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A Moment for the Men: Finding Resiliency by Shawna Carter

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

A Moment for the Men: Finding Resiliency

Mens Mental Health Month

Resiliency can be defined in countless ways given your experience of life and the

obstacles we face. What remains similar regardless of your perspective is the ability to

overcome. It also holds true that resiliency may not always be concrete in the sense that life

continues to provide us each with circumstances that force us to become uncomfortable with our

current being. Naturally, we question ourselves with thoughts such as “Why is this happening to

me?” or “Where do I go from here?”. The only correct answer comes from within. This simple

yet ironically complex message is the most significant keepsake I retained as I waved goodbye to

the many new creatives I spent the evening with at one of my first mental health inspired events

appropriately titled, “Artist Talk: Resiliency”.

Spending Saturday night at an event centered around mental wellness may not seem like

an ideal option to some but Artist Talk is no ordinary group of individuals. The best way it can

be described is as a collaboration of creative minds of all types and professions that have

developed a space for fellow artists to feel safe enough to heal and ultimately become the best

versions of themselves. Hosted by its founder, Sydney Davis and Tacumba Turner Jr., founder of

The Future is Black Art Collective, the night was filled with energetic music, moments of

calmness, flavorful foods, and words of wisdom from the men heading the show. Each of the

eight featured artists and speakers selected for this special edition of Artist Talk during

November, which is Men’s Mental Health Month, told their unique story of resiliency not only

through their words, but through their creative outlet. My experience, however, didn’t start or

end with speakers… or even the hosts. It began as soon as I entered the venue.

I made it a point to arrive to my first Artist Talk event on time to enjoy all the aspects the

evening had to offer. Upon arriving, I was impressed by the exterior of the venue of choice,

Energy Innovation Center and it’s modernized appearance. However, nothing could’ve prepared

me for the collage of artistry I became immersed in as I stepped off of the elevator and into the

lower level of the establishment. As I walked through the hall toward my destination, I saw

creativity adorn every wall. It felt as if the venue was sharing it’s artistic history with its guests

and I was more than willing to listen! Once I reached the event space, I immediately knew I was

at home as an artist. Though it was spacious and accompanied by the perfect mix of early 2000’s

and today’s music played by key speaker DJ Yamez, the intimate lighting and decor gave this

setting a cool and casual feel, like home.

As I made myself comfortable at one of the many lounge areas and prepared myself for

the night’s events. I started with a hefty serving from Bouji Bites’ flavorful food and scraped my

plate completely clean! Before I could go back for seconds, I was greeted by the amazingly

talented Chef Budd who provided me with the tastes of South Africa that I never knew I needed!

Also a key speaker, James Henry, also known as Chef Budd, created an appetizer that

enlightened the audience while connecting us to the roots of our homeland. During his moment

in the spotlight, the creative cook explained the history behind his dish; a South African

cornbread topped with fresh masha beef, collard green coleslaw and a special African delicacy,

suya. Chef Budd when on to explain the history and labor behind this unique ingredient

including that fact that it originated from peanuts that African Women grind for extended periods

of time until an oil is produced. As he educated us on the tastes of the South African culture,

Chef Budd took this moment to further connect us to who he is. As a self-made private chef, he

explained that he chose to make a dish based on labor to honor the black chefs who don’t

regularly receive the recognition they are so deserving of. In regards to resiliency, this caterer

reminded the audience that “If you can just muster it enough to bring you joy, you literally speak

it into existence.”

Throughout the event, Sydney and Tacumba captivated the audience with their chemistry

and uplifting energy. As the hostess reviewed what was to come, she invited us all to be more

than just guests by sharing our experiences through conversations, questions, and interaction

through a scannable QR code to explain what resiliency meant to each of us. There was true

meaning when Sydney referred to the audience as “Artist Talk Family” by showcasing each

answer above the event space where onlookers could read, relate and continue to connect with

one another. Though the night had just begun, I was already blown away by the care and

attention to detail put into every piece of what was happening.

Even with a night full of activities, there was still plenty of time for mingling and I had

the pleasure of meeting a few more of the men headlining the evening first hand. As I relaxed in

my seat readying my laptop for note taking, I was greeted by Bilal Re, a musician, performer and

songwriter since the age of 15. Similar to myself, he’d come prepared with his own equipment

including a tripod which he asked me to watch as he engaged with the crowd (As a fellow

content creator, I guarded it with my life). By the time he hit the stage, Bilal transformed the

venue into an unforgettable moment as he performed his single “Looking For”. The song, which

encourages listeners to embrace to their inner child, includes a range of fluid lyrics and melodies

perfect for an evening of good vibrations and healing. Following his performance, the musical

artist continued to explain his inspiration for writing the song and describing it as freedom. “I

wasn’t raised to believe being masculine meant that you cannot show emotions…” he says of his

own upbringing. “I think peace is a choice we make only after receiving freedom… but once you

find who you are, you then find peace.” Regardless of your upbringing, this understanding of

how the past can affect your present being was a relatable topic to all learn from. A voice was

given to the child in all of us.

The musical entertainment was endless as Bilal’s live performance wasn’t the only

musically creative professional gracing the Artist Talk lineup of the evening. As I briefly noted

earlier, upon my entrance, DJ Yamez kept the energy flowing from beginning to end. As he

spoke of his love for music, he mentioned, “There’s all types of energy in the universe that we’re

not ever aware of. I try to find the art in it and put it into my music”. Originally from New York,

Yamez bravely shared that he relocated to Pittsburgh two years ago following the news of his

mother battling stage 4 cancer. Such devastating news can discourage even the strongest person.

