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Philanthropy Thought Leadership

The Confess Project works to redefine mental health culture for Black men

By The Confess Project team

The turn of the decade has been eventful, to say the least. From the pandemic to social unrest, most of us have felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. The Confess Project responded to these challenges by expanding its reach, focus and Black mental health initiatives.

The Confess Project is America’s first and largest barber mental health movement. We are committed to redefining mental health culture for Black boys, men and their families by training barbers to serve as trauma-informed mental health advocates.

To date, our team – with over 40 years of collective experience in fields ranging from social work to behavioral health – has trained over 473 barbers in over 29 American cities, including 200 in Atlanta alone. Our goal is to reach 500 Black barbers in Atlanta over the next year. The Confess Project has partnered with foundations such as the Jessie Parker Williams Foundation, the Glen Foundation and has recently received grants from both the Fuqua Foundation and Zeist Foundation to grow programs in Atlanta.

Our mental health initiatives are part of a wider movement to reduce mental health disparities and stigma in Black communities. Many Black neighborhoods have unmet mental health needs. For instance, the suicide rate among Black children under the age of 18 has increased by 71 percent since 2011. Locally, the Confess Project has served over 200 youth in the Atlanta Westside Vine City area in partnership with Barbershop Privado Grooming, while also distributing mental health resources. 

Apart from our Barber Coalition, we provide mental health webinars, online courses, and educational materials. This year we opened The Confess Project’s Joy & Wellness Hub and modeled operations after Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) research. This unique 3,000 square foot location provides Black and Brown Arkansans with employment and health wellness resources, such as a computer lab and meditation space.

Our work has been celebrated by dozens of platforms, including CNN, Good Morning America and The Kelly Clarkson Show. Additionally, we partnered with Harvard University to examine what role barbers play as mental health advocates, suicide prevention, and interpersonal gatekeepers in Black communities.

The Harvard study involved 32 interviews with barbers between September and December 2020, with most of the barbers coming from The Confess Project’s Barber Coalition. These interviews highlighted how much communities lean on barbers for support. Barbers regularly donate their time, attention and space to help community members prepare for interviews, diffuse fights and access necessary resources.

Harvard concluded that Black barbers play a crucial role in Black neighborhoods as change agents and gatekeepers for various community needs. The Confess Project plans to continue extending its reach from coast to coast until every Black boy, man and family member can access life-saving mental health support. To this end, we will continue leveraging the legacy and wisdom of Black barbers.

 

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