Alabama Non-Profit Helping Black and Brown Men Deal With Mental Health Challenges Worsened By the Pandemic

by July 7, 2021

One Alabama-based nonprofit is working to do its part to better ensure that Black and brown men are getting the mental health support that they need to survive and thrive. Brother, Let’s Talk, the brainchild of a group of Birmingham-based Black men mental health providers and a close-knit group of like-minded community stakeholders, is stepping up its efforts to increase wraparound support services for Black and Latino men. This summer and fall the organization is adding protection against the deadly coronavirus to its arsenal of support.

While the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on American society continue to be tallied, early research has confirmed that communities of color, have been hardest hit, experiencing the highest death and infection rates and being disproportionately impacted by the ensuing economic fallout. As a result, longstanding mental health challenges that have long-plagued those communities well before the onset of the pandemic have been exacerbated.

With the help of a grant provided by the Alabama Department Public Health aimed at protecting vulnerable communities from the spread of COVID-19, starting this summer and fall, the organization will provide access to free COVID-19 vaccinations at the in-person relaunch of its signature Barbershop Talk series. The upcoming events will also feature live music, food truck meals, and complimentary haircuts to any eligible person who receives a vaccination on-site. The popular Barbershop Talk series brings together a diverse mix of men of color monthly at Birmingham area barbershops for fellowship and informal discussions guided by Black mental health providers, with an emphasis on the unique mental health challenges they often navigate as men of color in American society. They discuss everything from coping with racism to relationships and family to finances, along with their struggles with anxiety, depression, stress, and other diagnosable mental health conditions.

“We sought a place where men gather, feel safe to speak candidly and where men typically walk out looking — and in many cases feeling — better than when they walked in,” says Co-Founder Jacques Austin. “We’re all about community outreach and the barbershop is a place familiar to most men that is inherently built upon trust, communication, and community. Adding the vaccinations provides an excellent opportunity to reach more people of color and we’re honored to be a part of an effort that can help remove barriers and contribute to higher vaccination rates.”

Since 2017, the organization has hosted mental health support events for men of color and has provided a free referral service for low-cost and free culturally competent mental health providers. “Brother, Let’s Talk is filling an unspoken need in the Black community; Black men are affected by the stigma that surrounds mental health,” asserts Rhegess Perry, a licensed, barber, Chairman of Jefferson County (Ala.) Barber Commission and owner of the Trim Grooming Lounge in Birmingham, which will host one of its upcoming events. “Brother, Let’s Talk helps Black men address their mental health issues in environments where men of color can feel comfortable and fellowship with others who look like them. This organization is committed to connecting with Black men; meet you where you are and meeting a need that has long been unmet in the process.”

Led by Austin, a licensed counselor, psychiatrist Dr. Artie C. Nelson, psychologist Dr. Jeffery Moore, social worker Rashad Hayes and social work, domestic violence, substance abuse counselor Ralph Sims and graduate student Zack McClain, all Black men, Brother, Let’s Talk was primarily relegated to virtual events during the pandemic. Operations Director Yvas Witherspoon, a trained substance abuse counselor, says the upcoming transition back into in-person programming is exciting and important. “As our motto says, ‘stop the stigma, address the stress!’ That’s at the core of the work that we’re doing. We want Brother, Let’s Talk to be the go-to source meeting the mental health needs of men of color.”

The vaccination clinics are just one of many initiatives the organization is gearing up for in the remainder of 2021 and going into 2022, including plans for a Barbershop Talk featuring Birmingham-born and bred comedian and syndicated urban radio host Rickey Smiley. It’s also joining in an effort funded by the United Way of Central Alabama to provide free mental health services to families and individuals impacted directly by gun violence.

The Brother, Let’s Talk team is available for interviews on all platforms to share their backstory and how they are working to address the unique and often overlooked mental needs of men of color pre and post-pandemic. For more information, please visit BrotherLetsTalk.com

To arrange an interview, please contact Yvas Witherspoon at [email protected] or 205-903-3171.

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