Jermar Perry and Bryant Antoine are social workers and friends. They graduated together from St. Louis University's Master of Social Work program in May 2019. Since then, the likeminded duo have launched an initiative aimed at what they say is their “life’s purpose” — helping men of color gain access to mental health resources.
Perry and Antoine are the facilitators of the Village Healing and Writing Circle for Men of Color. The group's objective is to "heal from oppression, racism, toxic masculinity and the daily ills of life." It’s an effort to help black men, who are often dismissive of seeking mental health help, open up about their experiences and the world of therapy.
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Perry and Antoine about the group’s work and their efforts to destigmatize mental health issues.
Perry said his and Antoine’s experiences of being transplants to St. Louis from the East Coast heightened the segregation and culture shock they felt in the city.
“Everywhere I kind of went … I noticed a lack of black men in the spaces,” Perry said. “It made me see that there was a need to create a space for black men to talk about vulnerable issues and talk about what’s going on in their daily lives and also share joys and not just tears.”
Perry added that it was important to highlight the group as one welcoming of various identities.
“It was big for us to not just have straight men in the circle, but also all self-identifying black men in the circle,” he said. So far, it’s been a group of consistently 10 to 12 recurring members.
“People come in carrying so much weight, just from being a black man and working in different spaces and dealing with what we deal with on a regular basis, that it gives an opportunity for everybody to just to kind of lay it out and really heal from it,” Antoine said. He gave examples ranging from dealing with microaggressions in the workplace to coping with a violent loss in the community.
Racial trauma has been on the minds of many lately. Research shows that racism can lead to everything from anxiety and chronic stress to symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition to talking about their experiences, the facilitators provide the space for members to therapeutically write about them in creative ways.
“The writing prompt was how we ended things in the meetings … recently the group has decided they wanted to release a book of all the stuff we’ve been working on in the course of our lives together,” Perry said.
They also started a podcast that goes hand in hand with this healing group. It’s called the “Black Men Tell Village Podcast” and features their personal stories, as well as those of various influencers in the community.
In the podcast’s first episode, Antoine opened up about his experience dealing with losing his mother to domestic violence.
“It’s always hard to open up about that, but … the theme that month was ‘hurt around the holidays’ and thinking about people you’ve lost,” Antoine explained. “I think it was important … to start with that so people understand that we were coming with heavy stuff and people felt the vulnerability that we were trying to convey.”
Last month, the group partnered on a campaign with the local group All Black Creatives and local hip hop artist Sir Eddie C. It’s called the Lil Black Boy Campaign, based off of Sir Eddie C’s track, which he describes as “an ode to the black man experience.”
The initial goal was simple: to raise $1,000 to help 10 area men get a couple of therapy sessions. But as of Thursday, more than $8,000 has been raised.
“It’s going to go to what we initially pushed for, and that’s getting free mental health for black men, making sure they have the opportunity to try it and heal,” Antoine said.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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