Coding Conversations with SEI

Mental Health & the Future of Wellness with Be Dismond Sweet

February 20, 2023 Season 1 Episode 1
Mental Health & the Future of Wellness with Be Dismond Sweet
Coding Conversations with SEI
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Coding Conversations with SEI
Mental Health & the Future of Wellness with Be Dismond Sweet
Feb 20, 2023 Season 1 Episode 1

Coding Conversations is brought to you by the STEM Educational Institute (SEI), a nonprofit dedicated to providing high school students from underrepresented communities with free STEM education programs and skills. It's hosted by Nikisha Alcindor, SEI's Founder and President. In this episode, Nikisha is in conversation with Be Dismond Sweet.

Be Dismond Sweet is the Director of Programs and Partnership Engagement for the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. She has a dynamic professional history of hospitality service and event production. She has worked with three U.S. presidents, numerous dignitaries, politicians, athletes and celebrities, gleaning valuable experience in building mutually beneficial solutions, leadership and direction as well as creative thinking. 

Together, Nikisha and Be discuss mental health stigmas and issues within the Black community and how organizations like SEI and the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation are fighting to do away with them. They also delve into the need for representation within the field of psychology, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation's Resource Guide for those seeking out Black therapists, and how mental health & wellness affect Black youth in this day and age. Be gives advice on wellness practices that may be helpful during hard times, and a dialogue is opened on what we can do to improve access to mental health care and resources in these communities.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Coding Conversations is brought to you by the STEM Educational Institute (SEI), a nonprofit dedicated to providing high school students from underrepresented communities with free STEM education programs and skills. It's hosted by Nikisha Alcindor, SEI's Founder and President. In this episode, Nikisha is in conversation with Be Dismond Sweet.

Be Dismond Sweet is the Director of Programs and Partnership Engagement for the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. She has a dynamic professional history of hospitality service and event production. She has worked with three U.S. presidents, numerous dignitaries, politicians, athletes and celebrities, gleaning valuable experience in building mutually beneficial solutions, leadership and direction as well as creative thinking. 

Together, Nikisha and Be discuss mental health stigmas and issues within the Black community and how organizations like SEI and the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation are fighting to do away with them. They also delve into the need for representation within the field of psychology, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation's Resource Guide for those seeking out Black therapists, and how mental health & wellness affect Black youth in this day and age. Be gives advice on wellness practices that may be helpful during hard times, and a dialogue is opened on what we can do to improve access to mental health care and resources in these communities.

[Coding Conversations intro music]

Nikisha Alcindor, host 0:07
Hello, and welcome to Coding Conversations! I'm Nikisha Alcindor, President and Founder of the STEM Educational Institute. Welcome to our show. Coding Conversations is a platform we're gonna use to bring awareness about everything that has to do with STEM, financial literacy, and mental health. Today, for our first guest, we are so excited to have Be Dismond Sweet! Welcome, Be.

Be Dismond Sweet, guest 00:32
Thank you.

Nikisha 00:33
So, here on Coding Conversations, we wanna have a wonderful, candid conversation about things really affecting the community with the overall purpose of just spreading awareness. So, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation is founded by Taraji P. Henson, and Boris Lawrence Henson was Taraji's father. What was so amazing about this foundation is that I literally found out about it when I saw an interview with Taraji and Kevin Hart talking about her foundation on TV and I was so mesmerized, I was like, "We have got to get involved." And so Taraji founded this foundation to really support the Black community and mental health, which is such a huge need. So today we have Be Dismond Sweet, who's gonna talk to us about their foundation. Now, Be is the Director of Programs and Partnership Engagement from the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, and she's a part of the leadership team. She has a dynamic professional history of hospitality service and event production. She has worked with three presidents, numerous dignitaries, politicians, athletes, and celebrities, and she gleans valuable experiences—I know that in every conversation I have with Be, it's amazing, so you guys are really in for a treat. And so she joined the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in early 2022, and we are so glad to have her. And what's so great about the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation is that they embrace this simple mantra, which is Joy Over Everything, and I love joy, and I love to experience joy, so we're all for it here. And what they do, they champion silencing the stigma of mental health issues in the Black community. Statistics prove that African-Americans are least likely to seek help for mental health issues, and the foundation is frankly the leading advocate for this voice and changing the narrative of illness in the Black community and generational trauma in the United States. So, welcome, Be.

