Written by Haitian Artist Theresa Sophia.
I have been spending the past several months in the cities of Boston and Harlem talking to people. Yes, talking to people. I visit some of the toughest neighborhoods in America with a lovely sign that reads “How are you doing? What’s on your mind? Talk to me.”
My intention for doing so is to give people, primarily black people and other people of color an outlet to express themselves. An outlet to vent, an outlet to talk about feelings, an informal therapy session if you will. And the response has been phenomenal.
People have really gravitated toward the opportunity to fully verbally express themselves on their choice topic. They have left our conversations feeling better than when they came and that is my only goal each time.
We live in a society where it is very rare that anyone let alone a stranger gives you the opportunity to freely express yourself, with non-bias attentive ears. We live in a society that makes this even more rare for African Americans, who tend to have negative connotations of therapy and seeking help outside of religious practices. And even more so for the black male who must appear as if he has no emotions whatsoever. These stigmas uncoincidentally relate to our mental health and our ability to navigate and cope with it, for example “adult Black/African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites,” (1).
By literally meeting people where they are on the street, looking like them and sharing my own struggles and everyday battles I am creating a space where we can normalize the expression of feelings, offer space for people to express without judgment and begin the conversation of addressing mental health issues in our community.
Black people in particular are suffering from intense traumas that date back centuries. These traumas are then triggered with each police fatality that is reported, then triggered again when justice is not served. Even less overt racism has impacts on stress levels and can lead to a series of different chronic disease. Slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and racism all have played a role in dismantling the black psychi.
Post traumatic stress disorder is very real to many individuals I have spoken to. In fact, “Black/African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Black/African Americans are also twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.”(2) In order to build a robust black population that can fight structural racism through individual progress we must address the big fat elephant in the room, mental health.
I want to show the world what we feel is important and that more outlets need to be provided for us to express our feelings and to normalize these sorts of conversations. I have hope that this small, simple idea can improve our mental health as a population by ultimately leading to more interventions, policy and overall action.
People who have agreed to be filmed are not only expressing themselves, but are ecstatic that I have given them a platform to do so because far too often they feel like their voices are unheard or not cared about.