‘It makes me feel empowered’ Local wellness group focuses on Black men’s mental health

FITCHBURG – A local wellness group called “I Am Balanced Wellness” is creating a safe space for Black men in the community through weekly conversations involving meditation, yoga and mindfulness.

The group’s founder, Johnnie Phipher, started I Am Balanced Wellness a year ago to provide Black men with a place to openly share their experiences while learning to cope with past trauma in healthy ways.

“Black men don’t talk about their mental health issues,” Phipher said. “We don’t trust professional people with our information, because of the black and white issue, the race thing. We don’t just trust anybody, we have to have a safe space and we have to have a relationship.”

After being exposed to the benefits of yoga years ago, Phipher wanted to bring such positive coping mechanisms to his community.

“It brings a sense of peace mentally, to know that I have people who actually share similar experiences and we find great ways that we can talk through them,” said member Vernell Cauley.

For many of the group’s members, being able to discuss their past trauma without judgment is especially meaningful.

“It makes me feel empowered,” said member Talib Akbar. “Like I’m doing the right thing, we’re doing the right thing and we’re going in the right direction.”

While the healing process may begin in just a small room, the group members’ end goal is to normalize conversations surrounding mental health within the Black community as a whole.

“I believe these groups are well-needed not only in Madison, but worldwide,” Cauley said. “We need to know that there are people we can lean on. Sometimes, we don’t know where to get the support from, so just to know that we have that support system is a great pillow to have.”

I Am Balanced Wellness meets on Monday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the COPA community center in Fitchburg, free of charge. A GoFundMe has been created to fundraise for yoga supplies and food costs.


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