Black Men and Mental Health

I should just title this “Black People and Mental Health” but I lean toward men at this point for two reasons: 1. I live with a black man and 2. I teach predominantly black and brown male children.

As an educator of students with special needs I sit in on and conduct meetings regarding a child’s behavior, social skills and academic skills.  I’ve poured over thousands of pages of psychological and family reports, as well as observations from teachers and therapists.  For the past ten years, based on those reports, I’ve written hundreds of Individual Education Plans and I can often see and hear what others may not when it comes to a persons/child’s challenges or disabilities.  From my own history with childhood trauma and studies of childhood abuse, I can often pick up on issues that others may not be aware even exist.  I have had children pour their hearts out to me about the pain and anger they feel due to family dynamics and drama that is beyond their control.  I’ve sat in conferences with parents who ask, “what are some things I can do at home to help my child,” and I’ve had others say to me, “well, what do you want me to do about it?”

No matter where I am or who I’m speaking with, if the conversation seems to be taking a negative turn, I try, first, not to judge and then I make sure to remind myself that I don’t know what is going on in this persons life at this moment and that what they are projecting most likely has nothing to do with me.

However, working where I work, living with what I’ve been through, and knowing what I know makes me very afraid for the future of young brown and black children, male and female.

Recently, I read an article about elementary schools that are incorporating mindfulness and calming strategies into classrooms to help students deal with anger and frustration in a positive way.  One purpose for this was to decrease the rise many schools are seeing in behavior issues.  Two things stood out for me in this article: first, statistics show that many of the students in the mindfulness class were brown and black and two, most of them were male children.  Of course, there were positive and negative reviews about whether or not mindfulness and calming strategies should be taught at school.  I found one parent’s comment very odd.  She said, “mindfulness is a modern form of brainwashing and schools that have this program are just brainwashing children.”

There are times when I believe that, as a society, we’ve come a long way, baby, but then I read a comment like that a realize we are not as far as we could be.

I am constantly concerned about my students and my own children.  I am concerned about the negative images they are exposed to as well as the negative conversations.  I am continuously giving them positive encouragement and being open to talking to them no matter the subject.  I try to validate their thoughts and feelings and together, help them find positive ways to combat their struggles and challenges.

So when I read something like that parents’ comment on mindfulness I am reminded of how growing up in my family, mental health was not acknowledged and definitely not something we talked about.  What we all did know was that we had that one relative we were told was, “just going through some things.” Mental health was just not dealt with.

Now, here we are in 2019, and we are seeing and reading more and more about issues surrounding mental health.  I brought this topic up to my husband and he flat out refused to even consider the impact poor mental health has on black men.  We are in our mid-forties, born during that “we don’t discuss those things in this house” era.  Black men were raised to be tough.  You got problems, you keep them to yourself.  Men are providers, anything else, you just deal with it.  And that they did, only it often times came out in negative ways. Fathers who drank just a little too much, were abusive or simply turned their backs on their families taught these same coping strategies to their children.  And then those children taught it to their children and the cycle of the generational curse began.  Not to say that mothers can’t negatively impact their children because they can as well.

There is just something about the fact that when young brown and black boys are told not to show emotion, to be tough and not to cry, the impact that has on them as men trying to get ahead in life or raise their own children is far greater than many can even imagine.  My husband’s comment made me think about the stigma most black men his age face, if there is a problem, you just deal with it.  Black people don’t go to therapy, black people don’t talk about their problems, they deal with it.

Yet, we have a society full of young, capable and brilliant black and brown men dealing with on their problems on their own and struggling to figure it out. I see it at school every single day.  Boys that just want to be kids, to not have the responsibility of their whole family on their shoulders, to not be told to be tough, not to cry or to handle it like a man.  It would probably shock many people to know that many times I can diffuse rage in one of my male students with a simple hug and then some conversation.  They want to know that they matter, that their feelings are valid.  Most of all, all they want to know is that someone cares.

