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On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Brandon Diggs Williams (he/him), BSW, MSW, LCSW, about Black fatherhood, parenting in partnership, self-care, and fighting anti-Black racism.

Mr. Williams currently works full-time at the Durham VA Medical Center (DVAMC), providing individual, couples, and (primarily) group therapy through the VA. He specializes in personal/spiritual development, transformative thinking, and cultural competency with a focus on the Black community.

Mr. Williams is involved in multiple efforts that contribute to ally-ship, diversity and inclusion, and anti-Black racism efforts at the departmental and facility level at the Durham VA. He created, developed, and facilitates “The Invisible Struggle” therapeutic group which focuses on providing clinical mental health care for veterans dealing with stress unique to Black people in America. And serves on multiple boards/teams at the DVAMC including The Antiracism and Black Equity Advisory Board, the Diversity and Inclusion Workgroup, and the Social Work Service Social Justice Committee. He created and leads a community organization called “Lion Tamers” that is dedicated to the holistic development of Black men.

We talk about Mr. William’s balance of self-care, self-awareness in the changing family dynamic, and the partnership between him and his wife.

Content Warning: We mention anti-Black racism, internalized racism, and a description of religious beliefs related to gender roles.

Resources
Transcript

Rebecca Dekker:

Hi, everyone on today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Brandon Diggs Williams, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and founder of the Lion Tamers about Black fatherhood and fighting anti-Black racism.

Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker, and I’m a nurse with my PhD and the founder of Evidence Based Birth®. Join me each week as we work together to get evidence-based information into the hands of families and professionals around the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice, ebbirth.com/disclaimer, for more details.

Hi, everyone. My name is Rebecca Dekker, pronouns she/her, and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. Today, I’m so excited to welcome Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Brandon Diggs Williams.

Before we get started, I want to provide a content note that this episode does contain some gendered language and a brief description of religious beliefs with gendered expectations.

In terms of other content notes, we will talk about anti-Black racism and specific anti-Black stereotypes towards Black men, women, and boys. A story is shared about being on the receiving end of racial slurs, and there is a discussion of post-slavery trauma.

And now, I’d like to introduce our honored guests, Brandon Diggs Williams, pronouns he/him, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who currently works at the Durham VA Medical Center, where he provides individual couples and primarily group therapy. Brandon received his Bachelor of Social Work degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and his Master of Social Work at the Joint Master of Social Work Program of North Carolina, A&T State University, and UNC Greensboro along with his clinical license.

Brandon also specializes in personal and spiritual development, transformative thinking, and cultural competency with the focus on the Black community. Brandon is involved in many efforts that contribute to allyship, diversity, inclusion, and anti-Black racism efforts. Brandon serves on multiple boards and teams such as the Anti-Racism and Black Equity Advisory Board, the Diversity and Inclusion Work Group. Brandon also created and leads a community organization called Lion Tamers that is dedicated to the holistic development of Black men.

Brandon is the husband of our podcast guest Janiya Mitnaul Williams from EBB 189, and they live with their five beautiful children in North Carolina. We are so thrilled that Brandon is here to share his wisdom with us. Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® podcast.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Thank you. I appreciate that. Welcome. It’s always interesting to hear the bio because I don’t think about the many things that have happened, but I accounted a privilege and a pleasure to be here. I’m excited about this time.

Rebecca Dekker:

So can you share with our audience the work that you do as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Gotcha. I’ll say this, when I initially got into social work, I didn’t know what it was. It’s a abstract definition to what a social worker is because you can go from the stereotypical expectation of what you see on TV as far as having cases where children are involved to being in the courtroom literally. But me specifically, as was said in the intro, I’m a therapist and I provide therapy for different types of needs, so whether it be couples therapy, family therapy, individual counseling, the hotspots.

But right now, my focus has been on general development and, again, Black community. I currently work at the Durham VA Medical Center. And anything I say today does not represent the medical center. It’s personally my perspective. In there, I obviously serve veterans. I primarily run groups, group therapy versus individual therapy. I mean, I’ve created a group called The Invisible Struggle, which focuses on the conundrum of plights that are associated with “race in America.”

A little tidbit, I say, quote, unquote race because I believe part of the divide is to make us think that we’re different races when we’re actually the human race. That’s some of what goes on. I’ve been there since 2014 but been practicing as a social worker since 2005, and I’ve done everything outside of a Child Protective Services and Hospice Care. So any specific questions, feel free to ask them, but that’s the quick shot of social work for me.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. And why did you decide to go into that field, in the first place? What drew you to it?

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Oh, my goodness. So I do have a story. I heard a person say one time that they believe the way they should go is the path of least resistance, and it took me a minute to understand what they meant. But I think if we pay attention, we can find the path that’s already created for us. Now, some of this gets into how I believe life works, but I think that’s absolutely okay. Undergrad at UNCG, a course undecided initially, and then was an elementary education, a middle school education major, then went to business school, trying to figure it out.

Two days after officially becoming a part of the Bryan Business School, I failed the math class. And I remember thinking like, “Man, I’ve got so many math classes in front of me. This isn’t going to work.” And I sat with the friend at the time trying to figure out, I may have been in tears trying to figure out what path was I supposed to take.

And we were literally flipping through the catalog of majors and came across social work. And I was like, “Sociology? Is it social work? What is this?” And as I read it, I don’t remember the details, but I remember interpreting it as being a professional helper. And one thing that I knew about what I wanted to do was I wanted to work with people. I wanted to be involved with a lot of people. So then, I took an intro to social work class, which I was advised to do to get my feet wet, to see if I liked it. And the rest, proverbially, is history. It just went from there.

Rebecca Dekker:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. And I love how you talked about the therapy you do because I don’t think a lot of young people realize or most people in general realize that many of the therapists and people who provide counseling in the US are clinical social workers. And it often can be much easier and more accessible to find a social worker who can do counseling than somebody with therapy and psychology.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Just some thoughts around that. Recently, my smartwatch, my Samsung watch broke. The back of it came off, and I started shopping to try to find another watch. And I instantly gravitated towards the more expensive watches, thinking that this must be better because it costs more. I’m using that as an example to segue into what I’ve experienced in counseling when it comes to being a social worker, because we’re master’s level as far as education and then the clinical license is a pretty rigorous thing that you have to do a minimum of two years, a maximum of six years to get that license.

But sometimes, people may think that it’s a lesser degree because it’s not psychologists or not a psychiatrist. But from my understanding, psychologists, a lot of times, they come from a perspective where they look at modalities that have always been used to help particular situations, and not to speak negatively, but it’s more of a cookie-cutter mindset from my limited understanding, and then a psychiatrist primarily prescribes medication.

But when you look at a social worker, we get trained in what’s called systems theory. So we look at the person in their environment and how they’re connected to their family to whatever organization they may be involved in, their community, their schools, and how it’s impacting the individual. So of course I’m biased, but I think you will get, most of the time, a more well-rounded experience when you’re dealing with a social worker, when we’re talking about navigating life.

