It shouldn’t be that mental health is found only in the richest neighborhoods in a city, and yet, that is how it has seemed to shake out in New York, where psychologists offices pepper the Upper East Side, West Village and Williamsburg, but are nowhere to be found in Flatbush or Bedford-Stuyvesant. But at least one person is trying to change that, and he just got some help from the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL).
Lawrence Lovell is a mental health counselor who grew up in East Flatbush and still lives in Brooklyn. He’s the creator of Breakthrough Solutions, a counseling and workshop startup that just won the PowerUP! Kreyol competition, which is organized by the BPL. In the competition, Lovell received business plan advice, pitching advice and a $5,000 check to get his idea off the ground.
— Lawrence Lovell (@LawrenceLovell_) September 27, 2016
Lovell’s idea is for a replicable mental health program geared at high-school and middle-school students. His idea for it came when he was a volunteer with the school organization Young Men of Character.
“I was like, ‘Man, there are mental health topics that these young men aren’t talking about, like how to express yourself like a man, how to cope with anger like a man, how to confront internal and external conflict that you’re dealing with,'” Lovell explained in an interview with Technical.ly Brooklyn after his win.
So many of the students he’s worked with, Lovell said, have serious mental health problems that inhibit them from reaching their full potential. Whether it’s family problems, peer pressure, the stress of poverty, or any number of the other stresses and anxieties that exist for young people in rough neighborhoods, these feelings frequently do not get processed in the most productive ways.
— Lawrence Lovell (@LawrenceLovell_) October 15, 2016
The idea for mental health workshops, Lovell said, “was me looking to provide a practical way for students to identify and confront different life issues they have by developing character-building techniques that help you develop a stronger character and stability through emotional times.”
Lovell’s workshops focus on topics like self-awareness, confidence building, detailed planning and readiness. With help from the PowerUP! Kreyol competition, he plans to take what he’s been doing on a volunteer basis and transform that into a sustainable organization. To do that, he will focus not just on students but also on corporate wellness and mental health workshops, both of which he’s developing a curriculum for.
The PowerUP! Kreyol competition is a program by the BPL to help small businesses owned by those in Brooklyn’s Haitian community get up and running. Those who enter the business plan competition must attend free workshops through the BPL on topics related to running successful business, from marketing to market research to accounting. Mentors from the library help the small business owners create business plans and aide with pitches. Those who complete the trainings are eligible to pitch in the competition.
It sounds great, and providing mental health is important, but what if kids don’t want mental health? In much of the culture, shrinks and talking about feelings are still viewed as a kind of weakness. Lovell acknowledged this, but said he thinks that kids simply haven’t been approached correctly on the topic.
“I think what allows me to have kids be receptive is the fact that I’m relatable [and have a] dynamic way of handling the education, where we’re asking questions, maybe we’re playing music in the beginning,” Lovell explained. “When you find a common ground with these groups of students is when you try to understand them first before speaking at them.”
Lovell is still in the beginning of the company, but has already gotten interest on the corporate side. He just booked a 10-week course with St. John’s University, and will continue his own private practice as he builds the curriculum for the workshops and approaches schools with the plans. He said he’s already gotten positive feedback from the schools he’s talked to.