I would really just hate to see a continuation of children growing up in a society that does not value the benefits of positive mental health and to not have men speak life into them about positive ways to handle life issues. They need to know that its ok to speak about whatever they are feeling.  That’s what makes them tough, that’s what makes them strong.  Mental health is real.  If as a culture we don’t start taking action, especially in our homes, we are going to continue to lose our children at an even more alarming rate.

While I speak mostly about minority children, it is only because I connect with what is closest to me.  I am certain all children are faced with challenges and struggles they need help dealing with.  My hope is that as adults we can recognize our own need for assistance with our mental help so that we can in turn support children with theirs.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Fact: 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental health in their lifetime.

Educate yourself…:)

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Be Kind

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the following:

Kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate

Generous: showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.

Considerate: careful not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others.

Fake: not genuine; counterfeit

Genuine: truly what something is said to be; authentic

I’ve been having a hard time with understanding why simply being kind in a situation is so difficult for many people.  In a conversation recently, a friend said to me that she feels that by being kind in a situation with someone she doesn’t really care for makes her fake.  So, to not be fake she, in turn, is just flat out rude or “reading” the person by letting them know she doesn’t care for them.  Personally, I don’t get it. I believe there is a way to say all things in a way that is kind and I don’t think that is being fake.

If you know who you are as a person and you find yourself sharing space with someone you may not particularly care for, what’s the harm in simply excusing yourself and going about your business?

I don’t know.  I certainly do not have all of the answers but it just seems to me that as an educator my work in some ways is counterproductive.  I spend all day teaching my students to accept and respect the differences of others, to hold the door for the person behind them, to keep negative or nasty comments to themselves and to find a positive way to tell a classmate that he or she is getting on their nerves.  Yet, our society, in many ways, seems to be doing the exact opposite of what I’m attempting to teach.

It really bothers me when people tell me I’m too nice.  I don’t think there is a such thing.  When I wake up in the morning I get to make the decision about how my day is going to be.  It is my attitude that will determine how I project into the world around me.  I can choose to be happy.  I can choose to be sad and depressed or I can choose to take each person as they come with an attitude of seek first to understand, then to be understood.  I think if we all practiced a small level of kindness throughout our day, we’d be truly suprised by the positive effect it will not only have on us but also on those around us.

 

John 15:12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you 

 

My Why

So…one of the things I absolutely love to do is listen to positive, uplifting messages. I heard it said by Les Brown that when you are working toward being successful and living your best life, you must know your why.  What are you working toward?  What makes you want to get up in the morning and strive for your goals? Why are you doing what your are doing?

This past week I had the great fortune of spending six blessed and exciting days in North Carolina with my son and three year old grandson.  Each day was an adventure.  We visited local parks, chased waterfalls, hiked, had lunch at Lake Lure where Dirty Dancing was filmed and spent hours exploring small towns.  For me, of course, the days went by too fast and my time spent with them was too short.  However, to say that I am grateful for my vacation is the understatement of the year.

 

My boys are amazing!  My son is still the best kid I know.  He’s always been kind and loving.  Such a tender-hearted young man.  My grandson, well he is much like his father at that age.  I don’t think I’ve seen that kid walk.  He loves to run and explore. His favorite place to go is the park because he already understands that at the park he can run himself until he can no longer feel his legs.

I don’t think there is anything I wouldn’t do to help either of those boys to succeed in life.  My hope is that I was able to give my son the best parts of me so that he is able to give that and more to my grandson.  They give me life.  They give me air.  They help me to remember what’s important in life.  They are my “why”.  Anything that I will ever accomplish in life will be because of them, the future I wish to give them and the legacy I wish to leave them.  Because of them I will never stop driving, I will never stop pushing and I will never give up.

 

Living my best life…:)

 

 

 

 

Lend Your Voice

I love this scripture…

Exodus 34:6-7 – And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

I love this scripture because it makes me think. It helps me to understand situations in my life when they don’t always make sense. Exodus 34 starts with Moses being visited by God on Mt. Sinai on the day God wanted Moses to create the Ten Commandments on stone tablets.