 Now, if you’re looking at medication or you need something specific for a specific problem, maybe searching another practices would be different. The social work is a beautiful thing the way it’s put together, and the way we, at least during my time, I’m a ’80s baby, the way we were trained.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. And I wanted to bring this up because I know a lot of our listeners are looking for counseling and mental health services. I wanted to make sure we highlight that. And then, moving on to pregnancy and birth, what was your personal experience being a support person and partner for your wife during her pregnancy and birth and postpartum?

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Oh, my goodness. Such a full question. Of course, this won’t be a full-fledged answer. Learning how to somewhat ride the wave, and this isn’t in any way negatively pointing at Janiya. When you start talking about life in general, but then you start talking about developing and creating and birthing a new life that is coming in and whether we look at it as a positive or negative thing or somewhere in between, interrupting what has already happened before.

Now, you may have picked up during the interview with her that she’s a very busy person, and she appreciates being able to have access to her time to do the things that are meaningful for her. While all of a sudden you got to sit down, all of a sudden you have to eat differently, all of a sudden you have to care for yourself in a different way than you did before, and I’m the person that is supposed to be and expected to be a part of the problem-solving process with all of that jumping through the hoops, so I’ve had to learn generally in life and in marriage, but especially during the times where the children were coming.

Our oldest child was already here when we got together. He was almost two when she and I started courting, to use an old school term. And then, the other four they developed and came since I’ve been here. But being able to learn how to read the room, pay attention to what’s going on with her, the non-verbals, sometime ignoring what is actually saying and paying attention to what’s actually happening, all of that has to be in place. And then, managing myself, which I think is really the most important thing because the better version of me that shows up is the better version that can provide support.

Not knowing how to not be jealous of… I remember being made aware of a conversation, a friend of a friend, they had some children and they had a conversation where the friend of a friend said, “I love my children, but I hate that they stole my best friend.” And what he meant was my wife was my companion and best friend before. But now these children came in, and they have taken her away from me. They get all of her time and her attention and her energy.

Transitioning from it being the number of people who were there before to the new number that’s there now, even with our most recent who came November 29th of last year, so brand new, it’s been very different and she’s the first girl also. It’s been very different all the way down to changing the diaper. That’s a new experience, but also the reaction that has had postpartum every time. Thankfully, we haven’t had that I’m aware of, because sometimes mothers go through things that the husband aren’t privy to.

So as far as my awareness, this has been different for Janiya because of her age. This has been different for us because of our age, because of the development of our family, because of all the things that are going on. Each time it has happened, I’ve had to going back to that term again, learn how to ride the wave and recognize that it’s not about me. It is about me because I’m a part of the unit, but it’s not about me. It’s about the whole unit. And that obviously includes the mother who should be the primary focus during these times. I said a whole lot of words. I hope that made sense.

Rebecca Dekker:

No, it makes a lot of sense. I love what you said about when you take care of yourself, the better version shows up for both of you probably.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. I think there’s something to be said about our culture demanding, that we sacrifice ourselves for our children over and over without giving to ourselves. That just makes it a lot harder to be a good parent when you’re-

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Absolutely.

Rebecca Dekker:

… not giving to yourself as well.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

I was just going to say you’ll hear that from me or that reoccurring theme from me over and over again. Something that I started saying years ago is that we need to be appropriately selfish. And I use the metaphor of what comes to mind anyway is I want no one to go hungry, but if I give away all of my food to everyone that’s hungry, then all of a sudden I starve.

Also, when we start looking at helping professions, whether that be for all the way from church to healthcare to mental health, a lot of our intrinsic motivation and payoff comes from helping people. But a lot of times, if our way to serve ourselves is to help other people, we end up developing or coming up with diminishing returns because I’m giving so much out. And that’s the way I learned to feed myself.

But sometimes, we have to figure out how to do it without giving because the term we hear a lot is your cup needs to overflow, but the cup needs to be full before it can overflow. The overflow is for everybody else. But I do believe in our society that focuses on production. It focuses on just doing. It focuses on go, go, go, or these extremes that aren’t nuanced and don’t take into account that when you give, you have to replenish.

But then, all of a sudden, we set ourselves up for failure. And I don’t know if it’s talked about a lot also, the need for self-care. I think it seems to be rising up and happening more, especially dealing with pandemic and all the things that have happened over the last couple years, it’s become more of a necessity. But focusing on self, I believe even when we’ve had or when we run into, because I don’t believe it’s the end of that challenges and struggles within our marriage or with our family.

 What has worked the best with my experience is, if I want something to change with Janiya, I need to change me. When I point my finger at her and try to make her change, it just causes more trouble and vice versa. When I perceive that she points her finger at me, it causes more trouble. But when she works on herself and becomes a different person or I become a different person, it changes the whole atmosphere. So I really believe, as Michael Jackson said way back in the 1980s, looking at the man in the mirror first or the person in the mirror first is the starting point for lasting and meaningful change.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. And I think you’re mentioning something that I learned about, when I was in grad school too, is about emotional contagion and how our emotions can be contagious. And so, in a partnership, it definitely makes sense that if you work on yourself, you’ll see changes in your partner as well. Can you give me some examples of ways that you’ve replenished yourself and ways you support Janiya replenishing herself as well in your partnership and marriage?

Brandon Diggs Williams:

One of the things that I think has been and is important for me to keep in mind is that my insight with this type of thing is different than hers. It’s my whole job and profession and career to examine and look at mental, physical, holistic health and care. So when I enter a conversation with Janiya, and I haven’t always had this mindset, sometimes my automatic would be to become more frustrated pretty quickly when I witness something that I interpret as her not taking care of herself.

And I’m all upset because you need to sit down, you need to eat, you need to rest, you need to do this, you need to do that, but I’m thinking about that all the time. When I am filling up the bottles when she’s gone to make sure that the baby has the milk that she needs and I’m doing it the proverbial incorrect way, her tolerance for that is lower too, because it’s her whole job and her whole career to focus on those things all the time.

So I’m saying I’ll that to say, we come into this self-care thing on an uneven playing field. It doesn’t mean that either one of us are better than the other. It means our focus has been in different areas. So what I try to do and what I am working towards getting better at is noticing when she’s in a good place and trying to figure out what is assisted her in getting to that good place. And sometimes it can be challenging. Like I talked about a second ago, sometimes or a lot of times, she’s in a very good place when she’s done work that is meaningful to her in the birthing world. So she’s mentally and emotionally satisfied and fed when she’s doing that. Yet, at the same time, we have to be careful about where this burnout show up.

But to get down to the brass tacks of the question, what I’ve witnessed for her when she’s able to… What’s the word I’m looking for? I was going to say shot, but I think that’s just too basic to say. When she’s able to do things to improve the environment, improve our house, to improve the family, she likes to wallpaper, she likes to paint, she likes to rearrange. She has gotten up and changed out lights and recreated a chandelier setting. She’s gone outside and fixed the water hole. She likes to create, she likes to improve, she likes to do those types of things. She likes to eat good food, and then spend quality time with me and her kids.

