FORT WORTH – Creating a space for African American men to come together and have open dialogue about mental health is something that Antonio Igbokidi, a second-year medical student at TCU School of Medicine, had been trying to organize since he arrived in Fort Worth in July 2020.
However, he didn’t want to use a random space for this kind of communal gathering. He wanted it to be a place where Black men could let their guard down and speak freely. Igbokidi turned to a place that has been one of the cornerstones of the African American community since the early 19th century, a barbershop.
“When I think about my childhood and my dad he spoke a lot more at the barbershop than he did at home,” Igbokidi said.
Igbokidi held his first Barbershop Talk Therapy session at Lake Como House of Fades Barbershop in Fort Worth in April. The event was done in collaboration with the Fort Worth ISD Family Action Center.
Igbokidi, who serves as the as the National Diversity Research Committee Co-Chairperson for the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), wanted the men involved to come out of the session feeling a sense of camaraderie.
“It’s all about figuring out ways to get men of color to have raw, vulnerable and organic conversations about mental health,” Igbokidi said. “Figuring out how to destigmatize and demystify mental health.”
Igbokidi was joined by members of the TCU School of Medicine SNMA Chapter as well as Brian Dixon, M.D., assistant professor at TCU School of Medicine.
Dr. Dixon is a psychiatrist with his own private practice in Fort Worth. He helped guide the discussion among the two dozen of men that came to the barbershop.
“It’s always fun to be in the classroom but to see one of my students actually out in the community doing some amazing work connecting people is amazing,” Dr. Dixon said.
For two hours, Igbokidi and Dr. Dixon, led the discussion where the participants talked freely about issues among Black men, young and old, in their community. The group shared their thoughts on crime, love, relationships, fatherhood, jobs and more.
“As a psychiatrist I’ve heard a lot in my day,” Dr. Dixon said. “But today was really poignant because it came from Black men and people who look like me. I’m really glad that they were felt safe enough to be in this space and share and that they trusted me with that honesty.”
Igbokidi also collaborated with the Black Heart Association to offer free screening for cardiovascular disease for anyone attending the session. Michael and Tara Robinson, co-founders of the Black Heart Association, were happy to be a part of something to help ease the hearts and minds of Black men.
“Everything flows through the heart whether it be mental or emotional,” Michael said. “As African American men we’re raised in a culture where we’re taught to be strong. Even as young boys there’s not a space for us to have safe conversations and be vulnerable.”
The men were able to get their glucose levels, cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of heart disease checked. The Black Heart Association has a mobile heart center where they go to barbershops, and other places, around Tarrant and Dallas Counties and offer free screenings for heart disease.
“We know that mental health plays a part in heart disease so this event was like the perfect marriage between what we do and what Toni is doing,” Tara said.
Igbokidi plans to continue the mental health sessions with his next stop being in the historic Stop 6 neighborhood in Fort Worth.
“I’ll have these same conversations whether or not they are larger or smaller,” Igbokidi said. “Just being able to have these conversations is going to bring healing. It’s going to bring understanding and it’s going to allow the communities to become stronger.”