Hi, I’m Erin Gallagher, Interim Executive Director of This is My Brave, and we’re so excited to present to you this season of Our Turn to Talk, a podcast series young people who are understand how importan tit is to talk about mental health. At This Is My Brave, we know that Storytelling Saves Lives. We hope that this podcast inspires you to Be Brave with us and to start brave conversations with your family and friends.
Anastasia: Just a heads up, this episode includes discussions of sexual assault and self harm throughout. Please be advised.
[Fade in: Still Standing Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTcZwHcdvuw]
Anastasia: [00:00:34] What you’re listening to is an original song from Young Elder, an artist and community activist from Baltimore, Maryland.
[lower music, play quietly in background]
Elder: [00:00:44] When I perform a song, I feel like I'm like, not even in my body sometimes. Like, I feel like I escape because I'm really shy, So I try to like, act like it's not really me. Like on stage I'm Young Elder, but like if we just chilling, like just call me Elder, you know?
Anastasia: [00:01:20] Elder is 19, and she’s lived in Baltimore her whole life. Now, Baltimore is a beautiful city. When I went to visit her there, she showed me a lot of things she loves about her city - the beautiful murals, the interesting people, the buildings and places she feels most connected to, like her college campus, the barbershop she goes to, which is also where one of her favorite murals in the city is, and so much more.
But it’s also a city with a notoriously high crime rate, and, as Elder will explain, there’s a lot of violence. Especially gun violence. And this year, gun violence is up even more.
CLIP: Four kids hanging out on the stoop of vacant house on North Milton avenue Tuesday, ended up being Baltimore’s latest gunshot victims
CLIP: A soaring number of murders in Baltimore city landing in the spotlight of the White House.
Anastasia:The gun violence is so bad that a Baltimore resident started a movement called No Shoot Zones. There are more than 200 of them throughout Baltimore, and you’ll see the words “No Shoot Zone” spray painted in giant capital letters all over the city.
The city also has something called CeaseFire weekends, that’s when Baltimore residents basically take a pledge to not shoot or murder anyone for a few days. Young Elder and I talked about how shocking it was that you even need a weekend dedicated to not shooting.
Elder: I know there’s violence in my city. I've been known there's violence in my city, I’ve been knowing there’s violence in my city but the first time I saw somebody like dead, like on the street, it, it took a different toll on me. Like, like when I close my eyes, sometimes I can still see, and no, I didn't know the person personally, but that was somebody's son. Like that was somebody's father.
Anastasia: Elder felt this pain personally… Even though she didn’t directly know the victim, she felt like she did… He was from her neighborhood. Shopped in the same stores. Ate at the same restaurants. Went to the same schools. In his life, Elder could see her life. In his death, Elder could see… well, she could see… Baltimore. Her reaction was not unique to her. It was something other people were experiencing. Her friends and neighbors...strangers on the street...all of them were going through the same pain of living in an environment that made violence and death feel inevitable..
[Fade out opening theme music]
Anastasia: That’s community trauma. It’s the kind of trauma that manifests when traumatic events are experienced collectively, affecting an entire community rather than just an individual. Community trauma tends to impact social groups that are exposed to interpersonal and structural violence, which is often rooted in racism, sexim, poverty and other forms of discrimination.
Elder and I talked about community trauma a lot - and later you’ll hear how she’s working to address it in Baltimore.
Elder: [00:02:56] Trauma and mental health plays a really big role in my life. people don't realize that trauma. People don’t realize, trauma - it rewires your brain. You know, it changes the way you think it changes the way you act. And it even changes the way our DNA is read and transcribed.
Add-ins: [BRAVE WAVE MUSIC fade in]
INTRO Anastasia: This is Our Turn to Talk, a place for young people like me to have real conversations about mental health
In this episode, Young Elder is here to talk about her life growing up in Baltimore, and how this idea of community trauma has impacted her. And, how it has heavily informed the incredible work she is doing now to address it, which is unlike anything happening anywhere else in America.