And quality time means something different for each person. Quality time for her literally could be me sitting on the bed while she’s working and not saying a word or it can be us sitting down and eating and watching TV. We went out and spent a good amount of money a couple days ago just to go out and have dinner outside the house, which we haven’t done literally in years because of everything that’s been going on.

So I don’t have all the answers, but my best answer is paying attention, really being aware of what’s what. And again, sometimes I believe that language is limited and English language is very limited, so recognizing the nonverbal pair of language cues when someone is doing better or doing worse.

 You talked about the contagious nature of how someone is feeling. When I am working with someone who’s extremely depressed, it brings me down. And when I’m working with someone who is maybe even in a manic state, which we look at as negative but sometimes it may not be that, that’s a whole nother conversation, but my energy goes up because I’m somewhat matching what they bring to the table. So being able to become aware of how I feel when acting with the other person will inform me around how I can best help them or assist them or assist the environment.

So that’s my go-tos when it comes to Janiya. It’s still a question mark and year after year, we both change so much that we have to re-meet each other. And I have to spend time intentionally relearning. Okay. What works for Janiya in 2022 is not the same thing that worked in 2010, so I have to continuously be a student. When it comes to myself, it’s the same thing. In some ways, not in every way, in some ways it’s easier for me to explore myself because it’s me. I don’t have to get permission from anybody else, but I really try to pay attention to, like I said with her, how do I feel when I interact with an individual? And if that individual is draining me of my energy and my spirit, then maybe I need to manage.

I have a friend, I won’t say who it is or give you any identifying information, but this is somebody I consider a friend and I care about. And when we have conversation almost every time, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this just wore me out. We’re talking about the same thing again.” I’m frustrated, I’m irritated, but I love this person. So I don’t want to sever the relationship, but to manage me, I need to make sure that my cup is full. I need to make sure I’m in a good place where I can give a lot when I interact with them. Because if I’m in a place where I’m already empty, it could take me to a depressive state or somewhere where I’m not balanced well.

Trial and error. So sometimes going for a walk, sometimes being out in the sun, sometimes cutting the grass, sometimes going to the gym, sometimes eating certain foods, sometimes watching certain television shows, sometimes playing certain video games. All those things feed me at different times, but none of them work all the time. And sometimes I have to just ride the wave until I’m out of the ebb and flow that is considered somewhat negative, but really testing things out and gravitating towards what has worked best for me is my go-to.

 Another thing I’m implementing is I’m recognizing that I can’t do everything, so I have to focus on what am I doing? So right now, it’s my fitness because this machine that I travel this world in needs to be in the best condition possible for me to optimize my family.

And then, what I coin as my calling, which includes having this conversation with you, which includes a training that I’m going to do for a college later on today, which includes developing curriculum and information to be able to help other people. Outside of that, it doesn’t mean I don’t do anything else, but those are the prioritized things because if we’re Jack of all trades and masters of none, then not much gets done.

Rebecca Dekker:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Taking some inventory of people that I’ve been around, that I have admired, that have been in different helping professions. And I’m talking church, I’m talking therapy, I’m talking teaching or any other things also, but those things can be so demanding that we end up neglecting other things in order to fulfill that. And I’ve seen people have very significant and serious health complications that hinder them from doing the thing that they are so passionate about.

And I think a lot of that, sometimes there are things that we can’t control, but a lot of times it has to do with our habits and the decisions that we make about ourselves. And again, like we said at the beginning of this conversation, there’s so much focus on taking care of everybody else and getting the bag, so to speak, that some of those things that we can’t buy, like our health go neglected. And I’m just not now, which is I have a new level of respect for it, I’ve dabbled with fitness for some time, but now I’m not willing to let it go.

And there’s a lot of pushback, even in my house, when it’s time for me to go exercise or go to the gym, I have to navigate what are the needs of the house? And have I neglected this need too much? I need to make sure the balance is there. But yeah, super important. I’ll stop there for time.

Rebecca Dekker:

It’s definitely hard to find that balance and I can see our culture definitely telling people that you’re selfish for taking that time, exercise, for example, or walk or whatever you need to do take care of body. But in the end, it’s a good selfishness and it’s also unselfish because your family wants you to be around for them-

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Absolutely.

Rebecca Dekker:

… for a while.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Absolutely.

Rebecca Dekker:

Can you go on and tell us a little bit about your experience of Black fatherhood and also maybe what you’ve experienced or witnessed from other Black fathers?

Brandon Diggs Williams:

I mean, this is such a… I’ve said this a couple times, I think, but it’s such a full question. Sometimes when a microphone is in front of me, I have to figure out, “Okay, what is it that I don’t say?” So this can be at least coherent. Oh, I’ll say this. This comes to mind. I came across something. I was reading the other day, and it was probably just like on social media. Oh, the Will Smith incident, and I’m not doing that to segue and dig into that too much. But one of the comments I saw somewhere said something to the effect of, as a Black man nobody cares about you. And I won’t say that I holistically agree with that statement, but I do agree with some of it.

Our belief system in this household, we have a Christian household, but I don’t think it is stereotypically fits what people may think of when you hear that terminology because we actually dig into the foundational stuff associated with it. Again, another conversation may be another day, but the lack of better terminology, the hierarchy of our house goes God, husband, wife, children. I want to be very clear. That doesn’t mean that anybody is better than any other person or that there’s some type of totalitarianism going on or some type of rule with an iron hammer, but it’s the roles.

From our perspective, God takes care of everything in this house, and then it comes and takes care of me. Then, it’s my job to make sure Janiya is good primarily. And then, she and the job is… I’m using that term loosely. She primarily works with the kids. Now these changes, as she has said to me, she said what she is and maybe her stance is different, but years ago she said to me when the kids are younger, usually you will see the mother taking care of the kids more. And eventually, it transitions to the father. And I didn’t know if I agreed with that at that time. And it doesn’t have to be a concrete statement for anybody. She was talking about our household and what she has witnessed.

And I’ve noticed that, based on my assessments, I’ve had to step up more with our 14-year-old and 10-year-old in different ways than the six-year-old, the three-year-old and the infant just because their needs are different. I mean, one is breastfeeding. I can’t do anything about that except get a bottle. But what happens also is sometimes I have gotten into a place, and I have an organization that was mentioned in the bio called Lion Tamers, where guys get together, and we have different conversations, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And one of the things that comes up consistently for, and it’s a Black man, one of the things that comes up consistently with the Black men is nobody gives a crap about me. After your parents are gone, nobody is primarily focused on you and what’s going on with you. Also, the conversations that based on my limited exposure that seem to dominate, they’re more so about taking care of different groups of people.

