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African-American men are often told that expressing certain emotions are weak and make them less of a man. Growing up, most are urged not to cry if they fall and hurt themselves and are instead told to “suck it up.” Manhood, however, becomes harder to deal with as life in general gets harder and it’s not so easy to suck up fears, losses, and insecurities. But men fear talking about these subjects because they don’t want to look “soft.” For Black men with mental health disorders, finding the courage to battle their demons is even tougher.

Youth inspirational speaker and former NFL player Jay Barnett knows this struggle all too well. In his latest book, Hello King,  Barnett shares his sordid past and how wrestling with his own identity led him to contemplate suicide twice. Fed up with the assassination of young men’s portrayal in the media, Barnett offers solutions to help them find their way and claim their rightful thrones.

“In today’s society there are many interpretations of what makes a man,” Barnett told us. “Social media and music have created their own meaning. The community around us has shaped its own definition. Let’s set our own definition of what makes one.

“Some young men have adopted the reset button on game consoles as the fix for their lives. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like a video game. It’s shaped by actions and decisions. So although it’s not your fault that the idea of what makes a man was falsely expressed to you, it is now your responsibility to redefine what makes you a man.”

So how do young men of any race get the information they need when the culture they grow up in doesn’t giving them agency to do so or access?


“I can recall winging it like many other young people. When I was getting ready for college I didn’t have any family members to get advice from because none of them attended college. I was the first of my five siblings to go. As fate would have it, I met a pastor, Juan Wesson, who took me under his wing. He had gone to college on a basketball scholarship and understood the ins and outs of being a student athlete. He attended my games and called me weekly to check on me. It was a brand new feeling to have a consistent male presence that cared about every detail of my life. It was the first time I had experienced the wonderful reality and truth of having a mentor.”

Barnett believes if it weren’t for his mentor, he would’ve dropped out of college when his mother lost her job and became homeless. Pastor Juan challenged him to hang in there. Barnett didn’t realize all that had been instilled in him until he graduated from Tarleton State University.

“I never saw Pastor Juan again, but I am forever grateful for his mentorship during my college years.”

Now as a mental health professional, Barnett’s goal is to rebuild broken kids one heart at a time. Today, the former Green Bay Packer serves as a mentor for many boys and girls in Houston via his organization, the ME Project, which hosts a series of events and activities throughout the year to inspire teens to soar against all odds and develop a healthy sense of self — especially young boys.

“What a man drives isn’t important as what drives a man,” Barnett said. “Let’s let our boys no longer be driven by their testosterone and the egos between their legs.”

On October 29, Jay will give away 100 free copies of Hello King.


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