Anastasia: I’m Anastasia Vlasova, I’m 18, and a freshman in college.
Add-ins: [00:01:34] MUSIC fade out
Anastasia: So, tell me about your name – Young Elder – where did it come from?
Elder: [00:01:34] So my name, Young Elder, was actually given to me by my cousin who is like a social activist. And one day he just said, your name should be Young Elder. And I kept asking him why, like, why Young Elder? Like, it doesn't make sense. And he just explained to me, you know, you're young, but you're wise so it kind of made people think, and I feel like I'm really wise for my age. And I don't really do a lot of the things that my peers do. So I kind of adapted it, like just embracing the fact that I'm different.
Anastasia: And at 19, Elder is wise beyond her years.
[Soundbite of Mayor speaking about the task force fade in slowly]
Anastasia: [00:26:49] That’s the sound of the mayor of Baltimore, Brandon Scott, introducing something no other city in America has: a task force to reduce trauma.
BRING UP MAYOR SPEECH FOR A BEAT
[fade down play quietly under Anastasia}
Anastasia: Instead of the usual way of looking at things… that violence causes trauma … the task force mantra is that trauma causes violence. And they say it’s only by addressing this trauma that violence can go down. That the endless cycle of trauma... then violence... then more trauma can be interrupted.
BRING UP MAYOR SPEECH FOR A BEAT, then fade out
The mayor picked 29 key people across the city to lead the task force. One of them is Young Elder.
ELDER: I am extremely excited and extremely honored to be here, but this act is long overdue. Trauma has been an issue in our city for years. See, there is a lot of love in Baltimore city, but with all of the trauma, it makes it really really hard to find the love. So, that’s why we have all of these incredible healers on this team, so we can dig deep. And we can find the love in our city. Because if we can’t get past the trauma….
Fade out under next clip
Elder: [00:27:38] Being able to be on a team that is developed and there's a legislation, like there's an actual law that we have to train people who interact with our young people and interact with our community on how to address trauma and properly address trauma. Because the last thing that we want in healing is to re-traumatize people.
Anastasia: [00:28:17] The task force is a way for the community to respond to those most in need in a way that’s actually helpful. Which is a huge shift: I think we all get it now, especially after 2020, that some police officers are not so well-equipped to respond to mental health emergencies. And, studies show the risk of police violence increases drastically when the incident involves a Black person.
Elder: [00:28:54] I definitely feel like sometimes I'm bearing the weight of the things that affect me in my community. But then at the same time, I also understand that I'm not bearing it by myself. Let's be real, racism, not going to be fixed overnight. Systemic racism is not going to be fixed overnight. And honestly, I'm not trying to say, you know, I'm losing hope, but will they be fixed? You know, we don't know.
Anastasia: And this work is especially important for Black people in Baltimore, which is something Elder feels super passionate about, as they are disproportionately affected by the trauma that stems from violence and crime. Of the more than 300 people killed in the streets of Baltimore in 2020, just about all of them were Black.
Elder: [00:29:45] I feel like one way to protect black minds is addressing the trauma community because people don't understand the impact that trauma has on our brains and why we do certain things when certain things happen and why certain people react certain ways or why people do certain things such as drugs, hard drugs at that.
Because a lot of times you, you look at somebody on hard drugs and be like, what is wrong with them? No, it's something wrong with their brain. [FADE IN THEME MUSIC] You know, so I felt like the best way to really protect our black lives would be to address the trauma that is going on in our communities so that we can get our minds together.
Anastasia: Now let's rewind a bit here. Young Elder is obviously doing incredible stuff -- working with the mayor on a revolutionary initiative at just 19? That’s pretty wild. And like we said – and like her name says – she’s wise beyond her years. This wisdom just exudes from her. She’s honestly one of the most interesting people I’ve met - kind of reminds me of a yin yang. On the one hand serious, and profound, always spewing these doses of wisdom about life. Major mic drop moments. And on the other hand, she’s goofy, funny, and loves to laugh.
