Xavier Traded Street Life for Corporate Attorney Life
Self-identification: “Super Southern Black”
Zodiac Sign: Taurus
Career: Tax lawyer
Passion: Creating Value and Opportunity
I experienced depression and anxiety that stemmed from a feeling of not necessarily being enough or doing enough with the talents I’ve been given. I also felt a sense of survivor’s guilt because none of my friends went to college except for one, only half of my friends graduated high school and several are dead from gang activity.
Tell us about what your upbringing was like?
I grew up in Durham, North Carolina. If you don’t know, Durham was the original Black Wall Street. Growing up, we weren’t completely broke, but we definitely had zero extra money to spare and the end of the month was always tight. At one point during my childhood after my parents separated, I remember eating out of vending machines for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when living with my dad. But, my parents made me feel rich and tried their best to shelter me from the realities of my environment.
Did you receive any messages about mental health care while growing up in Durham?
Growing up, there was a lot of unintentional invalidation of my feelings and experiences. Like if I was sad, my dad would tell me to stop whining. My parents were going through their own stuff so they could only focus on me so much. Being a Black kid and growing up in the South had a huge influence on my experiences including my mental health. Like, I was taught stereotypical masculinity such as not crying and not making things a big deal. I felt like I had to be the rock of the family and be unemotional as possible. Even as a kid I felt I had to be macho. It was a badge of honor to say, “I never cried in front of a girl or since a baby. I even held back my tears at my grandmother’s funeral when I was 11 or 12 because I didn’t want to be viewed as “soft.” Being called soft is as close to killing a guy’s masculinity as you can get.
That’s a common experience for too many Black boys and does nothing but harm their psyche and mental health. Did you learn anything about mental health care in school?
Nothing at all that I can think of. Honestly, my parents were more concerned about me not being involved in gangs so I went to a school outside of my district.
In retrospect, what support did you need as a child?
I’m not sure. My parents really helped me by giving me an emotional support dog. He was my “day one” and he passed when I was in 6th grade. My parents got me the dog because they wanted to help me with making friends and also by having an outlet. Once I got a little older, basketball became my outlet. It didn’t matter on the court if I was socially awkward. In this situation, I'm getting buckets. Fuck what you heard. First thing I did in college and law school was go to the court and hoop to make friends.
Sports seem to be presented to Black youth as an avenue for success more so than other careers in academia, STEM, or law. What do you make of that?
Sports help the Black community. Growing up in my neighborhood, nobody was a CEO or a dentist. All we really knew were successful athletes. And, playing sports is cheap and accessible because all you need is a ball and shoes. Sports is something we have a lot of success in, so we are going to gravitate towards what we are good at. Also, you weren’t going to get made fun of for being good at sports the way you might be called a “nerd” for being a good student. This is one of the reasons my goal is to build a multi-billion dollar real estate investment portfolio for charitable purposes. Through my investments and donations, I want to teach my community about financial literacy. I didn’t know anything about finance growing up because my parents didn't know. This needs to change within communities of color. For us, it’s not a question of ability but of knowledge because minorities aren’t any less entrepreneurial or capable than white people.
You’re absolutely right. Our communities have been systematically prevented from accruing generational wealth and generational social capital. We benefit from people like you that give back after making it out. Fast forward a few years, did you experience any mental health conditions as a college student?
Yes, I experienced depression and anxiety that stemmed from a feeling of not necessarily being enough or doing enough with the talents I’ve been given. I also felt a sense of survivor’s guilt because none of my friends went to college except for one, only half of my friends graduated high school and several are dead from gang activity. I also experienced some imposter syndrome. For example, if I got a B- on an assignment, I would spiral and start thinking I’m wasting an opportunity and don’t deserve to be in college. Aside from grades, it was low key impossible for me to get a date because of my lack of social skills. Now, Xavier from ages 4 to 6 could have won Mr. Universe. So, had I stayed on that trajectory, I wouldn’t have had an issue dating. But, it really messed with my head to go from being a high school basketball star to a regular student in college.
How did you cope with all of these feelings in college?
Basketball helped to take my mind off of what I was feeling. I never used any resources at North Carolina State University. I think my people as a whole should use these resources more because it’s okay to talk about what you’re going through. In college, I repressed a lot of my feelings and just numbed out. I didn’t actually deal with a lot of things until years later when I went to law school in another state. I started reading more about human psychology, exercising more, focusing on myself and thinking positively.
You mentioned that going to law school and being away from home helped you to focus on your mental health. Law school is notoriously stressful and brutal. Can you talk more about how your mental health was like in law school?
