Q&A With Dr. Obari Adeye Cartman: Healing, Youth Work, and Masculinity
Dr. Obari Adeye Cartman is the author of Lady’s Man: Conversations for Young Black Men about Manhood and Relationships and numerous other essays. He serves as the program director for Real Men Charities, Inc, a Chicago-based organization that works with men, youth, and families to promote wellness through cultural programming (including drumming circles). Dr. Cartman is also the President of the Chicago Association of Black Psychologists, associate editor of the South Side Drive Magazine, and maintains a directory of Black mental health providers. Dr. Cartman attended Hampton University as an undergraduate and then completed a PhD in clinical-community psychology. Having been raised in a family that honored African traditions, his work marries theory and Dr. Obari Adeye Cartman. practice in very intentional and critical ways. I interviewed Dr. Cartman because he is the embodiment of putting theory into practice (word to Fred Hampton) through his writing and community advocacy, as well as his deep love and commitment to healing Black people and youth during these difficult times.
How do you approach this idea of mental wellness and self-care?
It’s really hard. I don’t even like the psychology word. I don’t call myself a psychologist if I can avoid it. For example, a lot of the things that I do, I consider to be intentionally creating space for activities or conversations that I would deem therapeutic; I don’t often call therapy. When I think about the thing that encapsulates the through-line of all my work, it’s much more about my obligation as a human being to leave the planet better than I found it. And as a descendant of African people in this country, a more targeted obligation to redeem the sacrifices of the ancestors that paved the way.
I like the attention being called to therapy in the mental health space. However, I have a different view on conversations about stigma, I think that there are lots of ways in which the resistance to going to the doctor for therapy is justified in Black and Brown communities. The stigma comes from the historical memory of being harmed by these institutions. I don’t think it’s that we don’t believe in wellness. I think that we just have a distrust of the systems, and therapists are representative of those systems. Also, if we’re just fixing individual trauma, without addressing systemic and inter-generational trauma, we are just a part of a system, just like any other corporation. I also don’t think that we as a field have the capacity to meet the demand and needs. Every therapist I know right now has a waiting list. I think we’re being dishonest in some ways to encourage people to go to therapy, I think that the more appropriate, a more useful healing conversation is, how do we give this information back to the people? We can equip communities with the power to use communal spaces for healing, and there may or may not be a licensed therapist in the room.
How has your scholarship and the work that you do with young men been influenced by Black Feminisms and Black Feminist Thought?
I will say my first official foray into feminism, as I understand that now was through bell hooks. She shifted the direction of my work, particularly thinking about manhood. I would also say that from a young age, I was learning from my mother and other women in my life. Growing up, I was frustrated with the level of superficial talk that men were having. I always prefer to learn and be around women and I’ve learned a lot from them. The high school boys I’m talking to often have no idea there’s a transformation in masculinity happening. They’re not even connected to this conversation. We have to use their music and culture to have honest conversations about the work we all need to do. I’m very transparent in my work, I bring a lot of myself, my personal successes, and mistakes. It’s not always pretty, but it needs to happen. If you call yourself a feminist [as a man], and you’re not engaging with men on a repeated basis, then it’s fluff to me.
Amid global uprisings against anti-Black state violence and a pandemic, what’s the role of experts or researchers or PhDs and researchers in this movement?
A lot of the work that I was doing pre-pandemic translated pretty well to the virtual platform. I have a rite of passage curriculum that I do, and I was doing it in juvenile detention centers in high schools, but it’s very multimedia. I also wrote a book a couple of years ago for Black boys. And I think it’s a good book, but it didn’t matter because they weren’t reading it. I had to learn how to adapt and translate it and to make the reading palatable. To me, I think it’s our job to make work accessible and appealing. In doing that, I use a lot of hip hop, I use a lot of videos, a lot of multimedia clips, a lot of pop references. I think we also need to listen more. I think we need to get out of this ivory tower and go to people and engage. It means not being as comfortable. I think that’s true for all the professionals, whatever office you’ve been sitting in, that has not solved the problems. It might not be in rooms with air conditioning. And it might not be through voices that have suits and ties, it might look different than what you were accustomed to.
We have an election around the corner, how do you talk to young people about U.S. politics?
I don’t get too much into U.S. politics. Instead, I speak to the tools of emotional intelligence and critical thinking. I hope they apply these to everything that they do. I also try to encourage active conscious participation in all the ways that can be possible.