Lance Blanks, assistant general manager for the Cleveland Cavaliers, gives an interview during Day 1 of the "Basketball Without Borders" African camp on Sept. 7, 2005, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
On May 3, Lance Blanks, a retired NBA player who spent the rest of his career as an NBA executive and an analyst for an ESPN affiliate network, died by suicide. He was 56.
“But the fact is we will never truly know why. And we don’t need to. All we need to do is remember him, honor him, celebrate him and pour our love into the family that made him happy,” his daughter Riley Blanks Reed wrote in a tribute to him on ESPN. “All we need to know is that, oftentimes, the people in the most pain are the giants in our lives.”
Blanks is highest-profile Black male celebrity to have died by suicide since dancer and frequent ”The Ellen DeGeneres Show” contributor Stephen “tWitch” Boss, who died in December.
I’m aware a lot of Black folks still harbor that woefully anachronistic “suicide is for white folks” mentality. But there have been several prominent Black male deaths by suicide in recent years: former NFL wide receiver Charles Johnson, former Hyattsville, Maryland, Mayor Kevin Ward and Ian King Jr., the son of Regina King.
Johnson and Ward were 50 and 44, respectively, but the young people in our ranks appear to be in particular danger: Black youth have seen the fastest-rising suicide rates among any ethnic group in the last 20 years, with suicide among Black male youths rising 60% in that period.
Suicides among Black Americans of all ages might also be extremely undercounted, for multiple reasons all connected to racism.
Boss’ suicide rocked many people who weren’t even familiar with his work, mainly because it appeared on the surface that all was well: a loving wife, Allison Holker Boss (with whom he danced on Instagram Live a day before his death), three children and a gig that paid well and kept him in the public eye.
To understand suicide is to know that it doesn’t much matter how people appear on the surface.
“No one had any inkling that he was low. He didn’t want people to know,” Allison Holker Boss told People earlier this month. “He just wanted to be everyone’s Superman and protector.”
That, essentially, sums up the Black man’s struggle with mental health. We’re expected to ride for everyone else without looking out for ourselves.
Stephen Boss attends the Critics Choice Association's 5th Annual Celebration Of Black Cinema & Television at Fairmont Century Plaza on Dec. 5, 2022, in Los Angeles.
Black men have a fraught relationship with mental health unlike that of any other ethnic or gender group. It starts with a health care industrythat has historically mistreated all Black people and continues to demonstrate inequity in treatment today.
There’s also the issue of men of all ethnicities placing mental health in the backseat of priorities. Even in 2023, with all that we know about the benefits of protecting our mental health, stoicism is still expected of men in lieu of expressing “feminine” emotions. (Do your job! Put Peg A into Slot B and don’t cry about it!)
That unholy combination has left us with a bunch of Baby Boomer Black men who wouldn’t think of dropping coins to talk to a stranger about their feelings. It’s the living demographic that has probably experienced more potent racism in America than anyone else keeping emotions bottled in.
How do we deal with this problem? The very first thing is destigmatizing mental health and recognizing that suicide is not “quitting.” I’d argue this is one of the toughest issues for Americans to reconcile.
Next is to understand and embrace that the seeds of the Black man’s plight were planted centuries ago, and those trees have yet to be cut down. We remain far more likely to die or suffer the impacts from gun violence. We remain less likely to graduate college than even our Black female counterparts. We suffer a host of health maladies unique to us, and so on.
These aren’t your fault, Black men.
It’s also important to understand that, despite what a bunch of viral posts with 20-somethings adjudicating what constitutes “masculine behavior” have to say about the matter, we’re still human beings who feel things. Look no further than the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna to remember how collective we were in our feelings.
Finally, we need to understand the value of therapy. I know how tough it can be to step away from the compartmentalization that’s a literal method of survival for some of us. But cracking your chest open to an impartial third party with the training to help you can pull you out of a hole — I’m living proof of this.
It’s still tough to find licensed Black male therapists, but Psychology Today lets you narrow the search down.Depending on where you live, there are free nonprofit safe spaces designed specifically for Black men, like ones developed by therapist Femi Olukoya in Houston.
I love seeing more famous Black men speaking out in support of therapy, including Will Smith and “The Breakfast Club’s” Charlamagne tha God. Jerrod Carmichael’s 2022 stand-up special ”Rothaniel” was more of a refreshing therapy session than a gut-busting comedy romp — I believe more of that energy will motivate us in the right direction.
Most of us don’t have Carmichael’s platform of millions to get the monkey off our back, and even if we did, most of us wouldn’t speak to the world about our issues. But speaking to someone is necessary if you’re experiencing depression or suicidal ideation. If therapy isn’t accessible to you for whatever reason and you have no one to speak to, hit me up via the link in my profile below ... I’ll rap with you.
If talking to a random, unlicensed columnist (understandably) isn’t for you, dial the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Just don’t stay alone in your head. Recognize that you always have somewhere to turn, Black man. Hang around for a while.
If you or someone you know needs help, dial 988 or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also get support via text by visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at dontcallthepolice.com. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.