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Meet Yolo Akili Robinson of BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yolo Akili Robinson.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to wellness work. A lot of it comes out of seeing the struggles my family and community went through and wanting to make alternatives. I saw how mental health, stress, and trauma impacted our ability to show up for eachother – so I wanted to make an organization that could help us. And not with traditional mental health, but with tools, skills, art, and strategies that spoke to us and focused on helping us build love, community–as well as grounded in the thriving strategies we already possess. BEAM is about many things but at its core, it’s about envisioning Black communities wherein everything we do, our wellness and the wellbeing of our communities is considered and centered.

Has it been a smooth road?
Whenever you are dealing with something as complex as healing; it never is. We have definitely had our roadblocks. Some of it has been community stigma and fear around mental health. Some of it has been pushing back against the aspects of American culture that conflate “tough love” as effective support. Alot of it has been the resistance to our approach to Black communities-which is unapologetic about holding space for Black queer and trans lives–as well as a leftist politic about the need for prison abolition, addressing sexual assault and more. We carry a lot; and in traditional white mental health spaces, it’s not always very welcome. We also have struggled with being a productive organization, but not giving into the toxic concepts of productivity that produce so much of our countries “unwellness”. We are struggling to be an org that practices what it preaches, and not a place where it sounds good but all of our staff are miserable, overworked and under-appreciated.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective) story. Tell us more about the business.
BEAM is a national training, movement building and grantmaking institution dedicated to the wellness, healing, and liberation of Black and marginalized communities. Our work stems from the reality that most of the people in our community don’t get their emotional health support from therapists or social workers; they get them from people who are often more visible– barbers, teachers, peers, preachers, activists, etc. These folks are often the first line of defense. But if these folks don’t have accurate information, or say/do stigmatizing things- they can become barriers to broader psychological care.

So our approach is to build up the skills of all members of our communities so that we can show up for ourselves and each other in the face of the ongoing harm we experience as Black folks in this country. We have made alot of headway in a long time. We have partnered with award-winning actress Jenifer Lewis for our community event Black Healing Remixed (which had over 200 guests), have been featured on Shondaland, Vice and received support from many prestigious institutions. We also have been able to support Healing justice work across the country: From Doula work in Memphis to Barber Shop Mental Health Education in Little Rock. We also have been on the frontline of raising awareness of the intersection of mental health and HIV, something very important to me.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I hope to see the field at large, move away from training nonmental health professionals to focus so heavily on mental health diagnoses. Some of the more prominent mental health trainings just regurgitate mental illness criteria, but don’t give people real skills to help them support them. Our Peer support programs don’t do that, and that needs to be a standard. Our organization is also moving to expand our grant making; to make sure we support more free services in parts of the country where it’s hard to get good care; like the rural south. We also are working to address policy issues; access and discrimination in the mental health field; and when it comes to Black folks; there is alot to address. Dis-entangling mental health from the criminal legal system is one of the only ways to ensure mental health as a field actually becomes about healing and less about violation for our communities.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Kevin Dwayne Photography (Bio pic), Event photos credit: Aleah Clark, Tea cup credit: Isabel Shawel

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