Seven years ago I launched an online mentoring program for aspiring writers called Focused Writers (www.focused-writers.com), not knowing that this intimate space for learning about writing and publishing would not only lead to books and blogs being birthed by members, but also to a tribe of mutual support.
When some of the members approached me about writing something together, I finally agreed, and in January 2021 we embarked upon a yearlong Mastermind Class of sorts, with me guiding them through every aspect of publishing – from idea stage to finished book.
Also exciting for us as we release this book just in time for Women’s History Month in March, is our collective agreement to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from sales made from February 22 through March 31 to the YWCA USA.
Back in my reporter days, I covered a range of social issues, including writing stories about women working their way off of welfare, fleeing abusive relationships and learning to advocate for themselves and their children.
I also wrote about the organizations and nonprofits designed to support them, including the YWCA, whose mission is to empower women and eradicate racism.
So when my Focused Writers mentees decided to write a book together, title it On Womanhood, and donate a portion of proceeds from sales, the YWCA USA was a natural choice.
I am a six-year board member of the YWCA Richmond and can vouch firsthand for the staff’s dedication to serving women and children, in a myriad of ways.
Yet, we have chosen to contribute to the YWCA USA because our Focused Writers anthology authors are based around the nation – from Las Vegas to Houston to Savannah to Richmond. And each writer will be reaching out to her local branch, too.
So in addition to buying our short collection and supporting a great cause in the process, also take some time to learn more about the YWCA USA and the YWCA in your local area!
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.
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.
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 hereby Noon EST on Wednesday (Oct. 28).
Like many people, I grew up hearing the famous quote that “Home is where the heart is.” And indeed, for 16 years my home was filled with peace, love and happiness. I came home daily from work seeing the smiles of my two sons, who made my life joyous. But one day I came home, parked my car and sat inside it for over an hour talking to my friends and family about the pain that I was experiencing in my marriage. How could I not see the manipulation, the lies, and the deceit before now?
As a single mother before I got married, I had decided tt was important for my sons to see a man treat their mother with love and respect. Instead they were viewing their mother’s heart being broken.
It took more conversations and lots of prayer, but I finally realized that I didn’t deserve this. When I decided to walk away and start over, that’s when the champion rose up in me.
A true champion will fight through anything. Every scar pushed me to my purpose. I was able to utilize the gifts that God birthed inside of me to encourage myself towards greatness. Negative words were not able to stick to me because God planted a seed of greatness inside of me at birth. How so? It just was lying dormant, but the pain pushed me to look at myself and start my own business. I decided that I wanted to be a life coach at first, but later realized that the power was in my mouth and the words that I speak.
God changed me and showed me my true purpose. Motivational speaking was birthed, and I started speaking to women about pushing past the pain of the past and having the confidence to walk boldly into woman that God created them to be. I’ve spoken at events, churches and conferences, encouraging women to see that champion spirit that resides within them. Now I’m walking towards the “champion destiny” that God designed just for me. And now I empower women to have the emotional stability to discover their champion purpose.
I started speaking to small groups such as my family and friends. In the beginning, I didn’t have a large following, and I didn’t know anything about being a speaker. I had to decide to invest in my vision and dreams. I hired business coaches and strategists to assist me, and with the knowledge I gained I was motivated to start a Facebook group called “The Champion Woman’s Society.” This group is for women who desire to discover their Champion Purpose, but lack motivation.
My marriage ended in 2012, but my struggles with self-confidence continued to hold me hostage. I spent 2012 to 2017 rediscovering myself, and that season allowed God to do some amazing things within me. I’m so proud of myself for allowing God to show up and show out in my life. The power that He has given me has allowed me to not look at my marriage as a mistake, but as a steppingstone to my greatness.
EricaLynn Harris, recognized as “TheMotivational Queen,” is a speaker, author and entrepreneur whose desire is to motivate and empower women to have the emotional stability to discover their greatness and win in every area of their lives. Erica is the owner of ELynnXpressions, LLC., where she offers an exclusive line of Champion Woman attire, and she is the author of a book titled The Winning Formula for Women. Erica also operates a Facebook group called “The Champion Women’s Society,” which provides a space for women to obtain daily motivation. She is a recipient of The Cornerstone Award, which was presented to her in 2019 at the Embracing Your Inner Woman Annual Conference. Follow her on Instagram @themotivationalqueen or on Facebook @ Facebook.com/EricaLynn.Harris.
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:
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 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
Research shows that most people dislike change so much that they’d rather stay in unfulfilling, stagnant or unstable circumstances rather than risk the unknown or stretch past what feels safe. It’s human nature, it seems, to “go with what you know.”
Over the course of my personal and professional journey, however, I’ve become convinced that the different or the uncomfortable (or even the heartbreaking) can sometimes be a sacred path to purpose.
For it is on this fresh course and in unfamiliar territory that we learn more about ourselves, discover strengths we might not have otherwise realized, and connect with ideas, skills and relationships that are meant to play pivotal roles in our destiny.
Yet, if we’re not open to change, or avoid accepting its unexpected arrival, how will we ever know our other (possibly wiser, stronger, happier) selves?
