Self-Love, Advocacy, and Impact: Lorenzo P. Lewis is on a Mission to Improve Mental Health Access and Awareness in the Black Community and Beyond
January 22, 2024
By the time Webster University Alumnus Lorenzo P. Lewis earned his master’s in managerial
leadership in 2016, he’d already come a long way from where he began. Born in prison
to an incarcerated mother, Lewis struggled with mental health—or lack thereof—throughout
his youth. Stigma and silence were heavily present around the topic, especially for
a young Black boy who had his share of struggles. After becoming involved in gang
activity, surviving a stint in juvenile detention, and narrowly escaping incarceration
himself at age 17, Lewis knew he needed to change the course of his life. Education
offered him a roadmap and the tools to begin. Today, he’s a nationally recognized
speaker, entrepreneur and mental health advocate who founded The Confess Project of America (TCPA), a first-of-its-kind global initiative to change the landscape of mental health
access and care for everyone, but especially for Black men and boys who struggle as
he once did.
Throughout his experience with higher education, first at Arkansas Baptist College and then at Webster, where he earned both his master’s in public administration and a certificate in government contracting from the University’s Little Rock Air Force Base campus, Lewis felt drawn toward community engagement and empowerment.
Fresh out of undergrad as a young father working full-time, Lewis said he chose Webster on the advice of a friend who’d gone before him.
“I had just started my first official job in human and social services as a Medicaid caseworker at the Department of Human Services in Little Rock,” Lewis said. “I needed an institution that could support me as a non-traditional student. Webster had everything to offer—flexible time, in-person courses I could attend in the evenings, and diverse classes with other non-traditional students taught by tenured professionals. It was the best fit for my future goals.”
Those future goals have since skyrocketed for Lewis, taking shape in ways that were once only imagined or completely unforeseen. All along the way, mental health—knowing it, living it, and cultivating access to it for himself and others—has stayed at the heart of the journey.
“What started as a job for me at the age of 21 led to a true purpose- and mission-driven calling to serve my community,” Lewis explained. “I realized that I was impacted by mental health most of my life coming up. My friends, their families, and my family were affected, but no one truly did anything to bring awareness to the issue. Today, thankfully, the world is having more in-depth conversations about mental health.”
Lewis is now at the forefront of those very conversations thanks to his work through TCPA, a national organization with a global reach that, as their mission states, “fosters mental health advocacy in the African American barber and beauty industry by empowering frontline workers through groundbreaking mental health curriculum that has been evaluated and backed by Harvard University.”
In short, TCPA trains barbers and other beauty professionals, traditionally seen as pillars in the African American community who are socially connected, familiar and—most of all—accessible, to be mental health advocates, and much, much more.
“By doing this, we are empowering everyday people, who may not be directly connected with the medical/behavioral health world, to make a difference,” Lewis said.
In less than a decade, TCPA has reached 3 million people across 52 cities and 30 states. The organization now aims to reach 120 million people across the globe with mental health awareness, support, and advocacy training.
Among TCPA’s most recent initiatives are the “Beyond the Shop Community Mental Health Advocate Training Program,” which also features training and tools backed by Harvard, and the “Arkansas Barbershop Network for Youth Criminal Justice Prevention: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration,” a program with a mission to help prevent at-risk youth across Arkansas from entering the juvenile justice system through education and opportunity-building experience and training. Both programs seek to build upon the success TCPA has had in the barber and beauty industry by delivering tools, access and understanding to even more everyday people across the nation and globe. The results are broken down barriers to access and information, alongside the smashing of silence and stigma that have long plagued a community historically rife with experiences of trauma and heavy societal burdens.
Lewis and teams’ efforts are paying off—quite literally—and garnering attention, too. Last year, the “Breaking the Cycle” program garnered a 450-thousand-dollar grant from the Walmart Foundation to further its work. Lewis has written a book about his life’s journey, and he has become an in-demand, nationally-recognized speaker; one who was recently featured at the annual Clinton Global Initiative’s CGI23 meeting in New York City. Lewis and the work of TCPA have been featured on countless media outlets and platforms, including Oprah Magazine, BET, CNN, NPR, PBS, Black Enterprise, Men’s Health, Huffington Post, “The Today Show,” “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” and many more.
Still, even with all of the success, Lewis said there’s more work to be done. He and his team are not only ready but quite busy speaking truth to power to push that work forward, all while keeping young Black men centered, supported, and heard.
“I like to center conversations with young people on four letters—L-O-V-E,” Lewis said, “with the understanding that the word “love” has so much power to it. I don’t think a lot of people understand the benefit of love or how it can be used to help self.”
He went on to explain that while his success has certainly come from a lot of “determination and grit,” its’ true center and driving force has been “self-love.”
“I had to practice in order to move forward,” Lewis said. “When I practiced telling myself that I was better and deserved better, things around me really started to change.”
Lewis’s best advice for youth struggling in today’s chaotic world is tied to this same philosophy:
“Do not let the world tell you that you’re not good enough,” he said. “Our youth are struggling with so many messages of not being good enough, which has led them to challenges and destructive behavior. I want to bring power back to the word “LOVE” in a way that can break our youth free and lead them to live positive and healthy lives.”