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Mack Wilds On Mental Health & The Strength He Gains From His Daughter

"My strength comes from my girl and my daughter- and therapy. She's innocent in everything."

#xoMan

The first time I had ever come across Tristan Mack Wilds' impeccable acting talent was in my then-favorite book-to-movie adaptation of Gina Prince-Bythewood's The Secret Life of Bees. Playing the role of a young Black male in South Carolina during the 1960s confidently spoke to his ability to adapt to historic significance and tell his story through the silver screen. Two short years later, he would become a protagonist on one of my favorite TV shows to date, 90210, as Dixon Wilson. As his acting career began to blossom, his music career followed suit during which time he would receive a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album and, later, be signed to Roc Nation.

Tristan 'Mack' Wilds is an actor, an artist, a podcast host, a Black man, and more importantly, a human being. From his acting debut on Spike Lee's Miracle Boys to HBO's The Wire and VH1's television movie The Breaks, Mack has effortlessly stepped up to the challenge of portraying any character in a script that is thrown his way. As a man of many talents, Mack recently talked to xoNecole about managing his mental health within his career duties and responsibilities, being present in modes of self-care and the stigmas against Black men in our community.

In order to start a conversation about mental health, we have to define it - or, at least define what it looks like to us. "My personal definition of mental health is my same definition for physical health and spiritual health: know yourself," advises Mack Wilds to xoNecole. "We should look at mental health the same way we look at physical health, or spiritual health. It starts with understanding where you are. From there, it's up to you - do you want to grow? Are you happy where you are? What and where are your limits?"

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"We should look at mental health the same way we look at physical health, or spiritual health. It starts with understanding where you are. From there, it's up to you - do you want to grow? Are you happy where you are? What and where are your limits?"

When I have a depressive spell, my body aches, my appetite is construed and I'm fatigued more than ever. Linking back to the concept of physical health, Mack Wilds recalls previous accounts where his physical and his mental weren't in sync. "I don't think people understand how much your mental and physical are connected," he explains. "Whether it's dealing with a depression episode or a strenuous workout, the connection of mind and body is necessary to understand if you want the optimal way to pull through."

When our mental health is compromised, especially within communities of color, the shame and stigmatization placed upon us weighs more when added to the stress of anxiety, depression and trauma in our minds. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the suicide rate amongst African-American children between the ages of 5-11 increased exponentially since 1993. In the Black community, men are not allowed to speak on their mental health because they're deemed as "weak" or not masculine, and this starts in the home with our childhood upbringing. "I think we've all had those moments where we hear 'boys don't cry', or 'man up,' to keep us from crying, but my mom always gave me the space needed to explore my emotions," Mack shares with xoNecole. "And because of that, i've been able to better recognize my feelings and how to handle them."

While Mack hasn't had any negative stigmas aimed at his head personally, he shares with xoNecole his thoughts on labels and connotations that are used as ridicule for those that suffer from a mental illness. "I can't say I've heard any disparaging words towards me personally, but I can tell you the idea that depression isn't real, or it's all in your head is terrible," says Wilds. "If you're going through it, a lot of times you begin to think that yourself and belittle what you're feeling, and the only way to combat that is to be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to feel however you feel, and understand what someone says or feels about you has less to do with you than you think; majority of the time, it's how they feel about themselves, or it's an emotion they've been scared to talk about themselves."

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"If you're going through it, a lot of times you begin to think that yourself and belittle what you're feeling, and the only way to combat that is to be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to feel however you feel, and understand what someone says or feels about you has less to do with you than you think; majority of the time, it's how they feel about themselves, or it's an emotion they've been scared to talk about themselves."

When it comes to managing his own mental health in his day-to-day experience, Mack finds balance in meditation, good communication, good food and seeing the smile of his beautiful daughter. These are all things that the entertainer describes as "just doing things that keep your mind stable and happy."