This is my sentiment as I bid farewell to readers of Life Notes, the parenting column I’ve had the pleasure of writing since July 2007 for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Yes- more than 10 years! (Read my farewell column, in today’s newspaper, here.)
Life Notes was actually my second venture as a columnist for this daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia: From 2000 to 2006, I wrote a weekly column for the Saturday metro section called Inspirations, which acquainted readers far and wide with the uplifting and resilient journeys of metro Richmond residents and with their explorations of faith and personal growth. It had a tremendous following, and according to Times-Dispatch reader surveys, was a primary driver for Saturday newspaper sales during that time.
Both columns were meaningful to me, as was my connection to their readers.
I retired Inspirations, however, when I “retired” from my daily journalism career to focus on penning books and freelance writing. Not an easy decision since I loved my work, but an exciting and necessary one, in order to fulfill the other dreams on my To Do list. I never regretted the choice.
This time around, with changes abreast in newspaper column inches and editorial direction comes the opportunity to take another leap that has long been on my To Do list: expanding the genre of books I write to include more nonfiction (in addition to my women’s fiction) and perhaps some young adult reads. And while I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to blog for the Huffington Post, I look forward to penning more essays and profiles about the power of story and the relevance of our individual journeys for additional national publications. (Stay tuned!)
So yes, this is a goodbye of sorts to one platform for my writing, but a hello to all of the opportunities and open doors on my uncharted path. Will you celebrate with me?
I hope you’ll follow this blog to see where the written word takes me. Feel free to comment below and share ideas about what you’d like to learn about personal growth, matters of faith, living your best life, walking in purpose or writing your way to joy. I look forward to exploring these themes and more with you, and to growing with you.
Bring your best self to life today by reminding yourself that you’re a gift.
Only you can grace us with that smile, that laugh, that funny story, sweet song or moving prayer.
Only you can lead that tribe or love those lost ones or help others find their joy.
Only you can live the purpose that is tucked inside of you, and often straining to be birthed.
No one else sings with your tone, writes with your voice, walks with your style, hugs with your heartiness or lights up a room in your uniquely perfect way.
So just be you today, and be grateful for others around you who are being their authentic selves, too.
The most universal lip color I know is red. The color red is worn all over the world and is one color that can be worn all year round. The spectrum of the red lip can range from the truest red to a warmer red with hit of orange or a cooler red with hints of purple.
Women sometimes shy away from this color for various reasons, such as old-school connotations of “You look like a floozy,” “a loose woman” or a “street walker”—which are all false. A nice red lip can emanate confidence, sexiness, power and boldness.
Other women have the idea that “I am too fair to wear red” or “I am too dark to wear red,” when it’s not the color red itself that should be the main focus, but the SHADE of red that will look good with your skin tone.
One of my favorite go-to looks is to pair an ombre red lip with lashes (I wear it at least 2-3 times a week). So ladies, the next time you are feeling a little adventurous, step out in your red lip and own your fierceness!
“Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin.” ~ Tawyana Athey
Tawyana Athey is a Virginia-based makeup artist specializing in beauty, editorial, runway, film and bridal makeup. She has a natural affinity for putting the “!” on her clients’ natural beauty, in a manner that sets the tone for the client’s specific occasion and fits with the client’s personality or needs. Her major projects have included serving as lead makeup artist for the independent film “Reap What You Sow” and serving as the onsite makeup artist for Full Figure Fashion Week in New York during its June 2013 showcase of Ashley Stuart, Old Navy and Lane Bryant fashions. Tawyana enjoys spending time with her young daughter and using her gift of makeup artistry to serve her community. She has provided makeovers for breast cancer patients and for women inmates who are scheduled for release from the Virginia Department of Corrections. She loves opportunities to bring out “The Glam” in those she serves and considers herself your beauty belle of the South. Connect with Tawyana at blushoutloud.com or on Facebook at Blush_Out_Loud, Instagram @blushoutloud or Twitter @blushoutloud.
You get to choose who you’ll be and how you’ll move through this world. Why not do so in a way that you’ll treasure with gratitude and great memories? Here are 9 tips to fuel your process:
1) Don’t let your motivation to do well or do the right thing be driven by what others do or don’t do; be excellent and operate with integrity regardless of how it’s received.
2) What others think of you truly is their business; respect yourself while respecting their choice to choose.
3) Lead with love, because this is still what we all need most.
4) Remember that what you see isn’t always what it is. A fleeting perception or assumption about someone or a particular circumstance could be completely wrong. Base your opinions instead on that person’s actions and attitude over the course of time; because who they truly are will spill out over time. Accept that truth when it’s revealed, and be okay either way.
5) Choose joy. Life is too short to let grudges, gossip, guilt, greed or the like derail you. Joy is the secret sauce that keeps you going and gives you hope.
6) Speak your vision for your life and live it. Instead of wishing it were better or different or easier, embrace what it is and get busy creating a better, different, easier life for you and your loved ones.
7) Have fun and go for gold; but don’t “get yours” and leave others to fend for themselves. When you open your heart enough to care about and make sacrifices for the benefit of all humanity, you’ll enrich your own world more than you could imagine.
8) Decide to get uncomfortable enough to try something new. You never know what opportunities, blessings and growth are just waiting for you to show up.
9) Take time to be kind or to simply be available. You are the gift someone needs today.