Anna Lee/Nubian Message
Shawn Fredericks | Staff Writer
For generations, the stigma of mental health has plagued the black community. Distrust of health services has lead to many stereotypes being perpetrated on the topic of mental health, such as only weak people seek counseling or the solution to mental illness is through religion and “praying it away.”
Black men are disproportionately affected by the myths of mental health. The Counseling Center, in collaboration with the African American Cultural Center (AACC), wants to address this problem on campus through a group counseling session called “The Shop.” The name is a callback to the black barbershop which often serves as a community space for black men.
The Shop meets every Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in room 356 of Witherspoon Student Center.
The Shop is specifically targeted towards black males to give them a sense of community and belonging at NC State through group counseling, as black men don’t have many opportunities to meet other black men at large, predominantly white institutions like NC State.
Bradford Hill, a black male counselor at the Counseling Center, leads The Shop. Hill believes The Shop is a necessary space for black men on this campus.
“We are a very large university,” Hill said. “We can cite the population statistics all day as far as what it looks like for black students. Coming from an HBCU [historically black college and university], I cannot imagine what it’s like for our black male students to be in these environments. So keeping that in mind, it is important for our guys to have spaces where they can be authentic without being observed.”
Hill continued, “I think so much of being authentic comes with, ‘Do I feel comfortable?’ At times, you can be comfortable [existing] in a space, but to be comfortable enough in a space to express yourself, like talking a certain way, using your regional slang, speaking your language without people asking, ‘What that mean?’ or looking at you a certain way. It’s just important for our guys to have space to share and be themselves without having to answer questions.”
Being a clinician who is a man of color, Hill aspired to build a sense of community among the men in the group. Jaye*, a third-year studying animal science who attends The Shop, spoke about how the community aspect of the session brought him to The Shop.
He said, “I met Bradford over the summer, and he was telling me about The Shop, how it’s a cool group of dudes to come to talk to that looked like me. In The Shop, man, we talk about anything from like politics, to day-to-day life, to how we feel about certain stuff. And at the end of the day, I leave feeling better about myself.”
For another participant, Joe Fox*, a fifth-year studying business administration, The Shop was a place he could truly express himself. “For me, it’s been a while since I have had some form of counseling,” he said. “Attending The Shop allows me to just open up and let go some of the stuff I had pent up inside of me around peers who look like me and relate with me. I think it’s awesome [having a black male clinician lead the shop]. The work he’s actually doing building a community of support among black men is beyond words.”
The AACC has been pivotal to the success of the shop. This partnership between the AACC and the Counseling Center showcases the community aspect that The Shop values.
Bradford said, “The process of creating the shop was seamless because I had people whom I worked with who believed in it. Moses T. Alexander Greene, the director of the AACC, was supportive since day one, far as providing the space for black males’ mental health. So when you have people on board who care about the initiative and providing a space, it’s easy. Our director, Monica Osborn, and my supervisor, Stephanie Rubain, are all in favor of it, and they’re all really supportive of the process.”
He continued, “When the administration is supportive and aware of the need and support the need, it makes it pretty easy to get it started. Knowing I have their support makes it easy to run it week to week, semester to semester.”
The Shop is an effort to normalize the topic of mental health for its participants. Jermaine Coleman*, a third-year PhD student in statistics, spoke on how The Shop has led him to think more about his mental health
“I think The Shop helps remove the stigma with mental health,” he said. “Before I went to The Shop, I never thought that I should have counseling. But after The Shop, I feel more comfortable in seeking help about any issue. So I think it’s really important for black folks to open that door and feel comfortable in seeking help for whatever mental issues they’re having.”
Mental health is a serious issue within the campus community at NC State, and through efforts such as The Shop, the stigma of mental health can disappear from all communities, especially communities of color.
Editor’s Note: Student names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the group.