Be 02:51
Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

Nikisha 02:54
So, I talked a lot. Yeah, I'm known to talk, but I'd love to hear from you, what brought you to the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation and tell us more about what you do.

Be 03:08
The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation was founded in 2018 by Taraji P. Henson, world-renowned actress, entrepreneur, and leader, as well, national community leader. And as you mentioned, to change the conversation around mental illness, and to talk about mental wellness, I was, fortunately for me, you've heard me say, it was definitely a situation where preparedness met opportunity. I'm just so grateful to be in this space. I have a big corporate background, as you mentioned, in hospitality, events, production, sales and marketing, but it's really been in that nonprofit space that I've really found my calling. The thing that I love to say about the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation is that I bring my entire self to work everyday. Because it was at a very early age—I'm the daughter of a Black family practice physician, and my mother was a family practice nurse and his office manager, from the community of Flint, Michigan. And it's a community that's always in the news about something, usually something that most people would not look at as positive. So the opportunity with the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, as their Director of Programs and Partnership Engagement, it allows me to partner with people, to speak to people, to enable the opportunity for a greater awareness of mental wellness, and removing the silence or the stigma in talking about mental illness. So many times, it's something you just—you don't talk about that.

Nikisha 04:56
No, you're absolutely right. And what, you know, the title of this Coding Conversation is "Mental Health and the Future." Right? So talk to me about, when you say mental health, right—I feel like that term is thrown around so much—what does that mean to you and to the foundation?

Be 05:14
What mental health means to us—we're determined to look at it with all the positive things. Because we know the negative side of mental health. The positive side of mental health is doing whatever you have to do, having those conversations. We look at addressing mental illness, making the decision to talk to someone, as an act of courage, certainly not an act of weakness. An act of strength, to say, "I need some help." And we're about enabling every single person that wants to take that path, finding small ways to get started, small ways that are like, "Hmm, that's not that difficult, if you can go to a website and click and be connected to culturally-competent therapists." It's difficult to have integrated wellness and spend an hour feeling wonderful. So that's what it means to us—claiming joy as our birthright, exploring the path and the mediums, the ways that you get to that joy, as something that...we owe that to ourselves, to our community, to our children, to our friends, family, relatives, and the Black community.

Nikisha 06:36
And what I absolutely love about the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation website is that it's practical. You're actually able to go on, find vetted therapists that you can actually seek out, that are African-American, that look like us. And you know, as you were talking, here's some statistics that I have from the National Alliance of Mental Illness, and you know, 21% of U.S. adults experienced mental health illnesses in 2020. That equates to about 53 million people, 1 in 5 adults, about 5.6% of U.S. adults experience serious mental illness, and what's even more, kind of, alarming is that 16.5% of U.S. youth experience a mental health disorder. And that was from 2016. And for those of you who may not know, at the STEM Educational Institute—aka SEI—we focus on that high school population, and that's one of the reasons that we have mental health as a pillar. And so, when you think about your mantra, Joy Over Everything, what is the "everything"? Can you talk about what you're seeing and what is that "everything," and what does that mean to you, personally, and just, you know, what you're seeing?

Be 07:54
Joy over Everything means whatever you have to do, whatever it takes, because you deserve it, because you need it, because it's for you, because it's for us—Joy Over Everything is just that. And it doesn't have to be something huge every single day. Recently, we did a Day of Joy in Washington, D.C. at Howard University, on campus. And Joy Over Everything means that state of mind that kids are—"Hm, I'm gonna get up out of bed on a federal holiday and come experience this." Something that you can do anywhere, anytime, and participate in, and most importantly, claim it as your own. That's Joy Over Everything. Don't have a yoga mat? That's okay, you can still do some yoga moves. Don't have a gym membership? That's okay, you can do yoga at home. Don't have a car? You can do teletherapy with a culturally-competent therapist. Joy Over Everything, it takes a little bit of creativity, and it takes commitment and a discipline to that lifestyle. And people say, "Well, why joy? Why not Happiness Over Everything?" We look at happiness as things that you have or things that you do, and we look at joy as something that you are, a permanent state of being, if that makes sense.

