The Color of Hope
The Color of Hope
People of Color Mental Health Narratives
About the Book
Mental illness affects people of all backgrounds yet many people of color go untreated. According to the Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites. High school aged Hispanic girls are 70% more likely to attempt suicide than White girls of the same age.
The Color of Hope: People of Color Mental Health Narratives is a literary project that sheds light on mental health in communities of color by sharing stories from those affected by mental illness. The book contains 20+ essays, interviews, and poems from people of color. Proceeds from will go toward various projects and organizations that serve the mental health community and will change on a rotating basis.
I did not sign up for this
Put in psychotherapy at age 17
Prozac and Zoloft made me numb
Paxil made my heart jump into my throat
Black & White Rabbits
My mother is from South Korea. My father is an American of German and
For my entire life, I have watched people’s faces as they meet me.
More than half greet me with curiosity about my heritage. A few tell me
they assumed I was simply white or an Asian girl with very light features or
I always dealt with being labeled as two things that never seemed to
completely fit. The other half was always disagreeing. When I was 30, I
was given another label that no one could identify clearly… a diagnosis:
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Black and white thinking, literally.
My mental health, like my “color” is invisible.
Interview with Nichole Webb
Vanessa: Nichole, thanks so much for agreeing to participate in this
project. When were you diagnosed with mental illness?
Nichole: I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2002, though I’ve had
bouts of mania since then.
Vanessa: Do you have any co-occurring illnesses?
Nichole: Yes, hypertension and tachycardia.
Vanessa: Have you ever been hospitalized for mental illness?
Nichole: Yes. After high school, I attended community college. At around
age nineteen or twenty, I began using drugs and alcohol. I was kicked out of
my home and lived on the streets for a few days.
“If there was a real war on drugs, it would have to start in the psychiatric
ward of the nearest crazy house, because what the Mad Scientist did to the
mind of the so-called American Negro is some sick shit.”
My name is Nate Butler; I have been incarcerated for 25 years now. I have
been housed in several different state prisons fighting off the beast. The
beast is something mental that every Black man knows about especially
those of us trapped behind these prison walls.
The Mama that Yelled: Black Mothering Through Depression
She yelled all the time.
Yelled about the house not being cleaned.
Yelled about my school work.
Yelled about spending too much time on the phone.
Yelled that the music was too loud.
She just always yelled.
I can remember thinking about cutting her vocal box out of her once. Or a
few times. I told her this in a fit of rage, when I was about 16. She just
looked at me and yelled some more. I am pretty sure that Audre Lorde was
talking about my mama when she said, “I am deliberate and afraid of
Interview with Lydia Kirkland
Lydia Kirkland is a mother from southern New Jersey. In 2013, she lost her
daughter, Brianna. As with many grieving parents, Lydia has been living with depression
and post-traumatic stress disorder since her daughter’s passing.
Vanessa: When did Brianna pass away? What was the cause?
Lydia: She passed away on Feb.24, 2013. She was misdiagnosed by the ER
and passed from Type I diabetes. Her original diagnosis was a virus that
was supposed to take its course and I was told she would be fine. The next
morning I found she had passed away in her bedroom.
Sleeping Beauty, Watch Me, and What's It Like
What’s it like to wish away the madness?
To wish you could do more to think differently?
What’s it like when you’re mentally challenged?
Your memories jacked, and your past memories absent?
A Complicated Normal
I felt normal for the first time in my life. Not bland normal, just sane
normal; a stable, healthy, functional normal. I should’ve known that my
kind of normal is a bit more complicated when a seemingly innocent hug
from behind triggered a rush of memories long forgotten. It wasn’t even so
much the memories themselves that bothered me. It was the feelings of
being dirty, used-up, and insignificant that accompanied them. I’m not lazy
when it comes to my mental health. I do the work, as tiresome as it may be,
and yet this occurrence sent me into a tailspin. How can some people shake
off their woes, while others, like myself, are just left shaken?
Not Ready to Die, But Wanting to Die: Depression, Hip Hop, and the Death of Chris Lighty
Right now I should be finishing a paper for my independent study. But I
just heard the news about Chris Lighty’s death. Though I never meet him,
being part of the Hip Hop village, I always heard good things about him.
Reading my sister, Joan Morgan’s, one word post on Facebook,
"devastated", I broke down and thought, another possible suicide in our
village. Why is this happening? All of us living and breathing are dealing
with a myriad of challenges, especially financial ones, so what is it that
makes one want to kill themselves? And why is there so much silence in
communities of color? We all grew up hearing about suicides, and for a long
time I believed that only white kids killed themselves. When I was in high
school, there was a rash of suicides that I heard about, read about. I would
say to my friends, “white kids are crazy”. Little did I know that I myself
might have been a little bit "crazy".
Because of my incarceration, my family, friends, and community, have
taken dramatic changes words cannot describe. Some for the good and
some for the bad, such as the loss of physical, spiritual, and mental life.
Love has diminished. But most importantly, the understanding of the
prisoner’s life has been the hardest.