Now, of course, we can Google and see multiple things related to social support for Black men. But when you compare the two, for all the other groups that I can think of, there’s not as much support. And in American history from its inception, there’s been a demonization and vilification of Black men. There’s been a perpetuation of fear associated with us to the point that we get scared of each other. When you turn on the TV, something was on the other day, and they were talking about the worst crimes, I don’t know if it was YouTube or TV, but the 10 people they show, it was all Black men. It was all Black men being perpetrated in a way that was violent and/or dangerous.

And I believe in a Black household in general because they’re stereotypes around Black women being angry, being argumentative, the throwback term of welfare queen, of being gold diggers, that seeps into the psyche of individuals that are exposed to it across the board. And in turn, the same thing that Black men are shiesty or play.

I had a girlfriend in the past telling me one time, “They said all men are dogs, but you’re a good dog. So I appreciate you.” And I was a teenager, I didn’t know what to do with that. But at this point, I understand what they were trying to say. It was basically saying at your best, you still suck, but you’re better than most. And those internalized mindsets about each other makes this thing called marriage that’s already super challenging. And family’s already super challenging, even more challenging because so many things are happening subconsciously, and we perceive each other differently because of how we’ve been programmed.

Sifting through and fighting through all of that programming is super challenging, including when it comes to doing something that you believe you should do. So in preparation for this, I clear my schedule today. I usually go to the gym in the morning, but I didn’t do that today because I wanted to make sure that I was in a place where I was balanced enough to do what I’m called to do in this time. But there’s always a voice, for me specifically and I think for many Black men, that says, “You’re not good enough.”

And then, we all have these voices in different ways. I think they get amplified based on how we are identified in society in different ways though, but there’s a voice that says you’re not good enough, that says you’re not smart enough, that says you don’t have anything to offer, and I have to combat that on a regular basis. I won’t say worse, but I think the thing that makes it different is the fact that the way… My personal belief based on experience, exposure, education, study, et cetera, is that in a hierarchy that’s set up in America, Black people are on the bottom.

Racial Equity Institute, which is out at Greensboro, North Carolina, they talk about white and Black being the bookends of “race in America” have the top of the bars, white folks that are accepted the most, so usually money, a straight Christian, six foot tall men. And then, at the bottom you have Black community, and everybody in between. And when it shifts at the top, it shifts to everybody. When it shifts at the bottom, it shifts to everybody. When Black people are enfranchised, then everybody gets a different enfranchisement.

After George Floyd, we have some resolution with the… I think at Dakota Pipeline, we had finally a change to the formerly known as “red skins.” We had so many things that could be seen as small happen, but it happened because the foundation shifted.

But anyway, even if you look at the first movie that was considered to be a blockbuster in the United States of America that was showed in the White House, I believe it was 1906. I may be getting that date wrong, but Birth of a Nation. One of the main points of Birth of a Nation was there was this evil Black man that was running around and a white woman jumped off a cliff because she didn’t want to be raped by the Black man. And that system, or that message, has been perpetuated over and over again in different ways throughout.

So while the plight of everybody else, and especially Black women, is super, super challenging and very important to pay attention to, I think there has been less attention given to Black men. And therefore, we end up like swimming in a circle a lot of times. So sifting through that… I hope I answered your question. Feel free to ask me another directed one if you are looking for different information. But sifting through all of that and working to be successful in different professions, working to make sure the house stays together, working to take care of self and take care of whoever else you’re charged with, is a lot.

And that’s one of the reasons I found myself…Oh, I’m biased because of my identity, but I think my identity matches what my calling is to a certain extent. I’m biased in what I focus on because it means so much to me when I think about all of those things, and I would charge anybody else, whatever means a lot to you, pay attention to it.

And maybe that’s what you’re called to work in also, but I think because of the combination of lack of understanding/education, and I’m not talking about formalized education, but lack of understanding of who we are in our history, the consistent promotion of negativity around our identity, and then the lack of support and lack of knowing that we need the support create just a hellacious setup for Black men. Feel free to ask any clarifying questions.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. No. I was struck by the talk about just all the signals that media has just caused a seep into our brains-

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Oh, my goodness.

Rebecca Dekker:

… even before we were born and then also the… You were talking about the internalized suppression and the self-talk, like taking those same messages, and they penetrate your psyche as well.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Just a couple of examples. So a newer person who has been in this work, Robin DiAngelo, not everybody’s a fan of hers for multiple reasons, but she’s a person who wrote White Fragility. And I remember when I started that book, I put it down because I’m like, “There’s not anything to do with me. This is for white people. It’s literally written for white people.” But the way it’s organized, and the way she breaks down how people developed a certain way of thinking, that puts them in the space that they’re in, I think, is amazing.

But anyway, according to her research, at least while I was exposed to this information looking at her, which she said as early as preschool, children started to develop an understanding of superiority and inferiority. Then, you look at Jane Elliott’s work. The day after Martin Luther King was assassinated in the 1968, she came into her classroom. I forget what grade it was, but she decided that she was going to come into the classroom and separate the children based on their eye color, brown eye and blue eyes, something as ridiculous as melanin that creates how we show up as far as our skin.

And what came out of it was when she had the blue-eyed folks as the superior group and the brown-eyed folks as the inferior group, the blue-eyed folks performed better scholastically, behavior was better, all those types of things. And then, when she switched it, the same thing played out where the other group ended up improving their scholastic abilities and the ones that were considered inferior, they performed at lower levels.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who’s a person who wrote The Mis-Education of the Negro, I think it’s 1933 if I’m not mistaken. He’s also the founder of Black History Month that started out as National Negro Week. Because he believed that we didn’t know enough about our history, so we needed to have something to promote that. But he has a statement, and I’m paraphrasing. He said that, “If you teach a man that is less than, you won’t have to send him to the back of the line. They’ll go to the back of the line themselves.” In other words, the Bible talks about as a person thinketh, therefore, they are.

Cognitive behavioral therapy says if you have a dominant thought in your mind consistently, it will show up in your behavior. Law of attraction says, “Whatever you’re thinking about comes back to you.” All of these different schools of thought point to how you see yourself and how you understand yourself impacts how you walk around this planet, how you impact the rest of the universe. So somebody could be extremely talented, but if they don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter.

I heard a pastor say this one time, “You can have the winning lottery ticket, but if you don’t know that you won, then you’re not a millionaire.” So sometimes there’s so much inside of us. Everybody has greatness on the inside, but if you don’t believe you can be great, then you just be sitting back on the PlayStation, and I’m not knocking PlayStation. I got a PlayStation 5 over there. That’s you’ll just be sitting back, plugging into some form of the matrix, so you can pacify yourself with false satisfaction. And that’s my opinion. I can’t say that’s fact, but that all of that wrapped into each other creates this pool.

And then, we send the message to those that are around us. We pass it on to our children that you can’t do that or we perpetuate fear in them with fear that we’ve had for ourselves, Dr. Joy DeGruy who wrote Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. She looks at how behaviors during enslavement times where mothers would heavily chastise their children in front of the “slave master” to make sure the children weren’t seen the value and be taken away, it still shows up today in how we discipline our children at times. Sometimes we believe that I need to scare you to make you behave in a certain way.

