RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond man said his personal life experiences have given him a very specific calling in life — helping Black men with their mental health.
The support he offers is available in Richmond, across the country and even worldwide.
James Harris spends most of his days helping people heal. Especially men. He is the bright mind behind the "Men to Heal" movement — something the licensed clinical therapist started three years ago because he said it's necessary to get men to feel their feelings.
It's not lost on Harris that he's a rarity in the mental health profession. "It's not a lot of Black therapists, not a lot of male therapists, period," he said.
His journey in mental health spans back to his childhood when he became a ward of the state by eight years old after his father died, and medical issues prevented his mother from caring for him. He grew up in foster care and group homes with mandatory therapy sessions that he said never helped.
"The therapeutic process wasn't a cohesive experience. I felt judged, it was a lot of cultural differences. I'm this young Black kid from the projects and the therapist was this older white person, so it wasn't relatable. Didn't feel heard, didn't feel validated," Harris said.
Harris had similar experiences years later after he entered the military, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therapy sessions with counselors who lacked combat experience could never relate to his plight.
Those experiences, coupled with his education, propelled Harris to seek out a career in mental health, fueling his desire to end the stigma in the African American community surrounding mental health and counseling.
"I'm right here from Richmond. I look like the people I'm serving. I've got the tattoos, the urban vernacular, so they don't feel judged when they are in session. That cohesive bond can happen a little more rapidly, and I can build that cohesion and start the process of healing as opposed to having so much resistance or you feeling judged or not wanting to comply with certain things within therapy," Harris said.
Harris wrote "Men To Heal," an interactive journal to help men and youth address their mental health issues.
He's now a sought-after therapist and speaker and is preparing to give a Ted Talk in April.
He continues to bring men together in powerful community events called "Boys and Wings," where he creates a safe space exclusively for men and boys to explore issues affecting them.
"I think the misconception is that men can't be depressed, which they can be. They often add that anger and aggression and irritability piece in it that women tend not to show," Harris said. "I'm just happy to be in the position to serve both, whether it's a person from an urban community or whether it's a veteran or a male who has been looking for therapy and feel like they're alone."
The next Boys and Wings event will be on March 5. Harris said the event is open to all men and boys. It is free, but attendees must register online.