Young Black men in the U.S. face a barrage of challenges that have limited their ability to truly thrive.
You may know Movember for its annual campaign that has men around the world sporting stylish ‘staches during the month of November to raise funds and awareness about men’s health. But the work of this leading charity is year-round and includes more than 1,250 projects aimed at tackling key health issues faced by men, who suffer from more chronic illnesses and die younger, on average, than women.
The outlook is even more grim for young Black men, who are in the midst of a mental health crisis, driven by the effects of historic and systemic racism, and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and images of racist police violence in the United States. Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, yet research shows that Black adolescent males seek help only as a last resort. Limited community resources, high costs of professional help, and lack of culturally competent care make it extremely difficult for Black youth to take care of themselves.
This reality has spurred Movember to collaborate with SecondMuse on The Movember Rooted and Rising Collective, A Social Impact Accelerator for Black Men which aimed at supporting millions of young adults to build and maintain good self-care practices for mental wellbeing.
“The idea is to support young Black men in digital media in a position to influence millions of more Black men who follow and engage with them,” says Jason Teeters, Program Manager, SecondMuse.
The program will be tapping emerging Black content creators — rising stars in the digital world — to participate in an accelerator program led by Black experts in both wellness and digital creativity. The goal is to equip these creators with the tools they need to elevate their content, build their businesses, and take care of their mental wellbeing so that they can ultimately offer young Black media consumers a positive and engaging resource about navigating challenging topics and the importance of self-care. The long-term impact of this model will be a cohort of visible creators talking about and producing content around mental wellbeing.
“The end audience is really the millions of youth who want to stand up every day, but get drained by all the societal structures that make it impossible for young Black men to just walk outside of their house without being seen as somebody different,” Jason says. “Seeing these influencers talk honestly about their own challenges and model strategies to deal with both the good days, but especially the bad days, we think, can have an amazing impact.”
The program taps both Movember’s robust research and expertise in advancing mental health best practices among men, and SecondMuse’s extensive experience building communities of support around creators. Its approach is driven by the understanding that creators must be able to take care of their own mental wellbeing in order for them to thrive. The program does not approach wellness as a goal to reach and move on from. Instead, it views it as a resource for everyday life that enables people to realize their own ability, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their community.
Over the course of the three-month program, the digital creators will receive evidence-based information about the importance of mental wellbeing, strategies to engage in better self-care, and skills to help others acquire, practice, and refine best practices for themselves. As these young men grow their businesses and become increasingly visible role models to their followers, the program will develop their understanding of the unique external stressors they face that might be limiting their potential. Are they struggling with depression that they might have considered to be a personal flaw, like laziness? Are the compound challenges of seeing White creators appropriate and profit from Black creative’s work and being disadvantaged by social media algorithms, for example, contributing to anxiety or stress they need to take care of?
The program will also delve into the complex nuances of masculinities — the traits and qualities that society attributes to successful men. These social norms can drive male creators to engage in unhealthy behaviors like overworking, constantly delivering new content, and putting metrics like the number of followers over their wellbeing. With expert guidance, members of the cohort will explore ways to navigate social expectations, while prioritizing their care and thinking critically about the messages around masculinity they are sharing with their audiences.
Their awareness about these issues will help them build and reinforce positive attitudes around mental wellbeing on their digital platforms and weave themes and examples of self-care into their content with clarity, creativity, and credibility.
The timing is more urgent than ever. Systemic health and social inequities have caused Black Americans to bear the brunt of the COVID pandemic, which disproportionately drove up Black unemployment and chipped away at Black health outcomes. As Black youth struggled over the last 18 months with new and unique sources of financial and emotional stress, an endless cycle of police brutality videos played in the background, reminding them that their very appearance could put their lives at risk.
“Movember is committed to meeting men where they are and to supporting those with the greatest need. Black men in the U.S. have historically endured catastrophic levels of stress. In spite of this, they have demonstrated extraordinary creativity that has influenced culture worldwide,” says Kimber Smith, Social Impact Campaigns Manager, Movember.
The distinct challenges faced by the Black community at large and by young Black men in the U.S., in particular, have drawn mainstream attention to what many publications and groups have deemed an ongoing Black mental health crisis.
Amid an absence of affordable and culturally competent care — not to mention a range of psycho-social factors that have made Black youth more likely than youth from other groups to view mental health conditions as a sign of stigma and avoid seeking out help and support — Movember and SecondMuse aim to tap resources that are already available that can offer a generation of bruised youth the role models, tools and strategies they need to heal.
“We recognize that healthier men contribute to healthier families, communities, and societies. A program cannot undo history nor eradicate systematic inequality and disadvantages. However, we aim to incubate change and accelerate culture,” Kimber says. “Investing in Black men and the transformative power of creative expression is a wise investment in the present and future of our nation.”