Let the conversation begin.
Heartfelt gratitude to our guest writer this week, Mark Jones, the proud father of Nia Jones, our New Programs and Volunteer Manager, for reminiscing on a painful time in his past and sharing his story during Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Mark shares his personal experiences and reflective insight on growing up as an African-American, struggling with depression, homelessness, and discrimination and how he overcame the many challenges far too many confront due to prejudice, stereotyping and stigma (read ignorance).
I Have Faced Pain, Pressure, and Stigma Because of the Color of My Skin
As an ordained minister, I’ve been dealing with community and societal issues for over 30 years. I have occupied the role of Father, Husband, Ordained Preacher/Pastor, Single Dad, Public School Teacher, and High School Track Coach.
In all of these roles, I’ve faced pain, pressure, and stigma because of the color of my skin.
Some Say the World Was a Different Place When I Was Born. 63 Years Later, Nothing Has Changed.
Some say the world was a different place when I was born 63 years ago. Was it really a different time for black men? Whether I was born 63 years ago or yesterday, black people face the same day to day battle to survive today. Nothing has changed.
I grew up in the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland in the 50s and 60’s. I am the oldest of five children. My father was an abusive rolling stone while my mother was a warrior, resilient and intelligent. My step father was a blessing.
Growing up, I saw firsthand the effects of the Vietnam War on black families. My older friends and relatives came back from the war with drug addictions, physical disabilities, and chemical and neurological diseases. These diseases have grown and festered into mental illnesses.
That, coupled with discrimination and oppression, are partly to blame for the issues blacks face today. We get racially profiled on any street — not only in America, but all over the world.
What Do You Think When You See A Black Homeless Man on the Streets?
I went through one of the most difficult divorces. After the civil court judge made his ruling on my case, I walked out of court wondering how I was going to be able to afford an apartment, buy all the things my young children would need, and pay the appointed amount for a noncustodial parent (which was half of my monthly income).
Even with my best efforts, I still wasn’t enough. I ended up homeless and living on the streets for 200 days. I slept in my car, seeking places to wash myself up in time to visit my children.
Picture a poor-looking or homeless man you have seen in a store or on the street. Cherry on top, picture a black man. What would your thoughts be if you saw him? Often times, people treat black men with no respect, empathy, or acknowledgement that they are humans. This was my experience.
I was chased out of public restrooms by store security and questioned, what I was doing “around these parts?” I was told I had no business being in good neighborhoods and stores. I was seen as a black man loitering and disturbing the peace, yet my children still saw me as a harmless, clean-shaven, joyful dad.
Why We Battle with Overt and Covert Oppression DAILY
This is the same America that produced leaders like the slave owner, Willie Lynch (yes, “lynching” came from him), who wrote the The Making of a Slave in 1712. In his letter, Lynch addressed all slave owners on how to control, dominate and manipulate people of color for hundreds of years. Lynch traveled to teach slave owners how to be better slave owners and have control for 300-1,000 years. He taught a list of petty differences that can be used against the slave: age, color, intelligence, and body type. He said to turn the dark-skinned slaves against the light-skinned slaves, the females against the males, and vice versa.
Since then, blacks have been perceived as being predisposed to violence. Interestingly, everything he implemented in that letter is relevant today. It has produced a psychological effect that affects our ability to come together as a nation to this day.
It has been 152 years since the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. Even in current America, black men are victims of a post Jim Crow and post “Sharecropper“ economic environment. As a result. we find it difficult to own any property, patents, or licenses. The way our world is set up, I can at any moment be the next Eric Garner or Michael Brown.
The black community will forever have to live with what W.E.B. Du Bois called the “double consciousness” described in his book, The Souls of Black Folk — the 9 to 5 persona around white people, but after 5 pm we get to relax and be “black“ again just stay alive. We battle with both overt and covert oppression DAILY.
My Sanity and Humanity is Restored By Prayer, Meditation, Education and Positive People
Each day, I struggle to overcome my anger. I am a victim of a system designed to attack my mental, spiritual and psychological existence. Is it any wonder why black men often "hide" behind their exceptional gifts, talents, and abilities that have broken every record in almost every category?
In the past, I have been guilty of medicating my pain with overworking, overindulgence in destructive behaviors, and doing things that are counterproductive to my family and my community. Nonetheless, I have maintained my survival by holding on to the one strength I know and that is my relationship with God as a Christian. My sanity and my humanity are restored each day without drugs, alcohol, or violence. I am restored by prayer, meditation, education, and positive people.
I Still Struggle to Overcome Anger, But I Refuse to Give Up and Become a Thug
Yet, what is the solution to all of this? Do I give up and become a “thug”? Do I check out on reality with alcohol and illegal drugs? Or do I continue the fight for justice and racial equality? I say the latter.
I will continue to strive for personal excellence, community activism, and every good work that will benefit generations to come. Everyone has a battle of their own. I challenge you to challenge your prejudice with every person of color. I ask you to learn the history of our nation. We cannot know where to go unless we know where we have been.
A Personal Note from A Daughter to Her Father
"This is our depression in the black community - the daily oppression we face produces the same emotions and thoughts of those diagnosed with a clinical depression. This is real.
My dad has dedicated his time to teaching people how to communicate better. He is without a doubt one of the wisest men I know and I couldn't be more proud of him."
~ Nia Jones, New Programs and Volunteer Coordinator, Hope Xchange
Stay Tuned for Our Upcoming Posts for Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
On Wednesday, our team will share their own personal perspectives on why those in the black community who are diagnosed with depression are not reaching out for help — insight from those who live in it. On Thursday, another Hope Xchange volunteer will share her perspective on why those in the Asian community who struggle with mental illness are also not reaching out for help. Next week, we will be tackling the same issue but taking a look at what is happening in the Hispanic community, particularly the alarming increase in suicide attempts and serious self harm for Hispanic teens living in rural areas where lack of access to treatment has been shown to be a contributing factor.