2020 was a historic year, but we can’t wait for the history books to process what it meant for those who lived it.
While everyone felt the consequences of COVID-19 in some way, Black Americans on average felt it disproportionately — plus, they experienced the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement (and the daily realities of discrimination that led to it in the first place) on the world stage. This Black History Month, 10 of The Trevor Project’s Black employees from all over the organization share their oral history of the year that changed everything — particularly, how it impacted their relationship to mental health, and how it added even greater meaning to the many ways they identify as Black.
Advocacy and Government Affairs Coordinator
All PronounsGeorge Floyd was killed the day before my birthday in 2020, and I spent so much of the following day in fits of anger, and sadness, and guilt at any joy I managed, by the time I went to bed my phone’s lock screen was full of well wishes mixed in with news notifications of state-sanctioned violence against protesters and I just — broke down. I didn’t realize that day would set the tone for my entire summer.
Now, after all of 2020, and watching an attempted violent coup by white supremacists less than 10 miles from my home, I can’t help but wonder how much of my days I’ll be able to remember in a year, and how many will be blacked out so that I can move forward again.
My Black father is a therapist and a theologian, so mental health was a frequent topic in my household while growing up. My parents did their best to underline that mental and emotional health, physical health, and spiritual health were all interdependent and equally important. My parents allowed us to take mental health days off from school, encouraged us to be honest about our struggles, and despite being painfully middle class, made every effort to access care for us when we needed it. I count my parent’s stance on mental health issues as one of the best parenting decisions they made. If they hadn’t provided that foundation of mental and emotional self-discovery and acceptance at a young age, I don’t think I could have navigated all that this past year has brought me.
In a way, I’ve become a sort of student of managing fear and anger. I’ve become obsessed with understanding myself. Because of that, I’ve been forced to take active care of myself in a way that might have otherwise been looked over. I’ve sought out professional help from psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors. I’ve been more honest with my community, and I’ve brought a fresh and deeper understanding of mental anguish to my work as an advocate.
I hope in my heart of hearts that when I look back at the next decade, I think of it as the decade we as a collective decided that for every loss endured during 2020, a step towards an actual just society was made. My fear for 2021 is that by the time 2022 comes, I won’t be able to hold my hope any longer.
Senior Major Gifts Officer
He/Him/HisThe last year has been very very difficult, but in a way, it feels like it was a necessary reset. We lost so much in 2020, but I won’t forget the crowds from across the globe that came out to support the call of Black Lives Matter. I remember saying, ‘Finally, folks are getting it!’ Maybe everyone being at home meant that no one could turn away from the news, or perhaps the pandemic was a way that we all finally saw each other as humans and how fragile life can be. I am still wary that things will fall back into a pre-2020 state, but for now, I am somewhat hopeful.
2020 has gone in waves. For me, living in San Francisco (a city with a very low percentage of Black residents), 2020 has further illuminated social, health, and economic inequities. Just seeing it all play out, while also having the privilege of being able to keep my job, work from home, and maintain my healthcare has done a number on me personally.
I have an uncle who suffers from bipolar syndrome, so mental health has always been top of mind for my family. Seeking help was something that was encouraged, but only if you really really needed it. There was a sense that therapists weren’t needed and we should keep issues within the family, as long as possible.
Today, I am feeling confident about 2021. I hope we see action on police and criminal justice reform. I hope we all can be there to support Black LGBTQ youth as we begin to see how 2020 is going to impact their mental health in the long term. I fear a return to ‘things as normal’ simply because that is what people are going to see as the easiest path forward.
I want the world to realize how much the Black community has given to it. I want the world to know that there is more to celebrate about the Black community than just overcoming struggle again and again. I want the world to see how we are all connected and not one of us is free until we are all free. I want future generations to look back and celebrate that the movement for Black lives was started by queer Black women and it has centered Black trans lives.
Crisis Services Sr. Manager of Digital Supervisors
He/HimMy family and I are from the Caribbean; I was born in Trinidad, while the rest of my family was born and raised in Guyana. We are a proud people, and we hold a lot close to the chest. We also don’t know much of our history; I often find my parents would much rather sit through uncomfortable silence than talk about our family history. (I’ve learned to break away from that to an extent, but I am very much a loner in this world.)
Over the past year, there were moments of sadness, grief, anger, frustration, and some internal guilt in regards to my own privilege as a Black veteran. The last year has also been an opportunity for personal growth and self-reflection, which has been helpful in shaping my path for my future. After all this, I would be lying if I said I’m feeling 100% again. The last year has changed us as a people, as a nation. My current feeling changes as the days go by, but I do know that things cannot continue as they have in the years prior.
Going into the pandemic I was fortunate enough to be seeing a therapist weekly, which was a tremendous help in those very difficult moments. I also sought out the care of a psychiatrist during the last year, which in general is a challenge. Did I mention that I was also looking for a Black psychiatrist? It felt as though I was looking for a unicorn.
My family never has and never will discuss mental health. It was very stigmatized in our culture, and those are stigmas that my family can’t seem to shake. I have a cousin that I speak to about mental health. We both started therapy around the same time, and we both quickly realized there was no room to discuss childhood traumas with our parents. I’ve since adopted the attitude that just because I’m ready and open to healing doesn’t mean the other parties involved will be open to it as well.
My hope for 2021 is simple: for us to finally be able to hug each other again! My fear is that once this pandemic is over, folks just go back to life as usual, falling back on the same prejudices. I think the most important thing I want us to learn from this is to treat each other like humans and focus on who we are versus the things that make us different.
He/Him/HisTo be really honest, mental health wasn’t really spoken about when I was growing up. A lot of the information I know regarding mental and emotional health, I learned as I got older and when I started to affiliate myself with organizations like The Trevor Project.
This year has been the most challenging regarding my mental and emotional health. There were a lot of things going on at the same time but I am forging forward, thankfully, with the help of my amazing support system.
My hope for 2021 is to be able to find more healthy and positive ways to replenish my own mental health so that I can be here and be present, especially for our youth. One lesson that I hope the world learns is that staying on top of your mental health is very important, and we all should normalize having these conversations. I want future generations to know that we are here to support them and will continue pushing forward. We will always have each others’ back!
Data + AI Product Lead
In my entire existence, I’ve never known what it’s like to be in my home or in public without some fear for my safety in one way or another. The feeling of constantly being “on” — whether that’s to defend my existence, experience, or those that I love — is something I’ve always known. At this point, it’s natural to me, and sometimes I think I don’t even realize it. That was brought even more front and center last year, a complicated reminder.
This past year, I felt like I was in survival mode at all times, with no moment to rest. As of late, I’ve come to terms with the fact that sometimes I need to take a step back and trust that even if I am not actively protesting, fundraising, or educating others, progress towards an equitable, inclusive, and loving world still continues. I’ve connected with so many brilliant people over the past year who are making impactful changes within their spaces and beyond. I know now that I cannot be of service to my community if I am not in service to myself.
Historically, there was not much dialogue in my family around mental health and how that intersects with different aspects of identity. During my earlier years, it made me feel that I was alone in feelings of anxiety, obsessive thought, confusion, and depression. As I grew older I realized that the way things have been is not how they always have to be. I started to unlearn the patterns that were instilled in me — ones that prevented me from connecting with people in a genuine way. I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerable. Within the past year, for the first time, I finally found the courage to initiate a space with my white family members to talk about my Black and LGBTQ identity and how my experiences and desires for self-growth have shaped who I am today. This resulted in a positive shift in consciousness for all of us and while it was taxing, I am appreciative of my family for meeting me there. I am hopeful that we can continue these conversations and evolve as individuals and a family unit.
The height of COVID and quarantine and the resurgence of attention (though it’s always been present for me) paid to the abuse, mistreatment, murder, and discrimination of Black people in the USA resulted in a serious decline in my overall emotional and mental health.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve finally started to give myself some space to feel everything from the past year. It all happened so fast that there didn’t seem to be energy to actually process it as it was happening. That’s something I’m working through now and something I expect will occur long beyond this moment. Even still, I remain grateful for the moments of joy that have broken through the pain over the past year and look forward to feeling it all.
My hopes and fears for 2021 feel one and the same. I fear that people view Black liberation as a social media campaign, an election tool, hashtag, catchy title, black square on Instagram, or a “moment” to make a profit. My hope is that this focus is authentic, and that continues so we can actualize the liberation of ALL Black people.
Chief of Staff
She/Her/HersIn thinking about this moment in history, the core lesson I hope the world learns is being human first. That’s the case in so many areas of our lives, but I think being human first is particularly critical in the space where many people spend most of their time: at work. We’re all navigating our own struggles and being impacted by what’s happening in our communities and the world in different ways. How are we coming to every interaction with kindness, understanding, and openness?
We have a choice point every day on whether we engage with each other on a human level before engaging on any other level — before starting that meeting, before making that request, before connecting about those next steps. I find that for people managers and leaders more broadly, taking intentional steps to center on being human first is even more important and impactful. Modeling vulnerability to the extent you feel comfortable; building deep relationships with your team so that when something is weighing on them they feel comfortable sharing that if they so choose; demonstrating seriousness through action (not merely words) about shifting priorities so folks can take time when they need it. Those are a few examples of the kinds of approaches that I think matter for human first managers and leaders.
Crisis Services Digital Supervisor
She/Her/HersBeing raised in an African and Muslim household, I’ve had to struggle between being too American for my family and too African for my peers. I love the intersectionality of it all!
This past year was an emotional roller coaster but also felt like something I’ve experienced before. I feel like social justice comes in waves, and this year, while the world was forced to stay still due to COVID, people were forced to see the injustices that Black people face on a daily basis. Seeing people on the front lines of marches with masks on was a heavy image. Standing up against social injustices during a pandemic says enough, but I find ways to remain positive each day.
My mental health & emotional journey has been all over the place! Balancing everything has been tough so I’m grateful to have a strong support system. In my family, mental health was never a part of our conversations before I brought it up. Growing up in an African household, I was raised on the idea that certain things don’t get spoken about, or we would just ‘pray on it.’ After being introduced to different mental health topics, and through my love for psychology, I had to have deep conversations with my parents (and the rest of my family) about expressing themselves, and the importance of therapy. It has made such a difference in the house for my family. It has also inspired my work towards Sunflower Psyche, my outlet on social media for mental health in first-generation communities.
I hope that Black voices are continuously amplified so people can learn more about our culture, history, and most importantly, the experiences that make us. My fears? I definitely fear things staying the same. I would love to talk to my kids, and my kids’ kids, and be able to say, ‘Back in my day…’ without my story being their experience, too. There is still so much more work to be done.
Special Projects Manager
She/herMy parents emigrated to the US in the late ‘70s from Haiti making me a first-generation Haitian-American. My love and appreciation for my culture runs deep and grows stronger every single day. How can it not?
Resiliency is in our DNA as Black people in this world, and that is certainly true in America. While it might seem like the onset of police brutality against Black folks is new, we know it’s not. Many of us carried on with our days and compartmentalized our feelings when Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Botham Jean, and many, many more were unjustly taken from this world. Their loved ones had to listen to their character be smeared, their deaths be ‘justified,’ and watch as the world around them just continued as if nothing had happened. We were expected to just go on with life after seeing these folks’ last moments on earth be played nonstop in the media and circulated uncensored on social media. To be Black in America is to be resilient in the face of the many things that try to break you. To be Haitian is rooted in resilience. To be Black, period, is to do revolutionary acts such as being unapologetically ourselves.