Personally, I do not believe that God sits around counting up all of the things we do wrong and then figuring out ways to punish us for them. I believe God loves each and everyone of us and wants the best for us. I also believe that even though God loves us, we have to make our own choice to love him. I believe that sometimes, its our own choices that can cause us misery and pain. Not to say that when we choose to love and respect God that we won’t feel some pain, sadness or discomfort because we will. I just believe that it is not at the same level of intensity.

Choosing a life with God gives us an opportunity to see and handle life’s challenges in a different way. When we learn to handle situations in a different way we can create a life that we love and enjoy. We can be set free. The part of this scripture that grabs me is…”by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” When we choose to do life on our own, I believe we block our opportunity to live the life God wants us to have and that choice can impact the lives of our children and our children’s children.

My mom had some challenges in her life. She didn’t always want to face them or find a way to deal with them in a positive way. She loved going to church and being around people, however, she never personally dealt with her fears, the things that held her mind captive and was the source of her overwhelming sadness. My mom didn’t talk about those things. As with most men and women in her era, my mom learned to be silent, to deal with her hurts and pain in silence.

My mom taught me that same strategy. Now that I know better, I don’t blame my mom for teaching me to deal with my difficulties in silence. She taught me what she was taught and what she knew. I don’t believe for one second that she knew or understood the ultimate toll living in silence would have on my overall being. Yet, once I found my voice, I found my power. Once I learned and understood that the power of my voice would help me to stop the guilty and iniquity of the fathers (and mothers) from visiting my children and my children’s children.

I have the power to stop generational negativity and curses from continuing to run rampant through my family.  By using my voice, I can empower my children. By listening, I can learn how to do things differently and in a more positive way so that my children don’t have to carry the silent, negative burdens of those who came before him.

Silent no more…:)

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Dream BIG! Always!

 

For someone to say, “never give up on your dreams”, for many, is easier said than done.  As a young adult, I can remember thinking that one day I’d like to own my own business.  At the time I considered opening a home for young, single mothers.  A place where they could not only have shelter but a place to find the resources they needed to take care of their children and become self-sufficient.

As a teen mom, all I could do was dream because I had a child of my own to care for.  Even back then I understood the importance of having an education.  I knew that it would be the key I needed to change my circumstances and no matter what dreams I had, current or in the future, it would help me reach those dreams.  Although my dreams, at the time, came second to raising my son, I refused to give them up.  Somehow, I always knew that there was something better out in the world for me.

Our life experiences can often detour us for longer periods of time than we’d like.  Life’s more pressing priorities can sometimes take over and dreams can change but no matter where life takes you, don’t stop dreaming.  Find that one thing you are passionate about, that one thing you’d do even if no one paid you to do it, find it and let it drive you toward your success.

Over a year ago, I started out on an entrepreneurial journey.  Many said that I wouldn’t be able to do it.  That I was too old and should stick to teaching since it was a good, stable job.  When I shared my idea with friends and family I initially got some support.  However, when things weren’t progressing fast enough for them to see my dream come alive, their support began to fade.  To them, it was just a pipe dream I should give up but for me this is everything I am.  I am a dreamer and a fighter.  Challenges are what I overcome.

I struggle a little sometimes too.  All I want is for the little vision in my head to be out for the world to see.  I knew nothing about a business plans, investors, site locations, engineers, budgets or bank loans.  But I’m learning.  With each step, I’m learning and with each new challenge, I’m growing.  I’m certain that had I had a good amount of money sitting in the bank, I probably could have had this thing up and running by now but on a teacher’s salary, I’m coming to understand that things like this take time.

And although I would love to quit my job to take on this project full time because I know without a doubt that I can do this, I also know that without proper planning I’ll be homeless inside of two months!  Now, we definitely can’t have that.

So, stay focused and don’t give up.  Do something each day, no matter how big or how small, toward your dream.

