Steven Walker: on “Mental Health, Death, and Unemployment in the Black Community”

*Mr. Walker is a member of the MHAV Board of Directors. We invited him to write about his personal experience. Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the post belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to Mental Health America of Virginia.

On April 3rd I was laid off due to COVID downsizing. On May 14th, my mother died unexpectedly from a heart condition. And the world has been held hostage due to COVID-19 since March. On TV, videos of yet another black man being killed in broad daylight by a cop kneeling on his neck is being played nonstop across every television network and social media sight reminding me to be fearful because this world that I now find myself in has it out to get men that look like me. This is my reality. This is the dream, or should I say nightmare, that I cannot seem to wake up from.

This must change.

Let me ask you a question. How long can you hold your breath? Seriously, if you were underwater how long could you hold your breath? 1 minute, 2 minutes? What if I asked you to hold your breath from April 3rd until now? Sounds impossible right.

Yes, if you can imagine it, then you will know just a little bit about how it feels to be a black male in America, how it feels to lose a job, to lose the only person that has ever loved you unconditionally, the only parent that you have ever known.

If you could imagine it for just a second, then you will know what it feels like to be me

Walter Bradford Cannon once said that the fight-or-flight response in humans is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.

I have written this poem below to give you a glimpse into how I feel. A glimpse into my heart, mind, and soul as I have had to live through my present reality.

I Will Stand
Should I run and hide? Should I stand and fight?
Should I lay down and die? Should I press forward with all my might?
Do I have strength to stand? Do I have strength to be?
The man that I know I am. The man that prevails in victory.
What am I to do today? What can I dare to achieve?
Can I stand, and will I stay? Can I dare to believe?
Will I be knocked to the ground? Will I be dealt a blow that leads to death?
No matter the cost to my soul. I will fight until I have nothing left.
I will never give up. I will never surrender my life.

I will fight, and fight through the day, and all through the night.
No matter what comes against me. No matter what force or foe
Though death itself stands before me, I will stand and fight to the death, this I know.
Until death itself lays before me, defeated on this cold solemn ground.
Let my enemies know this one thing. A true warrior has met them on this battle ground.
I will fight, and I will win.

I’m sure you are wondering at this point, “Who is this guy that is waxing all eloquent and poetic”.

Well, I am a black man in America.

And like most married black men, I am a husband that is concerned about how his wife feels, and what she fears every time I leave the house. I am a father with a son that is studying to take his MCATS to become a Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon, and I am concerned about the pressure and racism he has had to deal with at UNC Chapel Hill and at UNC hospital where he now works as a CNA. I am also a father to a beautiful daughter who has just come back from studying abroad and surviving this current COVID crisis in South Korea. She is now home having to be quarantined for two weeks in fear that she might be asymptomatic and could possibly infect and kill me. I am a 49-year-old black man with different medical
conditions. And I am at risk by more things than COVID-19. That is the least of my fears.

But instead of asking who I am, a better question is what I am.

I am victorious, because despite everything that I have faced in my life and in my present reality I am still here, still standing, still fighting and stronger than ever. My faith in God has brought me through this life filled with fears, worries, and concerns.

He has revealed to me that although my employer may have dictated my paycheck, that it is he that dictates my income. My wife and I have not fallen behind on any of our bills since April 3 rd when I got laid off. I forgot to mention that she got laid off a few weeks after I did. I have decided to take my 30 years of advertising and business consulting experience and start my own freelance business consulting company and digital service called MyPurposeMyPower.com.

Now, I am not saying that it has been easy, nor am I trying to make light of others that have gone through similar experiences, but have not fared as well as we have. What I want you to understand is that no matter what you are going through just remember that “This Thing” in your life has “Come To Pass,” it has not come to stay. Take a deep breath, envision a better and brighter future, ground yourself in that truth, and regain your hope.

If it is human nature to fight or flight, then I choose to fight. I choose to live the best life that I can today and every day. And I choose to encourage others to do the same. Do not give in to your feelings. It is time to get up and fight.

If you need a little help do what I did. Ask God for help, he is always listening and always ready, willing, and able to help those that believe in him. I am a witness to that.

I want to leave you with this final thought.

As a black man in America I have had to do self-assessment, self-introspection and become more self-aware than ever before.

All of these outside forces and situations have caused me to realize one thing. That the greatest journey of discovery is not to be found by going on some grand adventure around the world. It is the journey to discover one’s self, one’s true self – that is the greatest of all journeys.

May God guide you and give you strength for the journey ahead.

Steven Walker
You can find more about the author at www.MyPurposeMyPower.com or contact him at
steven@mypurposemypower.com