Channel Kindness Radio: An Interview with Nia Jones of the Black Mental Health Alliance

I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with Nia Jones, Youth Wellness Consultant for the Black Mental Health Alliance. In this conversation, Nia shares about her work, the importance of centering cultural competence in mental wellness resources, how to engage in radical self-care, and more. I experienced both learning and healing in this conversation with Nia and I hope that you enjoy it, too. 

Send your thoughts on this episode of CK Radio and any suggestions you have for future ones to cksubmissons@bornthisway.foundation.

 

Voiceover: You’re listening to Channel Kindness Radio.

Mitu: Hello and welcome to Channel Kindness Radio. My name is Mitu and I’m a member of Team Born This Way Foundation, and I’m so excited to be joined by Youth Wellness Consultant with the Black Mental Health Alliance, Nia Jones. Nia, would you like to introduce yourself to our community?

Nia: Sure. Hey, everyone! I usually say “Hey, ya’ll!” because I’m a little Southern. I’m so happy to be here today and joining you with this conversation.

Mitu: So to get right to it, we know that culturally competent care is critical. The work that you’re doing, the work that the black Mental Health Alliance is doing generally is truly life-saving. What would you suggest to therapists and counselors who are not Black but want to educate themselves to provide better care to  Black patients?

Nia: Sure. So I think about a couple of things. First is read. Read and research. There are tons of books that have been written, sometimes by and for Black people just kind of putting words to the experience. So I think about books like “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” a recent development from Dr. Rita Washington I believe, called “the Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health,” (Rheeda Walker, I’m sorry.) And then you know, there’s Michael Eric Dyson, who I think he reads and writes in his sleep, who has tons of books around the Black experience. And so it is imperative that you kind of start there. The thing that people naturally kind of go toward are a lot of focus groups and listening tours. Those are great, but I would say have a definite plan of action for how you’re going to move forward with that. Especially in our community, there’s a lot of listening tours that happen and people are open to sharing, but I would say for the therapist or clinician, whoever is trying to get information, to you know, either be prepared to compensate people for their, you know their thoughts and their experiences, but to also really listen. Really use that time to listen and understand because the thing that attracts a lot of people of color to a therapist that looks like them is that things don’t have to be explained. And so if you make an intentional effort to read and research and engage with the culture, that’ll kind of help you to not have to have your patients feel like they have to always explain themselves. I would also say, you know, a lot of times in our communities, we are not young people aren’t exposed to the power of being like a clinician or the power or really the career that you can have in being a therapist and being a counselor. And so until it’s almost too late or that they have to kind of walk backwards and re-major in something else. I would say supervise and sponsor other young people who are interested in mental health. And so that you know, whether that’s being a clinical supervisor, or you know, just helping to mentor another young person who’s interested in the field that you’re in, because that will help you to learn while you’re teaching. And so taking that listening stance with someone who’s interested in the field, but also being able to teach them the technical pieces, while they might, you know, help you learn the more cultural pieces, so that’s a way to, to kind of do the work around a little bit. I will also, and the last thing that I think about when I think when I hear the question is, I would encourage counselors and therapists and individuals who are like PhD level students and you know, lifelong learners, to really start to increase the amount of data that we have around Black Youth Mental Health, Black Mental Health period, right? Like there’s so many books, right, that come out around mental health in general. Books and blogs and articles and all kinds of things. But very rarely are we able to kind of pull out or parse out the data so that it talks about, you know, Black youth specifically, and really being able to have some scientific knowledge around, you know, what the experience looks like. And so that would then help your colleagues to be more culturally competent and aware, by adding to the data that people are able to pull. So a couple of things: reading, listening, engaging in training. So we always have to do those continuing education units regardless of where you are in the country. If you have a license, you have to do those things. And so intentionally searching for those CEU’s that are taught you know, in urban environments, or those CEU’s that are taught by individuals that have experience with clients of color, and thereby being able to kind of build your toolbox in this work.

