― Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Faith. For those of us who consider ourselves educated and of the intellectual variety, the idea of having faith, particularly in a higher, supernatural being, may seem counterintuitive. The idea that human beings should place their hope in a being that they cannot perceive, touch or access using the five senses may seem illogical and ludicrous for some. Yet here I am, a person who considers herself not unintelligent, choosing to believe and hold on to my faith.
My faith has shepherded me through some of the most trying experiences of my life, and it continues to do so. And to be clear, I didn’t just limp across the finish line, gutted and half-dead at the culmination of these trials; I have been able to thrive, grow and soar as I navigated, and continue to navigate, life’s various hurdles. And I have observed the same in others who have chosen to access their faith.
When difficulties present themselves in our lives, it is human nature to question why we are being faced with a particular problem. A litany of questions may run through our heads. Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Will there ever be a way out of this? Why can’t this experience just be over already? What if this experience breaks me?
We humans like our comfort. We like our status quo. We enjoy pleasure. So when we are faced with an experience that is uncomfortable, novel or painful, we want out. We want to avoid it at all costs and often our first response is to search for a way around it.
I can acknowledge that up until the past several years, I spent the majority of my life expectantly waiting for the dissipation of certain challenges and issues. I had conditioned myself to believe that once I achieved a certain status or hit certain benchmarks, the overwhelming majority of challenges would cease to exist. That oppression, discrimination, isolation and disparate treatment would become things of the past. That, somehow, through my ascension, I would be able to avoid conflict, maintain emotional equilibrium at all times, and move through life nonplussed. As I’m sure you have surmised, as I've been entrusted with more responsibility and opportunities, various challenges have not gone away. In fact, in many ways they have proportionately grown. However, the ongoing presence of these challenges notwithstanding, I am so grateful that I can remain in a place of peace and gratitude; and that is wholly due to my faith.
Even though I do not know how each trial will resolve, I choose to believe that I will not only survive life’s challenges, but that I will thrive through them. I choose to believe I will come through each difficulty better, stronger and more equipped to face future obstacles. I choose to believe that the hurdles are more substantial because my ability to navigate them is better developed.
I choose to have faith. And no matter your position on the issue of faith, if you are struggling with life’s challenges and difficulties, and you feel that you can barely keep your head above water, I encourage you to try faith. Even the scientific community has had to acknowledge the positive impact faith has not only on mental health, but on prognosis and recovery after serious illness, trauma and surgery. Moreover, a correlation even exists between faith and healing from terminal illness. Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.
If you desperately need tomorrow to be a brighter day, I encourage you to try faith.
― Bebe Moore Campbell
We have all heard the saying, “It’s okay not to be okay.” And while this is a true statement, it is often difficult for women and people of color, in particular, to accept and internalize its truth. This is because we are keenly aware that we live in a society where our color, our gender, and other aspects of our beings are often viewed as deficits. As such, it is not surprising that when we feel stressed and mentally burdened, we are reluctant to admit it. We do not want to say it out loud.
There have been recent reports in the media about the increasing number of young women in mental health crisis. And for women of color, more mainstream mental health challenges are compounded by the additional stressors of systemic racism, social exclusion, cultural norms, and higher levels of self-criticism and judgment. It is undoubtedly the case that women of color weather more psychological and social burdens than their counterparts who do not identify as people of color. Decades of research support this.
However, I believe that one of the most important factors impacting our mental wellness is how we view ourselves and what standards or value systems we use to gauge our own worth. All of this hinges on our mindset.
I would posit that a healthy mindset must be anchored in the truth of who we are.
So who are we?
We are overcomers, conquerors, innovators, intellectuals, creators, storytellers, trailblazers, history-makers, arbiters of justice, nurturers, healers, champions of light and love, and so much more.
And please understand, being all of these things does not preclude us from needing to attend to our mental health. In fact, the most successful and well-known trailblazers of current and past generations have openly acknowledged that they regularly engage in mental wellness practices. Many have also shared the sad reality of what has transpired when they have neglected to do so.
Our World Changer of the Month, Bebe Moore Campbell, a world-renowned author, was also a staunch mental health advocate. She became a champion of mental health awareness after weathering the challenges of mothering and caring for her immensely talented daughter, actress Maia Campbell, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The elder Campbell, who was quoted as saying, “Knowing who you are begins in the mind,” also publicly and regularly reiterated that there should be no shame in a person’s acknowledgment of their struggles with mental illness. In other words, needing or seeking out mental health support does not detract from our genius or our exceptionalism. Our mental health is one component among many that comprise who we are. While the state of our mental health does not define us, it should not be ignored or neglected.
As we begin Mental Health Awareness Month, we should celebrate the life of Bebe Moore Campbell and allow her legacy to ignite a fire within all of us to prioritize our own wellbeing.
― President Jimmy Carter ¹
We recently took our daughters and nieces to a dude ranch in Arizona. In deciding to move forward with the vacation, my husband and I agreed that we were taking a risk, and that we were going to be stepping completely outside of our comfort zones in going on this adventure. After all, none of us had been to a dude ranch before and had been wholly born, raised, and socialized in urban environments. We knew not what we would encounter. I certainly had some reservations about how we might be received, but this looked like it could be a tremendous experience for the girls. Ultimately, we decided not to self-select out because of fear.
Upon our arrival at the ranch, we found the staff to be warm and welcoming. In taking in our surroundings, we noticed that we were the only people of color on the ranch and were able to surmise that the majority of guests likely lived a very different existence than we did. From ethnic background, to politics, to regional representation, we were very different from everyone else that was present. All of that notwithstanding, a beautiful thing happened during our time at the dude ranch: we connected with our fellow humans, despite our differences. One of my nieces developed an unlikely friendship with an older former military octogenarian from North Carolina. Another one of my nieces developed a friendship with a girl much younger than she from Lansing, Michigan. One of my daughters met a young lady who shared her unusual name, who had a completely different background and upbringing than she did. And yet another one of my daughters learned how to wrangle a miniature horse from a little girl from Ohio.
Whatever concerns we had about how our family would be received were completely assuaged early on. We not only benefited from the connections we made with people who were very different from us, but we know that we edified others through our presence at the ranch.
It is natural for humans to want to stay in protective cocoons, and to not venture too far outside our comfort zones into terrain that might seem unfamiliar. After all, when we go into uncharted territory, we open ourselves up to the unknown. As parents, we want to protect our children and avoid exposing them to experiences that might be harmful to them. But when we live in a way that prioritizes risk aversion over all else, we can miss out on living. Our self-insulation can work so well that we can become detached from other humans and forgo experiences that diverse human interaction can bring.
At this moment in our nation's history, where we find ourselves at the height of division and separation, I implore us all to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and extend a hand across the aisle. We are all more similar than we know. And if we sit in judgment of one another and prevent ourselves from loving each other, we will miss prime opportunities for connection and growth.
¹ President Jimmy Carter, a Caucasian Southerner with a military background, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts and to advance democracy and human rights of all people. His life and his legacy are prime examples of the importance of cross-ethnic connection and allyship.