With the recent months bringing waves of heartbreak and hardship in the form of COVID-19 as well as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others at the hands of law enforcement, the mental health of the Black community is a priority. In fact, to help make access to therapy more accessible for Black women in particular, beauty and lifestyle platform DRK Beauty is stepping up to the plate, launching an initiative that will offer them for free.
Last month, the company, which is designed to celebrate women of color, kicked off DRK Beauty Healing, a program created to make therapy services more readily and easily available to BIPOC — and its first order of business is a tall one. DRK Beauty announced its initiative entailed raising and giving away 10,000 hours of free therapy.
According to a 2011 report by the Journal of The National Medical Association, Black men and women suffering from depression in particular are frequently "under-diagnosed and inadequately managed" in primary care due to patient, physician, and treatment setting factors. These factors can include finances, "being uninsured, restrictive insurance policies, biological-genetic vulnerability, non-responsiveness to traditional pharmacological interventions, and stigma (i.e., attitudes and perceptions of mental illness)."
And, according to DRK Beauty co-founder Wilma Mae Basta, a call for action is long overdue. “Black culture in America has generational trauma,” explains Basta to The Zoe Report. “Whether it’s the stigma of mental health, because we don’t have the luxury or the funds to go see a therapist [or the] trauma of parents having to have the ‘talk’ about how you behave in public. Since slavery days, [you learned] you had to behave a certain way so you didn’t attract the wrong kind of attention that might very well get you killed. When you have that passed down to you, that is trauma. Just because we can't see it or touch it, does not mean it's not happening.”
The recent pandemic has just added fuel to an already blazing fire. “This is an event that’s so historic, unlike anything ever experienced, and because [BIPOC] are being impacted so disproportionately [by COVID-19] this will get passed down,” says Basta. “This is a national emergency. The therapists are the frontline workers. They’re the ones that need to help us so we can cope to mitigate this and continue to have our well-being looked after.”
This last statement hits on a personal note for Basta, who was diagnosed with severe depression 10 years ago. "I was hospitalized for six weeks," recalls the entrepreneur. "The tools I use today are based on the tools I developed on how to heal myself then. The first thing I did at that time, with the limited mental capacity I had, was make a decision to not feel shame. [...] I said to myself, 'When I get out of here, it's my mission to be helpful to other people going through this and I'll do that by sharing my story."
And while Basta was able to get the help she needed to heal, she and fellow DRK Beauty co-founder Danielle Jackson recognize that many others haven't yet had the opportunity to do so. Jackson says the DRK Beauty Healing initiative came about as a way to break one of the aforementioned principle barriers to entry Black women face when seeking mental health services: finances. “We need to break through that,” says Jackson to The Zoe Report. “So, we asked ourselves, how do we provide?”
In the name of research, Jackson and Basta hopped on the phone, cold calling therapists to get ideas on how they could make services more accessible to the Black community. “After making a number of calls, we spoke to one therapist who graciously gave an hour of her time, and explained that most therapists are encouraged to donate a number of hours per year,” says Jackson. “So we thought, if one therapist can give us one hour and tells 10 friends [to do the same], that’s 11 hours total. These numbers can explode easily by word of mouth.”
Word of mouth indeed. Within two weeks of announcing the launch of DRK Beauty Healing across all digital platforms, the initiative had more than 1,200 hours of therapy pledged. To date, the project has raised more than 1,500 hours across 42 percent of the U.S. “And the goal is not only to reach 10,000 hours, but also to find a therapist in every state,” explains Jackson. “Because we want women to continue these services and continue the healing.”
As for those who will directly benefit from these efforts, Jackson promises, "zero strings attached" for taking advantage of the therapy provided. "We're not taking your data, we're not taking your email, we're not taking anything from you," she says. "Just visit the site, sort by state, find a licensed clinician listed, reach out to them, and that's it."
Most recently, a very high-profile partner signed on to lend her voice and resources to the DRK Beauty Healing cause: actor Cynthia Erivo. "Danielle had shared the initiative with a friend of hers, who shared it on her Instagram stories," explains Basta. "Cynthia Erivo saw it and said, 'Wow, I'd like to get involved.'" Basta — who previously owned vintage boutique The Gathering Goddess in London, where she lived for 27 years — describes the actor's involvement as a "full-circle" moment. "I used to dress Cynthia in London when no one knew who she was! She didn't realize that DRK Beauty was my business when she first reached out."
Once the Harriet star made the discovery, it didn't take long for her and her former stylist to reconnect. "We got on a Zoom call and had a good cry," says Basta. "[Erivo] said, 'First of all, I'm going to donate $25,000 to the initiative. Secondly, I'm going to help you guys raise money.'" On June 12, the actor took to Instagram, announcing her official partnership with DRK Beauty Healing. "Spread the word," she wrote in her video post. "Self-care isn't selfish."
If you'd like to follow Erivo's suit, you can donate directly to DRK Beauty Healing's GoFundMe campaign.
Bailey RK, Patel M, Barker NC, Ali S, Jabeen S. Major depressive disorder in the African American population. J Natl Med Assoc. 2011;103(7):548-557. doi:10.1016/s0027-9684(15)30380-1