Nikisha 09:27
No, that makes perfect sense. And what I love about that mantra is that you—it's practical. And, you know, one of the things that I've been reading a lot about in the news is this fact that no one wants to go back to work, they're trying to pull people back. Joy Over Everything would be so great for someone just to look at and be like, "You know what, let's do this, let's wake up everyday and get this done."

Be 09:55
When we're doing yoga and we've been bringing integrated wellness to HBCUs, middle schools, high schools, community centers—everywhere that we can get in—that's one of the things I say about some of the stretches of yoga. It's like, so many times we just jump out of bed, but take a moment and center yourself and deliberately stretch before you get out of bed. Deliberately take a few moments to meditate.

Nikisha 10:27
No, you're absolutely right. And so, what are some of the stigmas that you've seen in mental health, and how can our community come out of that? What does that look like? What's the practical way to kind of get that done?

Be 10:39
We see—the stigmas that we see, number one and number two, are silence and then stigmas that we—silence, and not talking about it, just thinking that it'll go away, that you can pray it away, that you can wish it away. And praying and wishing are things that are important. Talking about it, that silence, getting something out into the open. One of the things that I love—well, Taraji has done so many wonderful things that have evolved. They have a talk show that was Emmy-nominated twice, called Peace of Mind. Seeing these conversations broken open, learning what people go through, and people that are courageous enough to talk about those things is something very important. So normalizing the conversation helps de-stigmatize the silence. Specific stigmas that we hear, especially in the Black community, are just pray about it, you don't want to put your family business out there, that's a kind of weakness. Dr. _____ most recently did a blog post about this. The conversations that we have with ourselves, the conversations that we hear from other people in our family, in our community, especially the one about "It'll pass, just pray on it." And we're very much a part of...if you had a broken leg, you wouldn't just look at it and be there in pain and pray for those bones to fuse back, and pray for a cast to miraculously appear to fix your leg. So, we have doctors for that, and they came from God's universe. So we can pray about that and we can be grateful that there are therapists. Although, one of the things that we're up against, which leads us directly to our scholarship program—part of what's difficult is less than 2% of psychologists, professionals, in the United States...

Nikisha 12:54
That statistic, folks—so, a lot of people don't know the statistics. Talk about that scholarship. How many scholars have you had, how many people? Like, give us the details.

Be 13:03
It's really important to us to give back. One of the things we have is our Resource Guide, which is a platform for therapists of color. But we also, every year, we give away $10,000 scholarships. This year, right now, we just opened the program for 8 scholarship winners, and the application phase is open right now and goes through November. But in the scholarship program, each person will receive $10,000.

Nikisha 13:39
Yeah, and you know, what is so great—so, some folks might be out there wondering, "STEM, mental health, what do the two have to do together?" And what we've found in just, kind of, working in the population is that many students, because they're studying a field like science—it's very hard, right? I was a Chemistry major, it's very difficult, so that's easy to experience mental health issues. But it also is one of the reasons why we're probably seeing so little, so few people going into the field. Because when you think about the journey of becoming a licensed psychologist, it's pretty difficult. Can you talk a little bit about your process, and how do you guys go about kind of vetting your platform and the folks that you bring in, and what you're seeing out there?

Be 14:34
In terms of scholarship winners, or—?

Nikisha 14:36
In terms of the scholarship winners, and also the psychologists and therapists that you have on your Resource Center. How do you guys do that?

Be 14:45
One thing I have to say is that I have such deep love and gratitude for the members of our Resource Guide, because they're enthusiastic, they're willing to serve. The second thing I love about our Resource Guide is that we compensate our therapists of color very well, so that I'm really, really proud of. One thing I want to—it's not a direct answer to your question, but in terms of mental health, mental wellness, and STEM, is that—I don't mind aging myself a little bit to talk about one of the most prolific, in the Black community, iconic characters, that was Urkel. The smartest person on the show was also portrayed as a nerd, didn't know how to wear their pants right, the butt of every joke. When it comes to people of color pursuing a career in the STEM field, there's that stigma also of, "You're too smart, who do you talk like, why are you always studying, how are you gonna do that, what are you gonna use that for?" And I think that these are polarizing stereotypes of what it means to be brilliant. And I think that that's something that gives a young person—you're focused on high school students, middle school and high school students—that's like double pressure. It's the pressure of loving something that's intricate. Talk about for a young man that might be 6'4", what's everybody ask? "Are you gonna play basketball?"

Nikisha 16:34
"Are you gonna play basketball?" Yeah. You know, what I love about what you're saying is—so, we've been doing this for a very long time, 7 years, and our partners—we're here at the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, shoutout to them. We're here in Harlem, live. What we've found is that you have to meet a student where they are. There are these unconscious biases and things that prevent students. What we've actually found—so, we used to really work with students, we used to bring them into corporations and have them do programming—and what we've found is that if you're a student who comes from a low-income background, you're not dressed with the fancy Hermes ties, the fancy shoes, it automatically prevents you from learning. That's why we do all of our programming on-site, so we come to our students. And what I find so interesting is that, you know, we're talking about the Black community, but when you expand that and you think about other races, I feel like we're all suffering. But for the first time, at least since I've been on this earth, I find that more people are willing to talk about mental health. Why do you think that is?

Be 17:41
It's definitely because of leaders like Taraji P. Henson, like our Executive Director Tracie Jade, like the Kevin Harts, like the Tyler Perrys. There's so many athletes that are out there—you have a moment like with Simone Biles. "I can't, I just can't do this right now." And I remember how people—"Oh my gosh, that's not patriotic, you've gotta get out there." No, do you understand what it takes if your mental space is not okay? That headspace that you're in, when you see these people flipping and rotating, you cannot afford to have a second thought about something else. That's just not good, that's not okay.

Nikisha 18:42
Well, you know, what I hated about that moment—so, social media, in my opinion, has created a bunch of cowards. Right? So you have a whole bunch of people who are just saying all these really crazy things who can't even do a pull-up. But they are criticizing a young lady who is running as fast as she can to a vault, flipping so high in the air—"Oh, wow, get it together." But what courage. I was so proud that she was like, "I'm done." And even, like—you know, I'm a track athlete—all of the track athletes had the courage to say, "You know, I'm not okay." Talk about what happens when you keep acting like it's okay, you're okay but you're not.

Be 19:29
We've talked about this. To keep acting like you're okay, outwardly, when everything internal is not okay, we all know these things—you're gonna get smacked over the head with something, one way or another, and then it's gonna hit you again. And then it's gonna hit you again, until you get to the root issue. Think about a plant. You can have the biggest, most beautiful plant, and one day, it just stops growing, no matter what you do to the plant. You're watering it the same, it's in the same spot—it stops growing, it starts dropping leaves. The best advice: check the pot. I bet there's roots coming out of the bottom, you can see roots around the top, all of that life force just...if you crack it open, that's what root-bound is, right? The plant is root-bound! It can't do anything, it's choking itself. That's a visual example that everybody can relate to. Or when you buy something at Home Depot and re-pot it, you take it out, all of that—imagine those are just feelings. In almost every illness, stress is a huge common denominator.

Nikisha 20:53
Having just finished giving birth to my first son—well, my only son, uh-oh—the woman next to me, she had just given birth, she was in town, and she had an emergency C-section. She was traveling from D.C., had an emergency C-section, and had to have her baby. And the entire time she was there, she was on her laptop working. This woman had just come out of major surgery. And I remember just looking at her and just being like wow. And she was talking to me, and she was like, "I don't know what to do." And this wasn't a woman of color, by the way, it was a white woman, and I remember thinking to myself, "How did we get here? You're supposed to be enjoying what God has just blessed you with. Instead, you're on your laptop, returning phone calls—I don't remember what she did—and how did we get there?" And I think a part of what's happening, at least with the folks that I'm surrounded with and that we've had conversations, is that people are just like, "I need to go home to my family." Like, this is a little crazy. Especially with Covid—being in those confined spots made a lot of people realize, "You know what, I'm gonna start taking care of myself." Now, let me ask you—so, Be is with us for some time here in New York, we're so happy to have her. And we're gonna be doing some yoga and meditation with the kids here in Harlem and also in Brooklyn at the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club. What I wanna ask you—we've talked, so I want you to tell them your secrets—so, how do you de-stress or get yourself to a place where it's okay, where you're okay?