Mitu: There’s so much there that is its own master class, that answer. Because it’s true, people need to read, they need to ingratiate themselves and research but also understand culture. I read this really great critique that was like, it’s awesome that you’re reading all of these anti-racist materials, but you should also know the communities that you’re trying to connect with. Watch movies, engage in the celebrations of culture, in addition to understanding how these cultures are being oppressed and marginalized. And then training is critical because we are just- we just have this dearth of mental health specialists of color. And then the note on data is huge. We are really missing data on the state of black youth generally, I remember when the African American policy forum released the report on black girls in school and how they’re proportionally punished, and I think it was 2014 and I just remember being shocked that there was so much conversation around it being the first time we had done this analysis; and it was wild to me that this experience was being disproportionately used against Black students, especially Black young girls, and there was just no data prior to a few years ago on it.

Nia: Exactly, exactly. The breakout book called “Push Out,” was something that you know, I had discussed and in my master’s program, but I also went to an HBCU where we focused on educating African Americans and working in schools with individuals that look like us. And so, we naturally had that conversation about like, the marginalization of Black girls, and like the mental health impact of that, that any move you make, if I, you know, twist my neck in the wrong way, am I going to be attacked? Or am I going to be suspended? Because, you know, I had so much that I went through before I even got to school. And now I’m being treated as less than at school. And the workforce that- the teacher workforce and that- this isn’t, you know, a bad thing, but it’s 50% white women. And so there definitely needs to be an intentional effort around that research and continuing to build the number so that if the workforce is going to look a certain way, making sure that individuals have the knowledge that they need to be able to say, “Okay, I need to adjust some things in my classroom.” It’s important.

Mitu: That piece that you shared on the mental health toll that it takes; so, policing your behavior no matter what happened to you prior to school in order to make sure that you don’t incur even greater punishments or othering in school, that takes a huge toll on young students of color, especially Black and Brown students. And often racism is being as a byproduct of problems, and not really what it is, which is itself a core mental health issue. Can you share more about the importance of treating racism like the threat to mental health that it is?

Nia: Sure. I did a session with a group of young people a couple of weeks ago and the slide said, “Racism is Bad for your Mental Health.” And I had a picture of Dr. King on the slide. And I asked the young people, I said, “What do you think about when you see Dr. King?” And of course, we were on zoom, and like the chatbox was flooded with like “courage and advocacy and respect and justice and peaceful protest.”  And at no point did anyone say anything about mental health, racism, or you know, his own experience with mental health. And so Dr. King, for the listeners, and this was new to me, I had some thoughts about it, but at the age of 13, he had attempted suicide twice. And as he was, you know, leading the charge with the Civil Rights Movement, had very serious anxiety and depression. And he was a young man. The movement is always led by young people. And so, racism is just that. It is bad for your mental health. In communities of color, we typically have, you know, this response that we have to be strong, and then we have to be strong in the face of whatever adversity. And so, whenever there is any kind of racial unrest or injustices that we see on TV, in our own backyards, it usually takes communities of color about two to three months before we’re even able to process and then you know, have a reaction to it because our initial response is, you know, “Maybe this time it wasn’t what we think it is.” Or you know, “I can’t believe this is happening again,” right? And so if it takes you that long just to process it, right? Like, what thoughts have you had, you know, in the meantime? And then kind of like it will come up as like this, a friend of mine causes diarrhea of the mouth, and it looks like anger, when in reality it’s like, you know, this just isn’t right. Like I don’t feel okay. I don’t feel safe. And so all of those things- race-based traumatic stress sounds just like PTSD. It sounds just like depression. It sounds just like you know, anger management because there are people of color, Black and Brown people in our country, that are experiencing this type of stress on a daily basis. And so what you automatically have this kind of increased response to- with your fight or flight, right? Like all the time. If I see any blue lights flashing, you know, I’m automatically up in arms and afraid. And you know, or, I’m scared to walk down the street or I can’t wear a hoodie because I’m going to be seen as a threat. Or just my body itself. Like I can’t even I can’t change my skin color. And so my skin color itself is seen as a threat in the country. And so that makes you automatically uneasy. And so it automatically sounds like anxiety. Lots of times is married to depression. And so it’s like, I can’t change me. And you know, but the expectation from the outside looking in all the time is that it’s your fault. And so you internalize this, it is bad for your mental health. On top of that, you have kind of like institutions that kind of push the agenda, right? So then we talked about schools and having young Black girls being consistently pushed out and marginalized and you know, “othered,” because of how they respond to the trauma that they’re experiencing at the schoolhouse level. And then you have, you know, the traumas that you experienced at the workplace level. You might be the only person of color on your entire team and you have to carry, you know the weight of the Black community on your back. That’s incredibly stressful. And it’s a lot to carry after you’ve already had a two to three-month delay of your emotions in the beginning anyway. And so it’s not something that you can kind of lay down and pick up, it is “I live in this skin all the time,” and “What does that mean for the world that that’s looking at me?” And so it is super important to treat racism and you know, in COVID, we’ve seen behavioral health cases go up by 300%. On top of that, with the Black Mental Health Alliance, we get consistent requests for connections to a therapist who’s culturally competent, culturally aware. A lot of the requests have specifically stated: “I am feeling depressed and anxious because I keep seeing people that look like me on the news being murdered.” Outright. No fillers, no fluffy language, it is calling it out that you know, “I need help with this,” because it’s a shared community experience, right? Like, your grandparents went through it, your great grandparents went through it, your great, great, great grandparents may have been enslaved Africans, right? And so, we understand it as a group, but it’s like how do we process this? And you know, it’s a definite threat to your mental health because it shows up just like any other trauma does. And it’s really unfortunate that a lot of people aren’t treating it as a mental health concern.

