The Dallas Examiner
When The LAB, a local community think tank, created the forum “A Mental & Emotional Fitness Discussion on Dating in the Black Community,” founder Michael Guinn envisioned the meeting as an opportunity for citizens to cordially ask questions, voice concerns and discuss experiences about a health issue he said was usually ignored by African Americans.
“The reason why these forums are so needed and so necessary is that we don’t often as a community come together and talk and then pool together resources in regard to this type of issue,” said Guinn, a spoken-word artist with a masters in Social Work and CEO of the nonprofit Uplift Your Life Inc.
The free Oct. 21 event, held at Studio 3535 on Marvin D. Love Freeway, was a way for the counselor to help crack the code of silence around mental issues and dating for people of color.
“I wanted to create a safe, comfortable, respectful atmosphere where people can speak freely about mental health issues from a multitude of different perspectives – and in doing so, hope that that would foster a kind of normality for people to be able to not have to, for lack of a better word, not speak, or think it’s taboo, or just [say] ‘Hey, there is an issue here,’ and if we normalize it in a conversation then people are able to get information that could help them be able to identify, address, or either tap into some resource that they didn’t know about,” he suggested.
The cerebral and emotional facets of health, love, the past, faith and more were explored during the session. Attendees were encouraged to speak about what they had witnessed in their own lives or ask for feedback from others when it came to questions they found too difficult themselves to answer.
Marvin Earle – the owner of Studio 3535 and perhaps for many the epitome of a successful Black man in the Southern Sector of Dallas – stepped forward at one point to express that even he knew what the uglier sides of a relationship looked like and the emotional burdens such conditions could create. He took the time to address a female attendee who had doubts about beginning relationships with men using what he had learned from his own life.
“What’s really going to help you grow up, and help you find out if you are really ready for dating, is when you find out that red flag, and you decide, ‘Okay, do I stay for sex, or stay for money, or stay for power? Do I stay for the look? Do I stay to help?’” he said. “And going down that tree is a whole lot different now than it was when I was dating.”
He continued by explaining how people can now quit a bad relationship as quickly as clicking on a computer app.
Earle commented that the woman may not realize that she was not ready for courtship because, if she was not prepared to help herself, then she was not prepared to help someone else with their various issues.
“The sooner you get that, I think you’ll find a lot of that in your family,” he voiced about her doubts and where they may be rooted. To drive home his point, Earle spoke on the abusiveness of his father and how it challenged him as he matured.
“My dad was from the 30’s and 40’s. In the 30’s and 40’s, a vast majority of them were mean. A vast majority went through racism. A vast majority went through the army situation. They were huge on beating up their wives and then you went to church in separate cars. That was huge, and I had to make sure that that trigger didn’t happen in my family,” he stated.
Religion, both its potential and shortcomings, was addressed during the program as well. While some attendees asserted that strong faith was a good basis for lasting relationships and vital mental health, others noted that they often felt shortchanged by the Black church.
“When I first came into … a 12-step program, I didn’t believe there was a God, because how could I be an addict?” one attendee complained. “How could I have this glorious career and I wind up being an addict?”
She mentioned the third step of most programs – to find a God of our own understanding – was more helpful to her healing than others preaching to her about their specific beliefs.
“It’s like, when I was depressed and I didn’t know what was going on, my mom said, ‘Well, all you have to do is pray to Jesus. He’ll make it all right,’” she recalled, saying it did not work for her. It took a “spiritual awakening” of her own comprehension to improve her wellness.
Clifton, a 24-year-old attendee who asked that his last name not be used, sympathized. He said he felt the Black church was great at dealing with community problems, but not medical problems.
“What I noticed is, my elders still see the church and the family as reliable sources of counseling or information; neither of those apply to me,” he admitted, echoing the thoughts Guinn had on normalizing the larger conversation on mental health. Clifton also agreed with the CEO that such public discussions were needed.
“The first reason for any Black anything in the United States is of course history; it’s a heavy context,” the young man confirmed, adding, “Contemporary physicians and medical professionals; we still need more of us that look like us to take care of us, just because of the reports I’ve read that some physicians will give [us] a different pain index; besides, the cultural context for every situation is just inevitable.”
Faith and therapy became such a talked-about subject that Guinn’s next forum will be specifically about the role of the Black Church in mental well-being.
“For years, the Black church has been the primary place of refuge for persons with mental health issues but has not always been equipped to sufficiently address those needs beyond the standard advice of ‘pray about it,’” he wrote in a prepared statement.
“The Bible says that ‘My people perish for a lack of knowledge.’ This is especially true of Blacks and the issue of mental health,” Guinn stated.
The organizer also surmised the stigma associated with mental health issues and African Americans is double that as compared to the general population.
“Stigma – when it comes to mental health in the Black community – it’s increasing in regard to our either inability, or unwillingness or whatever that is, to try to tear down stereotypes, and cultural issues have kind of fueled how stigma is, I guess, spread, or cultivated,” he affirmed.
“The stigma being [that] African Americans don’t talk about mental illness. African Americans don’t want to admit that there is that mental illness. African Americans generally will not adequately address mental illness. So those stigmas are coming from somewhere and we want to provide a platform for people to talk about how we can break through barriers and conventions that kind of fuel the stigma.”
The next forum, “Mental Health & The Role of the Black Church” will take place Nov. 18. Information can be found on Facebook and http://www.mikeguinn.biz.