Evolve or Repeat

Evolve or Repeat. Is this phrase the mantra of 2020 or what??

Let’s truly take this message to heart the last few weeks of this “year never to be forgotten” and do the basics – wear our masks, drink our water, mind our business.

And then, let’s take it up a notch and do what will manifest our destiny – 

purge what no longer serves you; 

pursue what undoubtedly fills you;

push through procrastination; 

persist in nurturing your dreams (or in discovering them),

and transform into someone more purpose-driven and soul-beautiful than ever.

Even if you stumbled or mis-fired this year, the fact that you’re still here means your music is still playing. 

So take a chance on you. Heal, grow and evolve where necessary, so you can get up and dance, without having to repeat all of the lessons this year gave us – only the ones that fueled your hope, propelled you toward goodness and manifested joy.  

Mental Illness Doesn’t Know Color

By Guest Blogger Glenn Proctor

Before you read my blog post, a bit of mental health literacy from the National Council for Behavioral Health and Mental Health America: Just know the first sentence of this piece is written for the sake of history. Never say ‘commit’ suicide; instead say someone took their life by suicide or died by suicide. Commit implies a sin or a crime. Suicide is neither a sin nor a crime. It is a mental or emotional disorder, sometimes undetected or untreated, and sometimes temporary, with depression, anxiety and isolation being the most common feelings for suicide victims or attempters.   – Glenn

Growing up, I remember hearing, “Black folks don’t commit suicide.”

I also heard disparaging remarks about adults and children suffering from mental illness. I’m certain I made insults as well.   

“You know she ain’t right.“ “Something’s wrong with him.” “He’s touched.” “That boy’s crazy in the head.”

The language about mental illness and suicide has changed over the years, but society still has a long way to go. We must continue to learn the truth about mental illness and the right words to describe and talk about suicide. Most importantly, we must learn how to help those in distress, especially during this pandemic.

“Just get over it and move on” is not a suitable response. And, having a macho attitude, as many men do, about mental illness or suicide only buries the situation. Transparency means acceptance.

In the Black community, there remains a deep-seated stigma about suicide and mental illness. Neither discriminate. One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. One in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. Black Americans are a major part of those numbers.

“World Mental Health Day Observance” by United Nations. Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As a suicide prevention and mental health first aid instructor and grief counselor, my mission is to help others, specifically Black Americans and military veterans, and to encourage more people to take suicide prevention and mental health first aid courses. In most areas, the courses are short duration and free.   

I am a suicide survivor, having heard the shot as my grandfather took his life in an adjacent room, had military “brothers” lose their lives to suicide, had suicide ideations during my worst drinking binges and have written about suicide for decades as a journalist, poet and instructor.  

Glenn Proctor

As a Vietnam veteran, I have survivors’ remorse, knowing my name is not on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Coping with those thoughts remain a struggle, even to this day. And, there’s a reason the term is “recovery alcoholic.”

Truth is Black people take their own lives. Black people attempt suicide and have suicide ideations. The secret is out. We are not immune to suicide and mental health issues.

With the pandemic, racial unrest, unequal justice, and continued economic stress, suicide rates among African-Americans have climbed, created by fear, uncertainty and increased anxiety levels, especially for those with depression, anxiety, other untreated mental health issues or isolation.  

Especially concerning in the recent decade is the rise in suicide deaths among Black youth, nearly doubling from 2007 to 2017. Recent numbers show that Black children under age 13 are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts.  

As of 2018, suicide became the second leading cause of death in Black children, ages 10-14, and the third leading cause among Black adolescents, ages 15-19.

Paramount among the risk factors for youth suicide are bullying, bullying others, trauma, LBGTQ and racial discrimination and access to firearms. Another factor is health care disparities since Black youth often do not receive treatment for depression or receive treatment after a suicide attempt.    

Suicide numbers among Black adults are also climbing. In Cook County, where Chicago is located, Black men accounted for 80 percent of the suicides this year.

