Inspiration can strike in the most unexpected places, and that can lead to new music or perhaps springboarding a mental health movement based out of a barbershop. In a special episode of “Love & Respect with Killer Mike,” musician Jack White shares the details of his two new albums and mental health advocate Lorenzo Lewis explains how barbershops can be the key to better mental health in Black men.
After discussing his creative process during the pandemic in the first part of his “Love & Respect” interview, it’s no surprise that art in unexpected places took center stage in the conversation between Jack White and host Killer Mike. The Third Man Records label owner recently released Fear of the Dawn, his first new album since 2018. Next month, White will release a second project, Entering Heaven Alive, less than a year later. The Nashville-based rocker didn’t set out to create two different albums, but he realized the music fell into two distinct categories. He shares, “I didn’t know this [having two full albums] was going to happen while I was working on these songs. What ended up happening is there were a lot of soft songs and a lot of heavy songs.”
One such song from Fear of the Dawn features rap icon Q-Tip. The song, titled “Hi-De-Ho,” samples Cab Calloway’s 1931 hit “Minnie the Moocher.” Although the collaboration may come as a surprise, the genre-bending record is not the first time the pair have connected. They performed a song together at a 2015 Madison Square Garden concert, and the White Stripes co-founder recalled the legendary rapper inviting him to an all-star recording session. He says, “I stopped by and the room was unbelievable; it was Andre 3000, D’Angelo, De La Soul, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle.” The pair continued to trade music and ideas via email and eventually, the collaboration came to fruition. As the 12-time Grammy winner gears up for his next album release and scheduled live performances, he still maintains his other creative pursuits, such as upholstery and design. White reveals, “Nothing inspires me more about music than when I’m working on something else.”
The latter half of this week’s episode featured Lorenzo Lewis, a mental health advocate who found inspiration in another unexpected place: the barbershop. To date, his non-profit organization The Confess Project counts 1,000 barbers in 40-plus cities around the country as trained mental health advocates for their clients. Rather than try and force barbers to become therapists, Lewis’ training teaches them to identify, listen, and advocate. He says, “[We are] teaching them how to engage certain language and words and how to support that client.” Recognizing that barbershops have traditionally been places where Black men feel solidarity and freedom to express themselves, the Little Rock native combined his skills and education (Lewis has a bachelor’s degree in human services and a master’s degree of public health) to tackle a larger problem: Black men and mental health. He started The Confess Project in 2016 and has recently moved its headquarters to Atlanta.
In the face of a rising mental health epidemic, more people are turning to alternative forms of therapy, just like the entrepreneur and author has. The Arkansas Baptist College alumnus is all too familiar with how important safe spaces and mental health are, as his own personal journey has been far from easy. Born to incarcerated parents in New Jersey and raised by his aunt in Arkansas, Lewis joined a street gang at 17 years old and was quickly swept up by the criminal justice system. Reflecting on his early life, Lewis realizes many of his problems stemmed from two parents who could not physically be there. He says, “[It was] a sense of confidence, a sense of self-esteem, a sense of identity lost because I couldn’t connect with my parents.” He recognizes that there are many young people still today who deal with incarcerated or absentee parents, and his organization is one piece of a possible solution.
His hope is that barbers in his program can be a conduit for more thorough and open discussions about mental health amongst Black men who are vastly underrepresented in traditional spaces. He says, “Barbers can be better at active listening, communication … how to reduce stigma.” Perhaps the men they speak to will be inclined to seek out licensed mental health professionals and continue the conversation — because it is about where the inspiration comes from as well as the impact you have once you’re inspired.