Not all heroes wear capes, am I right?

Well, I’m from the hood. Literally none of our heroes wear capes.

On the contrary, the tails of our du-rags do happen to glisten in the light and sway in the wind in a way that’s reminiscent of Batman’s cape after an epic fight with Harvey Dent.

We can’t afford to be vigilantes, though. Bruce Wayne’s white privilege haunts me in a comical way. If a Black man dressed up as a Bat with the intent to fight crime, the minute the media deemed him the bad guy, they’d call the National Guard and he’d be dead in a week. Bruce gets the chance to be seen as the hero and the villain and back to hero again, time after time.

So, we have to be heroes in a different way. My boys and I have started by looking within. Let me take you back a ways…

Fall of 2014, at one of the lowest points in my life, I was dragged out of my crappy L.A. apartment by my good friend Derrick Jasmin, more affectionately known as DJay. He had another friend with him who I hadn’t known yet, David Rodriguez. These guys changed the trajectory of my life just by forcing me to put clothes on and walk out of my miserable space. Freeze frame on my Bred Jordan 1s halting at the threshold of my front door, afraid of a fall that I wouldn’t see coming. Afraid of it being a bad fall, but terrified of it being a good one.

After grappling with my own toxic masculinity from a bad breakup that ended in the other person’s infidelity (and not the kind that ends in sadness because you miss the other person, but the kind that ends in the other person trying tirelessly to turn close friends and members of your immediate family against you with lies about the way things really ended), my mental health was taking a deep dive, to say the least.

Drowning in a river of Jack Daniels, only coming up for air when it was my turn to have Ezra — my five-month-old son — in my arms, which had happened to be a lot more often than I had anticipated, I slowly started to realize that the baby was saving my life. But as soon as it was someone else’s turn to have him, I was back swimming.

If I’m honest, I was feeling closer to my grandfather than I was my baby boy. By that, I mean I felt closer to Heaven than Earth. I know that’s a bit morbid, but I was a dark person at the time. That is, until I was dragged out of the house by David and DJay.

“What club we going to tonight, fellas?” I asked, just knowing that they were pulling me out of my misery by ‘cheering me up with a good time’, which in my head only meant more booze. “It’s a Tuesday night, bro,” DJay replied with some slight judgment. I shrugged; I was flippant about everything at this time. Truthfully, I was happy that these guys cared enough about me to take me anywhere. “We’re going to B.R.U.H., dude!” David exclaimed.

What in the world was B.R.U.H?

Jonathan Tillman, known by his friends as JT (I call him Tillman, ‘cause I’m the coolest of all his boys), one of the most genuine gentleman I’ve ever had the privilege of calling friend — and brother — had created a safe space for the community of men that he had essentially curated. And he named it B.R.U.H.

It was guys he had known from church, guys he had known since high school, and mutual friends that had grown from acquaintances to something deeper, like me. But DJay and David UNDERsold it. “It’s JT’s new Bible study group. It’s only gonna be like an hour and change,” they said. Now, I’m all the way down for a Bible study; I love me some Jesus. But what I had readied myself for was NOT your traditional Bible study.

This was church; it was gospel; it was therapy; it was barbershop; it was a rap session after a really good scrimmage; it was chess in the park; it was a timeout at the basketball courts that lasts too long; and the park lights come on and you realize you gotta get home, but you’ll give it just ten more minutes of conversation that could realistically last a whole ‘nother hour. It was amazing. It was B.R.U.H.

“Brothas Radically Uplifting Helpers,” Tillman replied after closing prayer, when I asked him what the name stood for. Freeze frame on my smirk. I thought the acronym could use some work, but honestly, the energy that I had received from this just hour-long conversation, where about 15 dudes all shared a piece of themselves, was more than enough for me to absolutely love the name, regardless of the acronym. It could’ve been called ‘Boys, Really Ugly Hunks’ and I would’ve been at the next meet with bells on.

All I kept thinking the entire way home is that not all heroes wear capes. But DJay, David, and Tillman were mine. I pictured the three of them standing on a rooftop, their du-rags swaying in the wind, glistening in the moonlight. My ghetto supes.

Being a part of this group was everything for me, but like all good things, it didn’t really last. I mean, let’s face it, we all had lives, and we lived in L.A., of all places. A dude can’t just have one job, living on his own in the City of Lost Angels; we all had multiple obligations. We were BUSY. Scheduling conflicts ended up dwindling our numbers down from 15-20 guys in attendance, to less than 10 guys, then to three or four guys. I had developed this feeling in my gut that you feel when a good thing dies. That feeling you get when summer camp ends.

Fast forward — freeze frame on my wedding band. August 2020, six years after B.R.U.H.’s conception, I had just celebrated my second year of marriage to my greatest love and was settling comfortably into a new life with my beautiful wife and now two children in Washington State. I still kept in touch with the B.R.U.H. guys at this time. We had an 18-man text chat going where we had daily conversations about inclusion, and discussed past and current personal incidents that were triggering and hurtful to us — like expressing one’s opinion in the workplace and immediately being viewed as the angry aggressive Black guy. We had arguments and debates that wouldn’t end in hostility. One of the most important conversations we had was about breaking generational curses. It felt like summer camp was back. We were being vulnerable, honest, hilarious, and emotional, and I realized: B.R.U.H. was very much still alive and thriving; we just weren’t being intentional about it.

So, after a one-on-one with Tillman, I brought the idea up to him about bringing B.R.U.H. back myself, having it be a virtual gathering of Black men who wish to be the implementers of change in our community and want to lead by example. Thankfully, he was all for it.

We have since become a group that is more than dedicated to mental health. We cover topics that a lot of guy groups avoid; we want to break down the patriarchy and tackle our own toxic masculinity. The thing is, it’s still very taboo for Black men to actively work on inner healing. As my therapist’s favorite client (inside joke), I promote therapy. I felt like I couldn’t host a group that pushes healing without doing the work myself. The Alpha Male Podcast/anti-feminist little boys who view Andrew Tate quotes and Future lyrics as Bible, who haven’t done a single thing to work out their mommy issues and expect the woman (or women) they’ve chosen to be with to carry the weight of their emotional baggage, instead of dealing with it themselves… the same guys who were brought up to believe that having any emotion is an immediate sign of weakness and act accordingly toward any man who dares to feel… those are the guys I welcome to come to B.R.U.H. We want to bring understanding to the fact that a Black man is allowed to hurt; a Black man is allowed to ask for help; a Black man is allowed to fail and rebuild; a Black man is allowed to FEEL.

We understand the stigma that’s been put on Black men to show no emotion — to not be seen as weak. We push one another to do the hard things, like setting and sustaining our boundaries. Yeah, we still argue and debate, but that’s what comes with enlightenment: asking hard questions, challenging the opinions of your fellas, and finding common ground, even when we agree to disagree. We give one another the grace to be seen as the hero and the villain, and then back to hero again, time after time.

My boys at B.R.U.H., we do shadow work like ninjas because we view self-awareness as a superpower. We promote the protection and amplification of Black women and their voices. We pray, and we meditate, and we manifest to elevate the wellbeing of our families. We are fathers and husbands and sons who uplift and hold one another accountable. We are Black Radical Underground HEALERS. Oh yeah… I fixed the acronym (love you, Tillman).

So, you may see any one of us, at any given time, mentoring our youth, protecting our sistas, showing love and respect and support to the people of our communities… and on the surface, you may just see a guy doing a good deed. But what I see is a Black man on a rooftop, du-rag swaying in the wind, glistening in the moonlight. A ghetto supe. A hero. A healer.

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