Mitu: I am almost smiling because I asked you this question, but I also don’t think I was emotionally prepared to hear the answer. So, it’s a lot to be Black as you and I both are and moving through the world; through the US specifically and the world. So I’ll probably process your answer in this conversation later as well. I would also say to anyone listening in who is feeling stressed or anxious to lookup local warm lines in your community, or text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line. There is always support available. Reach out to the resources at the Black Mental Health Alliance. There is always support available on the other side. So please, your emotions are valid. Your feelings are valid. And you should reach out for support. And with that in talking about your work with young people, one thing that I’ve been really moved by is seeing young people, especially young people of color, especially young Black people, openly talk about their mental wellness, sharing life-saving information online through innovative ways, like these Tik Tok videos and Instagram videos where they’re just filling this life-saving information into these very accessible bite-sized nuggets. So my question to you, as the Youth Wellness Consultant for the Black Mental Health Alliance is, how can we support and work with especially black young people to keep erasing the stigma around mental wellness, especially in a world where, as you and I have discussed, the suicide attempt rate for black adolescence is actually increasing at alarming rates?

Nia: Yeah. Yeah! The suicide rate specifically, and even for Black youth as a whole is at public health like crisis rates, specifically for Black boys around the age of 13 is even higher. And so I, you know, have a couple of thoughts around it but the first thing is that, what I’ve been teaching young people is that stigma in any form is disrespect. It is you know, disrespectful and the Black family that a lot of times when you say to someone, you know, “I’m just not feeling right. Like I think I need to go see a therapist,” and their response is, “Go to your room and pray about it,” or the response is “Nothing’s wrong with you. You have everything you could wish for! Why are you complaining,” right? And so that’s disrespectful. To place that kind of stigma on someone whether they’re young or old or somewhere in between is to disrespect and completely disregard the way that someone is feeling. And so I think that with Black youth, kind of pushing that, like understand that, you know, the way that you feel, like if it shows up as anger, but you were really depressed, it’s because you’ve been disrespected to kind of feel a certain way and made you to feel a certain way. And so once I shared that with a group of young people, they were like, “Whoa, it’s a whole new, a whole new world because now, if I feel disrespected, I need to advocate for myself.” So yes, I’m not telling you to go and you know, you know, show up at somebody’s front door, right? But I’m telling you to understand that, you know, at its root, you’ve been disrespected. And so how do you feel? Now that you know you feel that way, let’s do something about it. And so empowering young people to be able to advocate for their own mental health and well being, just in the same way that we say, you know, if you have asthma, to keep your pump in your pocket, right? And, you know, take a pump of albuterol when you need it, same thing here. If you feel like you need to really care for your mental health, really intentionally doing that, and making it known that “This is important to me.” And it’s important to my generation. And so, really raising awareness around stigma and where to combat and how to fight it. I think a couple of other things about this is supporting young people period, and specifically young Black people, young Black, or Black youth or adolescence around this village concept. And so, usually, it’s called like building relationships and you know, having young people trust you, but it’s a little bit more than that. It is building a relationship and knowing that you can call me whenever you need me. I’m also going to hold you accountable and understanding that “I am because we are,” which is an African principle that really empowers the collective. The better you get, the