How Chesapeake man’s mental health journey turned into a movement on the mat for Black men

On a mental health journey of his own, Brenten Sims is working to promote wellness with the bi-weekly Black Men Heal Yoga Class.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Brenten Sims of Chesapeake is on a mission to transform other Black men like himself who aren’t as likely to seek therapy.

His personal path to healing started after he hit a rough spot.

“I had lost my job and I hit a depression and I had to question who I was,” Sims shared with 13News Now.

His soul searching led to a commitment to live, which took him to the yoga studio and beyond. 

“Going to yoga, going to therapy, being open with my friends, going to the doctor, being open with my doctor, right? And just really utilizing the resources around me to make sure that I’m saving myself,” Sims explained.

He decided to spread his joy and promote healing and wellness by creating the Black Boy Joy Fest organization. That led to the bi-weekly Black Men Heal Yoga Class.

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“You get to lean on the shoulders of each other,” Sims described. “You get to really share the burden of people who look like you.” 

Kevin Butts, a Suffolk resident, joined the group about six months ago. 

“These yoga classes really gave me a moment to focus on myself, my breathing, my health, my stressors just a place to release and be around my brothers,” Butts explained. “It’s really refreshing, us coming together.”

Social issues over the past few years put the spotlight on the struggle and burden of the Black man. The videotaped murder of George Floyd as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck is perhaps the most poignant.

“That was another thing that contributed to my depression as a Black man and feeling like being a Black man was a less than positive thing,” Sims shared.

RELATED: DOJ probe after George Floyd’s murder finds racist, discriminatory practices in Minneapolis PD

Aaron Anderson is a licensed professional counselor in Norfolk and a Black man who has experienced his own mental health struggles. 

“We are not on equal footing and I think being Black in America should be a mental health diagnosis because there’s a lot that goes with that, that people just don’t know,” Anderson said.

However, Anderson found that those who need therapy the most are less likely to seek help. 

“In my practice, when I deal with especially the older Black men, they just don’t have any faith in mental health or therapy,” Anderson said. 

Well-documented research reports that unmanaged stress can lead to physical distress, like cardiovascular and digestive issues. 

“Like any problem in the body whether you’ve got a cut, infection, stress — if you don’t address it, it just gets worse it doesn’t get better,” Anderson said.

The Black Men Heal Yoga Class also provides a safe space to talk about nutrition, medical care, and counseling. Sims doesn’t want money to be a factor for men who need the fellowship, so he offers the classes for free. He uses crowdfunding to pay for the instructor and the space.

“It’s amazing that people see it and see the heart behind it and they trust me with their money and they trust me with their brothers and their uncles and the people they send to this class. It’s amazing,” Sims said.

You must sign up to attend the classes. Sims said the group isn’t just for men of color — it’s open to anyone who supports the cause.

Psychology Today has an extensive list of counselors searchable by location, race, gender, specialty, insurance, virtual and more. It’s also important to note for those without insurance coverage, each city has a community services board that is specifically funded and guided for the under-served or under-insured.

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