The Black Men’s Project’ a safe space for conversation for 18- to 24-year-olds
Frank Sinclair remembers the exact moment his world changed for the better.
All it took, he said, was for one individual to notice him and to see the man behind the homelessness. That man asked him his story, Sinclair said. He took Sinclair into his home. He helped Sinclair overcome life on the streets of Colorado Springs and sent him on the trajectory that to his current role as a business and life coach, motivational speaker and president of Dream Again LLC.
“One person caring,” Sinclair, 63, said. “At the end of the day we are all her to serve someone else. … Nobody gets a pass.”
That’s why Sinclair has agreed to be one of three guest speakers at an inaugural community gathering focusing on mental wellness and stigmas for young African-American men. Dubbed “The Black Men’s Project,” the gathering is designed to provide young men of color with a safe space to learn more about mental wellness, about community resources to help manage mental health issues and that they need not be silent if they are struggling.
It is slated to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 27, at The Community Barbershop, Salon, Hub and Pub, 3750 Astrozon Blvd. The event, a partnership between The Community and the Another Life Foundation, is free and, in addition to valuable information and fellowship, could offer food, free haircuts for 10 participants and live music spun by a D.J.
Certainly, as the National Alliance on Mental Illness points out, on its website “Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background.”
However, the organization website adds, African Americans may experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health reports that in 2017, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for African American youths ages 15 to 24.
“To display it or talk about the issues does not make you weak, it makes you stronger.” — Juaquin Mobley, vice president of programs for Denver Works and Colorado Springs Works
Juaquin Mobley is the vice president of programs for Denver Works and Colorado Springs Works, the parent company of The Community. He said the project is designed to get 18- to-24-year-old men to become something they may not naturally want to — vulnerable.
“Nobody really takes time to talk about these kinds of things in the community,” he said.
Part of that, he said, is stigma. For many young men of color, it may be a challenge to open up and share about their struggles, Mobley said.
“If you come in here with your son or your cousin and see someone you know from the street and say ‘Ok, he’s here for a reason, I’m here for a reason,’” he said. “Once you talk about it, you may feel type-cast. But it affects all of us. To display it or talk about the issues does not make you weak, it makes you stronger.”
Stephanie Green directs the Another Life Foundation, a Colorado Springs social services organization committed to connecting those living with mental illness or suicidal behaviors to resources. She envisions the project as a way to build an empowering social network for participants while simultaneously connecting them to resources and mental wellness-focused organizations. She plans to host four of the events this year, and hopes to grow it into a monthly offering in 2021. The project will rotate through Southeast salons and barber shops, with the plans of training staff on communication techniques that can help clients who may be struggling open up.
“It’s a full focus on mental wellness,” she said.
And as Sinclair’s story shows, sometimes all it takes is one trusted ear to redirect a life.
Mobley said it’s important that young men realize a condition is not a definition.
“That doesn’t define you,” he said. “If you say, ‘look, let’s get you back on track.’ … Once you start to think different, you feel different.
“We’re meeting [the participants] where they’re at,” he continued. “Right now we’re just trying to show that we have the ability to provide the stability.”