7 Quick Notes on Black Mental Health and Social Justice

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Felt the need to share a few things about Mental/Emotional Health and Social Justice. Like to hear it? Here it go:

1. Mental & Emotional Health does not equate therapy. Mental and emotional health care is also yoga, and altar building, generative somatics, spades games and storytelling and touch. It is the domain of an entire community. We all have a responsibility to practice emotional harm reduction with how we engage each other and reinforce loving emotional health norms. And we each have a responsibility to hold those accountable who harm us in our communities, a skill we are currently desperately lacking.

2. Therapy is often not safe for everyone. It can be a challenge for many depending on where you live and who you are. The field has a serious lack of training on how to support you if you are gender non-conforming, Trans, queer, disabled, working class, a woman or Black. And Goddess forbid you are more than one of the latter. Let’s not conflate proximity of service as meaning a service itself is accessible.

3. Not everyone has the coin, or time and privilege to sit up an hour a week with someone without returning home to an eviction notice, a social worker threatening to take their children, or any other range of crises. The way mental health care (therapy) is set up in this country is itself a barrier. Clock your privilege if you believe otherwise.

4. The goal (my goal, anyway) is to help cultivate communities where all of us learn to harness our abilities as healers of each other and ourselves alongside dismantling systems of harm. Licensed professionals with a Black feminist lens are a part of this. And so are teachers, activists, organizers, artists, barbers, coaches and more. Everyone needs to be at that table.

5. Therapy and any emotional health care only works if you do. You are a co-healer in the process and you should always have agency. At best, healers/therapists are guides helping you sort through the muck. They are human and make mistakes and they do not know everything. If you are not honest, if you are not open, if you are only telling one sided stories or if the therapist has a stake in helping you propagate your myths, you are not healing.

6. Shaming people into mental health care is creating harm. 
It is unacceptable. Class shaming is unacceptable. You don’t get to dictate how someone else spends their dollars. And using social media to make sweeping generalizations about someone’s economic choices without context, is immature at worst and at best, useless.

7. Let’s love on each other and ourselves as much as we can. And focus on shifting institutions instead of shitting on each other. And when we do the latter, let’s try to apologize, look at what it is within us that lead us to do that, and work through it—- to minimize the chance of it happening again by having friends and community who will hold us accountable.  

Note: I don’t write this as someone who has not created harm in doing any of the above. Please don’t share it with the suggestion that you yourself have not either. We all have work to do.

-Yolo

Check out these spots for more:

BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective)

National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network

Psychology’s Feminist Voices

Beverly Green

Asia Jones Productions

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Exploring The Inner Child Trauma of Black Men

 

 

When he would yell at my mother, I would start crying. I didn’t know any better. I was only 6. As soon as I started sniffling he would turn around and scream “Shut up Sean!! Don’t be no f*cking punk!” I was so scared. I was scared he would hate me like I thought he hated my mother. I learned from that to shut up whatever feeling I was goin through. Back then it was fighting other kids. As I got older I would drink, smoke, or just zone it out. Years later being with my own kids made me realize something was wrong. I was angry all the time. I started to see that I had been doing something that was pushing me away from people I cared about….”*

What happens to little Black boys, who learn to hate their feelings? Who do they become? What is the “inner child” and how is this all connected? The answers to these questions aren’t easy to hear. Nor are they as one dimensional as we might imagine.

The “inner child” represents the emotionality and perceptions we learned as children that, if left un-engaged, we carry on as adults. For all Black children, our inner perceptions are highly likely to be informed by a number of traumatic experiences. Despite this, African American Americans overall are not likely to access mental health services, much less Black men. This creates a considerable challenge: On one hand Black men and boys are traumatized constantly. But on the other hand, we are not given emotional tools to transform that pain. We are taught, like Sean, masculine norms that do not support mental health. The consequence of this is evident: climbing rates of suicide, abuse, and assault against ourselves, Black women and Black gender non-conforming individuals.

