Entrepreneur and internet celebrity Demetrius Harmon spoke to an overflowing auditorium of University students at Weiser Hall regarding mental health in communities of color Wednesday as a part of NAACP Week and Black History Month. Harmon, known to his fans as Meech, has found fame on Vine, YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms. He now owns a clothing label that advocates for mental health awareness.
Harmon began by discussing the stigma associated with talking about mental health problems.
“That pressure, sometimes it can make diamonds and sometimes it could make you dust,” Harmon said.
Harmon focused on how the Black community can place rigid requirements on its members, making them doubt how they carry themselves and the things they choose to do with their time. Harmon explained that many people put on a facade of strength because they feel it is expected of them.
“It’s hard to do certain things while retaining your Blackness,” Harmon said. “And if we’re not accepted in our community, we feel like we’re not accepted in the world at all.”
Harmon stressed the fact that there is no prerequisite to Blackness beyond biology.
“To be Black is literally just have Black skin,” Harmon said. “Look down at your hands and your skin is Black, congratulations you’re Black. That’s just how that works.”
Harmon said from slavery to the civil rights movement, the Black community has always had more exterior problems than mental health, and now it has gotten to the point where they cannot be worried over more interior and personal issues.
“That isn’t too long ago,” Harmon. “What mattered was your safety. They didn’t have the luxury to teach you about your emotions.”
Harmon also noted the ongoing struggle that the Black has faced regarding tragedy and violence. He surveyed the room, asking who remembered where they were in 2012 when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a police officer in Sanford, Florida.
“That was like everything I learned about Black history was like, ‘Nah, we still here,’” Harmon said.
Harmon explained vulnerability is not seen as an option among Black people. He cited the musician Frank Ocean came under fire after coming out as bisexual. He said Ocean was ridiculed for being too effeminate or not Black enough, but that he did a great thing for the Black community by coming out. Harmon said Ocean set the stage for other young, gay Black people to find their own identities in a safe, understanding context.
“Representation matters because it allows you to feel comfortable in your own space,” Harmon said.
Harmon encouraged others to follow Ocean’s example, taking risks in talking about how they feel to shift the paradigm.
“It’s so embedded in our DNA, so we have to undo it,” Harmon said. “We have to hold each other accountable. We have to raise our children better.”
Harmon said he wants to make a better life for his future children. He wants to help his mother retire, and he wants the rest of his family to have the luxury of rest which he said was a lot to hold on his shoulders.
The event was put together by the University’s chapter of the NAACP and You Good Fam?, a peer-based support group for students of color experiencing difficulties regarding their mental health. The event was also funded in part by the Black History Month committee under the University’s department of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs.
LSA senior Carlos Henderson is the health and awareness co-chair for the University’s NAACP chapter. He told The Daily after the event that Harmon presents a relatable message to students because he is the same age and primarily uses social media to communicate his message of health, perseverance and positivity.
“This event was important in particular because Demetrius is a very big face in social media,” Henderson said. “So we thought what’s a better way to connect with students than to bring social media to the campus and also to bring awareness about mental health?”
LSA senior Khadija Williams, president of You Good Fam? said she admired Harmon for his genuineness. She said Harmon speaks from a place of empathy due to his own struggles with his mental health.
“(Harmon) deals with Black mental health in his own personal aspect of him having mental illness and being Black, using his platform to explain and go into how it affected him personally in the different situations that he’s been in,” Williams said.
Harmon grew up in Detroit. Many of his close friends and family members attended the event, including his mother, grandmother and childhood best friend. As a local artist, students felt an even deeper connection to him and his work. LSA freshman Madison King has followed him through his presence on Vine, onto Twitter and now into mental health advocacy.
“I’ve always known about him, so I feel like I had to see him,” King said.
Harmon champions a mental health awareness campaign called “You Matter,” selling apparel and raising awareness about the prevalence and legitimacy of mental illness in the Black community.
Williams said You Good Fam? was founded to fill this gap in conversation. She wanted Black people to have somewhere to turn when they need to talk.
“For a Black person to have anything with mental health or wanting to express the problems that they face with mental health, that is seen as a taboo in our families and it’s seen as something that is really talked down upon,” Williams said.
Public Health senior Halimat Olaniyan is head of MESA’s Black History Month committee. She said she and her fellow committee members have witnessed firsthand the difficulty Black students have raising issues of mental health in their families and social circles. They wanted to address the issue with the programming they’re putting on.
“A common thing that kept coming up in the committee meetings was health, particularly mental health, because I think there’s a lot of stigma in the Black community around mental health,” Olaniyan said. “It’s not talked about. You’re considered kind of weak if you bring up that you’re having mental health issues and mental health concerns. (The NAACP and You Good Fam?) came to us about it, and it fit really well into what we wanted to do with mental health.”
LSA freshman Faith Crosby attended the event. She said she appreciated the timing of the programming, noting that acknowledging this issue during Black History Month provides the context needed to understand and properly address the issue.
“I like that he came during Black History Month,” Crosby said. “Mental health in the Black community is such a taboo topic, now is the perfect time to talk about it.”
University students are feeling that pressure more and more. Williams explained she wanted Harmon to come to speak during midterms and around Valentine’s Day because they are particularly stressful times of the year.
“The main thing I want to accomplish from this event is to show students that there are resources on this campus that are here to help them out,” Williams said.
This event was the beginning of the effort to enhance mental health awareness in the Black community.
“This event is something small on a wide agenda,” Williams said.
Williams said she hopes You Good Fam? can supplement the University’s mental health programming, coming from a perspective of color to influence resources such as Counseling and Psychological Services.
“When we use the resources on campus such as CAPS, there isn’t enough representation of us as being a minority or as a person of color on this campus,” Williams said. “There just aren’t enough people to help the entire University, especially at the caliber it needs to be helped.”
Olaniyan wants students to keep in mind the principles of Harmon’s presentation for the rest of Black History Month and in their everyday lives.
“You should be open about what you’re going through to seek help,” Olaniyan said. “You never know who you’ll inspire by being open, who you’ll connect with, what life you’ll touch or maybe even save being open about your experiences.”