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JD DuBois and Dr. Corey Yeager are working to improve mental health in the Black community

For Mental Health Awareness Month, REVOLT caught up with JD DuBois, assistant coach of the Detroit Pistons; and Dr. Corey Yeager, psychotherapist of the NBA team, to discuss their mental health initiatives.

JD DuBois and Dr. Corey Yeager EHAS Organization

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JD DuBois and Dr. Corey Yeager are working to normalize discussions on mental health. In 2016, DuBois started Everyone Has A Story, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote compassion for others one story at a time through education, assistance and community outreach. Through initiatives such as The Right Conversation, Spread Love, Sankofa and 31 Shades of Green, DuBois and Dr. Yeager are giving support to those in need, especially those in Black and brown communities.

DuBois works as an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons and is responsible for the Player Development program. Dr. Yeager also works as a psychotherapist with the team, assisting the overall organization from a systemic and contextual position.

For Mental Health Awareness Month, REVOLT caught up with the two men to discuss their initiatives Everyone Has A Story, and 31 Shades of Green; how Black people can protect their mental health, and more. Check out our conversation below.

Tell us a little bit about Everyone Has A Story.

DuBois: Everyone Has A Story is a community-based, non-profit organization. What I mean by community-based is, when we do work...we are utilizing individuals that are already in those communities doing work. We make sure that we are staying in touch with those that are on the ground in those communities to make sure that we are providing them with what they need...As we know, in our communities, we are underserved, over-diagnosed, underprivileged — especially when it comes to psychological engagement and psychological resources.

Dr. Yeager: Just the name of the organization, Everyone Has A Story, I think it’s important that the language that we choose to use is deeply important. The understanding of Sankofa is moving forward, but reaching back. That’s what the organization is really doing. It’s going to keep moving forward, keep being innovative, but never forgetting where it came from and reaching back to bring those behind — those young folks in the community — forward.

When we say everyone has a story, I think we all kind of know that. Be sure that you're the author of your story. That’s the key. When we talk about mental wellness, mental health, all of these phrases, that we have to own our own mental wellness. No one is going to fix my mental wellness or health, it’s my job. It’s dependent on me, not anyone else.

How did 31 Shades of Green come about?

DuBois: 31 Shades of Green came about really just through conversation. Our organization is always sharing stories and always creating safe spaces to talk about mental wellness, but for Mental Health Awareness Month specifically, we talked about the wide range of mental wellness. There’s a huge spectrum of mental wellness and the color for Mental Health Awareness month is green. So, just with the understanding that 31 Shades of Green — there's 31 days in the month — and there's going to be a variety of different stories that we will share throughout the month.

31 Shades of Green is a wide spectrum of mental wellness and we wanna show you that there’s a variety of those shades. One may fit you, one may not, one may fit a family member, one may fit a spouse or a friend. Whichever one you can identify with that can aid your healing process, that's really what we’re looking to do.

Dr. Yeager: I think the concept of 31 Shades of Green is deeply important. To have those voices be vulnerable is extremely important, especially to Black and brown youth. To see folks that look like them, partnering with Miss Diddy, having her bring her connections and resources to this conversation, has been extremely important.

Blake Griffin, JD DuBois and Dr. Corey Yeager JD DuBois and Dr. Corey Yeager

You've opened up about your own struggles with mental health in the past. When did you first realize that you needed to do something to better yourself?

DuBois: It all really stemmed from me being an athlete and trying to get an edge as a player. So, figuring out, how can I be more mindful? How can I be in tune with my inner voice and inner dialogue to help performance? That’s really where it started. And then, as I started to engage in how this can affect my performance, I started to understand that there’s some deeper traumas that may bleed into my personal life as well. As I got older and got to college, I was talking to different people at my university about how many different friends had passed away and how many different people I had lost, and I realized that it wasn't normal. But, in my area where I grew up, it was normal. Thirteen, 14, 15, I had two, three, four friends that had been murdered — that was normal. But you go and expand and meet new people, and realize that that isn't normal and there could be some impact on how you behave, how you react. And then I just started to dive a little deeper, and it was a long journey — a forever healing process to try to find ways to channel support and utilize it, whether it be in my personal or work life.

