May 10, 2022

How the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective Reimagines Mental Healthcare

Author National Philanthropic Trust

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. This new series highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grants from their donor-advised fund accounts.  

After fifteen years working within the community mental health system, Yolo Akili Robinson saw that something needed to fundamentally change in order for Black Americans to get the care they needed and deserved. This was especially urgent when it came to care for mental health services.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, “only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it” due in part to systemic barriers, like “socioeconomic disparities, stigma, provider bias and inequality of care.”

BEAM has an ongoing mission to empower Black men, women and non-binary individuals, as they navigate mental health institutions and services.

“I wanted to combat the effort to minimize and deny the difficult history of mental health provision in this country, while empowering Black mental health providers,” Robinson says. With that vision, he founded Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) in 2016 and continues to lead as the organization’s Executive Director.

Based in Los Angeles, BEAM is a national organization with an ongoing mission to empower Black men, women and non-binary individuals as they navigate mental health institutions and services. BEAM provides online peer support services, as well as movement building and programming in urban communities, in order to, as Robinson puts it, “help heal Black folks.”

This is key when you consider the ongoing mental health crisis among Black Americans. According to one study, “Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness and feeling like everything is an effort.”

BEAM’s also offers grants to providers so they can further support mental health care work needed within Black communities. This is vital when it comes to the disparities between Black adults requiring mental health services and practitioners who can provide culturally competent care.

According to the American Psychological Association, the field of psychology is overwhelmingly white. Black Americans only represent about four percent of the psychology workforce, including health services and academia.

BEAM, with its full-time staff of nine, counts on the generosity of donors and charitable giving. Funding from donors goes toward BEAM’s day-to-day operations, and can aid in funding their various patient and provider-targeted support grants, such as the Southern Healing Support Fund and the Black Parent Support Fund.

Donor-advised funds (DAFs) have been of particular importance to BEAM over the past few years. “[Donor-advised funds] have been very pivotal to our growth and make up almost 50 percent of our budget,” Robinson explains. Trust-based philanthropy and general operating grants have also been a powerful asset for BEAM’s work. Unrestricted support, Robinson points out, “allows us to retain our freedom to do our work.”

That work continues. And Robinson and BEAM are thinking big picture. As he puts it, “We must expand the notion of care.”

About the Author

David Alexander Bullock is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He has an MA in Philosophy and an MSW from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. He is a storyteller, researcher, and organic intellectual. He recently completed the Oral Histories project celebrating the Centennial Celebration of the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Currently, he is a consultant for the National Philanthropic Trust’s Grant Stories project.