My mental and emotional journey has been a mess this year. I feel like we’re all collectively experiencing trauma and are just expected to push through. I haven’t been able to give myself many moments of grace because the world around me doesn’t believe we deserve them. I don’t believe things should be operating as business as usual. There are times when my moments of self-care feel like a chore. That doesn’t stop me from doing it, and thankfully, it doesn’t reduce the experience and the benefits for me, but it requires work now. This constant state of fight or flight feels exhausting. I’m so grateful to still be regularly seeing my therapist of 2 years, even in this remote capacity.
My hope for 2021 is to keep taking it day by day and finding more moments for inner peace and joy. It feels like the world will always be on fire, and there’s only so much that I can control. My hope is that collectively, we experience more peaceful and joyful moments and that we truly start to care more about each other and work to dismantle the systems that allow and thrive off the oppression of others.
My fear is that we will all return to pre-pandemic normalcy once it’s deemed safe to do so. This pandemic has pulled back the veil on every single structure and system and has shown how flawed and problematic everything is. We can’t go back and sweep all of these issues under the rug. We need to demand and enforce real change; we need to hold ourselves and those around us accountable.
I hope the world learns the beauty of a collectivist framework. I want us to embody actually caring for one another so much.
He/HimI’m from the South, North Carolina specifically, and my entire immediate family is from the North and grew up in Philadelphia. This means that culturally, my family and upbringing felt pretty blended most of the time. It wasn’t really until I got to college that I felt like I came into my identity. I got to spend time with other Black youth who’d been in similar situations as myself, plus folks with very different experiences. We bonded, uplifted one another, and grew. I feel like my Black identity is something that I am still growing into and it will hopefully be something that never stops growing and changing.
This past year, there had to be at least a few months where I barely went within a block or two of my apartment. It was hard. I wanted to communicate with friends and stay in touch but my energy was always low or it never felt like the right time. But slowly I realized that the people around me probably felt some of the same things I did — loneliness, anxiety, forgetting how to communicate in a way that feels natural. Once I realized that, my outlook on the year changed. Things have been hard for me, but they have been hard for others too. Realizing that we are in this together and on the same page has allowed me to offer myself some more grace when it comes to dealing with my emotions around the past year.
Mental health is something that my family didn’t talk about much, but I feel like space was there to have those conversations. Mental health was really something I came into in college. My classes and experiences there helped me realize that I wanted to help LGBTQ young people with their own mental health struggles. I wanted to help create that space that may not have been offered to others in the way I had it.
I have many hopes for 2021. I hope that we return to some sense of normalcy with regards to the pandemic and global health. I hope that folks who have experienced loss find moments of comfort. I hope that the events of the past summer will help people realize that saying Black Lives Matter includes ALL Black lives. I hope that people realize that while it is hard work, change is necessary in order to have a society that benefits everyone.
She/HerHow do I feel now? There’s a quote that I think about often (from a poem by Lucille Clifton): “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” If anything, I feel proud of the resilience. The past year was tough, and it will continue to be. I feel grateful to be able to lean in on that strength.
My family didn’t talk at all about mental health at first. I think my family truly never had the language for what we were experiencing. It’s ironic because struggles with mental health are very prevalent in my family, and it often felt like the elephant in the room. We were suffering from something, that we didn’t even know how to name.
It’s greatly impacted how I talk about mental health today. It forced me to seek out and educate myself on the topic, and now I can better understand. It’s made me become a stronger advocate for mental health. Instead of it being a taboo topic, my family can now be better equipped with the knowledge to care for one another.
I hope the world learns the beauty in growth and to accept the flaws we have, both on a global and national level. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that we aren’t doing okay as a society, and that’s completely fine. I hope the world learns to foster environments that encourage us to get uncomfortable, unlearn and unpack, and become more self-aware in our actions. We are nowhere near where we need to be, but that doesn’t mean we can never get there. The story is still being written, and I would want future generations to know that at this moment, we didn’t give up. We can continue to grow; we can continue to do and be better.