As a Black Father, I’ve Long Been Excluded From Wellness—And Now, I’m Working To Change That for Others

Photo: Courtesy of Quentin Vennie; W+G Creative
Throughout my life, I didn’t have an example of what wellness could look like as a Black man in America, so I set out to create an iteration—not only for myself and my children, but eventually, for other Black fathers and children as well. It's why I started Equitea in 2020, a tea company focused on making everyday well-being more accessible for all. But, identifying what wellness means to me and then getting to a place where I could share it was no easy feat.

From a young age, I experienced prejudice that prevented me from being well. Growing up in West Baltimore, I attended a school in Baltimore County where most of the students were from more affluent neighborhoods than mine; they had two present parents at home, and the sound of gunshots didn’t echo through their windows at night. We neither looked alike physically nor shared similar lived experiences, and that reality led teachers to expect less from me. As a result, I was othered and faced with the narrative that my brown skin automatically equated to unworthiness. Guidance counselors didn't guide or counsel me, and later, I faced similar disregard in the medical space, as doctors wrote off my mental-health challenges as conditions to medicate rather than discuss and manage.

By the time I was diagnosed with a debilitating anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and prescription-drug addiction, however, getting and being well became my only means to live. Initially, I turned to yoga and meditation by watching YouTube videos in my living room. But when I branched out into actual studios, particularly those outside Baltimore, I found myself underrepresented among the instructors and attendees and made to feel unwelcome. In one overt instance, I remember students spotted me walk in and relocated their mats away from mine.

Yoga, like the broader capital-W wellness industry, has historically excluded Black people—and especially Black men and fathers like myself. Largely, the wellness industry has carried with it the systemic oppression, marginalization, and commodification of Black culture upon which America was built and still thrives. And as a result, wellness offerings tend to center the perceptions of white people, precluding others from having the same access and privilege to experience them.

As a Black father, I've also now had to contend with the false presumption of absence from my children’s lives. It’s a stereotype driven by statistics that don’t show the entire picture and rarely highlight the systemic impediments Black fathers face. In particular, Black men are not only fighting against the barriers of a racist health-care system but are also up against societal ideals of Black masculinity. White-dominant society is largely not receptive to Black men experiencing a full range of emotions; for instance, if we display anger or fear in public places, we risk jail time or worse in a way that white fathers simply do not. We can’t show pain, or we’re considered weak. We can’t even declare joy, or we’re treated as disorderly. The effects of systemic racism compounded by the rise in violence against Black people have largely made wellness unobtainable for us—even outside of exclusionary wellness spaces.

How Equitea emerged from a desire to bring Black fathers and children into wellness spaces

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I had to be both a parent and a medical expert. In the same way that I couldn’t find a clear blueprint of wellness for myself, as a Black father, I found that parenting guides rarely addressed the mental-health needs of Black children.

At the time, against these odds, I was fortunate enough to have survived my struggles with addiction and the challenges of my life that once kept me psychologically distant from my kids. I ended up getting a 200-hour yoga teacher certification to not only deepen my own practice, but also so that I could have the tools to teach and pass the practice along to my kids and other Black and brown folks. Overall, I became committed to using the same drug-free modalities I practiced in my own healing journey to help my son, too.

That’s why, when my son’s neurologist suggested that l-theanine in green tea could help regulate his symptoms, I was motivated to create a green-tea blend he’d enjoy, rather than resort to offering him solely prescription drugs—which had led me down a bad path. The result was the launch of Equitea and the establishment of a daily tea ritual for my son.

Now, he attends yoga classes with me. We practice meditation together at home. He’s usually the first to get a cup of whatever loose-leaf tea I make in the morning, and he ultimately adopted a gluten-free diet around the same time I did. But it took my own wellness intervention in order to establish preventative measures for my kids.

Today, "good schools" are still often located in communities where Black people aren't the majority. My kids attend these schools, which puts them at risk of experiencing the same prejudiced treatment that I had to endure. But it helps for them to have wellness tools and practices that they can use to find a space of stillness in moments of anger—and to reduce the potential for an incident with an authority figure who could misinterpret their anxiety as a threat. This is where the value of inclusion and representation in wellness makes a difference. And also a place where being a wellness-informed Black father has helped me advocate for and support my kids.

Rather than waiting for an invitation for a seat at the wellness table, we, as Black fathers, need to actively prioritize wellness for ourselves by creating our own tables. For me, that means providing my kids with practices to keep them grounded and minimize their stress, like the simple act of drinking a cup of tea each morning and pairing it with a meditation.

But there's no one-size-fits-all method to being well, which is why it's imperative for each of us to define wellness on an individual basis. That is one of the key pillars of Equitea, and that, to me, is what the journey of wellness is all about.

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