Replace any and all negative self-talk with something positive.  I find myself thinking that at my age, I am too old to even consider starting a business.  By the time I get it going good I won’t have long to enjoy it or it won’t work at all and I will spend my latter years working at Walmart.  I wrote down the names and ages of people who started their journey toward success at or after the age of 40.   I made a few copies and put one in my lesson plan book, inside the book I’m currently reading, on my dream board and my bathroom mirror.  I read through this list whenever negativity creeps into my thoughts.  Seeing it every day helps to remind me that I am strong.  I truly believe the universe is conspiring to make my dreams come true.

To quit is not an option…🙂

Reading Goals

Being an avid reader I always tend to set very lofty reading goals each year.  This year, my goal is to read twenty-four books.  While reading is a passion, I am very busy working two jobs and starting an entrepreneurial journey.  So, I know that in order to reach my reading goal I will have to utilize each and every free moment I can find.

So far, I am off to a good start!  I just finished reading, I Am Malala.  One down, twenty-three to go!  This book was simply amazing.  I find inspiration for choosing books to read from various places.  This one, I found through my son.  He needed to complete a book report and his teacher had given him a list of books to choose from.  He chose, I Am Malala.  I decided to purchase two books so that I could read along with him and support his learning.

From the moment I began reading this book, I knew, no matter how long it took, I was reading it to the end.  I truly enjoyed how much she spoke of the importance of her education and the importance of an education for all girls and boys.

Growing up,  I knew that my education was the one thing that would take me where I wanted to go.  I wasn’t the best student but I worked hard, listened to my teachers and tried to absorb as much as I could.  I get a little frustrated when I read articles or posts that talk about education being a waste of time or that going to school is not going to give you every thing you need.  Granted, school isn’t going to teach you everything. It may teach your things you are not interested in or things you may never use again but how will we know what interests us, what we may or may not like if we are not exposed to various things?  I would definitely have to disagree that it is a waste of time.  To me, education is a gateway to options.

I am always telling my own children that we must honor those who paved the way for us.  Our education was not free.  Many people sacrificed their time and their lives so that I, we, could enjoy the education freedoms we have today.  In reading, I Am Malala, I was truly reminded of the importance of my own education.  I was struck by Malala’s passion and desire to see that all young girls and boys have an education that will allow them to reach their full potential.  What struck me most was that even when she was literally faced with the threat of death, she continued to go to school and to speak out about the importance of young girls having the opportunity to get an education.

This is definitely a book I would recommend.

I give it five stars…:)

 

Holiday Spirit

By a very generous stroke of luck, I had the house all to myself today.  As I sat on the couch watching television, I listened to this guy share that one of the reasons he loved his wife was because the way she viewed the world was unlike anything he’d ever seen or experienced.  He described how his wife simply loved people, saw the best in everyone and always wanted to help whoever and wherever she could.  He stated that he often wished he could see the world from her eyes.  The wife explained that she was a glass half full type person and made a conscience effort to be positive because she enjoys seeing people be their best selves.

Their conversation reminded me of the many conversations I have with my love.  He and the kids often tell me how different I am and that most people don’t think or view the world the way I do.  Whenever we have family discussions, I am usually the odd woman out.  I’ve always known that my way of thinking, speaking and being is rather different from what is considered the norm in my culture but there is just something in me that wants the best for every person I meet.  I feel that no matter the situation, there is a win-win solution for everyone involved.  Although it can be a tough job most days,  I often feel it is my purpose to love others, to find and make peace, to simply be kind.  I don’t seek attention or acknowledgement, I simply hope that by loving or being kind to someone, they will in turn love or be kind to someone else.

Today is Christmas and I spent the day basking in the quiet of an empty house.  My love and the kids are visiting their family.  I spent time with my family yesterday.  So today was about relaxing and counting my many blessings.  Earlier this afternoon I decided to open some of the cards I received from coworkers and I came across one that made me pause.   You never know how showing kindness or sharing a positive word will impact someone.  There is more than enough negativity and tragedy happening in this world, I don’t need to add to it.  I will be sharing this card with my kids when they get back so that they will know that it is very true that what you put out you will get back.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…:)