better I get. The better the village you know,  embraces its young people, the stronger the village will be in the future and in the now. And so, really lifting that concept with our young people, especially in a country where capitalism is king. And you know, that’s just a fact. I’m not leaving the country anytime soon. So it’s no disrespect. It’s just a thing, we – capitalism is king. And so, it really puts a lot of impact on the individual. And so, really the answer sometimes, most of the time to healing the village is embracing the village, but also making sure that our youth know that the village is there for them, and building that relationship and that connectedness is critical to our DNA, right? Like so many parts of who we are, because we’re not a monolith, like all black people are different, but one thing for sure, is that we love community. And we – we’re always better for it. And you know, that’s the thing that holds the power, right? So like the civil rights movement, community-led movement, Black Lives Matter, community-level movement led by young people. I think also, increasing and supporting young people with those with social skills and coping skills. A lot of the times there is a, like, “Why can’t you just get right?” right? Like, “Why can’t you do better? Why can’t you be better?” And it’s like, “Well, you didn’t exactly give me the tools to do that.” And so, you want me to be able to be a contributing member to society, but no one ever taught me how to interview. No one ever taught me, you know, how to be able to intelligently you know, speak what I feel. And so the thing I appreciate about young people is that it comes out wrong, right? It comes out on Tik Tok and Instagram, raw emotion, and that’s great. But making sure that the village surrounds you so that we take that power and we harness it and give you the right skills and coping mechanisms to be able to appropriately express yourself and take your movement to another level. Sometimes it calls for that raw emotion. Other times, you know, you might be in a boardroom and you have to be able to express yourself. So it’s like those social skills but also those coping skills and a big one is imagination. I tell people, a lot of times that work with young people around mental health and wellness, especially in a world like we said where suicide attempts and thoughts and self-harming behaviors is kind of on the rise, being able to really activate those coping skills and a big one being “What can you imagine, right? In a world where you have no imagination as a young person, in my opinion, that’s really dangerous. And so really pulling out of them, “What is it that you want to see? What is it that you think the world can be?” and putting words behind it and understanding behind it, and then the right skills behind it, you can build a strong child. Because it’s easier, and it said that Frederick Douglass said this, but we don’t know, that “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And so if we put the appropriate things in place, while you’re a child or young person, and giving you all the tools for success, I think that it could help with you know, the alarming rates that we’re seeing with suicide, self-harming behaviors, and not feeling heard, depression, anxiety, all of those, all of those things.

Mitu: Thank you for that. And for any young people, or really anyone tuning in. One great resource that we always recommend is BeThere.org, which is a site created by Jack.org that teaches you how to recognize if your loved one is struggling with their mental wellness, how to lean into the conversation with them, and how to connect them with resources for support or professionals. And then while doing all of that, it gives you tips as well for how to protect your own mental wellness in this process, which is a key part of that. So in organizing, we hear that all the time of organizer burnout. So learning those coping skills, learning how to connect with others is so critical. So thank you for raising that. And for your work, in addition to being a mental health advocate, a social worker, you also create recruitment plans for-profit companies and you have an LLC to empower and inform in the small business space. Why is it important to promote mental wellness and awareness in the workplace as well? 

