Black boys are twice as likely to die by suicide than white youth. In 2014, 80% of suicide deaths in the Black community were men. Black men in the US have the highest attempt rate for the African American community, according to a study by Dr. Patrice Nicole
The suicide rate, according to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, among Black youth has “risen faster than in any other racial/ethnic group in the past two decades, with suicide rates in Black males 10 to 19 years old increasing by 60%. Early adolescent Black youth are twice as likely to die by suicide as compared to their white counterparts.”
September is national suicide prevention and awareness month, and Chris James, Director for Creative Connections, partnered with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health to create a new program for Black boys in the Atlanta metro area called Black Boys Better.
The focus of the program is teaching Black male students in a round table intimate set-up how to identify and respond to mental health issues in a healthy manner. This week was the launch of the program, which includes sessions designed students to become emotionally literate so they can affectively express themselves:
- Day 1: Properly identifying emotions
- Day 2: Learning positive coping mechanisms
- Day 3: Exploring ethical Dilemmas
- Day 4: Conflict resolution
- Day 5: Healthy communication
After the initial sessions, the next step is to work with the schools to evaluate impact and to implement a year-long program.
“We are also exploring training the Black males at each school to continue to the program as well,” he said.
Furthermore, Black Boys Better strives to help Black boys become more emotionally literate so they can most affectively express themselves and manage interpersonal conflict through methods such as discussion, poetry exercises, and more.
The program is led by Black men and Black males make up only two percent of America’s educators so this program places positive Black males in a school setting in ways most Black boys have never experienced.
James said the motivation behind the brand-new program was when he started a program about two years ago called The Fellas Mixer where he worked with Black men around Atlanta to help them improve their mental health.
“I was thinking to myself, we need to do something like this for Black boys because those Black boys become Black men,” he said. “As we know, men and boys represent 80% of suicides in America. We’re four times more likely to die by suicide. The motivation behind this program was because I’m a Black man and it makes sense for me to talk to young men I can relate to and I’m passionate about mental health.”
Additionally, James said he wants to help Black young boys learn how to understand their emotions so they can more effectively manage their emotions.
“As we talked about today, a lot of these young boys have said to us, they have experienced anger and sadness more than they have experienced happiness and I want to help them understand why that is,” he said.
James said he thought of the name, “Black Boys Better” because he wanted Black boys to have the ability and skills to show up better.
“It’s very straight to the point and when the organization [Georgia Department of Behavioral Health] decided to give us funding for the program, I thought they would be turned off by the name because we were specifically targeting Black boys, but everybody that we have offered this program to (because we are offering to six schools across Georgia now) everyone agrees and wants to do it,” he said.
Also, James said funding for the program came about after a talk with State Opioid Response Coordinator for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Taylor Peyton.
“She was interested right away to provide us funding and she has now funded us for three different counties across Georgia: Chatham, Fulton, and Hancock County. This is our pilot year of the program, so ideally, next year we will be able to staff more schools and Black male professionals to talk to these boys about mental health,” he said.
For Black men and Black boys who may be struggling with mental health or expressing themselves, James said the first thing he would do is write it down.
“I think that’s both the easiest and safest way to take all those jumbled thoughts and brainstorm your expression on paper,” he said. “From there, you can organize those thoughts so you can more effectively articulate how you feel.”
Also, he said to practice it.
“What I mean by that is, I always ask people, ‘how do you become more physically strong’, you become more physically strong by exercising repetitively, so how do you become more mentally healthy or better at expressing yourself or better at anything, practice,” he said. “So, what I would give to any man who is struggling, because he’s struggling because he’s weak in that area, I would encourage you to say how you feel often as possible and the more you do it, the stronger you get in that area.”
Additionally, according to James, the Department of Behavioral Health is willing to fund any school that wants this program.
To find more information on how your school can have this program, contact Chris at CreativeConnectionsLR@gmail.com or visit ourcreativeconnections.com.
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