But if we adopt the mindset that we really had little control over, even or have influence, because we dictate what happens in the atmosphere, but we don’t control any of that. They have to make their own decisions, and it’s hard to remember that, but it’s been passed now for so long for survival’s sake. She calls it appropriate adaptation. It’s appropriate for survival or has been to behave a particular way, but that epigenetic trauma passes down and all of a sudden will behave in ways that we don’t need to because times are a little bit different. My grandfather… Am I making sense?

Rebecca Dekker:

Mm-hmm.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Okay. My grandfather, he was a pastor primarily, but he was a coach. He taught for 33 years. But at one point, he was also a bricklayer. And if we just pass down what was good, sometimes I get nervous because I recognize my children don’t have the same life that I have. They don’t have the same community set up that I had when I was growing up, and it helped me so much that I would at times. And sometimes they do get nervous that they don’t have the same infrastructure.

But as my grandfather was a brick layer, I don’t plan on laying anybody’s brick. I don’t even know nothing about no concrete or I’m like, “That’s not what I do. My life is different.” So having the belief and faith that they’re going to get everything that they need in spite of everything that has scared us for generations, that’s a hard place to navigate.

And when you start combining what we call these days, toxic masculinity with Black masculinity, similar to when we try to compare and contrast general feminism to Black feminism, it’s such a different conversation. Even in mental health… Oh, what’s her name? I want to look it up because I want to give her credit, but there’s a book called The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health where, and I’ll get her name before we finish, where she goes into all the different mental health, the general mental health overview, but she also puts the layer on top of it that we need to remember and understand that plight of Black people changes the implementation of whatever modalities or interventions we want to put out there.

I know I’m dropping a lot of names, but it’s coming to me. There’s this conversation about vulnerability, which was made big by Brene Brown. She dropped a TED Talk maybe 10 years ago. And then now, everybody’s talking about, “We need to be vulnerable.” With the newest book that she wrote, I think it’s called, “You Are the Best You” with Tarana Burke, who is one of the founders of the Me Too Movement Black woman.

 They have a conversation at the beginning of the book and Tarana Burke pointed out. She said this vulnerability piece is amazing, it’s great, and it works, and it’s true. But it can be dangerous when you’re talking about Black people standing up in a vulnerable way and fighting for what they quote or what we “believe in,” It could be a death sentence.

Even in my groups, The Invisible Struggle I was talking about, I brought in the vulnerability concept and was talking about it. And immediately, the pushback was, “I ain’t being vulnerable. That ain’t safe. I’m not doing that. I’m not going to open up to somebody else, so they can take advantage of me,” where we have over 400 years of being taken advantage of. So there becomes this internal fight of, I see that this could be beneficial, but I also know that this could be my life on the line, so how do I navigate? And in that newest book with Tarana Burke, they take that under consideration and look at that mental health looks different.

All of the evidence-based modalities that are out there in mental health, where there’s depression, anxiety, PTSD, when you start applying that to Black people, Black men, Black women, it has to be done a little bit differently in order for it to be successful.

So when we’re talking about the plight and challenges related to Black men, it is so much more than dynamic and not to get off into it a lot, but even the situation with Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, et cetera, I was up here and Janiya called me and she said, “Did you know what just happened?” And I went and looked at it, but something in my heart kind of sunk because I could… And this is my interpretation. I don’t know either one of them, haven’t talked to them, don’t know the inner workings, but the way I felt about it matched how I clinically feel about a lot of things when I’m working with people, so I trust it.

But what I saw was a Black man and a Black woman that are together trying to navigate marriage in a way that fits them, but they’re also navigating the Blackness and the messages that come around who Jada is and who Will is. And I see will trying to prove himself in some ways to Jada, and then taking into account some of the stuff that happened in his childhood that would hurt his self-confidence, like it happened to so many of us.

And then, doing something extreme in order to fulfill that. When in actuality, if we sifted out even more, the response could have been we’ve all done stuff that we could consider stupid and shouldn’t have done and would go back and change if we could, but I think that was a product of what we’re talking about now. It was a product of life being challenging. It was a product of marriage and family being challenging. It was a product of Black woman and a Black male and a product of a self-doubt that showed up with a slap. And so much of that happens with us. There’s so many proverbial slaps that I’ve committed that I didn’t get in trouble for that caused me not to judge him so much, but this stuff happens all the time.

 Biggie Smalls had a line in one of his songs, “Either you slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.” What he was saying is either you’re out here in the game selling drugs or you’re playing in a sport because that’s what you have seen that you as a Black man do. Our oldest kid, I asked him one time. His father’s a lawyer. Maybe four or five years ago I said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He said, “Well, I either want to play basketball football or be a lawyer.” And we had a conversation. I said, “More than likely,” and I said, “Your truth is your truth, but I believe that’s because that’s what you’re seeing. That’s what you saw your father do, that’s what you see when you turn on the television.”

But if you get exposed to other things… There’ve been studies. I think Roland Martin did a study where he brought children into a room and asked them what they wanted to be, and it was those types of things. But then, he brought in lawyers and doctors and dentists that were Black and asked them the same question. Afterwards, their answer changed because they were exposed to different stuff. So again, this media, which includes Facebook, IG, Snap, television, newspapers, whoever’s reading those now, our phone, our email, is always sending us messages that try to dictate how we see ourselves. And that always shows up in one way or another.

And for Black men, in particular, it’s a rough go. It’s a rough go for everybody in different ways, but I am leaning towards the group that I’m a part of.

Rebecca Dekker:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. Thank you for educating us. And I encourage our listeners who don’t recognize some of the resources Brandon mentioned, to do your research because I was thinking about how a lot of oppression shows up in what we’re not taught in our country. What is not taught in our education, and it wasn’t until I took my kids out of the school system for a year and we self-educated on US history that I learned about Birth of a Nation, the film, and The Mis-Education of the Negro. And I’m sure a lot of things that most white Americans don’t have any idea of what they mean.

So I really encourage our listeners too, if you heard something and you’re like, “Oh, I hadn’t heard of that,” you need to start educating yourself now because racism is a disease that is perpetuated and lives in like white people. We are affected. Our brains have been breathing in this polluted air essentially. And then, our illness goes on to disproportionately affect Black people and indigenous people. So we have to work on ourselves like that is critical. Yeah.

