INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — For countless black men, waking up brings a constant level of fear.
With issues including ongoing racism, police brutality, and social injustice, it is hard for some to find the light.
While it may be hard to admit, experts say these issues have long-term impacts on mental health.
For many black men, George Floyd is a mirror image of themselves. The video of Floyd’s death is forever cemented in the psyche of pastor Kenneth Sullivan Jr.
“We can’t unsee it in our minds, ” Sullivan, the pastor of New Direction Church on Indianapolis’ east side, said. “I was like, ‘How is this possible?’ And I did some deep soul-searching the whole time.”
Sullivan says seeing the injustices that black and brown communities may experience is nothing new, but Floyd’s death was a turning point. He knew he had to face his 10-year-old son and have what he calls “the talk.”
“I had to help him understand that he’s an African-American male,” Sullivan said.
Research published by the American Psychological Association says that by age 10, Black boys may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers. Instead, they are more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty, and face police violence if accused of a crime.
Sullivan says that, along with having to have a heightened awareness of how to conduct themselves with law enforcement, Black men also have to deal with conflict within their community.
“When I was 18 years old, my best friend was murdered. We had just graduated high school, and he was killed. I was headed to his house, and when I got there, yellow tape was up,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan’s story of trauma parallels the lives of many Black men.
“For me, it’s just a reality of the world we live in,” Sullivan said.
Community activist Dee Ross shared a similar experience with News 8’s Amicia Ramsey.
“When I was five years of age, I saw someone killed in broad daylight. I was playing and riding on my big wheel on the sidewalk. I was a kid,” Ross said.
These experiences can impact the emotional and mental health of black youth and adults.
The nonprofit Mental Health America found the black experience in America has been, and continues to be, characterized by trauma and violence more often than their white counterparts.
Ross says young Black boys are taught not to express themselves because it’s seen as a weakness.
“There is this thing in America called ‘toxic masculinity,’ and men can’t be vulnerable. They can’t cry. They can’t breathe. We got to change it.”
Ross says that in order to get more Black men to open up, people have to listen to them. He says Black men’s mental health is often overlooked as if their struggles don’t matter.
“Why can’t you breathe, why can’t you vent? That doesn’t mean you’re not man enough,” Ross said.