Laurie and Debbie say:
Barbershops are a well-known community gathering place for Black men. Writing at MindSite News, Akintunde Ahmad showcases a groundbreaking project opening up that gathering place to discuss forbidden issues of Black men’s (and other people’s) mental health. The Confess Project, founded by Lorenzo Lewis, was founded in 2016. It trains barbers to be mental health advocates and frontline counselors to their community. According to Ahmad’s article:
Lewis had already tried in vain to hold town hall meetings to bring Black men and youth together to talk about mental health. “That didn’t work at all: Men just didn’t come,” Lewis said. “So we decided to try talking at barbershops,” a “safe, non-judgmental space” where men could let down their guard and talk about anything. …
Traditionally, African American men have been loath to seek therapy for fear of appearing weak, but they are used to opening up to their barber, Lewis says.
The project focuses on U.S. Black barbershops and U.S. Black men, who are subject to an extraordinary level of oppression. Undeniably, a great many Black men in this country are successful, financially comfortable, and reasonably satisfied with their lives. Nonetheless, it’s no surprise that the incidence of mental health issues in this group is extremely high. In the video above, you hear Lewis talking about being (literally) born in prison, you hear a man talking about where to take his responses to watching police brutality on TV, you hear the pain of not being able to provide for your family.
Neither Ahmad’s article nor the Confess Project’s website directly address toxic masculinity and the ways that men’s mental health issues are often extremely dangerous to the people around them, especially women and children. Nonetheless, the name “Confess Project” is double-edged, carrying an implication of “confess the harm you’ve done” as well as “confess that you’re struggling.” Lewis drew the name from the Christian use of “confession,” an act of releasing yourself in order to heal and become better. Certainly, encouraging men to air their troubles in a safe space is one step towards discouraging men from lashing out at the people below them in the hierarchy.
The project is not to turn barbers into therapists; rather to teach barbers what to watch for, and how to respond. “Barbers can serve as first responders, Lewis says, offering support to clients and talking about self-care. They can also serve as trusted guides to therapists and support organizations that are culturally sensitive.”
They are also paying attention to what is needed to increase impact.
The organization has also begun an ambassador program, which teaches barbers in a particular state or region how to train other barbers to be active listeners, provide emotional support to their clients and serve as a segue to mental health services, allowing the project to scale up more quickly.
We are firm believers that mental health and physical health are not separate things, that the mind is an integral part of the body (and vice versa). We also believe that taking concepts and services people need to where people are, instead of demanding that people come to unfamiliar places to try to do frightening things. We wish success to Lewis, the Confess Project, and all of the barbers doing good work while they give good haircuts.
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