But then, I loved hearing you talk about Black mental health, and it’s my understanding that Black people are not adequately represented in the mental health fields, which can explain partly why there’s a lot of mistrust mental health services and, like you said, they’re not being delivered appropriately to the Black community.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Absolutely. I just point of ordered The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, that’s Dr. Rheeda Walker, PhD. I think Black people are underrepresented in everything, and I’m going to come back to what you just said as far as mental health. Even when COVID first became a pandemic, it took maybe, this is based on memory, six or seven months before people started tracking ethnicity. At first, it was just everybody’s lumped in, but then they started-

Rebecca Dekker:

Right.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

… to see that-

Rebecca Dekker:

COVID “doesn’t discriminate” is what they said.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Yeah. Which is ridiculous. And as far as the mental health piece, I think there are hotspots of reasons. So one, I’ll say this, I had a client one time that was of Asian descent. I don’t know the exact details of their ethnicity, but I knew that part. And I was going on vacation. They were seeing me, I think, biweekly at that time. And something was going on. I was going to be out for a couple weeks and I said, “Well, do you want to see somebody else while I’m gone or do you want to continue to see me?” And they lean forward in an office where the doors closed and the white noise machine is outside so nobody can hear us anyway. They leaned forward and almost whispered, they said, “Because white people don’t understand.” And I remember being like, “Wow.” This was somebody who was a person of color, but they weren’t a Black person. This was my first exposure that I can remember to another group of people feeling othered that way.

But what I have, what I have been exposed to in conversation, and then I’ll talk about my thoughts, is that there’s a lack of understanding, and that there’s a lack of willingness to discuss. A lot of times, things are dismissed when they come up and they have to do with “race.” I really believe race, religion, and politics other than purpose. Those are the things that we’re told in “professional settings” we should not talk about. But usually, those are the very things that harbor and perpetuate and keep going the divide and the angst.

So in all of my groups, I’m telling my friends. We’re going to talk about this. If I’m supposed to be considered a master of managing this environment, we should be able to have the tough conversation. But historically, similar to education after… What is it? August 20, 1619 when the first documented slaves were brought over. From that point forward, in enslavement times, it was illegal for Black people to learn how to read, literally stories of people hiding in basements to become educated, listening to the teacher teach or to preacher preach, et cetera.

So two things, one, of course the information will be skewed when it’s passed down that way. But two, we have vilified. So if learning has been vilified, then there is something that’s trickled down that says we shouldn’t go in that direction. And if success has been found outside of that direction, of course we’re going to do the things that have been found as successful. But when we start talking about this, we’re hearing about a lot of elite or considered elite colleges, not recognizing the essay the same way or reformatting it, it’s because there’s been recognition that when they tested to see if this is a good barometer, then all of a sudden we realize that everybody’s not being included in this testing.

The folks who come, even now, when you’re looking for people to do research and they’re giving out gift cards and all of that, usually the majority of folks that are going fit the dominant culture, so we can say that’s numbers, but also I can say that’s assets.

And when it comes to mental health, what it used to be, from my understanding, for Black people, mental health wasn’t, “Well, I’m going to church. I’m going to pray about it. I’m going to talk to the pastor.” At the time, the pastor was considered the most educated person or, not even considered, was the most educated person or one of the, in the community. So people came to pastors to talk to them about their contracts before signing their name on a dotted line to discuss money matters with them, to get their counsel for family, everything came from them.

And then, there’s a conversation about “witchcraft” and only believing one way, so then it becomes a negative thing to go to see somebody to help you with your mental health. “Why don’t you just pray it. Just tell that…” My grandma used to say, “Just tell the Lord about it,” which I think is a wonderful thing, but there’s so much more to that than putting something out there.

The way I see that type of process, there’s a whole lot of listening that should be going on with that. We can call it meditation, we can call it self-reflection, we can call it journaling, we can call it prayer. I just choose to call it prayer in this context. And there’s been so much success leaning on that because we didn’t, as a people, have anything else to gravitate to than mental health for what?

I remember talking to a now deceased family member, and they were saying so many people had died they didn’t have folks peers to have discussions with. I said, “Well, you can go see a therapist.” And they’re talking to a therapist and me when I said this and their immediate reaction was, “I’m not paying somebody to talk. What… No, I’m not doing that.” So the that has been considered, “Well, that’s a white people thing. That’s not what we do.”

And then, when you go into the room, there’s so little… When I’m matriculated through several years, undecided, then several years undergraduate and social work, then several years in the master’s program, then several years getting my license, I remember one class that was focused on diversity. And in that class, the teacher had to push to keep people focused on diversity. I remember she said in that classroom, and this is a white lesbian woman talking just I think that makes a difference when people recognize how they’re [inaudible 00:43:07], then they started to care about others differently.

Anyway, in the classroom, people were complaining that she was focusing on white, Black, and she said, “Every year in this class, about seven weeks in, my white students start to complain that we’re focusing on white-Black relationships.” She said, “But we’re going to focus on it because other people don’t.” And she said, “Yes, there are other conversations to be had, but this is the one that’s most neglected, and this is also the one that has the largest impact on our community.”

Even if we look at the top banks for the Latino community, the Asian community, I think it’s somewhere around 800 million and 600 million, respectively. And I forget the name of the largest Black bank, but the largest Black bank is 700 million as far as net worth or something like that. And my numbers may be a little bit off, but it is disturbingly different. So it’s not just even when people lump in, Black people and people of color, there’s a difference in the experience of people of color and the experience of Black people because the targeting is different.

So when we start talking about mental health and there’s not an understanding of all these things, we’ve just laid out right here and touched on, they we’re missing such a big piece, especially if much of the suffering has to do with how you’ve been identified in America, and that’s not a part of the focus conversation. And we’re just looking at where your symptom is, sleeplessness and nervousness, and you’re triggered by this.

Okay. But there’s another piece that’s not looked at, and I think there has been a poor job of educating the helping professions, I say that with a strong S, around the need to focus on this people. Black people also get uncomfortable. I believe we’re taught to become uncomfortable when these things come up so we can keep it to the side and to not be dealt with or we don’t need to talk about politics, but you’ve been upset all day about who was elected, you’ve been upset all day about what you saw on the news, and you don’t want to talk about politics? We can’t talk about politics? That’s become illegal in the workplace. Oh, my goodness. Oh, well, I think it should be All Lives Matter instead of just Black Lives Matter.

And this is a conversation I had in a clinic with someone who’s now in power, and I was just like, “We can’t even… I can’t finish my sentence?” We can’t even get into a dialogue without it being shut down. People who are in power have the ability to shut down conversations and dictate what’s going to be talked about, and the same thing happens in the exchange when it comes to mental health.

 And that’s why a lot of the calls that are around, I’m looking for a Black therapist and/or I’m looking for a Black male therapist because there’s the assumption that I’ll be able to have dialogue with that. I don’t think it’s true that just because you’re Black, you can’t have a meaningful dialogue about this. It still takes a certain level of education, but at least you may be able to relate to some of the internal strife that shows up and not everybody can do it. At the same time, I believe that there are and have seen white providers that are very well-versed at navigating the space because they have taken the time to become comfortable having these conversations and to engage in it.

I tell people, “Look at Jane Elliot…” Oh, I forget the other guy’s name. “But look at some of the white people who’ve been in this work. They don’t stutter when they’re having these conversations because I’m not good at running down the street right now because my left ankle is fragile. But if I exercise it more, that fragility will go away, and I’ll be able to jog just fine.” It’s the same thing when it comes to anything else that we do.

Rebecca Dekker:

I feel like I’m just listening to a sermon, and I can listen to you all day. Not the kind of sermon you fall asleep in. The time where you’re on the edge of your seat. So I appreciate, I appreciate you so much, and I hope that you people listen and re-listen to this episode, I love to see your work get into schools and programs because I think you’re right. Again, it’s about what’s missing from education, and I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to go through, as a Black student or a student of color, to go through one of these programs where they don’t even bring this stuff up. It’s completely neglected.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Something interesting is, “Wow, that subject was being neglected. I did not feel like something was lost. I didn’t feel… Everywhere I’ve turned, it’s been…” We don’t know something should be there until we know it. In the… What grade was it? Somewhere around sixth grade, I had a classmate that was the child, no identifying information so I’ll just say a child of a police officer and a white person, a white woman, I’ll say that, a now woman then with kids.

But I remember having a conversation with her, and she told me that Black people were naturally more prone to violence and crime. And I was like, “Well, why do you say that? That felt wrong.” And she said, “Well, my daddy told me so, and he’s a police officer.” And I couldn’t say anything. I was was just like, “Oh, well, I guess that makes sense.”

Now, without going into all of the nuances, I understand there has to be… or the United States of America historically has become successful by standing on the backs of certain groups of people and they keep those people down to do that. But anyway, I wanted to get to this. I had friends, and this was at a white Christian private school that my family paid for me to go to at this time, and there were reasons why that happened, but where I was called an N-word, I was spit on, they were talking about negative things around Black people.

 But at that time I just thought, “Oh, these were my friends explaining themselves and their thought process.” And when they used the N-word or spit, “Oh, they just got mad.” Nothing came in my mind in the way that it does now about being racist because I saw them as good people.

Robin DiAngelo, again, she has a chapter called The Good-Bad Binary. I think that’s what it’s called, but it points out that many people try to not be racist or engage in racism by being good people. And me, I saw them as good people, so I didn’t put them in that category either. Now that I have a better understanding, I’m like, “No. That was absolutely racism probably a tumultuous experience for a young person and their adolescents trying to develop their way of thinking.”

My frontal lobe hasn’t even fully developed at that point yet, but I was exposed to, and I didn’t know until I knew there’s so many… I’ve had many clients come through a group and say things like, “When I first got here, I didn’t know if this was for me. I didn’t think this was a big problem. But now, I see that this is everywhere, that a Black male is considered to say, “Oh, I got Black male. You’re considered an extortionist.”

But the term is Black male. “We had a black cloud today. Oh, it’s a dark day, but we need to be washed as white as snow.” All of these things that we perish for a lack of knowledge and the truth will actually make you free, but I didn’t know that I was swimming in that water because I didn’t know the water was dirty. I didn’t know that I was being infected because I didn’t know that’s what was happening until I learned what was happening.

So when you say paraphrasing, we suffer from what we don’t know. I absolutely, absolutely, absolutely agree with that. And the best trigger to devil is making people believe he didn’t exist. I’m not even trying to get into the concrete details of that but just if you don’t know your enemy is in the house with you, then you’re susceptible. And I’m not calling white people generally specifically enemy when I say that but just not knowing what’s hurting you.

Somebody, a coach, told me the other day, and I don’t know if this is true or not but it makes sense. I learned sometime ago that when you get a salad from a fast food place, it’s not necessarily healthy. And they submit it to me. They say, “It’s actually healthier to get a burger than it is to get a salad from a fast food place because of all the additives.” I say, “Oh, my goodness. If you didn’t know, you think to get in a salad. Oh, I’m following my nutrition regiment.” “No, you are eating what they put in there to get you addicted to it, so you’ll come back and spend more money.” But I’ll pause.

Rebecca Dekker:

No. It’s important because I want our listeners to just really prioritize their self-education, especially our white listeners, which we have many, because you don’t know what you don’t know. And we’ve seen some examples in the past year of organizations in the birth world, particularly, that claim to be anti-racist and working on diversity inclusion, but they can’t actually be trusted around Black birth workers because they will perform so much harm in microaggressions against them, without even realizing what they’re doing.

I think it’s very much a subconscious thing, but it’s still harmful nonetheless. And I loved your examples talking about even the language we use, how racism is embedded everywhere in our society. Example of using the word Black male. I mean, there’s countless examples of where white people use this type of language that associates Black with being bad or evil or wicked, just even in Christianity at Christian schools. Although they’ll do these little activities around Easter time where they have different colored jelly beans and they symbolize different colors and the Black jelly bean symbolizes the sin and evil that Jesus saved us from.

 If you want way to educate yourself on a very deep topic, I love Key & Peele have a great video about Black Ice that you can watch on YouTube about how we talk about Black Ice and instead of the evil white snow. Anyways, it’s a great video. I encourage you to… I think it can be really helpful too on these really difficult subjects to… I love it when people like Key & Peele use humor in a way to open our eyes about things we haven’t thought about.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

As far as a way to sneak this important education in without running folks away, when I am privileged to do some type of training, which I’ve been doing the past couple of years around this stuff, I usually start with human development. And I’ll talk about echolalia from the perspective that a child learns how to speak from echoing the language that is around, how we naturally gravitate towards acceptance, how there is this subconscious piece that shows up, “I drive to work every day. And sometimes when I get to work, I don’t remember the last light that I saw, the last turn that I made because it’s already programmed in my mind.”

Or for those that are gamers, if I’m playing Madden on Xbox and I hit X, the button’s in the left corner. But X on the PlayStation, the button’s on the bottom corner. And a lot of times, I’ve thrown an interception because I’m hitting the wrong button just because I’m programmed to do that in this particular platform. So when we start thinking about what you just talking about as far as the Black Ice and the White as Snow and the Black male and all these pejorative and negative turns, or even the jelly beans, it still works the same way.

 But now, it’s in the context of something that can create so much harm. But usually, when race comes up, people become defensive or they will control the conversation by continuing to talk. And then, the acceptance of the information isn’t there. So if I already convince you of the process before the defensive show up, it’s too late. And then, we can have this conversation and then people can see, “Oh, this is ridiculous.”

A lady came to me on the job one time. She said, “You’re the only Black person I know that believes in God. I got a question for you.” I make this real short. And I said, “Is there somebody at the church? She said, “A little white girl a little Black guy are dating or vice versa.” And she said, “I’m just wondering, are they reading the same Bible I’m reading?” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And they referenced, “Do not be unevenly yolked.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?”

So I didn’t want to clap back too much. But when they left, I pulled it out and looked it up. And there’s a part that talks about light should not dwell with darkness and evil and good and this and that I had to go back to that person. And I said, “Now, it says light shouldn’t dwell with darkness, but it’s not talking about Black people and white people.” And if you do think that it’s talking about Black people and white people, they categorize one group as evil and one group is good. So do you believe that one group is evil and one group is good?

It was interesting to me that this person who went to church every Sunday and probably Bible study in the middle of the week, didn’t have an understanding of what the verse actually meant, but ran on something that somebody else’s thought. And then it became concrete.