Nia: For sure, so yeah, to anybody who’s listening, don’t put things on the internet if you don’t want people to find it. *laughs* The internet is forever. But yeah, so a couple things about that. The workplace is the place that – that broke me but also helped me to heal. So in experiencing that, I was like, okay there’s something here, so I did. I worked in the Human Resources capacity for almost a decade. And what pushed me into social work was that I was having a lot of employees and associates come to me with a ton of mental health concerns. And while we had an EAP program, the mental health concerns showed up in places like attendance, it showed up in kind of like, just their like, “I feel like I really want to do this work and I know this is my life’s calling, but I am burnt out. And I don’t know who to talk to or where to go or I don’t even know how to begin to heal myself.” And so I had all of that kind of floating around in one part of my brain. The other part of my brain. I had done a lot of work with area University and working with human subjects, and a lot of the issues that I saw was around employment and education. And I said, you know, we have this one part where the mental health concerns are showing up in the workplace. Then we have another piece where people aren’t working at all and it’s pulling on their mental health. There has to be a connection here.” And so I was always that HR business partner that would ask questions, especially because my product lines were staffed by mostly Black and Brown people. And so I wanted to hear, you know, what’s going on. Before we ever wrote someone up, before we ever, you know, had a disciplinary conversation, I wanted to know, tell me about you. Like, tell me what’s going on that’s making you show up in this way. Number one because I needed you to know that I was always there for you. But number two, that you know, I want you to know that I recognized your humanity and you’re not a robot. You don’t show up to work and you know, click some buttons and move some things around. You’re actually – you’re working. You’re on the front lines. You are, you’re the one who moves the mission, whether you’re with children or otherwise. That was just my approach. And so I’m like, yep, this is – this is something. And then I had my own set of mental health concerns show up at work after having a really interesting relationship with a manager who was really like stressing me out and like just pulling on every part of my own mental health and well being. And it did not end well at all. Our relationship was sour, but I had access to the organization’s employee assistance program. And that is where I had my first therapist of color, who was able to help me process through everything that was happening at work that was showing up at home. And then conversing everything that was happening at home that was also showing up at work. And so, I think that it is important to really promote mental wellness and awareness in the workplace because a lot of times the workplace is the place that can break you. You give – you spend more time with your co-workers than you do with your own family. And so, the stuff is gonna show up. I think that it’s also important for culture and climate. So if you have a culture that’s supportive of your employees or whoever, your consultants, whoever’s working in your organization, they’re more likely to work harder for you. That’s just, that’s a fact. If I feel supported, if I feel like you validate my humanity, if, you know, there are some really great incentives and my mental health and wellness is cared for here, what? I’m not going anywhere! I think, you know, this is amazing! But that’s an intentional effort on the part of human resources. And I found that the places where I was working, whether I was consulting or I was a full-on employee, they didn’t see that as important. And so the LLC “On Purpose with Nia,” was created to be able to increase cultural competence and cultural awareness from the seat of Human Resources. Because let’s be real, sometimes there are- a lot of times there are a lot of policies and procedures that are against people of color. Hairstyles, and, you know, if I’m a single mom, regardless of my color, I don’t have the same support as someone who can stay all night long and stick it out with a project. So I think that it sits with human resources to be able to really talk about the impact of mental health and wellness and value it at the organization. And then the last little piece that I’ll say is, especially in youth development, so like in urban areas where you have different programming for young people who are already marginalized, their voices aren’t being heard. If you live in those same communities, it’s based upon adverse childhood experiences and that data. You’ve more than likely experienced the same traumas that those young people are going through. As I said, I saw that it was my responsibility to make sure that we did trainings around vicarious trauma and, you know, the shared trauma and like passing it on. And so, perhaps, you know, the two of you live in the same neighborhood, you both heard the same gunshots the night before, or you both drive by the same things each day. Um, and, you know, it might have shown up for the child as being disrespectful in the program, it might show up for the adult as going off on the same child, right? And so, it’s just important that we think about those kind of layers of mental health and wellness and add awareness in the workplace, regardless of whether it’s with young people, which is where my life’s work has been, or if it’s with adults. It’s understanding how that shows up because mental health is healthcare, right? So we provide health care for you know, Bob is out because you know he’s experiencing stage two cancer, right? And we all rally around him. But the moment Nia is out because she’s having an episode, everyone is scared, right? And there should be some intentionality around, no? It’s the same. It is, he’s experiencing a different type of illness, but the same love and support applies for regardless of whether I can see it or not.

