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Author hopes to tackle mental illness in African American community with picture book

Posted at 3:43 PM, Nov 20, 2019

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Dealing with emotional issues and mental illness is a big challenge among African Americans. Anxiety and depression often go untreated. One author is working to change the stigma through pictures and the written word.

Author Ebony Lewis is speaking directly to young black boys with her book, “Dear Black Boy: It’s Ok to Cry.”

“When you teach boys not to cry, you teach boys not to be vulnerable. It looks like that toughness,” said Lewis. “It looks like that anger but in the dark I'm sure there are so many young men that are letting it out.”

Lewis started writing the picture book three years ago after her cousin took his own life.

African Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. And suicide is the second leading cause of death for black Americans ages 15 to 24.

For Kweku Amel Smith, a Milwaukee-based psychologist, reading the book with his twin 10-year-old boys, Jonah and Noah, was powerful.

“The one thing that resonated with the both of them was the message that it was okay to be vulnerable, it’s OK to show all of your emotions and in fact it was a very healthy thing,” said Smith.

Lewis says it’s time to open a space to talk about pain before it’s too late.

“If we don't have the conversations, then you have men and women who grow up who have these struggles and they don't know how to release and they don't know how to let it out and then that's where you get you know illness and suicide,” said Lewis.

The book is already being used as a tool for violence prevention groups and adolescent therapists like Iesha Sanders.

“It's been helpful because it lets them know that it’s going to be okay,” said Sanders. “It lets them know that they are understood.”

Lewis says the message of her book is universal, not just for young African American boys.

“Everyone is affected. We all deal with mental health. No one is exempt,” said Lewis.

Smith says even his 9-year-old daughter can benefit from the lessons of the book as well.

“When it's time for her to mother a young boy, she has that ability to know ‘hey this is what we've been taught from the beginning.’ And as a parent, specifically a black male, you can still learn it's never too late,” said Smith.

It’s never too late to learn and heal.