Research by the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry says Black adults are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health issues, including depressive disorder or anxiety disorder. Facing the prospect of being a victim of the justice system – or the fear of being stopped by police or accused of something by a “Karen” – is a common fear of most black men, including those who are famous, considered middle class or well-to-do.

Despite being 13 percent of the U.S. population, the Black community is 40 percent of the homeless population, 50 percent of the prison population and 45 percent of the children in foster care. Because of that exposure, the chances of developing a mental illness is increased.

With Black veterans, the numbers are just as alarming. About 45 percent of homeless veterans are Black or Hispanic, with Black veterans compromising most of those situations.

On any given night in America, more than 40,000 veterans are homeless and another 1.4 million are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, untreated mental illness or substance abuse issues. Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of homeless veterans.

For me, working with the veterans’ community is a focal point.

I admit there have been unfortunate and fatal situations involving Black men and police in Charlotte, yet I applaud the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police for having a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained to de-escalate hostile situations involving possible mental issues situations. Mental Health America has trained a good number of police and firefighters in mental health first aid and suicide prevention.

Twice I have been called to assist CIT officers with situations involving veterans.   

In the first instance – the only time I had to respond to a crisis scene – I helped negotiate the peaceful apprehension of a Black veteran who served in Afghanistan and was suffering from PTSD. He was loud and threatening inside his apartment and the situation had become unstable. After more than 40 minutes, the situation ended peacefully without any injuries.

Twice since, I accompanied CIT officers to visit the veteran who is back on medication and keeping up with his VA visits. I am proud that I was able to help, but the episode was mentally draining beyond belief. Which is why self-care for all of us, especially during this pandemic, is absolutely essential.

For those of us who are peer support professionals, the work is never done. None of us can – or should – turn our backs on conversations about suicide, mental health or grief. And in the Black community, it is a priority because mental health issues and suicide are continuing to take an increasing toll.

So, what can any of us do as Black Americans to improve our mental health and lessen our trauma and grief? I added grief to the equation since all us, by admission or not, are currently grieving, especially the loss of connection.

Because of Black America’s history and the issues that plague our communities, socialization is, experts contend, our most important coping mechanism:

  • Communication. By email, text, social media and phone. As difficult as it is to gather during this pandemic, an outside gathering with social distancing and masking protocols might help ease stress, especially to help with isolation and having engaging conversations with people we trust.
  • Get clinical help if an extreme condition develops.  
  • Talk about experiences of racism with those you trust. One study of African-American women said those who experienced racism and kept it to themselves created shorter telomeres, an indicator of chronic stress and aging.
  • Self-care. Engage in activities that you enjoy. As much as possible, avoid substances and excessive alcohol use. Be aware and recognize symptoms of racial trauma (fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep depravation).
  • Understand that racism is serious and it deeply affects emotions. In addition to communication and self-care, focus on developing coping strategies; including distractions that help lower negative emotion.

Life Coach Glenn Proctor is certified as a Grief Support Counselor, QPR Suicide Prevention Instructor, Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Adult Mental Health First Aid Gatekeeper and NC Peer Support Specialist (with Veterans’ Designation). He retired as executive editor and vice president of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The 40-year journalist and media professor shared in the Pulitzer Prize at the Akron Beacon Journal. He is a former Marine gunnery sergeant, author of five books and founder of WRITING BOOTCAMP Charlotte. Proctor coaches from lived experience – alcoholism, foster care, single parent, multiple marriages and cancer.  He has mentored hundreds of students, veterans, career professionals and entrepreneurs.    

Special Event Notice:

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 from 7-8:30 p.m. EST, Stacy and Robert L. Dortch will host a Zoom conversation on mental wellness and practicing self-care during the looming holiday season. Special guests will be licensed psychologist and seminar leader Dr. Micah L. McCreary and social and mental health advocate Princess Blanding. Join this session of The Living Room Talks on Zoom by registering here by Noon EST on Wednesday (Oct. 28).

