‘I want open communication around our feelings. This film is a way to hopefully open your mind and get a conversation going.’
“Last year, I lost a lifelong friend unexpectedly and went through an immense amount of grief. A few months after losing him, I lost my closest uncle. These emotions served as the inspiration for the short film I wrote and directed, ‘Speak to Me.’
“It’s a short film about mental health struggles for men. My friend who passed away inspired it. I have a big group of friends, and we didn’t know Barry was dealing with as much as he was. He was healthy, in shape, and yet we still lost him suddenly. They said they found him unresponsive.
“It was my son’s birthday, and I got the phone call. More than half of my friend group was together when I got that call. They looked over at me and saw that I was crying. I was blessed to have a support system with me on that day and for the months that followed. My group of friends, wife and family are all nonjudgmental and allow me to be vulnerable with them.
My father would tell me to ‘be a man,’ and that statement could be damaging to a young boy.
“My friends and I joke around all the time, but we also have deep conversations and uplift each other. We’re always there for each other. A few months after Barry passed, my uncle passed away. He was my biggest cheerleader.
“I wrote the script a month later and sent it to my friend, who became its producer and co-director. I used the creative process as my therapy. Barry had a clothing line and was working to release Olive Forever.
“He will live through my art. His living on Earth inspired and ignited my fire. He was an inspiration, and he passed away as a legend. The film dives into the mental health struggles men deal with, including shocking statistics on the amount of Black men who see mental problems as a personal weakness. I see this in my own community and with how I grew up from generations past.
“My father would tell me to ‘be a man,’ and that statement could be damaging to a young boy. Our ancestors dealt with traumas, and these stigmas around mental health should be broken. I have three awesome kids. I want them to know it’s all right to cry and to use their words to tell me how they’re feeling. I want open communication around our feelings. This film is a way to hopefully open your mind and get a conversation going. Mental health is for everyone.”
Interviewed by Melanie Gulbas