Somebody hold me! Do you ever have someone in your life who is so incredibly smart, interesting and you are just in utter awe of their mere presence?! Well, this is me for my cousin, Lenny/Leo. In my eyes, he is the shizzle, not only is he a certified therapist, he is a constant activist and vocal about mental health within the Black community with a special focus on Black men. Come and take a dive with us and get to know Leo a little bit more…
Q: What is the tone/sound of your alarm clock?
Q: Morning person or night owl?
A: Night Owl
Q: What’s your fave quote?
A: For life is not a paragraph and death I think is no parenthesis
Q: Sandals or Sneakers?
A: Sandals, I don’t own a single pair of sneakers
Q: Your word for the year?
A: Go Brave (borrowed from my beloved mother)
Q: What’s the last picture you took?
A: I took a picture of my Dog (Willis) and I in the park
Q: What book would you recommend?
A: The Unapologetic guide to black mental health by Dr Rheeda Walker
Q: Countryside or beach?
Q: One fun fact about you.
A: I am not sure this a fun fact but I am in love with Judge Judy and have not missed a single episode in years.
Q: Electronic or paper calendar?
A: Paper Calendar
Q: Fave flower?
A: I don’t have one
Q: Savoury or sweet?
Q: Fave artists (musical or otherwise)?
A: Jhene Aiko (her voice is so smooth and mellow)
Q: Fave season?
Q: Coffee or Tea?
A: I don’t like coffee or tea.. I like Hot chocolate (we call cocoa tea in my culture)
Q: What’s your favourite dessert?
A: Rum Raisin Ice Cream
Q: How would you describe your fashion style?
A: I would describe my fashion style as comfort and confident and I believe African inspired clothing brings that balance for me.
Q: How would your best friend describe you?
A: They will describe me as caring, confident and loyal.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: Like laying down watching mindless shows and/or reading.
Q: Of the books, you read this year, which was your favourite and why?
A: The book by Rheeda Walker -Unapologetic guide to black mental health. The book is timely and relevant it speaks to our current mental health struggles and the impact of anti-black racism.
Q: Current role model?
A: I don’t have an individual that I am currently looking towards, however I am mindful that there are many in our community who are doing amazing work and many I’ve drawn on for inspiration and affirmation.
Q: What is “home” to you?
A: Home is any place that feels safe, any place I am able to ground my mind, my body, soul and myself in order to recharge and to continue with my valued driven lifestyle.
Q: What are you most grateful for?
A: My family and close friends.
Q: If you could change one event from history, what would it be?
A: I think in more recent history, the election of Donald Trump. The USA is a powerful geopolitical nation and the rhetoric that is coming from his white house is damaging and demoralizing to the black community and immigrants for that matter. I am both!!
Q: What causes you anxiety?
A: I struggle with the unknown and with unpredictability. I function much better with some structure and routine.
Q: If I could grant you one wish, what would it be?
A: That I would be privileged enough to live in a world that is free from racism, homophobia and the many other “isms”
Q: What 3 things bring you joy?
A: Talking to my family and friends /Walking and playing with Willis and enjoying black culture and music (soca).
Q: What steps do you take to ensure you take time out for yourself?
A: That is a really good questions and I have become much more intentional with my self care…I believe balance is very important in my line of work. I allow myself to feel all my emotions and to sit with whatever I am feeling. I take breaks away from social media/online and set firm boundaries to guard my mental health.
Q: When was the last time you meditated/prayed?
A: I mostly practice mindfulness these days.
Q: Would you say religion is central in your life?
A: Religion was central in my life and in away still plays a role but are markers within me that are in tension with religion that I have not been able or willing to negotiate.
Q: When did that change for you?
A: Many years ago while I was a student at York University….I believe I became much more conscious about my identity and did some reflecting on the role of religion in some of the injustice within our society currently and historically.
Q: Can you recall a pivotal moment when your faith/belief helped you deal with something in your life?
A: I can’t recall a singular moment but I believe it has always given me a sense of security and hope.
Q: What would you like your legacy to be?
A: I would hope that the end of my life, when it is reflected on, it would be said that I treated everyone with love, respect and compassion.
Q: Describe yourself in one word.
Q: If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be?
A: Marcus Garvey –I think he was an amazing black nationalist.
Q: What made you be so open and honest about your journey to healthy mental health?
A: I have seen many from my community suffer in silence and pain while facing significant stigma around Mental Health challenges, I felt it would be important to provide a space where those people can feel safe while normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental health issues.
Q: What advice would you give anyone regarding their mental wellness?
A: That mental health is health!! In order to function optimally it would require balance across our physical, emotional, psychological and for some spiritual phases, therefore it would make sense that we take care of our mind.
Q: What would you say to young Leo?
A: That is a very good question, that calls for very deep reflection. I would say to the young Leo to love thyself and embrace all of yourself.
Q: What advice would you give him about love?
A: I am still not sure; still a work in progress but I will tell him to stay hopeful.
Q: What do you love most about yourself?
A: I love my boldness and my ability to be me, unapologetically.
Q: What was your journey to self-acceptance like?
A: It has been a difficult journey, I did not always love myself. I felt ugly and unattractive, I felt unlovable, but as I became much more accepting of the things within that I could not change I found that I was much more able to deal with and challenge the negative self-talk within my mind.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone who is struggling with loving themselves?
A: That is it is impossible to love others if you do not love yourself. That loving yourself especially as a person with minority markers (race, gender, and sexual orientation) can be difficult especially if you are fused with the narrative that made you feel insignificant …..that it is a work in progress and should be done intentionally.
Q: What have you learnt about love?
A: See above that’s what I learnt ☺
Q: Do you ever struggle with being too open on social media?
A: I am not sure it is a struggle –it is mostly a choice –I was once much more expressive and raw on social media—-I have chosen to be much more gentle and much more intentional these days but this does not mean that I will not say whatever the hell I want ☺
Q: What is something you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?
A: Completing my PhD –this was by far the most difficult thing I have done in my life.
Q: What was something that was difficult for you at the beginning of the year, but is no longer difficult?
A: Accepting that I may have hurt someone intentionally with a decision I made. Once I was able to make sense of that and to ask for forgiveness I have been able to move on with my life ☺
Q: What was the most challenging thing for you this year? Or in the last few years?
A: I think balancing the expectations of work, school, family, friends and a relationship that did not survive.
Q: How has your heritage helped or hindered the way you approach mental illness?
A: I think within and among our Afro Caribbean communities, there are pervasive stigma(s) and misunderstandings about mental health. I believe it is perpetuated by systems of colonization and by other structures within societies like the church(es). I believe throughout my journey I have had to do a lot of re-learning and a lot of deep Self reflection on my understanding of mental health and how I approach the mental health concerns of those that are mostly vulnerable in our societies. I believe as black people we are strong and resilient and creative. I believe there are elements from our lived experiences and our culture that we can rely on to ensure that we are all functioning at our optimal mental health.
Q: What 3 most important things have you learnt this year?
A: Be kind and gentle to yourself and others –its good for your mental health.
Keep pushing even if you are ready to give up; the reward is at the finish line.
No man is an island, no man stands alone it takes a community to bring about change.
Q: What’s your most important goal for next year?
A: I want to write a self-help book for black people on mental health.
Q: How do you plan on achieving it?
A: I created a timeline for motivation and have already begun talking to an editor and an illustrator plus I have some useful things to share and think the time is right to do so.