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Wanting to Live

Paul's nickname is KungFu Panda.

He is a tall young man. A large young man. A soft pitched voice smiles forth from a shy sly demeanor. His hug swallows you up like an incantation. Hardly the sort of person you'd peg as someone to suffer depression. Yet... there was a time. When his grandmother had died, he was alone in the home they used to share in South LA. When she passed, he had been been her caretaker, and she his, for many years. Now, with her gone, he was too old to qualify as a kid. Too young to be able to make it on his own. No options, no guidance. Already out of school, he was cut off from daily schedules, community, and opportunity. He coped with his loss by sleeping sometimes 20 hours a day, just clocking an existence. Why bother?

It would have been easy for Paul Terry to slip through the cracks into personal darkness, cursed to become the societal stereotype of someone his size, gender, color, and economic status.

Hard not to miss the "Panda," but where was the "Kung Fu"?

With the help of his older brother, who forced him to get out of the house, to participate in life, Paul began to feel the need to fight, if not the desire. The warrior inside said, "Enough." Luckily he had mentors breaking the spell of depression that makes you believe that you deserve your suffering.

It was this experience, and knowing there were others like him that he might be able to reach, that drove him to create his episode called "Wanting to Live." Paul knew from day 1 what he wanted his subject and title to be for the "Changing the Narrative" series collaboration with The Social Justice Learning Institute.

Like his martial arts heroes, Paul continually seeks to understand his challenges on a deeper level.

The Mentee becomes Mentor.

Though Paul was propelled into depression by loss, he felt pinned there by the continuous emotional grind of history, and present day racial inequities. There were pieces of the puzzle missing.

He researched some of the issues that effect mental health among communities of color - such as PTSD, severe depression, anxiety, lack of housing security, lack of education and health equity, over representation in the homeless population, and violence. Of 34 million people who identify as African American 22% live in poverty.

Feeling overwhelmed by the trauma he was finding, Paul sought the wisdom and experience of his SJLI mentors: Education Equity Programs Director and educational scholar, David Turner, and Health Equity Programs Director, Derek Steele. Their interview delves into the dark after effects of enslavement, Jim Crow oppression, the atrocity of lynchings, the government and medical betrayal of the Tuskeegee experiments, the school to prison pipeline, and the common daily micro aggressions that chip away at the black psyche.

The necessity of resilience and strength precluded mental health in communities of color. Survival first. Psychotherapy presets were developed and are dominated by the white middle class that couldn't possibly relate. Only now are we developing language to address relevant stressors. Emotional support in the black community mainly comes from peers and mentors at place like churches, the black barbershop project, and SJLI. These organizations work to encourage mindfulness, and provide opportunity for participants to accept, understand and address present emotional states.

Magical Echo Chamber

I took snippets from Dominique Williams and Tashad Rutherford who unknowingly punctuated Paul's topic in our conversations during their separate topics in the booth.

When Zeno showed up with his poem "Legacy," Daniel, Andrea, and I knew it was going to be something powerful. We could feel the crackle of connection. Zeno had written it before the interview and yet it covered everything discussed there. Daniel created the soundscape, gave it a heartbeat, literally and figuratively.

The music of Young Ambition and Quest , provides the perfect form to support the emotion.

Words breaking curses. Words powerful enough to spellbind you. Healing feels like magic.

See more Changing the Narrative , a six part series that is our collaboration with The Social Justice Learning Institute funded in part by The California Arts Council, a government agency Learn more at CA.arts.Gov

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