By Associate Editor Taylor Finley
“If you don’t have any positive reinforcements, it’s depressing,” said Kenya Williams, a native North Tulsan. That is the heart behind why he decided to start a support group called Real Talk with Black Men. He wanted to create a space where black men of all ages were able to discuss the things that affected them. He talked about how black men and women are constantly being devalued in our society and how easy it is to consciously and unconsciously internalize the trauma that stems from that. He knew that if he had moments of feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or depressed, there were other men that were experiencing those same feelings.
Kenya was inspired by his former mentor Michael Singleton, who used to host the D.R.E.A.M T.E.A.M (Dedicated, Responsible, Educated, African-American Men…Together Empowering All Men) he was a part of during his time as a student at Tulsa Community College. After the D.R.E.A.M T.E.A.M had been over for a few years, he missed being able to have conversations with black men and noticed that there were no spaces or opportunities for them to have those conversations. He had also come across several articles regarding mental health that emphasized the increased need for such a space. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “56-74% of Black males exposed to traumatic events may have an unmet need for mental health services.” With mental health services being so sparse in North Tulsa, Kenya not only wanted to create Real Talk with Black Men, he felt as though he had to because he was just not seeing it being done elsewhere.
Kenya believes there is a long term benefit to coming to a space like this. In his opinion, even if you come to one session, what the group discusses will be valuable enough to carry with you. He says the group helps them to be honest with themselves and realize what is best for them. After attending a meeting, the men will easily be able to recall things (mental health, growth, love, etc.) discussed in the group and apply it to their lives. It forces them to really evaluate how they think and learn from other people. It also helps them understand how much they have in common. He recalled the conversation he had with one of the men about vulnerability. Kenya said when black men are young, they aren’t taught how to be vulnerable or how to handle vulnerability. “This leads to not being able to properly process our emotions or understanding what we are feeling, which ultimately just turns into rage,” he stated. Ignoring mental health issues can increase the risk of adverse effects, such as suicide, drug abuse, and incarceration of black men (National Insitiute on Minority Health and Health Disparities). Coming to these meetings can also serve as a preventative measure for greater problems in the future.
Kenya likes to keep it simple. There’s no specific structure to the meetings. Therefore, the men are able to openly discuss whatever comes to mind. However, he always comes prepared with questions. It’s also not about numbers. For Kenya, “It may not be a lot of people, but even if one person comes, it’s good.” The men meet every Friday at 7pm at the House of NTELEC located on 1502 N Norfolk Ave, Tulsa, OK 74106. Kenya’s ultimate goal is to offer a space where black men can discuss the challenges of life and hold each other accountable.
National Center for Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6292675/
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities