In honor of Black History Month, we share the inside story of the inaugural Rooted and Rising Collective, Social Impact Accelerator driving positive content to young Black men.
In September last year SecondMuse brought together Ten Black emerging artists for a first-of-its-kind program designed by Movember to motivate the creators and other Black men across the U.S. to step into their human potential, take good care of themselves, and thrive. The actors, songwriters, TikTok stars, and other online content creators were the first members of the Rooted and Rising Collective, a Social Impact Accelerator developed by men’s charity Movember in partnership with SecondMuse.
Over the course of 11 weeks, these creatives who entered the program with a combined 1.5 million followers, worked with a team of experts to elevate their awareness about mental wellbeing, grow their creative businesses, and develop content to inspire young Black men to live happier, healthier, longer lives through a focus on self-care.
“Because Black men are so creative, dynamic, and resilient, it’s easy to miss their vulnerability, when in fact, due to our national foundational story — the global narrative of modern times — they suffer some of the greatest challenges to their mental wellbeing of anyone in our nation,” said Kimber Smith, Movember’s social impact campaign manager, who became an honorary auntie to the collective over a transformative 3-month journey.
Hear from the creators of the Rooted & Rising Collective.
The journey consisted of virtual sessions with Black experts in mental health, business development, and digital creativity, as well as hours of vulnerable conversations that forged friendships and challenged these men to take better care of themselves and inspire their followers to do the same.
“This was first of firsts,” said Chris Denson, an award-winning innovation advocate, marketer, host, and humor-inspired content creator who served as a key expert in the inaugural program. “When you enter a program like this you have to reimagine your vision of what mental health is.”
For Ben Abiola, who creates humorous videos about everyday life for more than 150,000 followers under the handle @sirabiola, the program drew his attention to work-life balance. “As Black men, we’re really hard on ourselves and society is really hard on us,” he said. “As much work ethic as I have, I need to find a balance between work ethic and taking care of myself.”
A video he created during the program, “Black men don’t say goodnight,” pokes fun at the reluctance some men have to saying things like “good night” and “I love you,” but playfully notes the role these simple phrases could play in self-care.
Fellow Collective member Richard Cannon, who similarly creates humorous videos, began the program believing that mental health and self-care were just “an excuse to do other things.” But as he learned more about these topics through the program, his views began to change. “I keep going back to: Why did I stop doing some of the things I did as a child? Those are things that made me happy… Life was so simple back then, and now it seems so complicated. But when I look back through my self-care practices, [I realize] I’m making it more complicated by conforming and not staying true to who I am,” he said.
Paying Lessons Forward To 1.5 Million Followers
To pay these lessons forward, Richard (who now makes time for things like bike riding and bowling) shared a video urging his followers to be vulnerable and true to themselves. True to himself, the video tackled the serious topic with humor and levity.
The other creators spent their time in the program developing positive content that is as diverse as the artists themselves. America’s Got Talent semi-finalist Alonzo Russel wrote and shared a new song, Black Boy Destiny, which tracks the story of a resilient child who overcomes obstacles and becomes “the captain of [his] fate.”
Bradford Wilson, a writer, actor, and golfer put out a social media video series called Self-Care for Golfers, which offers practical advice for golfers — and Black male golfers in particular, for whom the sport “has not always been the most welcoming.”
Vaughn Dabney, a best-selling author, software engineer, and content creator, put out a personal and tender video about his own self-care routine in the hopes of challenging norms that push Black men to ignore pain and “push through this world.”
“We can be tender and gentle with ourselves and still be considered a man,” he said.
To lift up gay and queer Black men, digital content creator Xavier D’Leau shared an inspiring documentary-style video about a flight attendant who reinvented himself into a cosmetologist and drag queen after 30.” Gay or queer people don’t necessarily have the traditional benchmarks — you graduate, you go to college, you get married — and a lot of us don’t make it to 30 based on statistical data, whether it be homelessness or health disparities, and we have a lot of anxiety around getting to that age,” he explained. “So I wanted to dispel and quell some of the anxieties about aging in the Black LGBTQ+ community and be like, it’s okay! You’re not alone.”
Justin Coleman, meanwhile, offered his audience a horror/comedy-inspired video about the importance of sleep, while producer, songwriter, and recording artist Princeton Brown created a short film that shares his personal self-care journey and its impact on his art. Writer and actor Jesse Martin put out a humorous and creative take on finding peace, while filmmaker Dennis Williams shared a trailer for a video “Intentional Routine,” which reflects one of his own takeaways from the program: “It’s always been hard for me to figure out how to work [self-care] into my schedule,” he said. After years of working a day job and building a production company during off-hours, he says, self-care always fell by the wayside. “Taking small opportunities throughout the day to prioritize self-care has been my biggest lesson,” he said. “If you first understand that you are the most important work, from there everything else makes sense.”
The Power of Storytelling
As the accelerator came to an end, the men reflected on the lessons they learned and their intentions of communicating those lessons to their followers. “Patience is something I really have learned throughout the program — to go on my time and not the crowd’s time,” He said, noting that his new approach has improved the quality of his content. “I remember a time I was putting out three videos a day. Ironically during the program, I started taking more time but started seeing better results.”
Alonzo called the weekly meetings “a form of therapy” in and of themselves while Ben learned to give himself more grace. “We extend grace to so many people in so many situations, but we are so hard on ourselves,” he said.
The inaugural members are now taking their lessons to their digital platforms, and putting the “medicine in the candy,” for their young followers, as Bradford put it.
“They don’t wanna hear [about self-care and mental wellbeing] from their teachers or someone from their school. They want to hear about it from someone who looks like them. That’s probably the most invaluable thing,” Ben said.
Beyond the potential impact they and future collectives will have on a generation of young Black men, participants, experts, and organizers were filled with hope by the love and growth they witnessed among the cohort itself. “I was struck by the genuine love and support for each other and the level of nurture,” said Soulful Facilitator and Program Manager Jason Teeters. “For a group of men to be in a space and nurture each other’s vulnerability, it was beautiful to watch and experience.”