As part of our #ReclaimOurStrength campaign and partnership with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for National Minority Mental Health Month, we have invited their 35th  General President Everett B. Ward, PhD to share his story about a troubling time in his life and how he made it through.

I remember it as if it were yesterday. One day after my 52nd birthday, on November 7, 2010, at Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC, I was standing next to my father’s coffin eulogizing him. While I cannot remember my words from that day or hear the sound of my own voice, I could clearly hear his voice reminding me that men, especially Ward men, do not cry. The truth however is, that day I was hurting, hurting very deeply. I managed to get through the eulogy and all the activities involved in his homegoing with my family – wife Cassandra, mother Dorothy, sister Felecia, her husband James and their daughters, Aunt Katie, and many friends and family – beside me.

Little did I know, that day would begin a downward spiral of deaths in my immediate family that literally brought me to my knees and truly tested my faith. Less than one year later, my Aunt Katie, who I had cared for in my home, and who had been like a second mother to me, died on June 26, 2011. A few months later, I would lose my best friend and the love of my life, my wife of 29 years, Cassandra passed on September 22, 2011. Then on November 13, 2013, I lost my first love, my mother Dorothy.

It was truly a difficult period for me. Early on I was offered help, but I refused. The truth is the pain became so difficult that I had no choice but to seek help. Looking back I now realize my pride, along with the voice of my father, had kept me from seeking the help that I needed.

July marks the beginning of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.  When I became the General President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., I made a commitment to make sure that the fraternity was on the cutting edge of leadership and advocacy for the African American community. Being a leader means that you have the conversations that need to be had to advance our community.  For this reason, The Office of the General President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has partnered with Henry Health to launch Reclaim Our Strength, a national digital campaign aimed at raising the awareness of the importance of the emotional and mental health of black men.

For far too long, we have asked men to take on the persona of being invincible, of being the juggernauts of our families and communities. My father told me that men don’t cry and I believed him. It was only after I could no longer hold my own tears in that I realized my father’s advice was misguided.

We are living in a very stressful society, and the pressures of life often become too hard to bear. From finances to family issues to pressure at work, black men face a myriad of daily stressors, and suppressing our feelings and emotions is not healthy.  As Alpha men, we have always prided ourselves on being leaders within our communities. The truth is however, we can’t lead if we are emotionally unhealthy.

Losing my loved ones broke me in ways that I am just now able to talk about. Family relationships are often at the center of our lives. Our lives revolve around our loved ones, and when we lose them we are forced to reimagine our lives without them. For me, this was a hard process, but with the right help, I was able to overcome the loss of my loved ones.

I hope that we can help stimulate a new conversation among black men. This new conversation demands that we redefine what it means to be strong. Being strong isn’t merely about physical strength. It is also about emotional and mental strength as well. My father was a wise man, but he was wrong, real men do sometimes need to cry and seek help when they need it. Seeking help is a courageous act that can’t be measured against anyone else’s standard of strength.

I hope that brothers and men all across the country will participate in this conversation.

To encourage this conversation, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has partnered with Henry Health to launch a digital campaign – #ReclaimOurStrength.  Starting the conversation is only the first step in this process. We look forward to continuing on this journey towards optimal mental, physical, and emotional health for all of our brothers around the world.

Everett B. Ward Ph.D. is the 35th General President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. where he is also a life member. During his administration, Ward has moved the fraternity to actively advocate on behalf of causes affecting the African-American community, specifically men of color.

Dr. Ward also serves as the 11th president of Saint Augustine’s University. He is the 3rd Saint Augustine’s University alumnus to serve as its president, in its 151-year history. As president, Ward has championed academic excellence and encouraged innovation in scholarship and teaching.

Dr. Ward earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Augustine’s College. He also earned a Master of Arts degree from North Carolina State University (NCSU), and his PhD from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University. As a result of his academic achievements, Dr. Ward was a North Carolina A&T State University Wardham Scholar and a member of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and the Golden Key International Honor Society.

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