To explore this further, I spoke with Washington D.C based Therapist Douglas Gotel. Gotel has been working with African American men and boys for nearly 10 years and had much to say on how inner childhood trauma is playing a role in Black men’s lives.

Akili: How do you see child trauma impacting Black men and boys?

Gotel: Trauma literally changes the emotional map in the brain, it alters perception. Left unaddressed, these emotional imprints can negatively impact perceptions held by Black men (and any person); perceptions of self, others and circumstances that can cause problems in every relationship in a person’s life. For men, it often manifests as anger or rage, a product of fear and powerlessness.

Akili: How have you seen inner child trauma show up in working with adult African American men?

Gotel: I remember a time as an intern on a home visit, witnessing what unresolved inner child trauma looked like in vivo. I was visiting with a single father who was doing the best he could trying to raise his teenage son to keep him out of foster care. Their relationship was, in a word, combustible. As I look back on that home visit, what I witnessed were two people with unmet needs, two child states in conflict. A young man, who had been abandoned by his mother, his defiance fueled by competition with his father’s girlfriend for his father’s attention; a father, who could not read, conflicted with wanting nurturing and attention from his girlfriend and feeling his authority challenged by an acting-out teen. Both had childhood traumas of parental separation.

The young man had skipped school the day before and I arrived in the middle of an altercation between father and son. The father literally had a tantrum before me. He was jumping up and down, stomping, fists clinched, screaming at the young man saying, “You don’t appreciate anything I do for you!” The best I could do in that moment was to create some space between them before it got physical. The father, with his own emotional needs, was not ready developmentally to parent. This is one way that unresolved childhood trauma can show can show up in relationships, explosive anger. When we are faced with unmet needs, particularly attachment needs of feeling safe, secure, comforted and validated from those with whom we have community, how we respond to those unmet needs is reflective of the degree that our inner child has been nurtured.

 

Read the rest at the Huffington Post

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In Their Own Words: Black Women On What They Need From Our Communities To Heal

 

#SayHerName, #TransBlackLivesMatter and#BlackLivesMatter have helped bring attention to the continued murder and violence that Black women face both at the hands of the state, and so often, at the hands of Black men. The stories of Dee Whigham, Korryn Gaines, Rekia Boyd, Skye Mockabee, and Sandra Bland are only a few―there are many more whose name’s may never rise to national attention.

But we can not just listen to the experiences of Black women when they call  out to us from the grave. We must act by listening to the voices of Black women who are here now.  We must listen to understand what we as a community can do to support them. We must listen to understand what we do that hurts them. We must mobilize each other to act for their health and well being; as they have mobilized for the health and wellbeing of us all.

Gathered below are the voices of Black women who advocate and work for the healing and power of our communities everyday. I reached out to hear from them about what they feel we need to be doing to support their emotional health in  a culture rampant with misognynoir and transphobia.

Below are their responses. Read them. Reflect upon them. And then take action.

 

 What do we as a community need to be doing to support the emotional health of Black women? 

 

Aaryn Lang:  “We need to listen and believe Black women when we share our experiences. We need to understand that the cocktail of misogyny, racism, and transphobia creates a world where we have to do so much extra labor to be able to simply relax or be. I think about how long I have walked around with a chip on my shoulder because being raised as a Black boy grown into a black woman, I never actually had the space to express just how I feel about what it means to exist at the intersections that I do.

Black women, Black femmes, need love. More than anything in the world we need the kind of patient, kind love that we have read about. We need to be heard and held. As a Black trans person, guilt is written into my DNA. It’s so difficult for me to understand what it means to be safe in my body.

We don’t need protecting, we don’t need to be purified, or infantilized. We need people to be willing to stand with us. More than anything, though, Black women and femmes need each other. We’ve operated out of projected self-hate for far too long.  Malcolm said it best: The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. And of course, stop f*cking killing us.”