But wisdom like this doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Elder definitely earned it, and it hasn’t been easy. Young Elder’s story is pretty intense, and her resilience is super inspiring.
[FADE OUT theme music]
Growing up, she went through a lot, and from a really young age. Seeing all this violence in Baltimore with her own eyes on the streets really impacted Elder her view of the world. She says she was always on the lookout, like something bad could happen at any moment.
And on top of that, being Black in a city with huge racial inequities made it even harder.
Elder: [00:21:10] I mean, school, Not getting the best education in my area because of the color of my skin. When I was in second grade, I went to a school that's right up the street and it's a predominantly black school. But when I went to like a charter school, I received a better education.
Anastasia: But she’s also been through a lot in her own family.
It all started with her mother’s car accident when Elder was just six years old. Her mom lost use of half her arm, which took a huge mental toll on her. Elder became her caretaker and got a glimpse of mental health issues at a very young age.
Elder: [00:05:20] it changed my understanding of mental health. I didn't understand how much the car accident had impacted my mother's mental health until after the fact. Cause mind you six. Um, and my mother was always in the bed all the time and I didn't understand why,Honestly, I used to think my mother was lazy, but then I had to realize like your mother was going through it, but I didn't know nothing about that.
Anastasia: [00:05:53] it's tough, like realizing that as you get older, that like your parents, aren't a hundred percent happy all the time and it's, it's tough, but
Elder: [00:06:01] Yeah. I hate seeing my mother cry. Like it makes me scared. And it made me like angry for real. Cause I'd be like, I just want to make you not cry. Like, but it's but sometimes there's nothing you can do.
[Beat, Truth and Reconciliation commission song]
Anastasia: [00:06:11] Elder had to take on more responsibilities at home after the accident. Like helping her mother put on her clothes, tie her shoes, walk up and down stairs... It changed her relationship with her mom, and reversed that parent-child dynamic in a way that was really disorienting for her.
And this is something lots of young people deal with, right? Having to take on a parental role, and sometimes - oftentimes really- way too soon.
For me, my dad has struggled with drinking basically my whole life. And it’s been really tough to realize that he’s in pain, he doesn’t have the answers...and neither do I. I just have to watch him struggle, and I worry about him, when really, you think your parents should be worrying about you, as the kid.
Whether it's because of physical disability, like Elder’s mom, addiction, mental illness, or just realizing your parents aren’t really happy in their lives – that moment when you see that your parents aren’t superhuman -- can be really tough.
The situation with her mom was tragic. But that wasn’t all Elder was dealing with growing up. She said there was a lot going on inside her that she was struggling to cope with.
[FADE OUT music]
Elder: [00:08:23]So, when I was in middle school, I was really depressed. I felt alone. I felt like nobody cared about me. I started to question my sexuality. So that was definitely a issue that kind of triggered mental health issues and things like that.
Tobi: [00:15:49] things were getting more and more difficult
Anastasia: [00:15:25] That’s Elder’s mom, Tobi.
Tobi: and she was having greater problems. So behavior problems at school and acting out and not being able to, to regulate her emotions. It was troublesome.
Add-ins: [00:17:03] MUSIC
Tobi: I knew she was struggling with her sexuality.
Elder: [00:08:57] I felt confused about my sexuality and I attempted suicide, like at least two times.
Tobi: There were just so many things at play. She had gotten with a group of friends and the friends were, they were doing a lot of self harm And she was, was cutting herself and we, you know, went to therapy, but we knew it wasn't working.
[fade in musc]
Elder: I just know that I was frustrated, and I was angry, and I wanted to go to sleep. That was it.
Tobi: She wasn't getting any breakthroughs. She was really having difficulty sort of opening up.
Add-ins: [00:17:03] MUSIC
Elder: Then afterwards I kind of just like brush it off. Like it was nothing and like never said nothing. And then like the second timed I knew what I was doing and I told my mother and she took me to the hospital.
Tobi: So I guess with the self harm going on and all of those things, that’s when the bottom dropped out.
