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St. Louis natives create mental health service for Black men and Black therapists

Organizers encourage you to also be heard, so you can spark change in your community

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis natives are hoping to create change through a mental health service.

It all started with Jesse Alex and Lamar Johnson Jr.

Both turned their pain of not having fathers growing up into a storytelling platform called "Dear Fathers" to talk about Black fatherhood.

"What fatherhood means to them, their relationship with their fathers, and not only tell stories, but then to also provide resources for them as well, so that's kind of what led us to STR8 Mental," said Alex. "The mental health aspect kind of sparked out of the pandemic."

STR8 Mental provides virtual therapy sessions, connecting Black men to Black therapists.

Credit: Dear Fathers

"We're taught to as men, especially Black men, to hold things in, to man up, to be tough, don't cry," Alex explained. "You're in a group of other people who look like you, talking to someone who also looks like you, in a safe space."

Nicholas Hardy is the lead therapist for STR8 Mental. 

"It's super important in therapy to have people who look like you. People are resistant because they're fearful of people understanding their unique circumstance," he told 5 On Your Side.

He explained this type of therapy eases some of the discomfort that may come from traditional therapy. It still gives men the tools to heal.

There are 18 therapists from 16 different states.

More than 500 men, including 200 St. Louisans, have participated since May.

Black men sharing their experiences about racism, struggles and fears.

"There are other people who are in the same situation, who experienced similar challenges, and when you take that first step that's empowering," Hardy added.

Organizers encourage you to also be heard, so you can spark change in your community.

On the last Sunday of each month, a private group is led by two Black therapists.

Credit: Dear Fathers

Community organizer Brad Edwards encourages participants to join.  

"I think people shy away from therapy, they don't want to be seen as vulnerable because they think vulnerable is weakness, but it's a lot of strength," he said.

If you'd like to donate, you can visit the Dear Fathers website.

Funds go directly to creating more one-on-one therapy sessions.

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