 

Read the rest at the Huffington Post 

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Hooking Up & Checking Out: The Emotional Consequence of Gay Dating Apps

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“In my work with gay men and couples I have observed some concerns with compulsive and distracting use of “gay hook-up” apps.  In my observation, many men have never had the opportunity to gain the social skills associated with healthy dating.  The ability to approach someone they are interested in, the ability to deal and sit with rejection, hold conversation, make eye contact, and perhaps most important to stick with something even when something goes wrong.  My fear is that the upcoming generation has no experience with life before smart phones and the internet.  My fear is that relationships will become disposable and impulsive and coupling will become fake, temporary, and convenient”.  – Nathaniel Currie, LICSW

How many times are you on your favorite hook up app a day? Do you find yourself having difficulty completing tasks or being social because you are constantly on apps? How has your hookup app use impacted the way you see your body? Has it made you appreciate your body more?  Has it made it easier to see gay men as disposable? Has it made you bitter or joyful? Or both?

The answers to these questions are not black and white. While we know that apps have made it easier to connect, what we don’t know is how they have impacted our emotional intelligence, social culture and wellbeing as gay men.   To get some insight on this, I reached out to Nathaniel Currie, a therapist working in Washington D.C with extensive clinical and community based experience with Black and Latino gay men. Nathaniel and I explored questions of how online culture may be helping to connect us and at the same time exacerbate issues of sexual compulsivity and more.

Akili:  Many hook up apps encourage the sharing of stats and measurements in a manner that puts us in direct competition with other “bodies” on the market.   How have you seen this show up in our communities?

Currie: Too many times I have had men come into my office and make statements about people or themselves based on pictures they have seen of other people posted on social media or compare themselves to men they find attractive. Stats and measurements are not just ways to identify how someone might measure up in terms of attractiveness but in gay/bi culture it is also a way of qualifying people… as to say a person is placed in some sort of hierarchy based on levels of fitness, attractiveness and body shape….The bombarding of images is overwhelming to even the most confident, well-adjusted individual.  I don’t know how anybody could not fall victim to some sort of “ego-self” self-doubt in this day and age.

Akili: What are some of the things, in your opinion, that we have gained through having online opportunities to connect? And what do you think we have lost?

Currie: Perhaps the most important thing, in my opinion, is that we have literally begun to function as a global village. [But]  I think with so many perceived options, so many attractive pictures to look at, so much of what we want available, that as a dating community we have, and will continue to have, more and more trouble sticking with one person, making a commitment.  As we find ourselves acting out these behaviors of continuous hooks-ups, month long lovers, and date after date, our perception of love and partnership begins to change. It starts to become something to do, or something you should do.

Read the rest at Newer Negroes.

 

 

 

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On Healing The Little Black Boy Within..

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So much of it starts with the little boys we used to be. It starts with the ideas about the world that these little boys created in order to understand the confusion and the pain around them. Those ideas often stay with us, especially when they were traumatic. They become unconscious and we find ourselves grown men; acting out or living from the wounds and rationale the little boys we were created.

For instance, as a little boy I thought everything would be better if I was just “good.” When people were upset or angry, or things were bad at home, I thought it was because I was not being “good”, and that if I worked hard enough, If I pleased everyone enough, things wouldn’t be bad anymore. I took responsibility for everyone else’s pain and how they acted it out. No one told me this. My parents or family never said “It’s all your fault.” But just like any human being,I was trying to make sense of what was happening around me and that was the rationale that I, at that stage of development; was able to comprehend.

As an adult, I found myself in an unconscious pattern of doing the same. Being “good” and loyal and trying to please. Hoping that if I could please whomever more they would treat me better; or not be angry; or attend to my own needs. It took me a while to realize that the little boy and his emotional scripts were backstage running the show. To change it I had to go back to that little boy’s pain, express it, and re-imagine it. I had to tell a different story that wasn’t making me responsible for everything when it was “bad” and stop believing I could “please” someone into behaving differently.  I had to understand that other’s actions and behaviors were their own responsibility, not mine. It was and is not easy.

If it wasn’t for my friends and therapy, I’d likely still be in that pattern. And so my question to you is: What did the little you believe about the world? How did you explain to yourself, as a little one, the things happening around you? Are you still carrying those understandings? What did the little person you once were come to believe because of the things that happened to you?

In my intervention counseling with black men, I saw the little black boys within them show up in the room every session. I remember one man, telling a story about how he had “snapped” one day when he saw his son standing in the kitchen.  His son had his back turned to him, with his hand on his hip. He recanted that after seeing him he “blanked out” and the next thing he knew he was standing above his son screaming and yelling.

When we explored the situation further, we learned that as a little boy his own father had radically policed how he moved through his body. Every time he was caught with his wrist limp, or his hand’s on his hips, his father would slap, pop or hit him. Eventually learning to be stiff in his stature became muscle memory. He had never taken the time to process how scary it was for the little him, to have a much larger and stronger man unexpectedly hit him at random intervals. The act of seeing his own son with that posture triggered that past trauma. The little boy in him hadn’t healed. And so he reached out to terrorize and body police his own son; as had been done to him. This is how patriarchal socialization works.

So let me ask you again: What did the little person you once were come to believe because of the things that happened to you?

I have often cautioned my black male colleagues; there are a great deal of us seeking attention, pleasure, and fame with a little boy in the drivers seat.  Sometimes it’s because the little boy in us believes dad or someone will love us if we get more accolades, money or success. A great deal of us may feel pressure to over achieve in order to make up for what we believe is “letting down” our parents by being gay. Some of us learned to lie to protect our parents and are lying still. Some of us learned that love was always distant because Daddy was, and so we spend our lives chasing unavailable men. And sometimes we ruthlessly fight to get power in our careers so we can feel like we have control over something, because our emotional lives and childhood feel/felt so out of control. It shows up in many ways.

So one last time: What did the little person you once were come to believe because of the things that happened to you?

If you don’t know, I invite you to re-connect and ask yourself. I invite you to pause and consider how that past pain may be driving you now. I invite you to start a path of intentional healing. As I wrote in my book, Dear Universe, “Healing is not about a past wound going away; it’s about having a relationship to a past wound that will not hinder you in the present moment.”

Healing is an ongoing process that has to start at the root. You can’t grow flowers in poisoned soil. A great many of us need to dig up the dirt to see what has been rotting underneath there. Some of that “poison” can be re-purposed and help us grow. But we gotta do the work.

We gotta do the work so we can co-create a better world. So we can heal and support our communities. So we can take the emotional burden off of black women. So we can cease the pattern of pain being passed down to boys, those assigned male at birth, all of us. We gotta do our work.So, if you haven’t already, let’s get started. That little boy/girl/person has likely been waiting for you. Don’t let them down. They need you. We all do.

 

(This post originally appears on RaceBaitr) 

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Black Futures: Imagining A World Where Ending Partner Violence Was A Priority

Black Futures

What if black communities committed to ending intimate partner violence?

What if we used everything we knew about the root causes of partner violence and put our full resources and expertise to work? What could we create to heal our communities? How much pain and trauma could we prevent? How many lives could we save?

Some people tell me it’s silly to think of such things. They say we are so far from that being a reality. We can’t even acknowledge male privilege, or affirm the value of black trans women’s lives. How in the world can we come together and use all our power to end intimate partner violence?

But I imagine anyway.

My imaginings don’t go to a utopia, though. They go instead, towards a future where IPV is rare. A future where our communities have developed our own responses to intimate partner violence that are not linked to the criminal legal system. A future where the causes of intimate partner violence are rooted out in everyday practice before they can take form. A world where misogynoir, transphobia or racialized homophobia doesn’t prohibit one from seeking care.
A world where healing and restoration are the focus, not vilification, or disposal. Below I have shared a few points on what I believe would need to be included in such a future. The list is not exhaustive, but I hope it does spark us to think, and to expand, what we think is possible.

In My Black (Feminist) Future:

Gendered socialization will be declared a public health emergency. National recognition of how forced gender socialization contributes to domestic violence and mental health will be the norm. Programs will be established at black schools focusing on cultivating “responsible young people” with a number of qualities that are gender non specific and do not stem from respectability politics. Administrative and legislative policies will be set in place that prohibit policing gender in public schools.

