Yesterday, Getting Out and Staying Out had the great privilege of meeting Charlamagne tha God, co-host of the radio show The Breakfast Club and outspoken mental health advocate. GOSO guys engaged with Charlamagne in an hour-long Q&A session, talking about therapy, music, criminal justice, and more.
Charlamagne emphasized the necessity of authenticity. “The easiest thing to be in the world is yourself,” he said. “Social media always has you in performance mode, but it pays not to have a facade. I know it sounds so cliche, but you have to be yourself—especially when there are so many people trying to get you to do otherwise.”
Charlamagne openly talked about his history of anxiety, even wearing a “THERAPY” sweatshirt. He recalled the many times that he went to the hospital with the feeling of having a heart attack and being unable to breathe. “A lot of times, you grow up in a tough environment, you think those feelings of anxiety and paranoia are normal.” A lot of GOSO guys could relate: many of our participants struggle with mental health issues but cannot express it due to societal stigma. “It’s okay to have these fears and insecurities,” Charlamagne said. “Sometimes all you need is a conversation. We suppress our feelings all the time, but once you sit down and really talk with someone, everything becomes more clear.”
One participant, Latique, posed a particularly poignant question: “When you were hustling, did you ever feel like that was the only thing you were good at?” Charlamagne reflected on the circumstances of his youth: “I think most of us are good kids, but we feel like we have to do certain things in order to survive. Hustling was the only thing I knew. I liked football in high school, but couldn’t play because my grades weren’t good enough. Then I got kicked out of school, and what kids who got kicked out of school did was sell dope.”
Charlamagne’s comments spoke to the larger problem of a lack of access to education for many youth in low-income communities. Without support and encouragement, young people can develop low self-esteem and a feeling of hopelessness, rendering them vulnerable to justice involvement. That’s why GOSO’s Three E’s—Education, Employment, and Emotional Well-being—are so crucial to inspiring our guys to become their best selves. For Charlamagne, it was reading books and listening to music that showed him there was a whole different world available to him. This interest in music was what led Charlamagne to search for an internship at a local station. From there, he began his career as a music critic and radio personality.
“My motivation has always been being successful. Your thoughts become things, and the things you believe, you achieve.” He let our participants know that getting to where you want to be in life isn’t always fast and easy; it took him a long time to establish himself in his industry.
Talking about his own career, Charlamagne said, “I’ve been doing radio for 21 years, and it’s only been in the past two years that I’ve felt like I’ve found my purpose. My purpose is helping people heal.”
Charlamagne concluded with a push to invest in mental healthcare over incarceration. “Sending people to prison and jail is not the cure. It’s a treatment of the symptoms, but not a cure. You know what is the cure? Social-emotional learning. The cure is therapy.”
GOSO participants had the opportunity to take pictures with Charlamagne, and received signed copies of Charlamagne’s new memoir, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me. GOSO thanks Charlamagne tha God and his staff for organizing this wonderful event!