Value Friendships

By Guest Blogger DaNika Neblett Robinson – (In honor of International Women’s Day)

Like organizations, it is important to have a Board of Directors to assist you with the strategic direction of your life and ensure that you are prosperous. Their purpose should be to check on you, connect with you, and to challenge you to be a better version of yourself. These are the people who would probably say, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (3 John 1:2, KJV).

Yes, you have to be careful about who you allow into your personal space. But, being too cautious can be detrimental. “Let your conscience be your guide” (Jiminy Cricket, from the movie Pinocchio, 1940).

At work, I have a Tribe that I connect with weekly. Being the only person of color in a senior leadership role on my campus, I know it is my duty to connect with subordinates, particularly those that look like me. During this weekly sync up, we talk about a variety of things. I create a safe space where they are free to vent as well as encourage. Other leaders may frown upon this approach but my authentic leadership style* compels me to:

* understand my purpose;

* practice solid values;

* lead with heart;

* establish connected relationships; and

* practice self-discipline.

As an author, I am a member of Focused Writers led by my mentor Stacy Hawkins Adams. My fellow writers and I receive writing tips from Stacy as well as each other. Writing a novel or speech or even a blog can be a lonely process. Having people you can count on to share what projects they are working on while gently nudging you to meet a deadline has been critical. Although we typically meet virtually, we have been diligent about meeting in-person as well. These connections have helped us to remember why we write and solicit ideas that can benefit us as we move forward.

In my personal life, I have my God Sistahs. These women serve as a sounding board for me. They have helped me to see things from a different perspective while loving me through my hot mess moments. Our friendships have gotten us through turbulent times when dealing with the loss of family members. Assisted us in rearing our children who are now adults. And ensured we remained in healthy relationship while supporting the need to breakaway when necessary.

On my path to become a doctor (Ed.D), I had the pleasure of spending three years with 17 brilliant people. Being a first-generation, nontraditional college student, I did not have the standard undergraduate experience.  No roommates. No student life. No sorority. But I do not feel like I missed out on anything because this cohort of smart people inspired me to be a passionate educator. We started the doctoral program very green and not knowing our super powers. Any time we have the opportunity to reconnect, we remind each other of how far we have come. Those moments together are priceless.

Being a busy woman who travels to and fro regularly, it is imperative for me to return to home base. The greatest of all friendships for me is that which I experience with my life partner/husband. He knows when I am drained and suggests I take a nap. I laugh at his dry jokes. We have intimate conversations about our children and what is next for them. Most of all, he is my biggest cheerleader. I could not ask for a better person to share my life with.

Hebrews 10:25 (NLT) says it best, “And let us not neglect our meeting together as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Do not downplay the value of friendships. Do not limit the number of people you allow in your personal space, simply because you fear being hurt once again. Know that all interactions are needed as you continue your metamorphic journey.

*George, William W. Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared on DaNika’s blog, The Metamorphic Journey. Visit here and subscribe: themetamorphicjourney.org.

DaNika Neblett Robinson is the author of  The Metamorphic Journey. This page-turning novella explores three teenage mothers’ quest to succeed. The Metamorphic Journey is also the name of a movement DaNika founded to provide individuals with opportunities to foster personal growth. DaNika has served as a higher education administrator for more than 20 years and is currently the CFO of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary. A graduate of the Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert in transformational leadership, she speaks widely about excellence in leadership, in particular to women’s organizations and audiences. She also uses her knowledge to empower young adults to embrace their purpose. Learn more about DaNika and her body of work at themetamorphicjourney.org.

Sing (and Dance) Anyway

I came across this senior year of college pic of myself recently and I’ve kept it on my nightstand for an occasional chuckle. ss

Yes, my pants are too big ( I was really petite back then and did my best! 😂) and yes, I remember where I was – in a friend’s dorm room, enjoying a surprise party thrown for me.