We will have Community Healing & Accountability boards in every city. They will be organized by neighborhood jurisdiction. When someone has committed harm these boards will execute alternative housing (in someone’s home as a first option, before a shelter), and lead all involved through a black feminist and womanist informed accountability and restoration program where those who have harmed will face their actions to the community at large, those harmed receive protection and all are supported in healing. These programs will be lead by members of the communities and be funded by these communities.

Emotional Health Education will be standard in all communities and schools.Programs will be created that cultivate emotional intelligence for children of all genders and sexualities including exercises, games, meditation and yoga.

Services that address Black Women’s healing and accountability, including shelters, will be inclusive and competent for Black Trans and Cis women.

Black Feminist Clinical Therapy, will be a widely practiced approach in black communities to address mental and emotional health. BFCT will include creating dynamic exercises, activities and clinical spaces that dismantle ideas and complexes that perpetuate transphobia, sexism, misogyny,ableism and racism. Dismantling these ideas will be seen as synonymous to achieving better mental health outcomes. Individuals trained in this approach will include clergy, licensed therapists, activists, organizers and all community folks interested.

The Violence of Black women, against children, men or anyone, will not be minimized.

Shelters, support and preventative services will exist for all genders and sexualities, including Trans-amorous black men, black trans men and GNC individuals.

We will not label people “abusers” or “victims.” We will discuss ‘those who have caused harm” and “those who have suffered harm”, releasing individuals from having to hold a life long title for a behavior or experience.

Rape services for those who are harmed will be competent for all genders and sexualities, and those harmed will receive a Support navigator to help them move through the process of healing.

Black men of all sexualities, will have intentional collective spaces to process their anger and the trauma they have experienced from their mothers and women in their lives in a manner that is not misogynistic. These groups will be led by individuals trained in a BFCT approach. That anger processed, along with members in the group holding each other accountable to their privilege, will decrease violence against black women, girls and gender non-conforming individuals;as the lack of these kind of spaces contributes to misognynoir.

Intimate Partner Violence between Black Lesbian and Queer Women will not be minimized because it’s just “two women.”

Services, buildings and spaces will be fully accessible.

IPV responses will consider the range of cognitive and physical differencesthose who have created harm and suffered from harm possess.

Black women will have support groups to help them process unhealthy gendered norms and expectations that inhibit their well being.

Colleges & Universities will not be permitted to privately handle sexual assault and rape cases.

Black Gay & Queer Male communities will be critically challenged on how gay male sex culture contributes to the minimization of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Children and witnesses to violence will have programs and spaces to processtheir experiences and heal and this will be considered necessary to prevent cycles of violence.

This is a future I think about everyday. It is a future I am constantly revising and revisiting.It is future that despite where we are now, I know is possible. And I know that I, nor anyone else, can make it a reality alone. I invite you to join me in this envisioning. What would a black future for our responses to intimate partner violence look like to you? There is so much more that could be said. I look forward to growing and hearing from you, as we collectively conjure this vision.

Illustration by Lenoi Jones

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Accountability & Healing: On Gay Men & Intimate Partner Violence

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(This post originally Appeared on the Huffington Post)

I’m writing this article for the gay men and boys we all know. For the gay boys struggling with self esteem. For the gay men trying to hold back tears and trauma through clenched smiles and cynical social media status updates. I’m writing this article for the gay men who will never share what happened to them. The gay men too proud to talk about how another man held them down and hurt them. The gay boys who will never mention the time they hit someone they loved. The gay boys who can’t navigate the confusion and the pain intertwined with the longing and the desire. I’m writing this article for them. I’m writing this article for you. I’m writing this article for all of us.

You are not alone. The statistics on domestic violence tell a sad story. But what’s even sadder, is that we know the statistics only reflect what is reported. There is so much more pain out there that will never make it onto a researcher’s spreadsheet.

