Author of Step Into My Shoes: Memoirs From the Other Side of America
What does Black Mental Wellness mean to you?
Black mental wellness is the understanding and capability to allow yourself to experience your full range of emotions as necessary. As Black people, historically we have not been given the opportunities to fully express ourselves, and society has conditioned us to think that it is not okay to open up and express our emotions. It would be inaccurate for me to say Black mental wellness equates to being happy all of the time. But instead, one should develop the capability to feel the full range of their emotions and understand those emotions. Black mental wellness equates to being emotionally in-tune with yourself or working to get to that place.
What are some upcoming events you are leading, that promote mental health and wellness, that you would like for our Black Mental Wellness audience to know about?
I am about to release the 5-part spin-off series from my book, which is also titled “Step Into My Shoes.” I’ve recruited some special guests to speak on the series, and we’ll be discussing topics like eradicating mental health stigmas in the black community, connecting black Americans to our African origins, finding our unique voices and identities, the role parents play in the emotional well-being of kids (specifically relating to the black community), and so much more.
How can we encourage more people to seek mental health treatment?
By sharing our own experiences. A lot of people feel like you have to be “crazy” or something has to be severely wrong with you to seek mental health treatment. When in reality, you can seek mental health treatment simply to maintain your mental health and emotional state. It’s been important for me to share my own experiences seeking mental health treatment because me simply doing that has encouraged others to also seek mental health treatment.
What are your recommendations for ending stigma in the Black community?
I think just being real with people. Restricting ourselves from feeling our full range emotions is something normal in our community. Because of the hardships we face every day, many of us have developed a survival mindset, and it’s not even our fault. We’ve had to have that mindset to survive and adapt in society. But I think we’ve also reached a time when being real about mental health and emotions can encourage other Black people to change some of their viewpoints. For example, in my book, I talk about crying during the wake of the death of George Floyd. I was so surprised to see so many Black people reach out to me after reading my book, and just say how they appreciate me being real about crying. A lot of people told me I was the first Black person who basically ever told them that it was okay to cry. As Black people, we are raised to never cry, and to always be “tough” and “strong.” But I’ve tried to emphasize the fact that crying doesn’t make you any less of a man or woman. I still have the respect of everyone around me, and they appreciate my realness. I apply this same thing to seeking mental health resources and breaking negative generational cycles. All it takes is one person to influence the next person to make a change.
What are your top 5 favorite wellness and self-care strategies?
Quiet time. I spend 10 minutes of my morning in either complete silence, or praying/meditating, or just taking in my thoughts about the day ahead. Often times, we are in a rush to move through our day or get to our tasks quickly, so I find that spending 10 minutes a day in my quiet time is very peaceful and comforting, and definitely a great way to start the day.
Laughing. There is something about the joy of smiling and laughter that can just brighten your day and add to your wellness. I try not to take life too seriously and appreciate the humor that can be found really anywhere in your everyday life.
Positive affirmations. I constantly express my gratitude to simply be alive and healthy, and I remind myself that I am on the right track in life, even if I am moving forward slowly. Often times we can be really hard on ourselves for no apparent reason, so positive affirmations are important.
Exercise. Exercise is good for your physical, but also improves your overall energy levels as you move throughout your day. Working out also helps me to clear my mind sometimes and decompress.
Spending time being social. Especially as we are living through a global pandemic, it is very easy to become extremely isolated. But I thoroughly believe we were not meant to do life alone. Mental health research actually proves that people who prioritize social time live a longer and healthier life. Simply catching up with friends/family from time to time and engaging in conversations can make all the difference.
What resources do you find most helpful to encourage mental health and wellness?
There is a mental health organization called AFSP National who share some great mental health resources for the black community. I have linked their work to my “highlights page” on Instagram for people to check out.
Micah Dawanyi is an undergraduate student at Nova Southeastern University, studying in the fields of psychology and health science. He is the author of “Step Into My Shoes: Memoirs From the Other Side of America,” a series of memoirs about his life dealing with race and reckoning. Much of the book is dedicated to promoting wellness in the midst of dealing with injustice and inequality. He has spoken on several of NPR’s radio stations about his book, as well as about the importance of eradicating negative mental health stigmas in the black community. He has worked on a social justice project called “OneMillionTruths” with some of Hollywood’s most prestigious actors around, aiming to amplify the voices of Black America through storytelling. He also worked with mental health facilities in the United Kingdom on bringing light to mental health resources in the black community. Black mental wellness is something he is very passionate about because he feels that mental wellness is the gateway to sustaining a manageable life, even in the midst of the hardships that we as black people have to deal with in society.