We've all seen the hashtags. The #BlackBoyJoy movement has been an inspiring, empowering, and refreshing one to watch. On social, we see the lighter side of our kings as fathers, bosses, lovers, mentors, and friends, and with that has come a wave of brothers exploring all the dimensions of themselves that venture far beyond the typical black male stereotypes. Part of that conversation and celebration of black manhood involves facing the issue of mental health, with men showing it's OK to be emotional and cope with addictions and illnesses.
Kelli Richardson Lawson, founder of The Sonrise Project, has watched this manifest in her own family. Her platform provides a safe space and community for parents or guardians to explore mental health issues with their loved ones. As a wife and mother of two sons, she faced challenges with her eldest, Kyle, a 17-year-old who began to show behavioral changes related to depression and drug use in his early teens. Right before his entry into high school, Kelli said, Kyle lost interest in swimming, a sport that he loved and was excellent at---so excellent that he was invited to train for the Olympics and set to earn college scholarships.
"He came home and said he didn't want to swim anymore," Kelli explained. "We started to see him change. We thought it was typical teenager stuff. He [was just] going into high school, so [we thought] this is what they do. They become moody, they start just hiding out in their rooms all the time---all of that. What we didn't realize was that he was starting to experiment with drugs, specifically marijuana. He was 15."
Courtesy of Kelli Richardson Lawson
With time, Kyle's behavior became "progressively worse," and he'd lock his bedroom door, become defiant, and experiment with marijuana. "Previously, he was a straight-A student, a happy kid---an easygoing, happy young man. Things suddenly changed---his grades, his interest in school. Even his friends started to change," Kelli recalled. She and her husband, Keith, decided that they needed to seek help to figure out what was going on, so they consulted a mental health professional. The two had already been familiar with therapy, having participated as a family with Kyle and his younger brother, Kristopher. Through testing, Kelli said, it was discovered that Kyle was indeed dealing with depression and faced challenges of ADHD in addition to the consistent marijuana use.
The Lawsons are among thousands of families of color impacted by mental health issues. African Americans are reported to be 20% more likely than other groups to face "serious mental health problems," suicide rates have been on the rise---particularly for black boys and teens---and black men experience damaging professional and personal effects of major depressive disorder (MDD) at a higher percentance than white males.
Kelli and her husband continued to seek professional help via psychologists and psychiatrists, and they eventually enrolled Kyle in special boarding programs where he could get consistent access to therapy and life skills lessons. "Many of my friends say, 'Kelli It's just weed. it's just weed.' Yes, one could say that, but there's also the mental [health] component that is really challenging, so we're working through both of those things."
Image Courtesy of Kelli Richardson Lawson
Though Kyle has seen his ups and downs in behavior, grades, and marijuana use, Kelli said, today, he is progressing step by step, looking forward to his senior year of high school and applying to colleges. "He loves music and he is creating all kinds of songs all the time," she said. "He wants to be a musician and he's talented. He's doing online classes and a handful of courses from his school, and we're taking it day by day, trying to help him stay clean and stay well."
Kelli wanted to help other parents and that's where the idea of The Sonrise Project came from. "The project is really meant to be a space for parents [with children who have] mental illness and addiction issues," she said. "What I found going through all of this over the past couple of years is that there are really no places to talk, share, learn and cry and to have a sense of community. It's a huge issue."
"Our community still has a stigma associated with mental illness, and no one wants to talk about it. I learned, through many of [the mental health] programs, the power of talking with other parents who are going through the same things, and so that's what this is supposed to be."
Through her platform, families can participate in free weekly chats where they can share their stories and ask questions. "We have calls [in the morning], and they're confidential," Kelli explained. "I'm not an expert in this. I can only share my journey, but there's an expert---a psychiatrist, psychologist, or an education specialist---on every call."
The platform also provides information on mental health resources, and it has even evolved to expand its reach. "Because I wanted to make sure my family gave permission to do all of this and that Kyle was OK sharing his story, we talked about it. [Kyle] wanted to change some of the language, and I did. And he also said, 'Mommy this is not just black boys. It's all boys.' I said, 'Good point.' I've even had multiple women reach out saying, "I'm having issues with my daughter.' The bottom line is it's a place for people to come together to have an outlet to share, to listen, to learn, and to go through this together."
For more information about The Sonrise Project, you can visit their website here.
Featured image courtesy of Kelli Richardson Lawson
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Chief Mom Officer: 23 Quotes From Working Moms Finding Their Balance
The truth is, Black moms create magic every single day. Whether we're juggling motherhood with a busy 9-5, a thriving business, or staying at home to run a household, no day is short of amazing when you're managing life as a mommy. This Mother's Day, xoNecole is giving flowers to CMOs (Chief Mom Officers) in business who exemplify the strength it takes to balance work with motherhood. We've commissioned these ladies, who are pillars in their respective industries, for tidbits of advice to get you through the best and worst days of mothering. Here, they share their "secret sauce" and advice for other moms trying to find their rhythm.
Emmelie De La Cruz, Chief Strategist at One Day CMO
"My mom friends and I all laugh and agree: Motherhood is the ghettoest thing you will ever do. It's beautiful and hard all at the same time, but one day you will wake up and feel like 'I got this' and you will get the hang of it. After 4 months, I finally felt like I found my footing to keep my kid and myself alive, but it took vulnerability to take off the cape and be honest about the areas that I didn't have it all together. The healing (physically and emotionally) truly does happen in community - whatever and whoever that looks like for you."
