Chicago’s Coffee, Hip Hop & Mental Health pays for people who see therapists through Normalize Therapy University

CHICAGO (WLS) – The New Year is often a time of reflection, and that is especially true given the past 22 months. Experts say the pandemic has severely affected US mental health. Now a local organization is making Chicago proud by bridging the gap between therapy and communities.

“There is no blueprint. This is my favorite line, there is no blueprint for that!” said Faith Overall as she walked the halls of Benito Juarez High School, a vivid reminder that there is beauty in transformation.

Overall, she teaches her students the importance of recognizing, processing, and expressing their feelings in a healthy way – a journey that she takes on herself.

“It was definitely something I shy away from at first,” she said.

According to Mental Health America, more than 16% of America’s black population – more than 7 million people – reported having had mental illness in the past year.

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“We’re taught to survive every day, to put things aside, to pray about it, but you can’t talk about it,” said Christopher LeMark, founder of Chicago’s coffee, hip hop, and mental health.

According to the MHA, 50% of black adults between the ages of 26 and 49 with severe mental illness were untreated in 2018. And experts say that number has increased significantly with the onset of the pandemic.

“In my community, we didn’t talk about our feelings, our emotions,” said LeMark. “You were called weak or soft when you were emotional.”

But a new message emerges. “When you choose therapy, choose yourself,” said Overall.

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Chicago’s Coffee, Hip Hop and Mental Health is dedicated to helping people get access to the care they need and deserve, regardless of the circumstances.

“We just wanted to remove the financial barrier,” said LeMark.

CHM uses money from coffee and merchandise sales, donations, and grants to help people seek therapists through Normalize Therapy University.

“The problem with the South and West Side, or with a broken community, is that resources are not funded enough,” added LeMark.

The comfort of coffee and the healing power of hip hop combine to create a recipe for hope.

“Hip-hop has given us confidence, given us the opportunity to speak for ourselves,” said LeMark, adding that hip-hop saved him from suicide in 2014. “I realized something was wrong because I’ve spent much of my life trying to just feel better and pretend things are okay when they weren’t.”

The story paints a vivid picture of the barriers the black community faces across multiple levels of existence.

“I think that as black, as black, as black, as black, queer woman, right?

Racial exclusion from health, educational, social and economic resources and all have contributed to socio-economic inequalities.

“I can’t tell you about therapy if you don’t have food in the house,” said LeMark. “When you go to the website and fill in the admission form, we will ask you whether you have food, whether you have accommodation, whether you have clothing.”

Normalize Therapy University currently has dozens of members – and more on the waiting list. Overall, is one of the program’s benefactors.

“It is not enough to assert yourself, you have to have people,” said Overall. “You also have to find people who will validate you and say, hey, the things you experience are real. The questions you have are real. The love you deserve is real. “

Overall, she says the start of the trip wasn’t easy, but she got her way.

“I think I ran into a wall and it was either sit next to it or climb over it,” she said. “I decided to go climbing.”

And says she hopes her steps encourage others to move closer to her healing.

“I’m not going to keep all this progress to myself, I’m at the end of the line and looking around, ‘where are everyone?” She laughed.

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