Two Brixton Men Take Off Their Masks, Own Their Mental Health Struggles, And Start Necessary Conversations In The Community!
The Man Talk is a Brixton based men-only event/podcast/movement dreamed up by Terroll Lewis, Founder of Brixton Street Gym, and Leon Lewis, two good friends who have struggled with depression and anxiety in their lives but have found hope and healing through community and authentic discussion. The most recent in-person event was at The Ritzy in Brixton on April 24th, 2019.
To give a bit of context for the in-person events, typically there’s a panel of men, no experts, who will kick things off by sharing some of their personal struggles with mental health and other difficulties they may be facing. The idea is that this vulnerability will then make the audience comfortable in sharing their issues, ideas, and struggles as well. It’s truly a realm where there are no subjects off-limits and no wrong questions as people work through things together.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Leon about the Man Talk’s origin story and future plans.
How did you and Terroll come up with the idea of the Man Talk?
Tyrell and I had a working relationship because I did photography and graphic design work for him. But, outside of that, I personally went through some really bad depression about 4 years ago. During that time I was having a lot of suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t going to take action on that and wasn’t even considering taking action on it. But I was just fed up with life and didn’t want to be here anymore.
Eventually, I got through that stage and, for me, it was a book that helped but different people are going to need different things to help them out of it. The book that helped me was Charlemagne’s, Black Privilege. I wasn’t going to that book for help, more out of curiosity for what he might have to say than anything else. But it’s still shifted loads of things for me; it asked and answered a lot of questions for me that I didn’t even know I needed to be asking.
It helped me realise that a lot of the issues I had in my own life and situation was down to me becoming stagnant in what I was doing and thinking. It wasn’t some unseen force, it was a lot of little decisions leading me down a path I no longer wanted to be on. But it’s only through reading books, talking about what we’re feeling, therapy, and being willing to change that will enable us to escape our dark places and properly process it all.
And, because I knew Terroll had struggled with depression and anxiety over the years he was someone I felt I could talk to. So we were just having a conversation about social media and mental health really. We felt like there were a lot of people speaking about depression and anxiety but none of them was giving practical advice on what to do, how to handle it, places to go for help. There wasn’t any discussion around how people were specifically coping, just sort of a generic acknowledgement that these issues existed.
Then finding out, last year, that suicide is the leading cause of death in males under the age of 45 just reinforced the feeling that there wasn’t a meaningful conversation being had about all these things. Nothing to inspire males to do better, be better, encouraging them towards wellness and all that. I mean if that had even been a part of the conversation when I was going through depression it would have made me feel so much better because I’d have known I wasn’t alone. So that was the initial conversation that inspired us to take the idea of the Man Talk further really.
A lot of people are living their lives on autopilot, just accepting things like systemic racism as a fact of life rather than pushing against it or asking whether it’s right for you to have to experience that. Then those same people wonder why they feel trapped and unhappy. But just having a simple conversation around these things can open peoples’ eyes so they suddenly see there is a difference to be made here. They can have hope, there’s a chance to change things for the better!
I’ve met Terroll and he seems like he’s a pretty much perfect friend to help encourage and motivate you towards better mental health so you’re pretty fortunate to have run into him when you did!
Yeah, that is true. However, the fact is you’re never going to be able to lean on your friends if you don’t first take off your mask. Too many guys, myself included, will be suffering and yet someone asks you how you’re doing, you just say “Yeah, I’m alright” and move on. You can’t get anywhere that way. But, as men, that’s exactly what we’re prone to do is just let it sit there packaged up and not dealt with.
So you may have a better day tomorrow (or you may not) but it doesn’t matter in the long term because the root problem remains the same. It’s dangerous just seeking to ride it out, hoping you’ll manage to make it through, especially when you don’t know exactly what it is that’s affecting you.
And, on top of all that, we know that the men in Brixton are dealing with all sorts of factors that make masculinity more complicated. For instance, black men are held to such a different set of standards and expectations than a lot of other men. Not to mention the choices you have to make as a man in regards to the gang culture we see in Brixton. Depending on the choices you make you’ll end up in drastically different situations with that. And no one really talks about how we should deal with deaths and murders and losing the people we love. Because it affects our mental health, it affects our physical well-being, and it has a significant impact on our relationships as well.
One of the reasons for that lack of conversation is a widespread lack of self-awareness. Most of the men caught in those situations aren’t self-aware enough to recognise they need help, therapy, etc.
Most of these men are facing 3 main obstacles in regards to their mental health outside of what might be impacting it. The first issue is being self-aware enough to figure out that there is a problem and getting an inkling about what it might be. The second is fighting through their fear, pride, or whatever else is holding that mask in place so they can be vulnerable and honest with others. And the final issue is finding others who are willing to work hard to do the same things so that a meaningful discussion can take place. Because it’s only through that authentic discussion where we set our egos to one side, that understanding, healing, and male empowerment is going to happen.
And all that is before any of the “real” work of change begins! It’s an uphill battle but with the Man Talk, we’re doing everything we can to provide a safe space for people to start taking these foundational steps while acknowledging that none of us has all the answers. So even though we have a panel of men at the front, it’s not that we’re experts, we’re all just working things out like any of other men in the room. There’s no social media follower requirement or degree needed, we’ve all got something to share and what is right will make itself evident as we discuss it. We also trust that what’s wrong and unhelpful will get shot down by the other men in the group as we share stories and perspectives.
So what’s the thinking behind making this a men-only event? Do you think you’ll ever branch out to doing something like, the “Woman Talk”?
We chose for this to be a men-only event because we thought we’d get the most natural questions, answers, and reactions from men that way. For better or worse, women have a big impact on the way men speak, think, and behave. So, as much as we’d love to learn from our sisters, we don’t see this event as a good fit for a mixed audience.
As for whether we’d ever put on something like the Woman Talk, probably not. We believe there are already several events like this for women so the need feels less pressing. Plus, we realise we’ve got a good thing going with the Man Talk and we don’t want to do anything that’s going to stretch us too thin or jeopardise the impact we’re making with what we’re already doing. So, for now, we’ll keep it simple and stick with the winning script we’ve got. But if anyone else has the skills, team, and desire to do something similar for women, we think that would be brilliant!
So there are no new plans in place for where the Man Talk might go from here?
I never said that. We’ve got plenty of surprises in store but you’ll have to follow us on social media to be the first to know! If you think The Man Talk should come to your city/town/neighbourhood please get in touch and we’ll see if it makes sense! Remember, we’re tackling all of this one step at a time. So listen to our podcast, check out the most recent live event we put on, and keep your eyes on the prize to be the first to know what’s next!
You can listen to the most recent in-person Man Talk event here: