“Facing Stigma” with Donnell Rawlings

“The military wasn’t what I originally wanted to do because I wanted to be an architect. Once I realized how much schooling you had to have for that I decided against it. So then I thought I’d become the black Jesus and a carpenter, but realized I wasn’t really that handy with a hammer and nail. As a black guy from the hood without a lot of options or a skill set, sometimes joining the military is the best option. I was a cop when I was in the military and when I got out I was waiting to become a DC police officer. I was out for like a year and half when I found comedy. I ended up going into a comedy club and heckling the comedians, so when the club dared me to go on stage I caught the comedy bug.

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I think at some point I’ve probably dealt with anxiety. With the business I’m in it can be depressing and overwhelming, so if that categorizes as mental health issues then I’m pretty sure I’ve dealt with them in some form or fashion. I’ve probably dealt with mental health issues on a few fronts. I’m not speaking for the entire African American community though, because we don’t always connect with it. We don’t diagnose it as mental health issues. In the black community we don’t always identify with mental illness because we feel like it’s something that can be fixed overnight, it’s not that serious, or its probably a lack of opportunity in our environment; but we never contribute it to mental health issues.

Comedy for me is therapeutic like it is for a lot of standup comics. When you hear people after your shows saying ‘I really appreciate the words you said, and it made me feel good.’ For what we do, that’s our therapy, we go out and get a good reception from comedy and that helps us in our day-to-day. For every comedian that goes on stage for 45 minutes to an hour, it’s probably them going through their therapy and having an outlet. Comedy can’t be the only therapy for people though, so it all starts with raising awareness and opening up the dialogue. You have @cthagod talking about it, @tarajiphenson talking about it, all these things increase the awareness on the issue. Kanye West is going to wind up being the one person that lets all black people know what can happen if you don’t deal with your mental health issues! So while we’re laughing about it right now, we’re sad at the same time. That’s going to be a big part of erasing the stigma, so that people don’t just laugh at issues but they address them and try to get help.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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