Black men and women poured into a well-designed event space lined with luxury cars, a massage booth, casino tables, a catered buffet, and a bar all to celebrate and raise funds for Black men's mental health at an event in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California on the evening of Friday September 18th. Happy HeartBreaks Inc. Founder Reese Free says, “This cause is near to my heart. It’s my life’s work and I pour a lot into it.”
Happy HeartBreaks is a non-profit that strives to raise funding and address issues within the African American and minority communities. Some issues include: mental health, financial literacy, physical health, hunger, poverty, education. The name derives from taking failures, lessons and heartbreaks and learning and growing from them.
The event included a panel of speakers hand-picked by the board of Happy HeartBreaks Inc. featuring Polo Ralph Lauren Sport Design Director Kennard Lilly, celebrity stylist Quentin Thrash, Nike Athlete Alrick “Buttah” Augustine, actor and entertainer GWayne, rapper Fly Hitta Steez, and singer and actor Gary Thomas.
Kennard Lilly says, “I’m always trying to be involved in matters about Black men. Especially with what I do, pushing for Black creators to step to the forefront. Any opportunity to get out and speak and be involved, I do. I’m concerned with Black men taking the necessary steps to take care of their mental health.”
The panel of Black/African American men covered topics including: masking to cover up what they go through emotionally, needing help delegating and letting go of control, seeking help from a woman or a partner, self-care, meditating, compromising in relationships, and being a father.
At one point the panel zeroed in on the topic of being “soft.” One panelist explained that the term soft can function two ways for Black men. The first is being considered “a punk” as if it’s easy for someone to get over on them or challenge their manhood. The second way is to be compassionate and vulnerable with loved ones. Ultimately the panelists agreed that being “soft” is just an idea that some men use to hold onto hyper-masculinity or peer pressure other men into certain behaviors.
“Being soft can save your life because that friend that’s calling you soft might be trying to get you to do something that puts you into a place you don’t want to be,” said Alrick “Buttah” Augustine.
When asked what advice he would give his younger self Quentin Thrash said, “To try all those things you are interested in. I knew there were things I was interested in but I didn’t know why. Act on those instincts and do artistic activities to see if it’s for me.”
When discussing the similarities and differences between millennial and Gen Z Black men, the panel noted that more members of Gen Z seek to break down notions of hyper-masculinity while choosing friends based on values of social equality and equity. “I see that generation let go of things that they think define them as men because those things ultimately don’t define them,” said one panelist. “You painting your nails ain’t gone stop my bag so I’m good,” said Gary Thomas.
Quintein Thrash followed up by saying, “I see some things the younger generation is doing and isn’t necessarily for me. I don’t paint my nails but he paints his and that don’t mean we not brothers. It don’t matter what you’re into. I don’t have the understand it. If it makes you the best person you can possibly me then do it.”
Several other event attendees echoed the panel’s comments about the importance of brotherhood, advocating for mental health, and working together. “Mental health for Black men and people of color isn’t talked about in our communities. We need to normalize that. That’s what Reese is doing with her charity,” said Los Angeles based attorney Toni F. “I am here to make connections. I know there are people of color that are up and coming whether it’s in entertainment or businesses. I want to meet the next business owner. I want to see how I can help them.”
“Reese is a close friend of mine. When I found out the event is about Black men, mental health, and wellness… I was immediately drawn to it. It’s a lot of great individuals in here that have great potential to be even better than they already are. I’m looking to vibe out and get that energy,” said Chris Adames who owns an event production company called Fifth Element Productions.
“I really want to expand my horizons, hear more about different people, their stories and testimonies. I believe mental health is very important to become successful. That’s the biggest thing in life I want to teach. I plan on starting my own nonprofit and helping future generations to come. I just want to spark as many minds as I can using the game of basketball,” says EJ Anosike who plays basketball at California State University, Fullerton where he is obtaining his Masters in Business Administration.
The evening concluded with a raffle that gifted winners with a scheduled ride in a luxury vehicle, a gift card to the NIKE Store, or a credit to purchase skin care products from Pharrell William's line called Humanrace.
For more information about Happy Heartbreaks, upcoming events, and mental health visit www.happyheartbreaks.com
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