Black emotional wellness sparks discussion

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Guest speakers Charlamagne Tha God and Chrishaunda Lee Perez visited Marquette Oct. 27 to have a conversation about black emotional wellness at the Varsity Theatre.

Charlamagne is the co-host of the iHeartRadio program “The Breakfast Club,” where he talks about topics such as race, hip-hop, society and politics. He also talks about mental health in America and shares his experiences with anxiety and depression, according to Marquette’s website.

Milwaukee-native writer and film producer Perez moderated the conversation, according to Marquette’s website.

MUSG, BSC, the Marquette Forum, the Near West Side Partners, the Social Development Commission, Rent College Pads and the Office of Community Engagement sponsored the event. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and V100 (WKKV-FM radio) were the media co-sponsors, according to Marquette’s website.

“It’s just something that I think has been a conversation on campus and now we’re bringing in a broader and more engaging scope to it,” Madison Hicks, Marquette University Student Government programs vice president and senior in the College of Communication, said.

Hicks said that Dan Bergen, Office of Community Engagement executive director, and Jessica Burkart, coordinator for campus programs, were the ones to initially get in contact with the speakers, organized the event. 

From there, Bergen, Burkart and Hicks, along with Breanna Flowers, Black Student Council president and junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, participated in a few conference calls with Charlamagne to determine logistics such as dates and content.

“This was an opportunity that came up, and we tried to include as many outlets on campus that we could just to get engagement and involvement,” Hicks said.

BSC also held events throughout October that led up to the forum, Flowers said.

The student organization named October “Black Mental Health Matters Month” and held different gatherings. At one, they had facials, made face masks and bath bombs, practiced yoga and meditation and said positive affirmations. They also held an empowerment session, Flowers said. 

Flowers said the forum was important because in the black community, suicide is one of the highest causes of death in ages 18-24. 

According to a study by the Journal of Community Health, “suicide rates among black girls ages 13-19 nearly doubled from 2001 to 2017. For black boys in the same age group, over the same period, rates rose 60 percent.”

“When you see college students and the mental health rates are skyrocketing … it’s something that needs to happen on campus, and we need to try and get as many people to break the stigma as possible,” Flowers said.

The forum was free and open to Marquette students as well as the surrounding Milwaukee community, Hicks said.

Artie Dunn, who attended the forum, said he drove to Milwaukee from Madison to hear Charlamagne speak after he heard the co-host talk about the forum on his podcast.

“I believe that emotional wellness is a key to black excellence … I feel like everyone should just come and be a part of anything that’s mutually going to prepare you to be better in life,” Dunn said.

At the forum, Charlamagne talked about his personal struggles with anxiety and depression and how going to therapy has impacted his life in a positive way. He encouraged everyone to see a therapist if they need it, especially black men.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, “the death rate from suicide for African American men was more than four times greater than for African American women, in 2017.”

Charlamagne said he grew up in a small rural town in South Carolina, and he was surrounded by toxic masculinity, which he points to as one factor that discourages black men from seeking help.

“It was bringing a speaker that understood and could speak to the Marquette students … but also that the community could come into this event and see … how Marquette is playing into it, and also have access to this incredible speaking event for free and be part of this greater conversation,” Hicks said.