Be 22:41
I have been a yogi for 4 decades long, and I always say, and I will say until I' last breath will be an exhale, like, aaaah, and I'll just close my eyes and go to the universe, maybe, but... I've been practicing yoga for 4 decades and meditation for 10 years, and I'm certified in teaching both, and those are my go-to. The thing that I have to be careful of the most is that I just love sharing those two things with other people so much, because they're such easy things. As you know, we practice culturally-competent, or as I like to call it, culturally-humble yoga, and helping people experience sequences that they can do sitting down, they can do at their desk, they don't have to have a yoga mat, they don't have to have Lululemon or anybody else—not that we don't like those things—that you just come where you are, that's the best example of something that meets you where you are. I constantly have to remind myself to practice my own practice. I always have a better day when I start out meditating. I say that meditate is when you listen, prayer is when you're talking, to whatever that is that you believe in bigger than yourself—God, Allah, Buddha, whatever, something bigger than yourself—is praying, and meditating is listening. We don't have enough time for me to talk about listening and the infinite field of possibilities, but those are the practices that I do. I also love journaling, I think that's another one. An easy thing is to write feelings down for folks of any age, when something feels so awful, if you take a moment and write it down, or even just text a text message to yourself, those are some little tips to just take the [sighs] out of a moment. And it's really important to recognize if something is bothering you consistently for more than two weeks' time—and most people think they have to wait until it's bothering them for six months, a year—if something is bothering you to where it's consuming your thoughts all the time for more than two weeks, it's time to look at some of the modalities of getting some help, and our website is a perfect place to start.

Nikisha 25:05
Yeah, I love that. And one of the things, too, that we tell our kids is that journaling is great, but also, write down the name of a friend. Sometimes you feel so alone. You ever been, when you feel alone? You walk into your house and it's like, "I'm alone, even Jesus can't help me." You just feel...and I'm, you know, I love the Lord, and sometimes you just feel alone, and I think having that name and that person that you can reach out to and just say, "Hey, I need help." Recently, on October 10th—and you guys did a great thing at Howard that you mentioned—and we also encouraged people just to reach out to someone. I know we're busy, but how much does it take to send a text to a friend and say, "Hey, girl!" or "What up, bro?" You know, men aren't so great with that, but how much does it take from you to see how people are doing? And I will guarantee you that person will appreciate it, you know, so much. And so, we actually have some questions from the audience, we had some people type in some questions. So I'm gonna go do that, get the questions here for you. Okay, so what advice do you have for Black youth who want to speak to a therapist but their parents can't afford it? That's a good one.

Be 26:44
The signature piece from the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation—in 2018, we started with our mental wellness support program. Now, this program does have open periods of enrollment, so you have to watch the website and social media channels, but the most beautiful gift is the 5 free individual sessions of therapy. So that's one avenue. Support groups, community centers, there's so many online support groups that people can be a part of. Do due diligent resource. You know, we Google things that—"what temperature should I heat?"—we'll Google that, so do diligent resource of whom you put your trust to, but certainly the Resource Guide and the website are good sources, because we do offer those 5 free sessions per individual when we have open enrollment.

Nikisha 27:41
So, thank you for that, and I'm gonna read some statistics here about adolescents. Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, between 2018 and 2019, about 15% had a major depression episode and 1% had alcohol disorder. Now, this is a number that—9% attempted suicide. For parents who are watching, or for people who work with youth, what can they do to monitor their kids, to make sure that they're not going down this path?

Be 28:29
Open the lines of communication, acknowledge feelings, be a family unit—and I say family unit regardless of if it's a godchild or your grandchild or a young person that is in your home that you're responsible for their welfare. Whatever that relationship is—it's not always mother, father, etc., you know what I'm saying—observe changes of behavior. The other thing is, it's just alarming—coming out of the pandemic, post-pandemic numbers for Black youth where suicide is concerned, male and female. Black males, that number has increased by the greatest percentage of any other demographic group. Young women and girls, same, our numbers are increasing, and most people don't readily think, Oh, that's a Black problem, that's a problem in the African-American community, but it is. When you're constantly hit over the head with media—first of all, you had two years of pandemic school, and I imagine that takes a particular toll. So now you take two years of learning at home...observe your young people. Because it's a tough adjustment to go back. We have young people, young ladies, that—before the pandemic, they were straight-up-and-down skinny. After the pandemic, they've transitioned to being curvy while they were at home. So, who is this person? Who am I now? How does the world see me? So, the best advice I can give for parents, family providers—if there are friends that they just don't want to be a part of that friend group anymore, friends that they just don't want to see anymore...these are all warning signs that something is going on. Not eating at all, eating more than you used to eat, not being able to sleep, sleeping all the time. And my dad used to always say, "The worst thing you can say is nothing when you think something's wrong." You see someone that, they look sad, and you just don't wanna say anything, because you don't want to make them feel worse, no—that's the time to say something. We have people who've lost so many, I lost both parents a year ago, five months apart. When people say something, it's better than saying nothing. So, that's the other advice I can give, which comes all the way back to the beginning of the conversation we were talking about. Silence—what silence is doing to us as communities, to us as people. So I really commend you all, as well, for caring about these topics and spotlighting these topics and having me here today.

