Talk about the impactful work that you are doing in the community when it comes to your “Doing it Well” movement?
I come from an under resourced area outside of New Orleans, and I saw how beautiful it was, even though the media and outsiders tried to tell me that it was not. I had a dream of becoming a physician, but I knew that I wanted to redefine what it meant to be a doctor. I wanted to know what it meant to become a doctor for my people, and there’s not a template for that. I wanted to take medicine and deliver it in a palatable, respectful way and make my community feel like they were special just like everybody else. So, my goal is to create impactful community oriented mental health programs and be creative with it. I’ve always had a love of art, music and creativity and I wanted to merge all three together to create healing. I have traveled all over the country, talking to kids about coping skills and improving the mental health literacy of kids in under resourced communities. I’ve made a hip-hop relaxation album with my buddy Mike Brown and also have done a yoga video with my friend James Woods. I created a hip-hop mentorship program, which used hip hop as a springboard for kids to exercise critical thinking and to address mental health in a positive safe space which was super dope and fun. I think for the first time in my life I was inspired to not only come up with ideas but follow through. My goal is to help those who live in a space that is constantly defined as negative, be able to take hold of their own narrative and define themselves.
What are your thoughts about the current state of mental health stigma in our community? Where did it come from in your opinion?
First, we have to talk about white supremacy and acknowledge that its real. The social identity of being white historically has been looked at as being better than, smarter than, and prettier than black. This permeates through medicine. This notion leads to why there’s disparity in health, education, etc. as well as identifying that there is an unbalanced power dynamic that heavily favors white social identity. Minorities who are in these underserved areas have traditionally been viewed as less than if they don’t adhere to the White standard. In my opinion, these people in these neighborhoods are beautifully human; just because they wear their hair a certain color or dress a certain way does not mean that they are bad or wrong, it’s just different. It’s a subculture, and subcultures are supposed to be different. We have to expand the notion of what it means to be beautifully human, to appreciate the urban culture and to connect with it.
Let’s talk about the difficulties that minorities have when discussing emotional wellness and mental health… Why do you think that is? What can we do to change that stigma?
Going back to the white supremacy argument, there is a distrust in America because of Black people’s horrible experiences with medicine in America, particularly in psychiatry. Even some governing bodies in psychiatry have said horribly, racist things about black people. So black people historically are not comfortable with medicine and discussing mental health in America. During one of my TED talks, I talked about how the Tuskegee Experiment lasted from the 1930s to the 1970s! That was not that long ago. I mean think about it, they were being dishonest and letting people die from a disease that was easily treated. Racism in medicine is a problem. However black America, has a role in the stigma as well. In our society, historically since blacks have always been looked at as less than, we have to overcompensate and look like we are extra strong. If society is telling us that we are less than, we have to be like “oh were stronger and I don’t need help! I don’t have no mental health problems!” Sometimes that even carries over to asking for medical help as well. When you live in a society that tells you that you are weak it is easy to become overly sensitized and hesitant to ask for help. I believe we must stop being reactionary to societal biases; We must stop internalizing the idea of white supremacy and to begin to value ourselves and our lives even more. Be more supportive of one another and treat each other with respect and value as well. Medicine needs to be more respectful of our community as well. If people begin to have better experiences with doctors, they will become more willing to ask for help.
Discuss the importance of minorities, accepting themselves in relation to their own mental health and success?
I recently wrote an article in Blavity, stating how it is important for people to bring their “whole selves” to work in spaces that weren’t designed for that. For example, in many professional spaces, whether its school or work, those places were designed at a time where people of color were not thought of. So, if you go to work in a finance agency, the cultural boundaries of those places were primarily made with white men in mind. If you go to an ivy league school, only white men designed the spaces. Minorities in general have done a good job getting into these spaces, but the spaces themselves have not transformed. So, we have to “code switch” to fit into these places, and if I have to do that when I am in these environments, it’s harmful to mental health. It’s almost like we are admitting that we are less than. You lose yourself every time you have to code switch and not be who you are. If I go to school at Yale, and I think that the only way I can be excellent is to transform into what a person at Yale is supposed to be like, that image is inherently wrong because it was created at a time when only white men were in mind. In order to fight this, we as minorities must identify our own source of excellence. See black excellence as just excellence, see Latino excellence as excellence. Our own brilliance should be enough for us to succeed no matter where we come from. We must recognize that when we “code switch” it’s because we are adapting to the current power structure, not that it is only the true example of excellence. I tell people that it is risky to come into these spaces being their “full selves” because it’s a threat to the power structure, but it’s gotta be done. In the past folks couldn’t wear their hair a certain way, or dress a certain way, but now you see people wearing dreadlocks and bringing culture to work. It’s a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking. When you can be your full self, I think you will be more productive, more engaged and more successful.
What can health care professionals do to encourage people to break the stigma in our community?
Medical professionals need to gain cultural sensitivity. So, if we are serving a group of people, we need to, regardless of ethnicity, go into those communities. Go eat in those communities, volunteer, and experience it. We need to gain a reverence and appreciation for the community. That will help reduce some of the biases that get us into trouble. Also, white doctors working with minorities should help make their patients feel more comfortable. This means letting patients know that you may have “blind spots” in helping treat them because of the cultural differences; and that you are open to learning what those things are in order to help treat the patient. Make sure that your patients feel heard, that they are connected and respected. Have them ask questions, and make sure they have a full understanding of their diagnosis. Ask about medication compliance and things that may inhibit them. Even as black doctors don’t assume that you have all black culture figured out. Black culture in Southside Chicago, is different from black culture in South Central LA. You still gotta do the work just like your white colleagues have to work. You have to do the work to appreciate a group of people and maximize the potential to make an impact on their lives.