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Read- Archie Green made it OK for rappers to talk about mental illness: Cleveland Champions
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Article about Mental Health Advocacy in Cleveland
By Adrian Horton | The GuardianThis story is part of The Plain Dealer’s Cleveland City Champions series, which honors people and organizations that have done bold, innovative work to lift up a neighborhood or a community. The series was produced in partnership with The Guardian and with public broadcaster Ideastream. To read about other Cleveland City Champions, go to tinyurl.com/CleChampions (Links to an external site.)
- CLEVELAND, Ohio — Archie Green is a rapper and a producer who uses hip-hop to de-stigmatize mental illness in black and brown communities.
- It’s a cause he has championed after facing his own challenges with depression, and a message that Green’s mental health awareness initiative, Peel Dem Layers Back, works to spread in Cleveland.
- Green says that before he experienced therapy around five years ago, he “didn’t really know what mental illness was … We didn’t really talk about it.”
- A huge reason for that – and one of the main obstacles Green works to dismantle in his music and advocacy – is what he describes as “the longstanding misconception that black men specifically have to be strong, and can’t be vulnerable, can’t cry, can’t feel emotion. Emotion as a weakness – that’s a lie.”
- Now 34, Green said he experienced bouts of undiagnosed clinical depression growing up in Chagrin Falls, where he was one of the only black students. As a teen, he channeled loneliness into making music, particularly hip-hop, which captured his attention at age 13 after he saw Jay-Z’s video for Hard Knock Life.
- But he didn’t start publicly sharing music grappling with depression and vulnerability until years later. After obtaining an economics degree from Morehouse College and a music business graduate degree from New York University, Green moved from the big city back home to his parents’ house. A DUI arrest suspended his drivers’ license for a year, and symptoms of serious depression began to worsen. At Thanksgiving dinner in 2014, he started having a panic attack. “At that point in my life, I was literally counting down the hours to where, if I wasnot alone by myself, recharging, I’m going to break down,” he recalled. “That’s when I knew something was wrong.”
- Help from someone who can relate
- A concerned friend who was also a licensed psychiatrist finally asked him: “Have you ever considered therapy?” Even the question was “huge,’’ Green said, “because it’s the first time anyone had ever talked to me about therapy. But secondly, and more importantly, he looked like me.”
- Crucially, he found an African-American male therapist who could relate to his experience. “Especially in the black community, I always try to tell people: You don’t have to go to just the free clinic and just take whatever is available,” Green said. “You can be specific with who you ask.”
- Green also turned again to music. In April 2016, a story from Vice on rappers opening up about depression featured one of his songs, “Layers.” With sweeping piano plinks and unvarnished lyrics such as “Let’s talk facts: my life was very dark,” and “my doctor said it gets better soon as I peel dem layers back,” the song struck a nerve and went viral, with 25,000 streams on Soundcloud within two weeks. The response made Green consider his mission differently. “I started getting this idea that maybe I should be doing more than music, maybe I should start telling my story,” he said.
- Peel Dem Layers Back
- He founded Peel Dem Layers Back in 2016, when he was working as an outreach coordinator for Cleveland’s Museum of Modern Art; since then, the group (Green and usually one or two volunteers at a time) has hosted quarterly and bimonthly events, some with licensed mental health professionals on hand for on-the-spot consultations. For the Root of It All, a mental health awareness festival he hosted, six hip-hop artists, Green included, performed a couple songs each and spoke of their own mental health stories. Artists talked about “how they dealt with suicidal thoughts, artists who talked about trauma that they faced as a kid, about ramped up anxiety,” said Green. “Really pouring out – that’s not something you typically get from a rap show.”
- Peel Dem Layers Back’s biggest event to date was a show called My Violin Weighs a Ton, which brought hip-hop culture to historic Severance Hall. The concert was supported by the Cleveland Orchestra’s Neighborhood Partners program, of which the Lexington-Bell Community Center is a member, and inspired by such genre crossovers as Nas at the Kennedy Center or Jay Z at Carnegie Hall.
- The Orchestra accompanied a group of kids, all of color, who played classical guitar, performeded their own rhymes, and sang Old Town Road to “the most diverse crowd they’ve ever seen – we’re talking about race, age, gender, sexual orientation, class,” Green said.
- If there’s a unifying strand for Green’s work, it’s the act of sharing, whether it’s music, creativity, vulnerability, or common experience. Through it all, Green has remained open, determined to convince others that it’s ok to be broken, ok to share when you’re not doing well. “I’ve been going to therapy now for almost five years,” he said, “and all I want to do is save other people and be like: you can be healthy too. Please talk about this.”
Name: Archie GreenOrganization: Founder, Peel Dem Layers BackCleveland credentials: Archie grew up in Chagrin Falls, sometimes feeling isolated and depressed. He came home to northeast Ohio after college and graduate school.Champion credentials: A crisis in his own life pushed him to try therapy. Since then, he’s spread the message through music that it’s OK to be depressed or anxious, and OK to get help for it. He’s also been a bridge between Cleveland’s traditional music mavens and its insurgent hip hop scene. Among other things, he’s helped produce My Violin Weighs a Ton at Severance Hall.How to get involved: Go to archiegreenisclass.com/music/