I look like I’m singing cause I was. But can I really sing? Sadly not.
I had fun trying, though, with whatever that song was and with a little Salt n Pepa, too.)

I look like I was acting silly cause I was. And guess what?
Beneath my sometimes reserved, often inspirational and occasionally feisty demeanor lies a girl who is still fun at heart and able to laugh at myself and with others.

I was 21 in this pic and considered grown. (Ha!)
What I’d tell that young girl from my now full-fledged adult state is actually what I exemplify in this photo: to always find joy in the small moments and sing (and dance) through the rest.

That girl didn’t always get it right and neither do I; but both versions of me have been, and remain, grateful for love, laughter, grace, life lessons and the journey itself – gifts that never age or go out of style.

I challenge you to dig up a few of your own funny pics from the past and reflect on your treasured (or silly) moments from yesterday. May you be inspired to embrace new dreams, cut yourself and others some slack, and create more meaningful memories.

Stacy Hawkins Adams 

Are You Ready for Next-Level Living?

Hey you, it’s Dec. 5.
For the final 26 days of 2019 …challenge yourself to stretch beyond your usual boundaries and plant seeds for a next-level version of you to blossom in the year to come.
Do something that scares you.
Explore an unknown path with an open mind.
Seek to understand rather than be understood.
Be kind, even when it’s hard.
Say no to a few “good” things so you’ll be available to say yes to your “great” and purpose-driven opportunities.
Give without expecting anything in return.
Say “thank you” for all of the lessons you’re learning along the way.
This is the pathway to a life that will open your heart, elevate your humanity and multiply your joy.
Come on…it’s awaiting you.
Stacy Hawkins Adams 

Her Story: I Survived Suicide

By Guest Blogger Quelina Jones

Four years ago today (July 11, 2014), I took an entire (brand new) bottle of pills in an attempt to take my life.
Mental illness is real. I thank GOD for keeping me! I’m so grateful and happy to be on the right side of the grass today! I’m grateful to have life and breath!
In that moment, I couldn’t see that joy was on the other side of my current circumstance. Had I been successful, I would have missed my oldest daughter’s graduation, her prom and sending her off to college. I would have missed our funny FaceTime conversations and silly texts. I would have missed being here for her during the moments she needed her mommy.
My youngest daughter wouldn’t have been born. My family and the rest of the world would have missed out on this precious little girl and all the joy that she brings. I wouldn’t have experienced waking up to both my girls and watching them rest peacefully beside me or in my bosom. I would have missed their giggles, hugs and their sweet kisses.
All of my new friendships wouldn’t exist. All of the trips I’ve taken and new experiences I’ve had in the last four years would have never occurred. (Aruba, St. Maarten, The Bahamas, Cabo, Dominican Republic and Jamaica) WOW! All of that could have never happened….
BUT GOD (and therapy)! Lots and lots of therapy! Then and now.
July is Black Mental Health Awareness Month. If you are struggling with something, you don’t have to do it alone. I can offer you a hotline number (1-800-273-8255); but I’d rather extend my hand to help you through. Like someone did for me.
I understand and I’m here.
We can pray, talk, cry together, laugh, I can listen; and if you are in the Richmond, Virginia area, I can accompany you to therapy, a hospital, a meeting – whatever!
Listen to me – You are NOT crazy! You are NOT weak! You’re just having a difficult time right now, but you can get through it. With help. I know because I’ve lived it.
Please know that:
You matter.
Your life has purpose (even if you don’t know what that purpose is right now).
This is NOT the end. Just a season. It will pass. It gets better.
Most importantly, please know that…
You. Are. Not. Alone.
YOU – are not alone.
Just reach out. If not to me, reach out to SOMEONE.  I did.
Choose life, because no matter how bad it seems right now, it DOES get better. I PROMISE! But you gotta be here and be willing to do the work.
I’m here and I care. xo

Quelina “Que” Jones

Quelina “Que” Jones is a Richmond-based writer and speaker who focuses on women’s empowerment through transparency. She believes that the first step to living your best life today is exposing and healing the pain of the past. She uses her own experiences to inspire other women to heal from the inside out. Connect with her here:  Website: quelinaj.com; Instagram: quelinaj; Facebook:  Quelina Jones

5 Ways to Push Past Fear

Were you one of those kids who believed that ghosts or monsters lurked in your bedroom closet, waiting until the lights were out and you were trying to sleep to make their presence known? (See my raised hand.)