Nikisha 31:23
No, I—we're so glad to do it. And one of the things that is just so alarming that you talked about is our Black men. Right? You know, what is going on there? And I'll give you my thoughts first, and I wanna hear what you think. You know, I have a son, he's Black, obviously, and I notice that the world treats our children like they're adults. Even just, like, you know, I'm a mom, so even when I'm out and I see young Black boys, and I see something about to happen, I, like, step in, because people don't treat Black boys like children.

Be 31:57
And it's really, really—it's concerning. And the thing that does give me hope, Nikisha, that we're seeing in our space, is we are seeing these movements of Black men like Just Heal, Bro, where they're gathering large groups of men. They had 400 in Memphis in the end of September—everything's kind of running together now—but I'm liking what I'm seeing with young adult and adult men, it's like, "Okay, enough." No one can help another Black man like a Black man. To a certain degree, there's so much truth in that, and I love the way that we're seeing Black men step up. An example would be that someone reposted at the wrong time—I talked about how we have these open enrollment periods—that we had open enrollment for Black men. And within 48 hours, we had over 1,000 people apply for our mental wellness support program. We had to waitlist those, because like I said, there's periods of enrollment so that we can match people within a reasonable amount of time, but that was 1,000 people in 72 hours ready to say, "Yes, I want to talk to someone. Yes, I need help." So I'm happy—it's concerning, especially as we see these things happening over and over and over again, the same things. Everyone knows what I'm talking about, in the media. When you have a Black son, you have to have The Talk, no one will ever understand what that's like. I have a grandson now, so I have an only daughter, but my little grandson, a young Black male child in my life. And the thing that makes me most positive is the numbers, and the amazing Black men that are out there setting good examples. Black male therapists that are very, very helpful in their space.

Nikisha 33:55
Yes, yeah. You know, and I think that's so important, because if you just pay attention to the media, you'd think that Black children are the strongest people in the world. They show these horrific, oh, "There was a shooting here and a shooting here," and it involves Black children, and it's kind of like, the kids should just get over it. There's no real talk of, "Okay, let's take a step back. This was a child." You know, I grew up in Rosedale, Queens, and when shootings would happen, you know, shootouts in the schoolyard or what have you, I realized, that was traumatic. That's a traumatic experience.

Be 34:50
The trauma of what's happening to children in schools—we know that they're bad, but unfortunately that type of data, it takes time, so we'll, "Oh, it was really bad that we had these happening in such a compressed time and so close together." Not to minimize what the families of lost children are dealing with, but the children that lost a friend...

Nikisha 35:20
You know what, I love that you said that, because trauma does have memory. And I recently learned that, literally, who you are today is really pieces of your memory, and it dictates your character now. And so when we talk about generational curses, you know, especially in, we talk about the Black community, there are statistics and all those things—and so, it keeps going because no one has ever stopped, until now—and because of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation—no one has ever stopped and said, "Well, where did you get that?" And we might then be able to take introspective and be like, "Oh, you know what, that came from XYZ." And when you pinpoint—

Be 35:53
And we could go on and on in that conversation, so far back that it's traumatic to even think about how far back it goes. But when you have things like bringing up the slave ship that they brought up off the coast of Georgia, what it did for all of the families—that was an example of something done fairly respectfully, because they had markers to identify, but they wanted to get in touch with family members first, knowing that's trauma for people that are directly related. But it's also trauma for every single Black person, because it was a slave ship, you know, that's slavery. Recently, with one of our mental wellness support programs in Prince George's County, Maryland, you see weapons confiscated a week later, anonymously, 35 kids were able to enroll in mental wellness support on their own.

