In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Billboard partnered with Ian Davis and Brandon Holman of The Mindful Creative for a series of conversations with musical artists and executives on the self-care practices they use to stay on track, both during the pandemic and beyond.
Today’s conversation is with Jeriel Johnson, executive director of the Washington, DC Chapter of the Recording Academy and executive sponsor of the academy’s Black Music Collective. Launched last September, BMC is an advisory group of black music creators and professionals dedicated to amplifying black voices within the academy and the music industry in general. Seven-year Recording Academy veteran, the Philadelphia native and Berklee College of Music graduate joined the organization in 2014 as senior project manager of urban music after holding previous positions at NBC Universal and Warner Bros. . Records. He was recognized as the 2021 Billboard Change Agent for advocating for major changes in the industry during a year rocked by the pandemic and protests for social justice reform.
I define mental health and wellness as the search for peace through self-care. Because we have so much going on in our work and personal life, we need to figure out how to effectively balance all of these things while staying productive and enjoying life.
It all starts with perspective. My family – my wife and four children – is the most important thing to me as I work to hopefully build a legacy. After that comes my love of music… I am so grateful and blessed to be able to work in the music industry which I remember when faced with demanding or difficult times at work. I am a musician and I keep my drum practice pad on my desk. So if I ever need to let off steam between meetings, I start tattooing really quickly. Even in the way I work, I think very musically and try to find the rhythms as I deal with what needs to be done. Everything is linked for me.
For many years people were not open to talking about mental health. Now people are more and more comfortable embracing the issue. They express their feelings, their challenges, their mental health goals and share resources. And as more people communicate and work together thoughtfully and collaboratively on the issue, the stigma will start to fade. And while there are many great resources for people who are struggling right now, it’s just as important that we also develop more preventative measures to help people anticipate problems before they get out of hand. It’s really about creating more awareness and continuing to support and be kind to each other. It is the original model of life – and we can always use more of it.
In any business or position, it starts with listening. I speak very actively of listening to understand the needs of your team, to learn more about their interests and skills and help them develop so that you can help them solve potential work problems while supporting their growth. And that leads to empowerment and confidence. One of the best ways to empower someone is to trust them completely. It has been a very helpful approach for me to foster mental health and well-being in the workplace: to listen and know when to stand in front or follow the example of my teammates.
Personally, I try to go out for a run every day, or at least three to four times a week, before I start working. It gives me time to understand what the day ahead looks like. So, before I even sit down at my computer or join a meeting, I’ve already scored a victory for the day and can handle any issue better without overreacting. It is about knowing where to place your point of view when challenges arise.
This is imperative, because we are all stressed and faced with different issues, whether they are work related or personal. So when you are faced with a problem, give yourself a space that you can enter in a preemptive and proactive manner so that you can deal with whatever comes your way. For example, give yourself space to write or type what the problem is before having this direct conversation. Or maybe it’s just coming out to yell and scream to release your frustration or anger before you sort it out. Whatever the situation, first think about how you want to react before doing it.
In our business, many of us don’t prioritize our physical well-being. I know I haven’t for many years. Sometimes our working hours aren’t great and we don’t always eat the best foods. But finding the time to be active and to feel what it does for you mentally is amazing. I wish everyone would do something to get the adrenaline pumping and blood pumping. You will see and feel the benefits.
Earlier this month, I launched #EveryDayInMay to help raise awareness about mental health and wellness through fitness. I do this with friends, but I also challenge everyone to do something active each day in May. We had so many people who took up the challenge and shared what they were doing. You don’t have to run necessarily. It can be physical exercise, yoga, cycling, walking… just a measure of physical activity each day.
As a family, my wife, my children and I meditate. My wife thought about doing it two years ago to help the kids relax at the end of a long week and get them ready for the following week. While we also encourage physical activities like soccer, dancing, and karate, meditation is another way to teach mindfulness. As has been the case for many families, managing the virtual school during the pandemic has been a challenge while providing other outlets for them to unplug from their devices. At the same time, my wife and I are very much aware of creating a space for them to know that we are still there and that we support them; that they can talk to us about anything at any time.
As told to Gail Mitchell, Ian Davis and Brandon Holman.