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At 'Black Men on the Couch', Cambridge University.

3 black and white portrait photos of black men.
Photo source: Cambridge University

I was honoured to be invited as a guest to Black Men on the Couch at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, on Wednesday 25 October.

I hopped on the train and headed back to the flatlands of Cambridgeshire from Felixstowe to join the audience of this remarkable event for Black History Month 2023. Thank you to Paul Seagrove and Beth Elliott for the privilege.

I've written a little more about my experience at Black Men on the Couch this week in my latest newsletter.

First, some context.

Black Men on The Coach was developed by Rotimi Akinsete to help combat mental health stigma and to encourage all, but particularly men who identify as Black, to openly discuss their mental and emotional health, and think about counselling and therapy as a form of support.

There are many barriers to men of African heritage talking about their problems and worries; this initiative highlights this issue while offering the 'couch' to high profile men. This is great for younger Black men - or indeed ALL men - who see these role models go public with their emotions.

In front a mainly young Black audience - it was wonderful to see so many Black students in the room - Rotimi gently questioned Lord Simon Woolley (Principle of Homerton College), University alumni and award-winning George the Poet, and the youngest ever professor at the University, Prof. Jason Arday.

They responded with authenticity.

A couple of Lord Woolley's answers echoed my earlier years, which surprised me! But when he talked about learning to be Black later in life brought me to tears.

Why? Well, it's complex. It's traumatic.

You don't grow up with the cultural references which other people of African heritage do, if they grow up with their Black families. You feel lost, as if you don't belong. You lack a fundamental understanding of who you are.

Don't get me wrong; I had a very good upbringing, that's not the issue at all. It's about the scary journey you need to embark on to discover your own culture and history. Your identity evolves profoundly as you travel on that journey.

And you can't talk to just anyone about it. You need to be cautious about it, as you're vulnerable and your experiences can be easily be dismissed by people who may not want to understand the barriers and challenges.

4 smartly dressed black men stand close together in a row on a small stage with their hands resting on each other's shoulders.
Left to Right: Image left to right: Counsellor Rotimi Akinsete, Lord Simon Woolley, George the Poet and Prof Jason Arday. Credit: Elma Glasgow.

But to hear one of Britain's most prominent Black figures reflect my own thoughts and inner most emotions was totally unexpected. I felt validated. (Note to self: read Simon's book, SOAR)

I also had the pleasure of having a brief chat with Lord Woolley and had the chance to thank him for everything he's done.

George the Poet, another wonderful orator, told of his childhood on a NW London estate, and getting into rap. And when got to Cambridge University he performed poetry instead of grime, which was easier for his peers to get to grips with!

Sadly, I had to leave early so missed Jason's couch session but the whole event is on YouTube and is available to watch right now:

Jason, born in Clapham in South London, didn't speak until he was 11 and went on to achieve his prestigious position at the University. More about his moving story can be found in this Guardian story. If you search for his recruitment announcement, you'll have plenty of international press stories to choose from!

I walked away from Black Men on the Couch with my cup full - no, overflowing - and ready to get on with work.

I also left the event with Lord Woolley's words in my mind, "Don't get angry, get successful." Then you're able use your position to influence change.

I would love to see Black Men on The Couch in Suffolk - we need more access to such experiences to help us inspire and heal more people.

If you'd like to know more about how to run and market inclusive events, get in touch with me for a chat:

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