Nikisha 37:06
You know, being with the Boys & Girls Club, they're amazing, but people who don't have trauma or who haven't experienced it need to understand how to deal with someone who has. And, again, shoutout to the Boys & Girls Club of America for kind of taking the lead on that, because it's important and it's practical and we do, and we will, and we are going to find joy, and so I love the way they look at things. And not only that, I think when people think about therapy or counseling or mental health, they think you need to actually sit in a chair with a therapist. Not everyone needs that. And so talk about, kind of, those levels of intervention and how you can recognize them.

Be 37:55
And the first thing I do wanna say, because it is such a serious topic, is that if someone listening or someone that has a friend or a relative that they think they are in danger, immediate danger, to call 911 or 988. Other than that, to answer your question—now, we're so fortunate, of course, just born of the pandemic is Zoom meetings, you have Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. But I'm happy what's happened with teletherapy, that you're comfortable at home or wherever you can find a quiet, private space, and you have the ability to be connected to a therapist and it's a little bit of a different ballgame now. Because, once again, going back to the very small percentages of minority therapists—Black, or identifying African-American or Black therapists—to find someone who's culturally competent... I remember when I was looking for a therapist after a traumatic life event, and I'm like, "Okay, this is the time, I need more than just my yoga and my meditation." And to find someone that resonated with me—this is what happened to Taraji. She's an A-list actress, but for herself and her son, she was going through people: "Doesn't resonate, doesn't resonate, not a good fit, not a good fit," and can afford to see anyone she wants to. But the key is who you want to see. People want to talk to people that they think can get it, that looks a little bit like me, that might be able to relate to my experience, that are using words that I can relate to. That's why I don't go into yoga and do my whole class in Sanskrit. That would be like you just deciding to come to class one day and you teach the whole class in Latin and it's not a class on language.

Nikisha 39:53
Yeah, you have to relate, you have to bridge that connection. And we actually have another question from the audience. So, seeing a therapist is becoming more common for Black women. What can Black women do to support Black men in seeking therapy? That's a good one.

Be 40:04
That is a really good question, and the best approach that gets talked about is a gentle approach and a leading-by-example approach. So, by going to therapy and allowing it to take the place of being a guide for positive changes in your life, allowing you to live a better life, it's important to just talk about what you learn—not necessarily what you talk about, because that's intimidating. The worst thing you can do for someone that you want to take that journey with you or someone that you recommend is to tell, "My therapist said, and my therapist said, and my therapist said..." No, it doesn't resonate, big turnoff. "Nikisha, I know I have to work on not losing my temper so quickly—what I'm learning is to take a couple deep breaths." That's the way to share what you learn. Another thing that people do that's really, really uncomfortable is when couples are going to therapy, okay, you can talk about what's in couple's therapy. But what you talk to your therapist about, and what he, she, or they—whoever you're partnered with—talks to their therapist about is none of your business, unless it's a group exercise. So don't ask, "What did you talk about today?" Talk to your therapist. Never, ever use those things as weaponry or hurtful words. And the best way to get someone to consider therapy is to let your own life be an example. You know, our Executive Director, Tracie Jade, she likes to say "Be a good vibe for someone today." That's certainly the best way, and the best way is to speak in that way, like, "I'm really working on myself with this and this is what I've learned," not, "Nikisha, I really think you need to see a therapist because..." That's never the right approach. The direct approach. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm direct.

Nikisha 42:02
You know, I keep going back to this, at the STEM Educational Institute, we have three main programs. We have our summer scholarship program, and we're starting our after-school program. And we have one week we spend time with these kids, we teach them how to code, we teach them financial literacy—it does not fail us, and our Executive Director, Dia Jones, will tell you—it never fails. In that week, we get so close to these kids to the point that they share things with us that they've never shared with anyone. And so that was one of the reasons why we added mental health as a pillar and we're so happy that the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation is with us, is because we realized, "Wait a second...what is it about our environment that is allowing these kids within one week—they've never met us before—to tell us things that are going on and be open and honest. And we are dedicated to really building this out. And one of our audience members is asking, how can Black youth engage in yoga?