But before we discuss further; let me be clear — American culture is born and bred in violence. That this violence is in our homes and relationships is nothing more than a reflection of society as a whole. And like the society as a whole, a great deal of the gay community is dealing with generations of untreated trauma. Where there is untreated trauma, there will be violence. Where there is violence, there is untreated trauma.

I’ve seen this firsthand. For three years I worked as a family intervention counselor, working with men who had assaulted their partners. What I found were everyday men, not boogey monsters and ghosts. I found men who could be my uncles, brothers, cousins. Men who were nuanced and complicated. Men who were often victims of violence themselves. They were not horrible people. They were people who had made horrible choices and needed to be held accountable and led through a process to unlearn their behavior. For the past few months, I’ve shifted my focus to looking speficially at gay men and trauma- with an emphasis on black gay men. The evident impact as well as lack of connection to services has been devastating. I’ve come across more men than you can imagine who have been beaten or raped but thought it was nothing. But minimizing trauma doesen’t stop it from impacting our choices. And for so many of us the pain remains in control.

Gay male culture is still struggling to come out of the psychological specter of shame that has encased our desire for hundreds of years via homophobia,misogny and racism. Yet what is unique about gay male communities is that we have largely been held exempt from an analysis of these issues. It is this lack of analysis and activism from within gay male communities that has carved out a culture where sexual harassment, rape and violence are just seen as “boys being boys”. Where stalking or predatory practices are not named abuse. Where inappropriate and disrespectful statements from strangers are just another day out with the boys.

Katrina Kubicek, of the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, has conducted research which has revealed what an abusive and violent present many gay men live in. Kubicek’s research, conducted amongst a group of young men in Los Angeles, gives us depressing numbers:

Up to 43% of respondents report pushing or shoving a partner.
20%  report hitting or kicking a partner.
30%  report being slammed against a wall by a partner.
25 %Kicked or bit a partner.
6 % reported being forced to have sex.
37 %report feeling coerced to have sex without a condom.

When asked about the research, Kubicek shared:

“When we first asked them (young gay men) to define or describe what they consider to be partner violence or domestic violence, they saw it as something that happens between a man and a woman. They felt that violence between two men was just seen as “two men fighting”. In addition, when initially asked to describe what they consider to be violence, most did not initially identify emotional or psychological abuse as part of it…”

She then further states:

We have done a pretty good job in educating the public that domestic violence is not OK; however, the images we see and the stories that are told are those of heterosexuals, mainly women. Society, and as a result, many young men themselves, have a hard time labeling what is going on in their relationships as partner violence.

This leads us to many questions: Where do you go as a gay man who is trying to navigate abuse? Where do you go if you are gay men in a relationship where you both physically fight each other? Especially if you are gay man of color? Or if you are disabled? Or trans? What if you don’t have private insurance for a therapist, or only access to therapists who don’t understand the nuances of domestic violence?

Kubicek:

Young men did not generally seek assistance from professionals. There are limited services that are designed for gay men, or any sexual minority, who are involved in violence…Very few young men {also} reported trying to access services. There was a general perception that police would be difficult to work with and would not understand the situation. However, I am happy to say that of those young men who did call the police, they all reported positive experiences.

The study conducted by Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles was small, however national studies by the CDC reflect the same challenges for not only gay men, but for lesbian, trans, bisexual and queer communities as well. Organizations such as the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, The GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project and the Northwest Network provide resources and advocacy on this issue yet in most parts of the country resources are limited or non existent. Dominant domestic violence organizations have largely failed to incorporate gay male issues into their analysis and even more so into the conversation on masculinity — so for the vast number of gay men, struggling with rage or grappling with abusive dynamics, there is often no where to go to heal. But in order to support young gay men, we need education, advocacy and culturally competent services that stop violence, hold men accountable and lead them to do restorative emotional work. We cannot wait or depend on the criminal legal system, which, especially for gay men of color, has shown in so many ways that is it not transformative nor a tool for our healing. This work is an immediate need that is intertwined with poverty, HIV/AIDS, racism, ableism, respectability, homophobia and much more. We can’t wait…….

