For black men in the US, the deck can feel stacked. The solution? Talk about it.
At its inaugural meeting, Iron Sharpens Iron, the non-profit group Men You’re Not Alone challenged men of color ranging from age 16 to 68 to rebuild their communities together by opening up to one another at the Metropolitan College of New York in The Hub in December.
“When my son was killed, I didn’t even know how to cry. It took me 15 years until I was able to cry at his gravesite,” said Hakeim Yahmadi, who founded Men You’re Not Alone early in 2019.
Yahmadi says he created the organization when he realized how little black men lean on each other in times of struggle, leaving the younger generation to repeat the older generation mistakes again and again.
“Women talk. We don’t talk,” said Yahmadi. “We need to talk about our issues and change the narrative.”
But for many black men, vulnerability is often thwarted by fear, anxiety and anger.
“Anger makes us feel strong. And if you’re black, you’re running from something all the time,” said Yahmadi.
Another pitfall for black men is their avoidance of the doctor, said Dr. John Palmer, former Executive Director of Harlem Hospital. Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any major demographic group in the U.S., according to a study by the Department of Public Health.
So when they age and their bodies begin to fail, many black men lack the knowledge to navigate the healthcare system to get the help they need.
“Why? We’re not used to it. We’re too scared. We end up getting caught. But it don’t have to be that way,” said Dr. Palmer.
Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, Melrose native and Strategic Destiny mentor, urged attendees to build a toolbox of intellectual, physical and emotional health to lift up their communities against oppressive societal structures, like health disparities, mass incarceration, generational poverty and fatherlessness.
“If we don’t have information, it’s hard to share the knowledge our families need. If we have no faith, it’s hard to make people believe. If we have no health, it’s hard to get out and lead by example,” said Wyatt.
Building a toolbox can start by finding relaxation techniques like yoga, said Wyatt. This can help black men combat the fear, anxiety and anger that prevent them from communicating their concerns to loved ones or health professionals who can help.
“There ain’t no cavalry coming. No stormtroopers” says Wyatt. “If we’re going to lift, it’s going to be a collective effort.”
Enthusiastic attendees suggested the meetings be held on a monthly basis.
But with the majority in attendance over the age of 50, Yahmadi stressed he aims to bring in more youth to equip the younger generation with these tools to prevail against future challenges.
“That’s how iron sharpens iron,” he said.