Dr. Yeager: We have to recognize — especially in our community — but in all communities that healing has to occur from within. No one can heal us, we must heal ourselves. If you were born into this country, Black or brown, you suffer from trauma. It’s undeniable and intergenerational meaning that it goes all the way back to slavery. That transmission of that trauma has been handed off, generation to generation. At some point, we begin to call some of these things cultural. For instance, that we whoop our kids in the Black community. But, if we really thought about it deeply, were we whooping our children when we were kings and queens, and astrologers and doctors in Africa? Or did we learn that behavior once we came over and were forced into slavery? We started to interpret that as what discipline looks like and we started to implement that on our children. It’s really just the holding on to the trauma we experience in slavery.

Statistics show that the Black community is often misdiagnosed and underserved. How can someone like me work to improve that?

Dr. Yeager: Before we can join a broader movement and be part of something that changes the stigma that's associated with mental health, especially in the Black and brown communities, we have to do our own individualized work. That work of looking in the mirror and having that honest conversation with that man or woman in the mirror. And once that work begins, we can join with others to try to change some of those deeper roots of trauma.

Dr. Yeager, I see that you've been very vocal about the trial of George Floyd and his murder. How can Black people protect their mental health when we continuously see Black people being killed by law enforcement?

Dr. Yeager: If we look at a tree that has apples on it, and we take an apple off the tree, we take a bite and it’s bitter, so we throw the apple away. But, instead of doing that, why don't we look at the root of the tree that produced those apples? So, when we look at policing in this country, if we look at the roots of it — many of us don't know how policing began — but it began with the slave patrols in this country. They had told the poorest whites to go out and find the runaway slaves and if they run, you can kill them, and you won't go to jail or have a trial. We’ll actually pay you to do this. So, now we fast forward to today, it’s really no different.

We must rally together to force the hand of the system. The system is operating quite efficiently and negatively. It will continue to do so until we demand something quite different.

Derrick Rose and JD DuBois Gavin Rhoades
JD DuBois and Detroit Pistons Gavin Rhoades

Both of you gentlemen work for the Detroit Pistons. How did you get your players through these recent tough times with the pandemic and social injustice?

DuBois: One thing that Coach Casey has done since he came to Detroit is he's been very proactive. Three years ago when we first got here, before the NBA mandated that each team needed a mental health professional, in our first coach's meeting, he talked about the importance that we needed to find the right person to support our young players from a psychological standpoint. So, if we look at the struggles and traumas that have been going on in society now, I look back to three years ago when he brought Dr. Yeager in to be that support system to create a safe space where players can have conversations.

Dr. Yeager: I think JD hit it. The people that he named are extremely important for the psychological support at the Pistons. The Pistons’ ownership in Tom Gores, our GM Troy Weaver and last but not least, Coach Dwane Casey, who brought me in to begin to do this work before it was mandated by the NBA. One of the things that I seek to do as a therapist is be present — being around, being consistent, building trust and then talking with the guys about everyday things. When they have an acute situation or something arises, they've already got trust built with folks like me or with their coaches like JD.

How are you guys working to normalize the conversation about mental health in the Black community?

Dr. Yeager: To normalize it, assumes that there is a norm. I don't know that I believe that there is such thing as normal. My mental health is normal for me, but if I compare it to JD’s it’s different. So, there's not necessarily a norm that can be affirmed across individuals.

DuBois: Continuing to do the work in The Right Conversation, which is a mental wellness panel series that we've created which is a safe space of individuals discussing their mental wellness journeys, as well as the Sankofa initiative. Ultimately for us, if we can get the Sankofa initiative to be partnered and sponsored by each NBA team — that's the ultimate long-term goal to have one in each NBA city where the NBA team provides the resources for those community-based individuals to teach our young kings and queens psychoeducation, social-emotional learning and the African Diaspora.

What do you feel are great resources for people who are dealing with mental health issues?

Dr. Yeager: There’s research that says when you have struggles especially in the realm of mental health, there’s two things that you can do that can immediately, positively impact your mental wellness. One is to talk to people because it relieves pressure. The second piece is, sometimes we don't wanna talk to others about our issues, so writing our issues out gets it out of us and it relieves pressure. I think those are two fundamental, basic, research-based ways in which we can relieve some pressure around issues that we struggle with.

JD DuBois Gavin Rhoades

What events or panels do you have coming up that you would like us to know about?

DuBois: Just to continue to tune in to 31 Shades of Green that will be going for the duration of May. We do have some things that we are finalizing after the month of May, but just continuing to support and share stories that may resonate with them or that individuals feel may serve as a healing inspiration for any of those in their immediate or external circles.

Where can we find out more information about Everyone Has A Story?

DuBois: They can visit www.ehas.love or our Instagram page @_everyonehasastory.

If you would like to find out more information on how you can volunteer with Everyone Has A Story or donate, click here.

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