I wrote this article for gay boys and gay men. I wrote this for the gay men reading this remembering what they did. I wrote this for the gay boys crying over what they are trying to forget. I wrote this for the gay couples trying to understand why it happened. For the gay men who want to help their friends but don’t know how to. For the gay men tracing the trauma back to their childhoods, forced to reconcile wounds that only the little boys inside them remember. For the gay men who can’t face how much they hurt someone. I wrote this article for gay boys and men. I wrote this article for all for us. I wrote this article for you. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not alone. And another way of being in the world is possible. There are people around you who want to help. Wherever you are and whomever you are, in the midst of your challenges I want you to remember: “For great as the powers of destruction may be, Greater still, are the powers of healing.”*

If you or someone you know needs help, please share the following resources. You can also use them to educate yourself on violence in Gay male and LGBT communities.
Resources:

Six Ways to Confront Your Friend Who’s Abusing Thier Partner
The Northwest Network
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
Men Stopping Violence
Gay & Lesbian Domestic Violence Wheel
7 Warning Signs Your Partner May be Emotionally Abusive

*Image By Eric Vondy.
*Starhawk

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Large Fears: A Book For The Little Black Boy In Us All

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People try to beat the magic out of black boys who like the color pink.

They say it’s to protect us. But it’s not. It’s to protect them. It’s to protect them from their fear.

It’s to protect them from their ignorance. They know that we can become something free from the limits of their own imaginations… and it terrifies them.

Yet despite this, we thrive. We thrive with curves and color and fluidity and a force that cannot be contained within the prison of a “man code”. We thrive while living breathing wonder and continually giving birth to the impossible.

We thrive because we begin to honor and embrace the Jeremiah Nebula we have within us all.

Who is Jeremiah Nebula? Jeremiah Nebula is a young black boy who loves the color pink and wants to go to mars. He is the protagonist in a new book by Myles Johnson and Kendrick Daye, called Large fears. In Large Fears, Jeremiah takes us on a journey through his imagination where he faces the fears that come with growth, being different and self realization in this world. Each step in Jeremiah’s journey reflects major life lessons, curated perfectly in the form of a child’s story.

To honor the coming of such a great project, I sat down with the creators to ask them more about Large Fears and what this book means for black children everywhere.

Yolo: What was the inspiration for Large Fears and the character, Jeremiah Nebula?

Myles: The inspiration was definitely based off of who I was as a child. I had an adventurous spirit and a wild imagination, but I was always attracted to things that I was constantly told weren’t appropriate for me like the color pink or scary episodes of “The Twilight Zone”. Jeremiah Nebula is definitely me reconciling
with my childhood.

Kendrick: Myles & I met years ago in Atlanta and we’ve worked together on numerous projects before “Large fears.” I feel like the story itself was inspired by not just our lives but by the lives of queer people in general. And anyone that feels they weren’t understood growing up.

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Yolo: On each star Jeremiah reaches in the book, there is a fear he has to face. Can you tell us more about these fears and what they symbolize?

Kendrick: For me they all definitely have a deeper meaning. He gets to one star which is inhabited by huge skyscrapers and larger than life butterflies and fireflies who wear crowns. To me that page symbolizes going into a new situation where you’re unsure of yourself and trying to assert yourself and claim your identity. I definitely identified with that page. When I moved to New York that’s where a lot of my insecurities started to show, because for the first time in my life I wasn’t the big fish in a small pond, I was just another fish in a vast ocean.

Yolo: The art in the book is breath taking. I noticed that throughout it, little Jeremiah is in black and white stencil amidst the color background- what lead you to make this artistic choice?

Kendrick: Thank you! Well I wanted him to stand out and not get lost in the colorful and busy backgrounds. But on a symbolic level that’s how i interpret the story in that this is how he viewed himself as he explores these vast and fantastic worlds, as standing out and not fitting in and not being as special as the worlds he’s in because he’s in black and white. But drawings of Jeremiah are what bring each of the illustrations together and make them dynamic.

Yolo: Have you met any resistance with this story? Have people been opposed to you writing about a young black boy that doesn’t have traditional masculine themes?

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