- August 30, 2021
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Opening up about one’s mental health can be difficult but an organization called The Confess Project aims to reduce the stigma, specifically for men of color, by using the barbershop as a gateway to talking about it. J. "Divine" Alexander is an experienced barber in Louisville who is very open with his own mental health and serves as the Kentucky ambassador for The Confess Project to help others.
“The barber shop has always been a hub for galvanization within African American communities,” said Alexander, regarding why The Confess Project trains barbers to be mental health advocates.
Sitting in Alexander’s barber chair at The LAB Louisville can lead to more than just a haircut, or as one of his clients Elliott Kelly Jr. puts it, “It’s a lot more. It’s an opportunity to feel emotionally safe, which a lot of times Black men don’t get the opportunity to do.”
According to The Confess Project’s website, the organization has trained over 250 barbers to serve as mental health advocates in 20 cities nationwide, and it’s on track to train 549 more barbers by the end of this year, in addition to reaching 1 million people via this mental health barbershop movement.
“So you have people, such as myself, that are a barber, who people generally talk to about certain things, and it helps them feel comfortable in doing so,” Alexander explained. “And then if they need a resource, then I can be that resource and extend my hand and present them an opportunity to seek help somewhere else.”
The aim is to normalize men of color talking about their mental health. The barbers are trained to use four principles, which include active listening, positive reinforcement, validation and stigma reduction.
“It’s OK to be in a type of position or situation and feel OK about talking about it. We have to remove those stigmas. That it’s no longer uncomfortable to discuss those things because now we can. So we just wanna remove the stigma,” Alexander said, regarding removing the stigma about talking about mental health, especially for Black men.
“Most of the time people just need an ear and the biggest thing we can do is listen. Sometimes people just want to talk. They don’t want an answer. They don’t want a solution per se,” Alexander said.
“Yea, it’s deeper than just coming to get a haircut. I would say that it’s really about the opportunity to find comfort in uncomfortable conversations that I normally wouldn’t have,” Kelly Jr. told Spectrum News 1.
The barbers aren’t licensed mental health therapists but Alexander said the training covers what depression looks like, what you see and don’t see and how to approach clients.
“If we feel or if we see or if we hear our clients going through certain mental issues then we use those tools from that presentation,” Alexander said.
Alexander’s concern with mental health isn’t just for others but also for himself. Diagnosed with anxiety and depression, he said talking with clients also helps him.
“I use it as a mirror so when I talk to Elliott, and I talk to others, I’m talking to myself, and I need that therapy, too, for myself. So it’s twofold,” Alexander explained.
If you are a barber in Kentucky and are interested in The Confess Project and its training, you can contact J. “Divine” Alexander at 502-345-9911 or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Confess Project is also looking to partner with Black therapists in Louisville and other cities across the United States. For more information and to sign up, click here.