Media mogul, Charlamagne Tha God, has gathered several accolades over the last two decades. Co-host of hip-hop’s most successful radio show, The Breakfast Club; author of a New York Times bestselling book; and host of Comedy Central’s new late-night show, Hell of a Week, Charlamagne seems to have done it all.
Surprisingly, however, it’s mental health advocacy that the trailblazer has decided to make his life’s work. For those who take a deep dive into the life of the man from Moncks Corner, the reasons for this choice are self-evident. Born Lenard McKelvey, the father of four has often spoken of his battle with anxiety – outlined in detail in his 2018 memoir, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me.
Up until he was 30 years old, Charlamagne had no clue that the regular panic attacks he suffered from were symptoms of anxiety. Rushed visits to the emergency room were dismissed without any diagnosis and a simple pat on the back. Eventually, a doctor diagnosed him with anxiety, but even then, there were no recommended treatments or way forward. It took several years for the young Black man to gather the right tools to deal with his anxiety. His journey brought with it a stark realization – if this was the state of mental health care in America, how was the average Black person coping? This instilled a sense of urgency within Charlamagne to start speaking up about his battles and to use his star power to enable those facing similar demons to receive care.
On Today With Jenna and Hoda, the radio show host spoke about what led him to discuss his mental health more openly. “You’re sitting on the radio every day, or you’re sitting on TV every day. I can’t sit there and talk about what everybody else is doing when I’ve got my issues. For me, to be the authentic, transparent person I always pride myself on being – it was just a conversation about what was going on in my life. Therapy was a big part of it at the time.”
Fast forward a few years and Charlamagne has made it his life’s mission to help enable mental health awareness in the Black community – which for decades has struggled with access to mental healthcare, both due to the cost and stigma surrounding it. Having succeeded in nurturing a safe space for himself, Charlamagne is now using his platform to enable others to do the same.
Mental Wealth Expo
Most recently iHeartMedia New York and Charlamagne Tha God in Partnership with Mental Wealth Alliance hosted the Mental Wealth Expo, which took place on October 8th, World Mental Health Day. Special guests included Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, psychologist and author; Jay Barnett, NYT best-selling author, and therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab; author, speaker, and founder of The Cave of Adullam Transformational Training Academy; Douglas Reed of Black Men Heal; and David McCullar, founder & CEO of INCEPTION – the first mental health gym. Several breakout rooms were organized in which mental health professionals and field experts explored various mental health topics including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and psychosis; children and teen mental health; LGBTQ+ and mental health; healing through food and alternative medicine; and meditation and yoga practice.
The Mental Wealth Alliance has regularly hosted events in collaboration with Charlamagne and other prominent Black figures, with curated panels on racial trauma and mental health, Black men’s mental health, Black women’s mental health, and the role religion and spirituality play in our mental wellness. Events such as these have a monumental impact on mental health awareness among marginalized communities in America.
Mental Wealth Alliance
Launched in 2019 by Charlamagne, the Mental Wealth Alliance (“MWA”) – is a forward-thinking foundation, created to destigmatize, accelerate, and center state-of-the-art mental health outreach and care across the U.S. while building an unprecedented long-term system of generational support for Black Communities. “We want to provide free therapy services to more than 10 million Black Americans over the next five years. And, we plan to do that through raising money,” he explains. “We want to train the next generation of psychiatrists [and] therapists, we want to be able to provide them with scholarships and money to where they can get their certification, especially Black and brown people.”
The organization has also kickstarted the Collaborative for Black Mental Wealth which resulted in several organizations joining hands to raise awareness for BIPOC issues. While years of intergenerational trauma have led to a unique set of challenges in marginalized communities, many like Charlamagne believe that the key lies within a more equitable system of mental healthcare.
The MWA adopts a three-pillared approach, ‘teach’, ‘train’, and ‘treat’, to destigmatize mental health in Black communities and make treatment more accessible and effective.
The focus here is to establish mental health initiatives in educational institutions and promote related legislation in government. The organization aims to ensure that the concerns of young people of color, including those in the LGBTQ community who may experience additional mental health challenges, are acknowledged and addressed. Individuals like Charlamagne are pivotal to this branch of the organization, as his influence and personal experience allow him to promote the benefits of mental health to an audience that has for decades been underserved and underrepresented.
Perhaps the most important pillar, the aim here is two-fold – To train and increase the number of Black professionals to better represent the number of Black individuals living in America, and then to increase the number of non-Black professionals who are culturally competent and understand the issue of intergenerational trauma.
With this pillar, the MWA hopes to achieve its long-term goal of improving access to mental healthcare for those in Black communities and immediate short-term goals of providing 10,000 hours of free mental health care offered by Black practitioners.
With this three-tier model aimed at teaching, training, and treating, Charlamagne hopes to transform mental health care. “People are always telling folks to do the work. Well, what does that look like? Where do you start? The Mental Wealth Expo will be the beginning of that process for so many,” he said.