The DJ continued to open up about his habit of pessimism in the face of difficulty stating “My

mind has a tendency to think negatively all day. You have to find the positive in most negative

things”. As a result, he discovered his love of music as well as his passion for skateboarding in

turn reminding each of us the importance of gratitude.

Following the high energy musical performances, were opportune times to calm our

minds, bodies and souls through meditation and motivational speech. The event provided more

than one occasion throughout the night to inspire guests and artists alike. The first offered a

moment of serene meditation led by author, activist and mental health ambassador Leon Ford.

Ford, who approaches resiliency through the lens of holistic wellness, explained “Meditation

helps me find my equilibrium and keeps me grounded”. I felt my own thoughts settling as his

calming tone guided the session with ease and tranquility. I connected with him from the comfort

of my seat as he discussed his introduction of holistic wellness to his 10 year old son and

contemplated how I could do the same. Just then, a fellow parent and guest speaker Corey

inquired as if we were all connected…maybe we were.

Toward the later part of the event the audience engaged in a motivational moment with

Trauma Practitioner Michael Thornhill. Upon a brief meeting, I immediately felt his radiating

energy and love for life which continued as he encouraged the audience to understand yet

another homage to South Africa, “Wow” or “Do you see what I see?”. Through his smile,

Thornhill revealed how being resilient without healing tremendously affected his physical health

so much so that rehabilitation was necessary for him to recover. As he spoke of his battle with

meningitis, he thought, “I’m fine. It’ll go away because I was used to the pain. My body finally

felt like it could let the pain out”. Also the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Venture

Outdoors, the speaker explained that this was the moment when he chose to engage the trauma in

his life instead of ignoring it. Such a powerful experience resonated with my own issues with

vulnerability and the importance of allowing oneself to simply be, especially in a society that

expects that expects the opposite.

Having difficulty with openness is common, especially in the African American

community which is why safe spaces like Artist Talk are necessary. These moments remind us

that even if we are not ready to openly discuss our trauma, creative outlets can also provide a

therapeutic space for us to digress. An artist that I met coincidentally through Bilal earlier in the

evening, Corey Ochai, explained that his art and therapy are one in the same. He went on to

explain that his emotions are discovered through his art. During our initial introduction, the

speaker gave me a perspective that goes well beyond art as we discussed how beauty and truth

are internal. A man of many talents beyond his artistic ability, Ochai also has a passion for aiding

his community like many of the male role models featured. In addition to his accomplished

visual artistry, he was also recently elected as a member of the Sharpsburg Council! Showing an

amazing depiction of resiliency, Corey added, “It’s like lifting weights. You develop strength,”

he continued, “…When things go wrong, it’s really like the best thing in the world for me… the

residual of overcoming.”

One of the most difficult parts of achieving resiliency is allowing oneself to experience

the feelings that arise from traumatic events and circumstances. The final two artists of the

evening utilized their creativity to confront the obstacles in their lives and bravely shared their

experiences with the audience. Alphonso Sloan, known by his colleagues as Fonz, admits that he

has battled with depression for almost 30 years and art has always been an outlet to aid in his

survival of it. Similar to the song performed by Bilal, a majority of art created by Sloan involves

childhood trauma. The painter divulged that these pieces in particular are very personal due to

his own experiences with child abuse explaining, “You’ll see the face of this child is broken.

There’s nothing worse than a broken child”. Still, through each moment of pain, Sloan

recognized there is always light, which are symbolic in his pieces. Over time, the Pittsburgh

Police Department veteran realized that many people in his age group suffer from the same

traumas and the importance of seeking help to heal from it regardless of how much time has

passed. Fonz continues to persevere through art therapy along with the aid of his therapist and

defined resiliency as “Overcoming people, places or things that were designed to eliminate

you… Its your job to navigate through it.”

After listening to so many inspirational experiences, I had become truly humbled. Still,

the final speaker of the night reminded me of my present state of vulnerability. Dr. Rueben

Brock was a familiar face I’d witnessed previously at Artist Talk: Black Therapy 101. As an

accomplished Professor of Psychology hailing from Duquesne University, I’d taken note of his

wealth of knowledge and was looking forward to learning more about how to be resilient from a

professional perspective. However, the acclaimed motivational speaker bravely decided to reveal

his own overcoming through the art of filmmaking. Dr. Brock showcased a documentary of his

journey of discovering and living with the condition of Asperger’s Syndrome during the

pandemic. Following the movie, he also spoke of his father’s suicide and how he moved forward

explaining, “I had to learn new skills. I realized that the stuff my father taught me was gonna fail

me. Autism is my gift because it makes me so persistent”. Knowing this gave me an entirely

different perspective of a man that I’d already gained so much respect for. As someone who is

learning the significance of vulnerability when healing from trauma, I decided to take the

initiative to ask the multitalented Professor how his support system helped him reach resiliency.

He confidently answered, “For the most part, your life is about pouring into others. Because of

that, you have to have people who can pour into you… and know who they are”. When he asked

if that answered my question, I simply said yes because his openness alone gave me more than I

could’ve asked for.

As I left the artistic establishment, I took my time and admired all of the art, lighting and

people that I missed upon my entry. I thought of my appreciation of every sight, sound and taste

I’d had the honor of experiencing as I made my way through the corridors. In only a few hours,

I’d connected with artists, professionals and people who simply wanted to heal and be happy

together. As I enjoyed a quiet moment overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline, I thought about how

the majority of these individuals walk these streets daily moving forward through their past and

present in a determination to reach whatever the future holds for them. To me, that’s resiliency.

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