Or, maybe you were the young adult with the world before you, yet you were so anxious about making wrong decisions that you opted more often than not to play it safe and make choices that were safe.  (Hand still partially raised.)

Or, could it be that now, as a full-fledged adult, you view your age, weight, finances, personality or other personal circumstances as reasons for staying in a holding pattern or coasting through each day?  (Hand NOT raised.)

It took me a while, but after living for a bit and surviving a couple of life’s major “D’s” – death of loved ones and divorce – I’ve come to realize that life’s not meant to be expansive and enjoyed only after you’ve conquered your challenges; instead,  while you’re wading (sometimes knee-deep) through them, you could be growing, learning, laughing, loving and even thriving in your inner soul.

Watching my now-deceased older sister find enjoyment in simple things after surviving a double lung transplant in 2011 taught me to value each breath, each opportunity to connect with loved ones, and indeed, each day.

Experiencing the death of important relationships and the snuffing out of their accompanying dreams taught me to value myself, flaws and all, because even if no one else is around, I have to live with and love me.

Pushing through all kinds of highs and lows with others shook me and shaped me into a more empathetic, peaceful and purposeful person – someone filled with more resilience, hope, deeper faith and joy for simple blessings than I otherwise might have possessed.

While my experiences have been uniquely my own, the benefits they’ve yielded are universally possible.

What has hampered you or broken your heart? What has made you press pause and enter a journey of self-examination or sacrifice? What has led to tears that have filled God’s bottle with your name on it, yet also grew a garden of unexpected supporters and mentors to surround you?

Consider those consequences as the gems for your journey. Allow them to fuel your steps forward and foster more hope and heartiness where needed.

Fear comes to us all, yet fear can’t take up residence unless we grant permission.

When it pays a visit, greet it with these behaviors:
  •  Acknowledge the emotion’s presence, then try to assess why you’re afraid.
  • Envision your worst-case scenario. If the thing you’re fearing were to happen, how would you survive? (Your faith, your Plan B, support from family or friends, or all of the above? )
  • Envision your best-case scenario and how this outcome would empower and elevate you. If this were to happen, how would you stay centered while sustaining the success?
  • Remind yourself that whatever comes, you are strong enough, smart enough and loved enough to fall down and get up, or to stand  and wait, or to rise and forge a new path – whatever is required.
  • Remember that by some accounts, FEAR is simply “False Evidence Appearing Real.” You have all within you to overtake whatever is causing you to stumble or spin your wheels.

Embrace the five suggestions outlined above and execute them routinely – one moment, one hour, one day at a time. Refresh and repeat as necessary.

Invest attention and intention in yourself, and before you know it, you’ll find yourself shedding your cocoon and soaring, in your solely special way.

You’ll be living life “untapped,” in a space where regrets are few, life lessons are abundant, and grace is more than sufficient.

CCO Use photo. Overcoming fear.

3 Steps to Your Next Level

Sometimes you have to

1) Let go to grow

2) Leave behind in order to find

3) Stand up rather than continue to sit

Is this easy? Rarely.

Is it worth it? Always.

For even if you don’t hit the exact mark you’re aiming for, you’ll come closer to being your most authentic, purpose-filled self, and that’s a treasure worth seeking.

When we’re able to release the habits, beliefs and actions that keep us stuck at average or below, the doors to our next-level blessings will slowly but surely begin to open.

Get ready and stay ready.