Mitu: I love that the same support applies, whether it’s in front of you visually or not. All of these things are valid. I also think in work my own personal mission is to just completely get the term microaggression out of town because people experience micro these quote unquote microaggressions which are also such a toll on your mental wellness and they’re not micro they are aggressions against you that – 

Nia: Exactly.

Mitu: That affect you and affect your wellness and your ability to do your work so that is incredible that you’re bringing cultural competence into the workplace because that is where, again, you know, we’re living in this capitalist society. And so, that is where we spend the majority of our time, those of us who do work, is typically it’s at work.

Nia: For sure, for sure.

Mitu: I’m realizing now that we dove right in because I was just so excited to get to know you and get your thoughts, but I wanted to back up for a second. Can you share a little bit about what the Black Mental Health Alliance does and what you do for the Black Mental Health Alliance?

Nia: For sure. The Black Mental Health Alliance was founded almost 40 years ago, right here in Baltimore by Dr. Maxie T. Collier, who was the head of the health department at the time, and an MSW, so a master social worker, as well as a area senator Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam. And they saw that there was definitely some disparities between mental health providers of color and those who were not, those who were white, or identified as any other race that wasn’t Black or African American. And so, there was a need for culturally competent and culturally aware consultation, education and training in our city as it related to mental health. There was a lack of clinicians, there was a lack of practitioners, there was a lack of knowledge in general. And so, the thing that is interesting about the Black Mental Health Alliance is that they kind of bridge the gap between like, the community level organizations here and across the country, and kind of like the industry experts. And so, the Black Mental Health Alliance was bringing in some heavy hitters in the 80s and the 90s, early 2000s, to be able to give top-notch training and education to people in our communities. And so, providing a series of, you know, CEU’s and in-person trainings, but specifically, being unapologetically Black. There are so many spaces that talk about mental health, but very few that are reserved for the Black experience. And so, we talk about healing and you know, emotional learning, and those social skills and coping skills that look different for people of color. And so, we have our National Institute for Maximum Human Development that trains individuals, whether you’re a clinician or community level partner, or a mom or dad or grandpa that’s just trying to, you know, understand that sponsored by – that includes a series of town halls and in-person sessions when outside wasn’t on punishment, and things like that. We also provide trauma services in the hospital to get individuals connected to a therapist, kind of in the moment. And so, outside of just our running database and kind of CRM that manages, like, if you’re interested in looking for a clinician of color, click here and you can put your information in and we’re able to get you a person, this is kind of boots on the ground at a hospital, an individual just came in because of intimate partner violence, or there was a shooting in the neighborhood and I happened to get hit, right? Like having someone from the Black Mental Health Alliance talk with you about what happened, there’s actually a trained clinician, and they get you connected to someone is powerful. We also do a series of other trainings and programming. So we’ve been working with young people in Baltimore City for about seven years, helping to really crackdown on the number of stores that sell tobacco related products to young people. And so, we know as clinicians, right? Like smoking is a breathing exercise. Like people do it because they’re stressed out. Maybe they see mom and dad have smoked for years, but it’s really the act of inhaling and exhaling and taking a break that I think a lot of young people are attracted to. So whether that’s vaping or otherwise, but it’s against the law to sell to someone who was in our state under 21. And so for the last seven years, young people provide training to the store owners around the law, but also, they actually go into the store and attempt to purchase and are, are able to go before a judge and say, this person sold me, you know, tobacco products. And so at first, a lot of young people were like, “Wow, we’re snitching!” And I’m like, no, this adds to, you know, the mental health and wellness in our communities. Someone who is not of age should not be smoking, even if it is for, you know, a stress relief or relaxation. And so, then they’re like, ah, I get it. So just a ton of programming and nonprofit support from a small but mighty team to provide awareness around Black mental health and wellness. And so I was brought on in the wake of Freddie Gray in 2015, so the death of Freddie Gray. We made an intentional effort to really focus on our children. As we know Freddie Gray had lived with lead paint poisoning, had grown up in the area where he was arrested, had poor education outcomes and education background and lack of support from our special education system, schools. And so looking at that, their response was to have a call to healing summit. And then that call to healing summit kind of blew up into having a full-on youth summit, which we started last year and are having our second one in a few weeks. So it’s a ton of work that we lift at the Black Metal Health Alliance but all good – all good work and just – it feels good, it feels right, and it’s important.