The Jane Elliott study, The Brown Eye/Blue Eye experiment. I think it’s 1992. She’s interviewing with Oprah and talking about it. One of the ladies gets up in the group and she says, “You know what? There was this blue-eyed girl in college. She was always copying off my paper. Y’all are just so stupid.” And this and that and the other, she took some anecdotal information and combined it with fictional information and created a fact in her mind that she ran, to the point where she picked up a mic and said something ridiculous. But that’s how we, as human beings do.

It’s very important to what I just said about the cheeseburger… or excuse me, the burger being healthier than the salad. I started by saying, “I don’t know if this is true. Somebody told me that,” instead of saying, “Hey, you need to eat burgers instead of salads now,” because I haven’t researched it myself. This self-education that you were talking about. But if we don’t know that we should question it, then we just run up and down the street with foolishness and hurt each other.

Rebecca Dekker:

Mm-hmm. Brandon, especially for any birth workers or listening or healthcare professionals who are all part of that helping career that you were talking about earlier, is there any resources that people can go to to learn how to better support Black fathers and Black parents?

Brandon Diggs Williams:

So yeah, this question when reviewing the questions, this one was kind of a tough one for me because the first thing I say to folks is you definitely can Google, if you Google support for Black Fathers or support for Black Helping Professional is a National Association of Black Social Workers. And I believe there’s some form of that for most professions that are out there.

Yet, even with that being said, sometimes that can feel far off. So I think, looking in the groups that you already have and finding like-minded individuals, and I say this for white people too. I was privileged to sit in on a conversation with Racial Equity Institute again, where the white people were talking about their work, and they talked about racism. Some of the loneliness in it, because even their friends didn’t agree or understand what their perspective, and it was just a whole bunch of fighting.

And they talked about the importance of finding a group of people that fits your demographic or identity and spending time with them. Because just like I said, there’s or at least intimated, there’s a natural understanding for most people about most Black people somewhat understand the experience of Black people. I believe it’s the same. Most white people somewhat understand the experience of white people.

So getting around folks who naturally are on the path that you’re on and developing community, I think that honestly is the best way to start. Now, you’re coming from a systems theory person who believes in utilizing what we call, at least what I was taught to call natural supports. There are probably five people that are connected to you right now. That could be that support system that we haven’t taken inventory of usually because we’re busy surviving.

Since I’ve started doing trainings two or three years ago around this stuff, I run into a whole bunch of other trainers. Now, I’m on the board of an organization that trains around groups, and that just came from walking on the path. If we pay attention to who surrounds us, where we’re going in the direction that we, my words that we should be going in or are built to go in, then it naturally happens. And I think those groups are more impactful because they’re usually more intimate.

The Lion Tamers thing that I talked about that I do that started, the first session we had was at a friend of mine’s house literally at his dining room table. And we watched the Duke-Carolina game in the inset and had our session. Since then, we’ve done it online recently, but we’ve had it in different conference rooms and it’s turned into a thing, but I think that grassroots gathering is the way to really… Even Janiya, many of the people that she works with professionally consistently right now, are folks that she has run into since she’s been doing this work, and they naturally gravitated towards each other, and then they created something versus looking for… I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel.

So if there’s an initiative that’s out there that you’ve found, of course joining with them can be super powerful, but that’s Brandon’s advice. And I think it may be non-conventional, but I believe looking around and figuring out who have I been giving? And who can I utilize that can also, in turn, evenly utilize me? That’s my cipher. That’s my haven. That’s my support system.

Now, when it comes to getting some professional information, like you said, self-education, I’m going to work with a trainer very soon. They’re going to help me with some boxing stuff. But I honestly could go on YouTube and learn so much right now from people who are providing this information for free or you can get with someone like myself. When I talked about that, I’m talking about a professional trainers on YouTube. Got to be careful about that sometimes.

 But with this trainer, my plan is to have a couple of sessions to learn the basics and then do a lot of growth on my own and then maybe have some tune-up sessions. So professionals, you can just Google and look for a mental health provider. I hear Janiya and her friends talk about having conversations with the therapist and how much is helped them. And if this therapist leaves, what am I going to do? And they’re saying that facetiously, but it’s there. “Seek and you shall find. Knock in the door, it shall be open.” The stuff is available. I don’t think it always has to be that we join the NCP or something like that with whatever is going on for us. We can create spaces where we can become more okay than we are and then be courageous enough to stretch ourselves.

But when I started, I say I’m somewhat nervously excited, and you said, “Well, that’s a good thing.” Somebody said the other day, and this is a message that I’ve heard for a while, “If you’re not nervous, then something’s wrong.” You should have a little bit of edge because you care about whatever is happening. When we push ourselves and we walk on the path, things start to come out and provide for us. Like now, I was a little tired before we got on, I could go to the gym after this because now I’m charged.

But more succinctly, take inventory to folks that are around you. Create your own safe space. When professionalism is needed, find people who have credentials and improvement that they’ve done the work and connect to them, and then also push yourself and you’ll be surprised at how you’ll be sustained as you’re walking.

Rebecca Dekker:

I also want to encourage our white listeners, in particular, to do your own internal work on anti-Black racism surrounding anti-Black beliefs about Black men, Black women, Black children. One good way to introduce yourself to that subject is the book Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. And she actually has specific journaling exercises that can be really eye-opening, difficult to do, but really important for you to recognize what you’ve been infected with in a way in order to start fighting the illness. We’d love to be able to follow your work. Where can people go to learn more?

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Absolutely. So the Diggs Method… Diggs is my middle name. It’s also the family I grew up with and attached to, so that’s why I’m using that. And these are what I implement. My methods is like you heard me talk about today that fit whoever I’m dealing with, but The Diggs Method, thediggsmethod.com, thediggsmethod on IG, and thediggsmethod on Facebook. And for Black men, Lion Tamers on Facebook. It’s a group that you have to request to be in, but that’s where we try to support each other also. But the main thing is The Diggs Method on the major platforms.

Rebecca Dekker:

Awesome. Brandon, I want to thank you so much for teaching us today and bringing your passion and your calling. I love that you mentioned systems theory and fitness in the very end of your interview because we feel like we’re coming full circle back to like, “This is a big systemic problem. We need to care for our bodies in this difficult work.” And so, I hope you do get to go work out today and.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Always happening.

Rebecca Dekker:

… take care of yourself. Yeah.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

I appreciate that.

Rebecca Dekker:

It was nice meeting you, Brandon. We really appreciate everything that you do and for educating all of us today.

Brandon Diggs Williams:

Absolutely. You’re welcome. You’re welcome. Thank you for the opportunity.

Rebecca Dekker:

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Don't miss an episode! Subscribe to our podcast:  iTunes  |  Stitcher  |  SpotifyTo celebrate the upcoming release of our Intervention Pocket Guide, we are going to share with you some of the new research on interventions! Last week I had so much fun on Episode 244...

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