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Just Heal Bro: The Importance of Brotherhood and Community

by Reggie Goudeau

Features Editor

illustration by Maia Hadler, Art Director


TW: Suicide

I attended the recent “Just Heal Bro” Workshop held on November 6th in Obie Xing (Price Hall), and for the most part, I’m pleased with how the event turned out. Before anything else, let me give context to this event and why it was held at Oberlin. The MRC (Multicultural Resource Center) has long been a space meant for supporting POC on campus. Still, the Assistant Dean for Inclusion and Belonging, Chris Donaldson, recently shared an event to support Black men and male-identifying students specifically. This was “Just Heal Bro,” a company made by an African American woman named Hope Allen, who wanted to cultivate a space for Black male-identifying individuals to heal.

Both the tour itself and its name were inspired by the tale of Jay Barnett, a two-time suicide attempt survivor, current mental health therapist, and former NFL player. Currently, the two travel nationwide to provide advice, support, and other foundational techniques that Black men can use to improve their mental and emotional well-being. While here, Jay Barnett was also joined by Dr. O’shan Gadsden, a specialist in the psychological development of Black masculinity and the psychology department chair at Hampton University.

The programming varies slightly from institution to institution, but here, it was relatively informal and structured like a group discussion with all participants in a circle. While I do appreciate structured programming in many instances, I felt that this event being framed as a conversation made it much easier to be open with the other Black male-identifying individuals there. Also, I’m going to stick to mentioning the overarching themes and topics that we discussed in that space without details or names out of respect for each attendee’s privacy.

During the first part of the workshop, one of my best friends mentioned homophobia within the Black community and feeling unsafe in many spaces that are supposed to be affirming. I was overjoyed to see this be met with genuine empathy from other Black queer men there, as well as a desire to understand and do better from the straight Black men present too. Besides that, many present, including me, frequently mentioned an almost unwritten need to succeed without appearing weak or inadequate. This is especially true in many on-campus spaces such as the Science Center or the Conservatory. In these locations, there are typically not enough Black students or professors around to make the few in attendance feel welcome.

While various parties present talked about these issues in different disciplines, the patterns mentioned still remained true for most of the group. Some of the other common issues for Black men that came up included stereotyping, maintaining an image of masculinity, and generally maintaining mental wellness in a world where we’re socialized to ignore it.

The only part of this event that felt mishandled was the incorporation of the few (primarily Black) women attendees. Each of them are notable figures on campus that guide many Black students and others, and I was saddened that they could not participate. I understood Mr. Barnett and Dr. Gadsden’s reasoning for asking them to be in a separate room for the duration of the programming. The two even communicated how the last portion of this workshop was supposed to feature them returning to the space for deliberation. Unfortunately, the female partners there weren’t able to participate because of a lack of communication with the two main presenters.

I do not believe this was intentional, and two facts make me believe this. First, the head presenters and facilitators of that space indicated within the first fifteen minutes of the meeting that both this tour, and the ideas and wellness techniques they promote, should be attributed to the work of Black women. Secondly, Chris Donaldson sent out an email apologizing for this oversight and thanking each individual Black woman and non-man who came out to support the event. Even with these facts in mind, I do still feel bad for the six women there, and hope that they’re able to fully participate in all future programming here. To Ava Brown, Candice Raynor, Darian Gray, Katie Graham, Maya Akinfosile, and Nicole Williams; thank you for coming to support me and other Black people in proximity to manhood. Your work is appreciated, and I hope it continues with more recognition in the future.

Despite that one issue (and the event ending several minutes late when I had a meeting afterward because of Black-people-time), I still thoroughly enjoyed myself there. I felt seen and supported by everyone in attendance, and was relieved to know that there are Black men, women, and many others here who do want to see students like me succeed. Although it may not seem like it at times, I do want Oberlin to be a safe space for low-income, Black students. The problem is that my many unfavorable experiences here over the years have left me jaded and without much faith in the staff here meant to help me. Through attending this event and hearing others’ stories, I remembered that many of us both face similar issues and have access to overlapping resources to help us (even if they’re imperfect). Ideally, I and those who attended will stay in contact with one another, support each other, and remain connected with the many community partners at Oberlin meant to assist students. Only time will tell if that actually happens, but for whatever it's worth, this was a pretty good start.

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