Updated: Feb 26
Being a black man in America means being my brother’s keeper. Being a black man in America means being my brother’s keeper while keeping a distance from my brother because I don’t trust him further than I can see him. It’s believing the cops don’t care about you. It’s learning how not to doubt yourself because when you’re born everyone else already does.”
—Poet Prentice Powell, written following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014
2020 was a year of reckoning about many things, but one central theme centered on police brutality toward Black men, sparked by the murder of George Floyd under a White officer’s knee.
For psychologists who work with, study, and support Black men, that incident and the resulting protests were an added call to find better, more effective ways of promoting Black men’s mental health, said Howard C. Stevenson, PhD, director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative at the University of Pennsylvania and a national expert in helping people of color address and heal from racism.
“We should place less emphasis on whether Black men are resistant to therapy,” said Stevenson, “and more on understanding the contexts in which they already feel comfortable talking about their feelings and traumas. If a Black man is able to find a treatment that is culturally responsive, that he understands, and that embraces the uniqueness of his difference, he is more likely to use that service.”
There is a long way to go toward making such mental health care universal, Stevenson and others say, but psychologists are crafting several promising interventions that address issues that Black men face. Besides adaptations of individual therapy, these include community programs in barbershops and other local venues, outreach through technology and social media, and national networks devoted to facilitating Black men’s mental health and well-being.
The more that systems, programs, and providers find culturally relevant ways to foster Black men’s mental health—including directly addressing racial trauma and its effects—the more society will benefit, added Wizdom Powell, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut and director of the university’s Health Disparities Institute.
“Interventions shouldn’t be just about healing and restoring Black men, though that would be enough,” she said. “We also need to think about how much talent we’re hemorrhaging” by not providing Black men with the proper support. “Think of all the innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, and physicians there would be if Black men weren’t being killed with impunity by police officers and if we were creating spaces for them to heal, grow, and thrive.”