The way Dr. Michael Eric Dyson recited Jay-Z, Tupac, and Notorious B.I.G. lyrics at Big Sean’s Mental Health Awareness Self-Care panel, the room did not know whether he was the rapper or Big Sean. Dyson joined Big Sean and fellow Detroiters, psychiatrist Dr. Jessica Clemons and best-selling author Shaka Senghor on a panel to discuss how racism, economic oppression, and the legal system have impacted black and brown communities.
Held at the Boy & Club Clubs of Southeastern Michigan Dauch Campus on Detroit’s west side, the mental health panel was the culmination of the Sean Anderson Foundation’s second annual D.O.N. Weekend. The panel’s goal was to continue the conversation Big Sean started in March with a series of viral Instagram posts revealing his battles with anxiety and depression.
“I always thought taking care of my family and others was my first priority, until it literally pushed me to the edge,” Big Sean said about being an entertainer. “I became burned out and the thing that I loved the most in the world started becoming a burden to me; music had become a burden. So I had to take a step back and put myself as a priority and take care of myself. After that, music became fun again.”
Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. Yet, it goes unnoticed or ignored. Big Sean is no different. As a celebrity, he said, often, he was not allowed to be human, and his battles with his own mental health took a toll on him. Once he sought treatment and cured himself, he wanted to use his platform to tell his own story and use it to reach others in similar situations.
“His intellectual brilliance and his bravery to confront, in public, the spectacle of trauma, hurt, and pain, as a world famous rapper, and then to take a look at that trauma with us, is especially courageous,” Dyson said about Big Sean. “I want to thank God for him.”
In the black community, there is a negative stigma surrounding mental health. Instead of seeking professional help for conditions such as depression and anxiety, many resort to drugs, alcohol, violence or isolation in an attempt to solve their problems on their own. This issue of masking pain is especially prevalent amongst black men.
Senghor knows that story all too well. He grew up in an abusive home and became and angry teenager, selling drugs on Detroit’s east side. After being shot himself, in the summer of 1991, Senghor shot and killed a man. He was convicted of second-degree murder and spent 19 years in prison, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement. He was released in 2010. He said stories similar to his upbringing and those around him suffering from the same mental issues has been and is still going on in every hood in America.
“I was 19 when I tragically ended a man’s life because the Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that I suffered from as a result of getting shot hadn’t been addressed,” said Senghor. “So my pistol became my therapy. Instead of crying tears, I cried bullets that deeply impacted by community. America is just catching up to the hood, with the trauma and anxiety that it is going through now.”
The stigma of mental health is not anything new to the black community. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reportedly had severe depression during periods of his life and refused psychiatric treatment, even when urged to seek care by his staff. Unfortunately, that scenario continues to be a common one today, with African Americans not seeking mental health care because of stigma. Dr. Clemons urged everyone in the room suffering from any form or stage of mental illness to seek help, whether via therapy, meditation, yoga or just talking to someone.
“When I see people in my office, I urge them to practice self-care every day, doing things like yoga and meditation,” said Dr. Clemons. “That’s why I’m so excited to be here on this panel. It might be new to you, but self-care has so many benefits not only for your body, but for your mind. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga live longer and live healthier lives. Until we can fix the system, we have to know that mental issues are effecting our bodies.”
Dyson ended the panel with a compelling 27-minute speech that touched on everything from white supremacy in the White House, racial profiling amongst Black people in America, and the impact music and social media has on the health of Black people in this country, including celebrities like Big Sean and others. Dyson recited lyrics to Jay-Z’s “December 4th”, Tupac’s “Still I Rise” and Biggie’s “Things Done Changed,” revealing some of the trauma and mental health issues some of our favorite rappers endured, from Jay-Z not knowing his father, to Tupac’s mother abusing drugs, and Biggie growing up poor in Brooklyn.
“Right before us, the lyrics that we admire, and the music we listen to, there is trauma that is being exposed and revealed,” said Dyson, who is a graduated of Detroit Northwestern High School. “The mental stress it takes just to get up every day in this culture that denies your humanity and challenges who you are, is something Black people have to deal with every day.”
Cover Photo: Kory Woods