Mitu: Thank you for everything that you do. That is incredible. And I want us to sort of close the conversation on a note of hope. So I am firmly of the belief that Black joy is a radical act. And so I wanted to ask you, where do you find your hope and joy?

Nia: A couple of things; I engage in radical self-care. And a friend of mine says that self-care is an act of resistance. And so, in engaging in this self-care that’s unapologetic, I have found some joy, actually a lot of joy. So you know, making sure that I take a day that’s intentionally for me, I, you know, whether that’s reading or if I want to watch trash TV or whatever that looks like. It is a day where I intentionally stop and pause. And in that pausing, that is another place where I find that joy because I’m able to do a couple of things. I always explain self-care in these two buckets. I have my drive-thru self-care, which is I’m in the car, I’m going to go to choose a fast food restaurant, gonna pull up, I’m going to order, I’m going to eat really quickly because I need to, and then I’m going to, you know, drive away and continue about my day. And so that’s really quick. That’s kind of like get your nails done, get a massage, get your hair done. Then I engage in like what I call restaurant self-care, which is when I’m really sitting and relaxing and engaging in something that I like to do. But when you’re at a restaurant, there’s always a waiter who’s constantly filling your cup, whether it’s with soda, water, you know, whatever you choose to drink. They never let that cup get empty and if they do, it usually impacts their tip. *laughs*