School performance never stressed me out like real life experience does. For instance, I’ve had at least eight close friends die from gang violence. School responsibilities don’t have the same consequences. Law school stress never prevented me from focusing on me bc I have experienced much worse such as going to my best friend’s funeral. I'm way more concerned about being a better son or brother than a law school assignment.
You talked about numbing out during college. Were you numbing out from your friends passing away?
Most of these deaths happened when I already relocated to go to law school. However, having a couple of friends that did die before going to law school or even in college, and seeing death fairly often, I did become numb to death. At this point, unfortunately, I am more surprised when an old person dies versus a younger person because I assume once you make it beyond 21, you’re golden for survival. It is a strange way of thinking, but yeah. Their deaths seemed so final and pushed me to be more appreciative and generous. It hurts every time you lose someone because you will never get another moment with that person again. I have to credit my readings of philosophy for really helping me. I'm a huge fan of philosophy. I now understand that death ends a life but not a relationship because you will always have your memories of that person cemented in your mind.
Is there a quote that comes to mind when you think of mental health ?
Yes, “A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses. It is an idea that possesses the mind." by Robert Oxton Bolton
Why did you pick this quote?
I picked this quote because I have come to understand the power of the mind. Coming from a sports background and growing up in a violent neighborhood, I completely understand the theory that the body follows the mind. There are perspectives in my mind, both positive and negative, that cannot be changed no matter what evidence or experience are presented before me. For a positive example, I went from failing off my high school basketball team and doing street activities to becoming a 100% law-abiding citizen. I also went from being a social outcast to now getting hired by one of the top 5 largest corps in the world and being a mentor to some people. So, I always believe I can succeed in any professional setting in life and will undoubtedly build my billion-dollar real estate investment company. On the other hand, I have some very dark beliefs about my personal self that I will divulge in our next interview.
That’s a very empowering perspective. You will be starting work at a prominent accounting firm soon. How do you anticipate taking care of your mental health during this new chapter in your life?
Honestly, I don’t have a direct plan. I do plan to regularly see a psychologist for the first time, ever. I will make my mental health a bigger priority because I recognize that the stakes are higher. One of my parents has severe mental health issues so I can see what I can become because we are so alike. I also understand the power of money. So, no matter how my financial situation advances in the future, money will never take away feelings from the past. If I become everyone’s #MCM tomorrow on instagram, which I’m taken right now, it wouldn’t compensate for the fact that I never was never anyone’s MCM growing up. I would still need to address my childhood feelings. Whatever good fortune comes into my life, I want to be able to receive the blessings and appreciate them for what they are because millions of dollars will be satisfying but never healing.
Growing up, did any messages in the media about Black men affect you?
The media made the potential for Black men seem very boxy. Basically, you had to entertain people in some way like through acting or sports. In real life, two teachers tried to discourage me from my dreams when I was younger: one teacher told me to become a CNA instead of a surgeon and the other said to become a paralegal instead of an attorney.
That’s so disappointing to hear that your teachers shut down your dreams and tried to make you feel incapable of accomplishing them. Clearly, you proved them wrong. Do you have any advice about mental health care for your community?
Yes, it’s okay to not be perfect and to not to be a finished product. It's okay to look in the mirror and think you have progress to make. It's as important to have self-love as it is to have food on the table. You need to do this for yourself. It's very important to have that emotional stability and mental health strength. You need to be well from within despite whatever racist, prejudiced ass expectation of the American dream we see in the media.
According to the CDC, the more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) we had as children, the greater the risk we have of developing a mental illness or physical illness like heart disease. Unfortunately, Black and Brown kids experience significantly higher amounts of ACEs. What words do you have specifically for Black men that have bottled up their childhood trauma and pain?
It's important that whomever you express yourself to, believe that person has the best intention for you. It is better to get it out. Of course, use discretion with who you entrust with your feelings and experiences. Choose someone who cares. It doesn’t need to be someone you trust your entire life with. It can be someone you can trust enough to share certain parts of you who will care about what you’re going through. What really motivates me is thinking about my own future kid or a loved one and not wanting them to sit with their pain. So, I need to lead by example.
Those are powerful words. One important thing to note is that, with few exceptions, therapists can’t legally share your business. Given that recent statistics show 84% of mental health professionals are white, what do you say to black men who don't think white ppl will understand their pain?
I highly recommend, if possible, that you find someone from your own race. But, even among ourselves, we reinforce racially-biased expectations so I personally wouldn't be as limiting to think that a therapist of your own race will automatically be a better fit.