KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Editor’s Note: This story contains descriptions of sexual abuse that some readers might find difficult to read.
For many African American men and women, the intersection between trauma, mental health and growing up in the Black community can be difficult to manage.
Markwan Gordon is the owner of Wyldkardlyfestyle, and shared how he manages living with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
For Gordon, growing up in Alabama was not easy.
“Just growing up in poverty, just growing up in the hood, [a] Black environment, [it was] dangerous and rough growing up around some pimps,” Gordon said.
As a fair-skinned African American male, Gordon says his appearance made him seem weak and easy to take advantage of.
So, he was forced to prove he was tougher than those around him.
“Growing up as a Black kid in the south, you’re taught to hold things in,” Gordon said. “Take it on the chin, get back up, keep going and keep going no matter what.”
Even within his own family, he witnessed mental health struggles, substance abuse issues and more. As a result, Gordon became a victim of his environment.
“At the time, [I was] emotionally and physically abused, and having to go through that as a kid, and being molested and raped as a kid, even by one of your own family members,” Gordon said. “So you know, it took a toll on me.”
According to Gordon, it took him years to fully understand what he had went through.
“A lot of the things that were happening, I was ignorant to,” he said. “The things that were going on at the time, it was happening to me. Like with me being molested, there was intercourse. I knew that was a thing, I just didn’t know how exactly it happened, or this what goes on, or is this okay for them to be doing this. It put me in a position of vulnerability.”
For a while, Gordon lived in silence with no one to talk or turn to. He suffered internally trying to prove he was anything but broken.
“When you’ve been compromised and have your innocence taken away as a child like that, that compromises you,” he said. “So then you grow in defense mode, you have this defense mechanism.”
Gordon turned fighting his thoughts and emotions into fighting those around him. That way of coping becoming Gordon’s defense mechanism.
Judge Ardie Bland is with the Kansas City Mental Health Court, and said defense mechanisms like Gordon’s begin with generational trauma.
“Your major concern is staying alive, or where you are going to eat next because your family is poor, you’re homeless,” Bland said. “It changes the perspective of whether or not you are worried about your mental health. Especially if you’re a Black man and you’re living in the urban core, weakness is basically equated to death.”
Growing up with the lack of resources and support, Gordon turned to fighting, which is another factor that Bland says leads a lot of Black men and women into his court room.
“A community that says ‘Suck it up.’ Or, ‘You’re just weak, work a little harder,’” Bland said. “There’s nothing to suck up, where do you gain that strength from if you didn’t even have the tools to begin with, to work with, to try to figure out how to suck it up [or] to figure out what questions to ask.”
At just 10 years-old, Gordon was adopted and raised by his older sister in Florida, but he continued struggling to trust and to talk about his past.
This is something that’s common in the Black community after years of silencing trauma and socio-economic disadvantages.
“Maybe only 10% of Black people are going to get treatment or any kind of therapy, where maybe its like 18% or so with the white community,” Bland said.
For many Black men and women, this lack of trust does not just impact Blacks seeking treatment from other races, but treatment from those within our community.
“One of the things that we ignore is that many slaves were sold into slavery by other Black people as well,” Bland said. “So you mistrust White people, you mistrust other Black people and when you go try to get counseling, you’re afraid to talk somebody will put you in front of a therapist.”
Nonetheless after years of pain and silence, Gordon began to fight against the stigma of seeking help.
“Once I took the initiative and realized ‘Hey, I need to talk this out.’ Like I don’t know, I felt like I was in a heavy weight fight and you know I just won the title,” Gordon said.
According to Gordon, it all began when he began seeking therapy and help from companions like his fiance and his dog, Debo. Since then, he’s started rewriting his own story.
“In situations I would find myself in, and I would feel negative feelings and I would go back and later think about it,” Gordon said. “And then I would later see him (Debo) in certain situations, like with people, or just different environments [and] how scared he may be or how he reacts.”
Gordon used the way Debo reacted to learn and reflect on ways that could help himself.
“He reacted because he has fear based aggression, not because, ‘Oh I’m alpha, I can bark at you.’” Gordon said. “I’m just mean, it’s kind of like I don’t know you, I know what you come with. And I would watch him and that’s kind of why I am reserved or why I don’t branch out like that and I started to realize that. So his characteristics are reflecting back onto me.”
Now, Gordon has finally found himself and his passion in the kitchen, with his business WyldKardLyfestyle.
“To be honest, to be completely honest, if I didn’t have cooking I’d probably be in somebody’s jail,” Gordon said.
Gordon uses his recipes to feed the mind of others through conversation and full stomachs. Sharing his story of his past to help create a better future and mindset in his community.
“Take it one situation at a time, you can’t conquer the whole world in just one day,” he said. “It takes time, that’s one of the biggest pieces and then also whatever you are doing, find your outlet, but make sure it is benefiting you like positively.”
Now, in an effort to change the narrative, Bland said having a conversation and seeking help is key in fixing the shame around mental health in the Black community.
“If you want an African American community with a future, then you’ve got to start with your children,” Bland said. “They can’t suck it up, they’re looking for us as adults to give them direction.”
Bland said this is key to helping the Black community move forward.
“The tool of responsiveness will move us forward and I think that it’s the numbers for unemployment way too high for our community, the numbers in the foster care system way too high,” Bland said. “We start changing the mental health piece in our coming and it’s doable.”
Two Americas is part of a KSHB and Scripps signature issue to help introduce our community to the America you know and the America you might not know. Our role as the media is to share the news of the day, but we also seek to give a voice to people we don’t hear from often.
Of course, there are many parts that make up our community, so we’re not just showing you two and we’re not pitting two sides against each other. Instead, we’re hoping to highlight solutions and showcase different perspectives to help us all better understand our area’s culture, our area’s past, and why our community feels the way it does today.
Two Americas: Kansas City-area chef shares story of living with mental health issues – KSHB