In a world brimming with diversity, there are many schools of thought around the conversation of mental health. One voice, that of Yolo Akili Robinson, Founder and Executive Director of the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), is committed to more than just conversations; BEAM’s mission centers on “radical healing” according to Robinson.
Neurodiversity is the New Normal
In episode 3 of Scoot’s first season, Robinson explains that “radical means to ‘grasp at the root,’” He adds that “people often conflate ideas or perspectives that are not grounded or overly eccentric with radicalism.” The idea of being “neurodivergent” can lend itself to our misunderstanding of mental wellness. “Ideas about mental health have been historically founded around pathology and the concept of the ‘normal’ versus abnormal brain,” says Robinson. BEAM grasps wellness at the root through “national training, movement building, and grant-making… that is dedicated to the health, wellness, and liberation of Black and marginalized communities,”. This vision speaks readily to our values at The Scooty Fund, as “we seek to foster a culture in which conversations about mental health are not only destigmatized but encouraged.”
An example of the reach and impact of BEAM’s work is dismantling gender and racial norms around mental health and expression. “We often associate [masculinity] with certain characteristics like sexual virility [and] the desire to dominate. We also associate [it] with emotional sparseness,” says Robinson. He adds that men and male-identifying people are often discouraged from sharing their feelings and emotions; rather, they are often encouraged to hide and suppress their pain–both on a societal and interpersonal level. Layer in racial identity, and “you’re already projected to be certain undesirable or unworthy qualities.” This bias deepens for men of color, according to Robinson, because the majority of these notions are from Western culture. “We have to look at the root of our country and our world and how is this world facilitating unwellness? What do our tv programs look like? What are our schools like? The system and structures we put in place unknowingly created a lot of harm.” It’s BEAM’s aim to “unroot the toxic elements and beliefs,” he says; “we have to present to whiteness to be seen as human already.”
Behind these social behaviors is our mindset, both individually and collectively. “If I believe to be a ‘real man’ [and] I cannot talk about my feelings, then that idea is keeping me from getting the care I need and the connection that I want.” Further, repression and denial of anxiety or distress can lead to additional stress on any mental condition. “It may impact you going through depression or substance use to cope but you’re not even conscious you’re using it to cope. Those rigid concepts will limit your ability to get care,” says Robinson.
“Expanding, Undoing, Reimagining”
The undercurrent of prejudice in both gender and race begs the question of what a new dynamic would look like. Robinson remarks, “we don’t teach that conventional masculinity models are harmful to Black, white, Latino, or Asian [men]. What if everyone had all their needs met, felt supported and honored, had access to healthcare and mental health support? What if we partnered in collaboration in relationships instead of trying to dominate?”
Scooty Fund and BEAM share a focus on education and the power of community. “We didn’t get here as a society in a day and we will not uproot and undo these beliefs in a day,” Robinson says, “but we can unlearn those things together, behavior can change.” Robinson’s message is one of empowerment, hope, and change. Together, we can expand our understanding of mental health, undo the societal learnings of what our race and gender identity “should” look like, and reimagine a world where one’s race and gender do not prevent them from accessing radical healing.
For more insight on Yolo’s story, work, and BEAM, you can listen to his interview on Scoot, wherever you listen to podcasts. Here is the Spotify link:
Learn more about our organization: http://www.scootyfund.org. Follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn.
Learn more about BEAM at BEAM: Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective
You can follow Yolo Akili Robinson on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yoloakili/