So, you’re constantly filling the cup, right? And so I say you know, there are some deeper places where I have to do self-care where I’m filling my cup. And a lot of times that is with joy. That is with like thinking about- I do a lot of hard work as a practicing therapist, I have a lot of, you know, conversations on a weekly basis that get hard. And so, having this intentional time to fill my own cup is a place where I find that hope and joy and time to recharge. I also kind of from another place of really understanding that I’m enough, right? Like, in terms of, you know, finding joy and hope, there are a lot of feelings that you know, I have, right? And as a black woman being told, “Oh, you’re fine, you’re not tired, you’re gonna be okay. We’re strong,” always feeling like the feeling didn’t matter because I had to be strong regardless of what it was. And now I find myself allowing myself to feel my real feelings. And last week, we did Black Youth Mental Health Awareness Week and I told the young people, “Allow yourself to feel what you feel versus what the world has told you to feel about yourself.” And in that, in that place of whatever the emotion is, being able to realize that you’re enough and the feeling does matter, and you know, I can do something about it. As I’ve experienced this feeling, I’ve then been able to heal myself, and then, you know, be able to help others to heal through their trauma. And so that gives me hope that, you know, as I continue to make myself stronger, I’m able to be on you know, interviews like this. I’m able to, you know, teach small groups of young people across our city to give back and then ultimately help them to be able to heal their own traumas. And I think the last thing is, I say no to toxic positivity. I don’t push it on my own social media. I don’t like it when other people do it. And that is the idea that you just have to be happy regardless of what is going on. And I enjoy positive, you know, positive psychology is what I use in my sessions. I always end with, you know, on a positive note, let’s talk about something that you’re good at. What are your strengths? What are your areas of growth and opportunity? But to have on social media consistently, I remember when the pandemic first hit, and there was a post around, “Oh, if you don’t leave this space with a business, you didn’t lack time, you lacked discipline.” I was like *gasp* And so before I had that response, I was like, well, maybe, maybe it is me. Maybe I am undisciplined. And after I sat with that, I was like, no, that’s toxic. We are all adjusting to being locked at home. And while I’m safe here, it’s still not normal. And so there are so many other posts that come out and tell young people, you know, “Oh, you-there’s no point in having a nine to five you need to work for yourself.” There’s no harm in being a worker bee. Especially, you get to learn on somebody else’s dime. And then you can, you know, you know, go spread your wings elsewhere. So, I intentionally say no to toxic positivity that makes me feel like if I’m not doing, you know, up to someone else’s standard, then I’m not – I’m less than or I’m not doing anything at all, when that’s not the case. We all have our own journey. We all have our own process that we have to trust. And that’s where I find hope, I find peace, I find solace to be able to rest there, and then working with young people on a daily basis. We’re in good hands. I think that a lot of people in every generation says this. “Oh, those young people, they don’t know, their music is awful.” No, they know. Because every good movement has started with young people. And so that has been in history, right? Like Hamilton is the number one streaming service. Alexander Hamilton was 19 when he came to this country and so – and the system, Wall Street still hasn’t been able to crack it. So those are the types of things that come from young minds, and I am consistently hopeful around the great work that I know young people are going to do.

Mitu: I love that. I didn’t think that this was going to end on the note of Hamilton but I think that makes sense for-

Nia: I can’t stop singing the songs!

Mitu: I’ll eventually watch it. I love the point of one – I’m going to use the drive-thru and restaurant terms for self-care for the rest of my existence. It’s incredibly helpful framing. Like what do I need to just get through quickly and when can I really take time and I think it was Evelyn from the internet who called it “calling in black.” Like taking that full day to yourself to do that reset. But two, I really value the note that you keep sharing, which is so important that young people lead movements. People forget because of the framing of how our history books and our stories are told how young Gloria Steinem was, how young Angela Davis was, how young Martin Luther King Jr. was, how young Malcolm X was. Like these were very, very young people who were thrust into these positions of leadership, and had these radical ideas that shifted the whole globe. So I certainly find hope there as well with the young people that we work with at the Foundation and the young people that we get to see moving online and offline, changing their communities in the world. So thank you for that reminder.

Nia: You’re welcome.

Mitu: So where can our listeners support you and the Black Mental Health Alliance?

Nia: Sure, so our website is www.blackmentalhealth.com. There’s a donate feature if you choose to support with funds, so you’re able to donate through that platform. We also accept volunteers in any capacity, right? So whether that is, you make fliers, you know, for a living or you know, I design clothes for a living. However we can make it work, we make it work so that we can continue to lift the awareness and the brand. And so, don’t think that anything that you do or that you want to add is too small or too big especially with young people. So if a young person comes and says, “I want to internship” or you know, “I want to learn more about the nonprofit space.” We’re always kind of, again, building a village, arms wide open, regardless of where you are. And so our website is www.blackmentalhealth.com. We’re also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And on Instagram, we’re @black_minds_matter_, and so and then we also have our youth page, which is at @youngblkmindsmatter. Those direct messages are managed by a licensed clinician, and so someone will always be able to answer your question even if that is you need a listening ear or, you know, you need access to hotline information or whatever that looks like.

Mitu: That’s amazing that a licensed clinician is there to provide support on social media, which is where people are to meet people where they are.

Nia: For sure.

Mitu: Thank you so much for joining us today. And to all of our listeners, thank you for tuning in. Check out channelkindness.org for more stories like these and anything else!

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