It takes a…

And even your mom.

When I would struggle with my mental health (and there were times of intense struggles), my mother would tell me about the day I was born. There was nothing noteworthy about the event – I was not born in a car as my father whisked my mother to the hospital or anything dramatic like that. It was by birth story standards – well – pretty boring (sorry, Mom). However, I would never tire from her telling of the story as each time it provided me with the nourishment I needed to make it to the next day. 

Her taking the time with me no matter what she was doing or where I was reminds me of the importance of connection, belonging and hope as it pertains to our mental health and wellbeing. May is Mental Health Awareness month (and also Mother’s Day is in May) so this seems serendipitous that I should have this memory of my mom, my connection and belongingness to her and the hope she infused in me.  As an African American and Indigenous person, going through childhood, adolescence and adulthood was filled with slings and arrows from the outside world that impacted my insides – my mental health. Let’s be real, growing up is tough, period. We are seeing how hard it is today for young folks especially youth of color as we contend with overt racism, sexism and homophobia and the lingering effects of the pandemic. 

And there is HOPE.

Where do we find hope? In our communities, with our peers, with our families of birth or choice and even at school with teachers, staff, and administrators. You may even find hope in reading this blog or others like it. And yes, sometimes I rest my eyes, take a screen break and listen to blogs or papers – (me slipping in a mental health tip). Back to hope. Hope lives in all of us but sometimes we need someone to shine the light on that inner dark place that is hurting. Sometimes,  as my therapist often told me – we need someone to hold the hope for us. Are there people you can count on to hold the hope for you, or have you held the hope for someone else?  If you have those folks in your life – you have connection and belonging. You are connected and as much as you need them, they also need you – even if they do not tell you. 

“But Keris, I don’t have anyone who can hold the hope for me,” you might say.. Thank you for sharing; in your  acknowledgement, you have found not one hope holder but so many others who are here for you! I am one of those people. The work of the Steve Fund means there are more people out here who want to hold that hope for you, connect, and let you  know you belong here, now and in the future. We need you, each and every one of you. You make someone’s day brighter. You helped that student by saying hello with a nod of your head,   your presence, and simply being seen may have given hope to someone else who needs to see you as they pass you on the street. 

I learned these things the hard way, fearing that I had no place here. 

So let me now share what my mother would tell me when I had these feelings.

“I wanted a daughter so your brother would have a little sister. I prayed and prayed you would be a little girl. And there you were, this beautiful little girl with black curly hair already in a little bob hairstyle and all I knew was– you have a purpose in this world”.

I have a purpose in the world? Yes, I have a purpose in this world and so do you.

President Obama spoke often of the audacity of hope. Be audacious and use your power to change what you don’t like – simple things like VOTE, become a mental health advocate, select mental health as a career, or here is something you can do right now – check in with your friends, classmates, family or your neighbor. That is all it takes.

During Mental Health Month in May and 24/7/365, have the audacity to hope. Someone needs you, someone will hold the hope for you and you are deeply loved. As young folks especially young folks of color, I know this may be hard so I will leave you with one other quote that has helped me too:

If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be. 

– Maya Angelou

Go, be your amazing authentic self, reach out to others if you need support or to support others. We are never ever alone.