Retrospectively, Mack admits to xoNecole about a time where mental health impacted him personally - which in turn became a wake-up call that mental health is for everyone. "I think when I was going through a depressive state, just seeing and understanding how energy moves, you can see its effect on everyone you come in contact with. Energy is never broken down; it just moves from one place to another," Mack says.

As an actor, it is his duty and responsibility to accurately and effortlessly portray the stories - some fabricated narrations and some true accounts - of others. "Does that ever become daunting on your own sense of self and how do you balance your mental health while diving deep into the mind of other characters?" I challenged the New York native during our chat.

"If you remember the movie Inception, they always had a 'totem' that would let them know what world they were in, the dream world or the real one," he begins. "I believe we, as actors, need something to that effect as well. Mine happens to be my family. After a role that has you delve deep into someone else's psyche, you need that 'totem' or that anchor to pull you back into your own reality. Can it be daunting on your own sense of self? Absolutely, but keeping that totem always brings you back."

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"I believe we, as actors, need something to that effect as well. Mine happens to be my family. After a role that has you delve deep into someone else's psyche, you need that 'totem' or that anchor to pull you back into your own reality. Can it be daunting on your own sense of self? Absolutely, but keeping that totem always brings you back."

While starring in TV One's 2018 film Dinner for Two with Chaley Rose and Skylar Brooks, Mack's storyline demonstrated the narrative of a Black husband and father, depicting his downward spiral into depression and alcoholism. When asked how true he believed this story to be for Black men and its relevance to sharing these stories on our silver screens to a wider audience, Mack challenged xoNecole's way of initially posing the question.

"I hate to generalize a story like that by race. We all go through our trials and tribulations differently. I believe it's possible, I think we all battle demons on our own, and that's what Chris [his character] was pretty much doing throughout the movie, but it's necessary to showcase not only stories like this, but all of our stories. Our spectrum is grand, and we've only encompassed a small part of our lives on film," he explains about the role of race in this particular movie.

Moreover, when asked which of his roles has been the most mentally challenging of them all, including playing the leading love interest in Adele's "Hello" music video, he responds, "I would have to say Dinner for Two. To play Chris and jump into his skin, understanding where we were going to go at the end was rough, but necessary. I appreciated it."

As an actor, artist, influencer and podcast host normalizing the conversation around mental health, therapy, and self-esteem, Mack has been using his platform for the greater good of mental wellness. "The only way to normalize it is to stop treating it like it doesn't exist, or keeping it as the elephant in the room. I believe the more we're given the room to speak on it, the more normal it becomes," he shares as he continues to touch upon his personal experience with self-imaging and the effects of his relationship with his daughter, Trystan Naomi Wilds. "I have definitely been in those dark places where I question the way I look, compare myself to those around me, even play with the idea of if the world would be better off without me here, but my strength comes from my girl and my daughter- and therapy. She's innocent in everything, so she deserves to have an amazing father, and I want to be the best man I could possibly be for the both of them."

Photo Credit: Julianny Casado/@Juliannycasado

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"I have definitely been in those dark places where I question the way I look, compare myself to those around me, even play with the idea of if the world would be better off without me here, but my strength comes from my girl and my daughter- and therapy. She's innocent in everything, so she deserves to have an amazing father, and I want to be the best man I could possibly be for the both of them."

When Mack was younger - before being a father and Grammy-nominated artist - he depicted iconic roles such as Michael on The Wire and Dixon on 90210 that would later become pillars in his acting and professional career. He recognizes the importance of presenting the conversation of mental health to the age bracket in which he identified during these times. He encourages younger generations, including Generation Z, to "just speak on it."

"SPEAK. Take YOUR time, but do not be afraid to speak on what you're going through, what you've been through, or what you want to do about it," advises Mack. "I would just give them the space needed to speak on their feelings and help them find productive ways to let go of what's burdening them."

For more of Mack, follow him on Instagram.

Featured image by Julianny Casado/@Juliannycasado

Originally published on May 25, 2020

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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