Actor Courtney B. Vance knew many Black men and boys were silently living in crisis when it came to their mental health. He was among them. When he lost his father to suicide three decades ago, his mother urged Vance to find a therapist. The two-time Emmy winner dug deep to do the work on himself. But the recent loss of his godson, who also succumbed to suicide at 23, made the actor see there was an urgent need to discuss Black men’s pain. He decided to share his story and team up with noted psychologist Dr. Robin L. Smith to write a book. It provides a framework for Black men and those of us who love them, to acknowledge their pain and take the courageous steps that lead to healing. Among the things that needs reexamination is our community’s reaction to the tears of Black men and boys. We need to break the habit of criticizing vulnerability and emotional expression when it comes from them.
While seeking therapy is met with skepticism by some members of our community, it is time to reconsider our opinions about it, especially because it can be an essential element in helping Black boys and men to feel worthy and achieve wholeness. Dr. Smith says, “Therapy is a safe place to overhear the inner conversations you have with yourself every day.”
Vance says his therapist asked him, “Are you willing to sit in the mud until the water becomes clear?” In other words, the work Black men must do to heal will neither be quick nor pretty, but the clarity they get will be worth it.
To learn more, check out Courtney B. Vance and Dr. Smith in conversation with Tony Cornelius at the session, The Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain and Reclaiming Their Power, at our Fall Summit in Los Angeles.