I haven’t seen any changes being made for the good for those that resist
against bad. The good I have seen is one becoming conscious to his
surroundings and the world overall. The changes I would like to see is more
One by one men are siphoned into a pallid room. There are two prison
guards waiting intently. One busies himself with his paperwork, the other
dons a despotic mask, his own necessity, a defense mechanism.
“Strip”. It is an order, a foreign language to criminals, gangsters, and the
underbelly of our society.
The prisoner obeys, an acquiesce, given the circumstance.
“The underwear too,” instructs the guard. His bottom lip is wrapped
around a wad of chewing tobacco. His breath is putrid. His glare is a
challenge to the young, black prisoner…an exercise of power.
The prisoner concedes.
"Black people have a secret sitting in their living rooms, lurking in their
closets, and tucked away in that special room. We won’t talk about it,
would never publicize it and barely ask for help.
It’s our brains. And like every other race on this planet, ours get sick too.
I have worked in Special Education for a number of years now and I’ve
seen it there. I’ve seen it in close family and friends. And if I’d ever give
therapy more than a one session chance, I’m sure that I would have been
diagnosed with some form of depression and or anxiety."
Interview with Shanda Mickens
Vanessa: When were you diagnosed with bipolar disorder? What sorts of
treatments have you received and were they successful?
Shanda: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 13. I was
already in therapy for ADD. The doctors tried many combinations of
medications. At one point, I was on Prozac, Lithium, and sleeping pills to
balance out the Lithium. Sadly, they were not successful and actually had an
adverse effect on me. Because of the effect that I've had from medications,
I've been leery about taking prescription drugs and have been seeking other
alternatives to manage my disorder.
I was a mess. I would cry all the time for no one particular reason at all.
Just that I always felt worthless and useless and was exhausted from all of
this inexplicable sadness. I wanted to do things besides be sad. But being
sad became like my part-time job and I, at times, I had to will myself out of
bed. I realized that I was getting deeper. I rarely socialized, and I Can’t
usually talked me out of trying out any extracurricular activities. I sat every
morning in the hallway like a bump on a log waiting for my teacher to come
to open the door. A boy inspired, or annoyed by my ennui decided to
attempt to provoke me. He started with a little kick. I did nothing. He
started with a bigger kick. I did nothing. Then he literally stood on top of
my ankles and bounced! I. Did. Nothing.
Love Letter to My Mom
1963: I was nine years old when my mother, Corrine Brown Powell, was hospitalized for
nine months at Bellevue State Hospital in Pennsylvania, after having been diagnosed
with schizophrenia. I couldn’t visit her in the place that performed lobotomies, couldn’t
tell anyone because I didn’t know anyone who had a sometimes crazy mother who had to
take Lithium, or Haldol, or Thorazine, or Mellaril. In August 2001, I was forty-four
when mom was diagnosed with cancer of the duodenum. She died that October. Six
years later, I wrote her this love letter.
To create change we must all work together to dismantle the cycles of
trauma. We will not do this alone. We will not be ashamed. We will hold
each other up and echo each other’s troubles because we did not come here
alone, systematic oppression has always haunted our futures. It is up to us
to change the paradigm and cultivate practical methods of healing. Telling
our stories and speaking our truths allows us to practically explore the ways
in which our collective and personal pasts continues to affect us.
The Patient Prisoner
Prison robs the human being, from inception to cessation,
I stand an attestation,
It strips you, “Strip” stated as a triple entendre
For the physical, mental, and spiritual genres
But as prison takes it too allows one to find
this, of life’s balance in agreement with time.
So when told I was sick, I agreed, then obliged
And it’s within their diagnosis that I found man’s need for the lie.
Close to Happy
I live in two worlds
Wonderland & The Real
It's so easy to forget
who u really are in The Real
White men in white coats
stick & probe
Telling me I have this dis-ease & that dis-ease
Then ask me if I'm blue
No, I'm more like grey
not this modern "grey is the new black" kind of grey
More like the color of the sky before a storm
Massive, burdensome, impermeable
Interview with Tajsha Lewis
Vanessa: Hey Tajsha! Thanks so much for participating in this project. I
know you have been living with mental illness for some time. What is your
Tajsha: In 2006 or 2007, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II,
progressing towards schizophrenia. I don’t stay on meds very long so I’m
feeling like schizophrenia is imminent.
The Patient Prisoner 1
Close To Happy 3
Interview With Tajsha Lewis 5
Mind Chatter 7
Black And White Rabbits 9
Interview With Nichole Webb 12
Mental Health 14
Pain: Where We Meet Face To Face 16
The Mama That Yelled: Black Mothering Through Depression 18
Interview With Lydia Kirkland 22
Sleeping Beauty 25
Watch Me 27
What’s It Like? 29
A Complicated Normal 31
Not Ready to Die But Wanting to Die: Depression, Hip Hop and the Death of Chris Lighty 34
My Story 38
Interview with Shanda Mickens 45
Love Letter to Mom 49
ABOUT THE CURATORS 52
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