Be 43:13
I have a couple of answers for that one. Number one, as a group of friends, if you have some other friends who are interested in engaging in yoga etc., get a group of people together—whether it's at your school, whether you are a member of the Boys & Girls Club, whether it's your church, wherever—there's power in collective requests. So for Black youth, I'd say, get a couple of friends, let your teachers know. There are so many integrative wellness professionals that are looking for work. It's an interesting group of people, it's a joy that you're sharing, and most people really enjoy doing it. So I'd fathom to say that there's more teachers out there right now looking for groups to teach. So, identify yourself as a group, let your school, your church, your community know. The things that you learn in yoga classes, you can do them anywhere. You can do them at home, you don't have to do a mat. So challenge yourself to have yoga groups among yourselves. I mean, look what you do with TikTok—you could do that with yoga, with each other. Another good one would be, within the same Resource Guide that we're talking about, we're really building our Rolodex at the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to include all the modalities of integrative wellness, whether it's yoga, meditation, sound therapy...those are the 3 big ones that are recognized. But we also, culturally, we all know how good African dance feels. We know that its purpose was storytelling and expressing feelings. So that's another one, we've got quite a few really gifted practitioners in that modality. So, you can go there, but for young people, the best thing I'd say is to band together as a group and then let your school community, whomever, know that you're looking for a yoga teacher. Reach back to the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, and we can probably connect you to something in your area, as well. Conversations have to be inclusive for them to be effective, because we're an integrated society. That's why my forever hero will always be Dr. Martin Luther King. The strongest line—all of God's people. God, once again, being someone that you believe in that's bigger than yourself. Because it certainly doesn't mean only the Christians, only the Jewish people, only the Muslim people. Believe in something bigger than yourself, all people, if you're a human being with blood running through your veins. A great way to be involved in continuing these endeavors, whether it's for your organization or mine, is through donating, through donating to the program. Because we cannot do these programs without funds to do them, it's as simple as that. And then, get involved. A person does not have to be any one color, way, ethnicity, gender preference, to learn to be a culturally-humble person, it's not a requirement. Now, granted, you can only be sympathetic if you're not the same. You have to be able to feel something to be empathetic. So, a white person can never know what it feels like to walk into a store and present as brown, because you're not brown, you're white. So, there's that, but improvement and empowerment is inclusive. So one of the first things to do would be to, once again, tell your friends about these things, draw your friends into conversations, have conversations with people that don't look like you, have conversations with people that aren't from the same place as you. And then, the financial support—whether it's personally, whether it's your group—and the awareness piece. "Hey, I had a good conversation, I saw this good conversation with so-and-so." So, just because you're not a person of color, that certainly doesn't mean that you cannot help people of color in endeavors of empowerment.

Nikisha 47:38
I love that. And one of the things, too, that I was thinking as you were talking is, share resources, too, right? Because different cultures, no matter your skin color, your ethnicity, people have different resources. Especially with these high numbers of suicide, like, if you know of a resource that we should know about, email us. You can go to our website, you can donate, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel or any of our social media channels to get some resources out there. Because I think that's so important—like, you cannot have a real conversation—and I'm done with having fake conversations. I feel like there's so much out there where people are trying to be politically correct, but the fact of the matter is that you can't live in New York and have only have Black friends, or live in this world and have only people of one kind of color. I mean, if that's you out there, maybe we should talk. So, we are so glad that you were able to come today. We're getting close to our time, but—any parting words, any advice you would like to give to our listening audience as we close out our session?

Be 48:50
I am just so grateful to be here. I'm grateful to know you. I think that nonprofit life is courageous, it's necessary, it takes special people to carry the work out, and I wish you the ultimate most success.

Nikisha 49:17
Thank you. From your lips to God's ears. We will get that done. And so, thank you so much, Be, for coming. And there's gonna be more, this is just our first episode, so you guys will hear from us more. Please check out our website, you should see on the screen—–we're always looking for funds, and we really appreciate everyone coming out. Please, please, please, please support our sisters and brothers at the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. They're doing amazing work. Be, you're amazing. Taraji P. Henson, thank you. And we look forward to seeing you guys soon, so thank you so much and we'll see you next time. Bye.

Introduction to Coding Conversations, Be Dismond Sweet, and the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
Mental Health and the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
Mental Health Stigma in the Black Community
How Representation Matters in Mental Health Care and Education
The Importance of Asking for Help
How to De-Stress and Combat Loneliness
Mental Health Care for Black Youth
Mental Wellness in Black Men and Boys
What We Can Do to Help Others
Yoga and Wellness for Black Youth
How to be Inclusive and Next Steps to Take