Alizè V. Garcia, Director Of Social & Community Impact at Nike
"I would tell a new mom or a prospective mother that they must give themselves grace, understand and remember there is no right way to do this thing and have fun! When I had my daughter three and a half years ago, I was petrified! I truly had no clue about what to do and how I was going to do it. But with time, my confidence grew and I realized quickly that I have all the tools I need to be the mother I want to be."
Nikki Osei-Barrett, Publicist + Co-Founder of The Momference
"There's no balance. I'm dropping sh*t everywhere! However, my secret sauce is pursuing interests and hobbies outside of what's required of me and finding time to workout. Stronger body equals = stronger mind."
Lauren Grove, Chief Experience Architect, The Grant Access, LLC
"I try to give myself grace. That’s my mantra for this phase of motherhood…grace. I won’t be able to get everything done. To have a spotless house. To not lose my cool after an exhausting day. Those things can’t happen all of the time. But I can take a deep breath and know tomorrow is another day and my blessings are more plentiful than my pitfalls."
Rachel Nicks, Founder & CEO of Birth Queen
"You have the answers within you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Curate your life to work for you. Ask for help."
Tanisha Colon-Bibb, Founder + CEO Rebelle Agency + Rebelle Management
"I know love doesn't pay bills but when I am overwhelmed with work or client demands I take a moment to play with my baby and be reminded of the love, energy, science, and Godliness that went into his birth. I am brightened by his smile and laugh. I remember I am someone's parent and not just a work horse. That at the end of the day everything will work out for the good of my sanity and the love within my life."
Christina Brown, Founder of LoveBrownSugar & BabyBrownSugar
"Learning your rhythm as a mom takes time and can be uncomfortable when you’re in a season of overwhelm. Constantly check in with yourself and assess what’s working and what’s not. Get the help you need without feeling guilty or ashamed of needing it."
Mecca Tartt, Executive Director of Startup Runway Foundation
"I want to be the best for myself, my husband, children and company. However, the reality is you can have it all but not at the same time. My secret sauce is outsourcing and realizing that it’s okay to have help in order for me to perform at the highest level."
Jen Hayes Lee, Head Of Marketing at The Bump (The Knot Worldwide)
"My secret sauce is being direct and honest with everyone around me about what I need to be successful in all of my various "jobs". Setting boundaries is one thing, but if you're the only one who knows they exist, your partners at home and on the job can't help you maintain them. I also talk to my kids like adults and let them know why mommy needs to go to this conference or get this massage...they need to build an appreciation for my needs too!"
Whitney Gayle-Benta, Chief Music Officer JKBX
"What helps me push through each day is the motivation to continue by thinking about my son. All my efforts, though exhausting, are to create a wonderful life for him."
Ezinne Okoro, Global Chief Inclusion, Equity, & Diversity Officer at Wunderman Thompson,
"The advice I received that I’ll pass on is, you will continue to figure it out and find your rhythm as your child grows into new stages. Trust your nurturing intuition, parent on your terms, and listen to your child."
Jovian Zayne, CEO of The OnPurpose Movement
"I live by the personal mantra: 'You can’t be your best self by yourself.' My life feels more balanced when I offer the help I can give and ask for the help I need. This might mean outsourcing housecleaning for my home, or hiring additional project management support for my business."
Simona Noce Wright, Co-Founder of District Motherhued and The Momference
"Each season of motherhood (depending on age, grade, workload) requires a different rhythm. With that said, be open to learning, to change, and understand that what worked for one season may not work the other...and that's okay."
Janaye Ingram, Director of Community Partner Programs and Engagement at Airbnb
"My daughter's smile and sweet spirit help me to feel gratitude when I'm overwhelmed. I want her to see a woman who doesn't quit when things get hard."
Codie Elaine Oliver, CEO & Founder of Black Love
"I try to listen to my body and simply take a break. With 3 kids and a business with 10+ team members, I often feel overwhelmed. I remind myself that I deserve grace for everything I'm juggling, I take a walk or have a snack or even head home to see my kids, and then I get back to whatever I need to get done."
Jewel Burks Solomon, Managing Partner at Collab Capital
"Get comfortable with the word ‘no’. Be very clear about your non-negotiables and communicate them to those around you."
Bridget Bogee, Marketing Lead At Meta
"Ask for help and always prioritize making time for you."
Julee Wilson, Executive Director at BeautyUnited and Beauty Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan
"Understand you can’t do it alone — and that’s ok. Relinquish the need to control everything. Create a village and lean on them."
Salwa Benyaich, Director Of Pricing and Planning at Premion
"Most days I really try to shut my computer off by 6 pm; there are always exceptions of course when it comes to big deals or larger projects but having this as a baseline allows me to be much more present with my kids. I love the fact that I can either help with homework or be the designated driver to at least one afterschool activity. Work can be draining but there is nothing more emotionally draining than when you feel as though you are missing out on moments with your kids."
Brooke Ellis, Head of Global Marketing & Product Launches at Amazon Music
My calendar, prayer, pilates class at Forma, a good playlist, and oatmilk lattes all help get me through any day.
Courtney Beauzile, Global Director of Client and Business Development at Shearman & Sterling
My husband is a partner who steps in when I just can’t. My mom and my MIL come through whenever and however I need. My kids have many uncles and aunts and they will lend an ear, go over homework, teach life lessons, be a presence or a prayer warrior depending on the day.
Robin Snipes, Chief of Staff at Meta
"Enjoy the time you have to yourself because once kids come those times will be few and far between."
Monique Bivens, CEO & Founder at Brazilian Babes LLC.
"For new moms, it is very important that you get back into a habit or routine of something you use to do before you were pregnant. Consider the actives and things that give you the most joy and make the time to do them."
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