness resources, giveaways and food, and ends with a panel discussion with speakers specializing in clinical and mental health. Donald Brumfield Jr. from “Black Ink Crew: Chicago” will share a testimonial about his journey with mental health.

Local medical professionals will be on-site to aid in the process, including therapist Anthony Ward Jr., supervising clinician at Unbroken Family Counseling and clinical services and training manager at Lydia Home, a residential treatment facility in Evanston for youth.

“I very often give men the permission to feel more vulnerable emotions like sadness, fear, discouragement and not feeling enough,” Ward said. “Men are prone to using anger as a bodyguard to their emotions, choosing to display dominance, machismo and not caring to cover up the fear of being perceived as weak. In session, I provide psycho-education around the connection between thoughts, feelings and behavior — facilitating development of emotion and self-regulation skills.”

The “Just Heal, Bro” tour was born when Hope Allen’s California-based talent and production agency, Living Hope Co., brought together the healing in community concept with clientele, with author and family therapist Jay Barnett and actor and health advocate Lamman Rucker among the Black men who contributed to the conversation. Allen said there’s something to be said that a female created the concept.

“I want to see our men healed and whole,” she said. “If they are healed, our community will be.”

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide rates among Black youth have risen faster than in any other racial/ethnic group over the last two decades, with rates in Black males ages 10 to 19 increasing by 60%. Statistics like these are another reason behind the tour, which has been traveling the country since 2022.

Barnett said with almost two dozen events conducted, an average of 300-500 men show up in each stop. Barnett, a former NFL player and survivor of two suicide attempts, said journaling aided him in his mental health journey. In journaling, he found his voice.

“When I found my voice, I was able to find my way,” Barnett said. “Most men have never had to sit with themselves because either they were performing as a son, performing as the father they needed, performing on the field, off the field. ‘Just Heal, Bro,’ it’s a statement, it’s also a call to action.”

The events have spurred the creation of support groups. Barnett also wants participants to see that there are Black men in these medical roles to help, but there is a need for more of them.

“I think what we’ve been able to do well is set the environment where these brothers can be disarmed,” Barnett said. “They can look forward to just being themselves and they don’t have to have their shields up. I think that’s important ... that we hold space for these men to sit with their thoughts, to process, to hear our stories from our expertise and our lived experience. These men get an opportunity to see ‘I’m not the only one.’”

Barnett said men can bring their children ages 12 and up. Youth will be better off going into adulthood if they understand their feelings, how to cope and how to manage their feelings with certain tools.

“This is an opportunity for us men to exhale for a chance,” Rucker said. “We come together to listen, learn and express ourselves in a safe space. You’re not a ‘punk or soft’ if you identify and express emotions. We’ve got to silence those terms and critical narratives. We’re finding strength in vulnerability together in brotherhood and it’s so much better to know we’re not walking alone.”

The free “Just Heal, Bro” event will be held 6-9 p.m.Oct. 30 at Malcolm X College Auditorium, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd.; more information at justheal.co (not justheal.com)

drockett@chicagotribune.com

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