Contributed by Bria Williams
In Black vernacular, the phrase “How You?” is used as a greeting, a colloquialism, and a genuine inquiry. To Daniel Fairley, however, it is also a mantra and a commitment to the mental health and wellness of Black Men across the nation.
Daniel is a Youth Opportunity Coordinator for the City of Charlottesville, as well as a mentor (first and foremost), an activist, and an equity enthusiast. A native of Stafford County, VA, Daniel found himself in the Charlottesville Community for the first time in 2016, as a staff member at the University of Virginia. “UVA brought me here but the city kept me here”, Fairley stated, reflecting on his choice to remain in the area after leaving his initial position. More specifically, Daniel was influenced to stay when he realized the depth of inequities plaguing the black and brown communities, paired with the abundance of local resources being notably under-utilized.
“I am a person that gives. I am a person who wants to spend every part of my day making the world better in whatever way I can. I am someone who centers everything I do on relationship building, equity, and stewarding resources in the best ways possible to aid the underserved.”
When asked to reflect on himself in “ I am” statements, Fairley mused the above quote. His sentiments become quite evident, however, in the breadth of Equity work Daniel quickly became involved in throughout the City of Charlottesville since deciding to make the space his home. Since completing his UVA tenure, Daniel remains actively involved in the work of their recently erected Equity Center. He also serves on the Equity Commission within Charlottesville City Schools and on the Board of Loaves and Fishes Food Bank.
Beyond equity, Mr. Fairley has also accepted a moral charge to devote his life’s efforts to black men, their wellness, and black male achievement. He currently serves as the President of the organization 100 Black Men of Central VA. Additionally, he mentors several black youth in the community. His most recent endeavor, however, is a mental health podcast entitled How U?, fashioned by Black Men, for Black Men to “tell our stories and hold our experiences in a transparent light”.
Growing up in the upper-middle class, heavily militaristic community of Stafford, mental health in black men was often an unaddressed topic in Daniel’s early life. Contrarily, there was an unspoken perception that it was “unthinkable to complain or worry [about mental health], when so many people around you constantly lived and worked in so much tragedy.” This sentiment, in fact, led to Fairley developing the belief that it was “ridiculous for [him] to think [he] needed therapy” and initially undervaluing his mental wellness.
After dealing with his own bout of grief while studying and working post-graduate in Vermont, Daniel’s relationship with mental health began to drastically shift. “I was living in a super white space hundreds of miles from my family for the first time,’ he recalled. In navigating this space with few familiar faces or comforting cultural reminders, Daniel suffered an intense and immediate loss of community and normality. It was not until engaging in subsequent therapy that Fairley was able to identify that he was in a period of depression caused by his heavy grief and change of lifestyle.
“It took me a while to accept that I was dealing with depression, but being diagnosed led me to understanding and embracing mental health.”
Although this was his second encounter with therapy, this experience was Fairley’s “first deep dive” into his own mental health and supporting processes. This first time working with a black therapist both validated the grief he was experiencing in his new community and challenged him to form a new relationship with his mind that has followed and supported him since.
Daniel’s affinity to mental health and wellness among Black Men was reinvigorated last summer as COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter Protests against police brutality took an unprecedented rise. The grief and loss of normality he experienced in wake of both aforementioned pandemics raised eerily similar feelings of grief and despair comparable to his time in Vermont. Fortunately this time, Daniel was equipped with a tool-kit of strategies to support his own mental health needs, with enough excess to overflow onto those around him as well.
“Most of the work I do is about black men,” he shared. So understandably, when George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery’s cases took to public light in 2020, Fairley was deeply disturbed and moved to act. In addition to protesting last summer, Daniel watched and listened intently to the grieving hearts of Black America. As the pandemic transitioned work (and life) to mostly virtual operations, Fairley was left with much time to reflect on his journey to date and the things he saw and felt. Upon reflecting, Daniel realized his dissatisfaction with the current scope of his duties.
“I’m not doing what I was put here to do. How can I feed my purpose? How do I get back to that work? And what does it mean to check-in in a way that’s not super structured?”
An answer to all of these questions, Fairley created the How U? Podcast as both a work project and a way “to continue a conversation about black men and mental health; to show vulnerability by being vulnerable [himself]”.
The podcast is an effort to merge anti-racism, Daniel’s professional work, and current events in the Black community. It addresses various mental health issues for Black men close to Daniel’s heart such as depression, the egocentricity of society, and the concurrent trauma of social media, Covid injustice, and police brutality. Since COVID has forced many hard conversations to now occur through a screen, innovators like Daniel have fashioned methods like How U? To turn new challenges into uplifting resources and opportunities for growth.
In the future, Fairley hopes to expand How U? by merging it with his passion for youth development and getting kids in the community involved. He deeply desires to interview youth for the show and hear them explain exactly “how they get through it all” and maintain their mental health in today’s society. Fairley also wishes to create a student production team for the podcast to include interviewers and writers, making it a multifaceted teaching and learning opportunity as well.
“This podcast helps me take care of myself; I do the work of antiracism by taking care of myself and black people.”
In addition to creating podcast episodes as a mental health support strategy, Daniel engages in many other modes of self-care, and encourages other Black men to do the same. Some of his favorite activities include being in community with family and friends, volunteering, playing basketball, and practicing yoga.
Because of his ongoing wellness practices and his transparency in growing his relationship with mental health, when asked the question How U?, Mr. Fairley answered contently: “I am well because I get to do what I’m meant to do. I’m well because of this community, and the people that support me [in it]. I am grateful to put what I was given back into the world, because it wasn’t mine to keep in the first place. I’m grateful. That’s really what it comes down to.”
We desire wellness for the whole of the Black Community. If you or someone you know is in need of Mental Health support services, please know that it’s okay, to not be okay, and the journey to wellness begins with just one step.
Be sure to check out the How U? Podcast or visit helphappenshere.org for more mental health resources.