Anastasia: And Elder’s confusion around her sexuality wasn’t all she was dealing with that was contributing to her mental health crisis. She had also been sexually assaulted when she was just 10 years old, which she kept from everyone including her mom for years. Now, she didn't want to dwell on it, so we won’t either, but it is a part of her story, and her path of recovery. She eventually did tell her mom, which she said was the first step toward healing.
Tobi: I think her generation is one of the most traumatized generations. And then you add African-American onto that. That's another layer of traumatization because we have racism. We see murders. We see dead people in our city, we both come across people seeing them take their last breath or seeing them deceased, no one should see that.
It's like living in a war zone.
Anastasia: [00:22:30] Gen Z faces so much, we all know that. We see it on the news every day. But a huge difference is that our generation wants to talk about and explore these heavy topics and learn how to actually heal from trauma we’ve experienced. Sort of like we’re doing here.
Anastasia: So, how were you able to start healing from the trauma of the assault, and the pressures of your mom’s accident?
Elder: [00:11:42] The first step was just forgiveness. And I know it kinda sounds like, Oh, it's easy to say that, but it's not. It took me a long time to forgive. And what I had to realize is me holding on to pain and animosity. It wasn't helping me grow. It was just keeping me angry and I wanted peace. I wanted peace in my life.
Elder: [00:12:06] It did not destroy me, you know, and I know people who it has destroyed, so I'm grateful that I'm okay. [00:12:47] I know how it feels to feel alone and feel like nobody cares. But I also know how to dig myself out of that hole. So if I can dig myself out of that hole, I can give somebody else a shovel, you know, and I can help them dig themselves out that hole because I know what it's like being depressed. I know what it's like, not wanting to live no more like, I know what that feels like.
Tobi: I've stepped to the side of the battle where I can breathe. I've really literally just told somebody the other day, I felt like I've been in battle and almost holding my breath since eighth grade. And she's a freshman in college and I'm finally starting to feel like, Ooh, okay. We might be on the other side. The worst may be over.
[Fade in theme music]
Anastasia: Coming up, we’ll talk about Young Elder’s work as a peer mentor, after a quick word from our partners at This is My Brave.
Hi, Erin Gallagher from This Is My Brave again.
Whenever I meet young people who are sharing their stories, I feel even more empowered to do the work that I do.
If this inspires you, too, I want to tell you how you can get involved with us at This is My Brave.
Are you a college student? Our Brave Ambassador program is a student-led movement to create a safe space for yourself and your peers to talk about mental health and to break down barriers on your campus.
Are teens, if you’re feeling like this is your turn to talk, check out our website for opportunities to share your story… including how to participate in our next National Teen Show: Go to Thisismybrave.org for more information.
EPISODE SEGMENT 2
Anastasia: So, like I said, Young Elder is using everything she’s been through to inform this incredible work she’s doing to address these problems she grew up with within her community. Along with being on the mayor’s task force, she’s been working with the local non profit - Heart Smiles - for about three years now. It’s an organization dedicated to helping Baltimore’s underserved youth learn leadership skills, and set them up for success. And she gets to work with a lot of other young people who are also super motivated to address these issues.
Elder: Cuz I feel like even though I'm young, it's a lot of adults who don't see things the way that I see them when it comes to mental health,
Joni: [00:58:28]They are teaching us that mental health is real because a lot of older generations, especially in the black community, like mental health is not a thing.
Anastasia: [00:32:58] That’s Joni Holifield, the founder of Heart Smiles.
Joni: Mental health is something that you just sweep under the rug and that you just kind of, don't even talk about or think about. They are really bringing it to the forefront.
Anastasia: Four years ago, Joni set up a table to spread the word about HeartSmiles at Elder’s high school, Forest Park High, when Elder was just a sophomore.
Joni: [00:39:30] And Elder came up to the table and said hey what’s this about, and never left! She was definitely someone who right away recognized that this was a good space for her to be in and that she wanted the opportunities and that she was going to do the work... little by little started taking on more responsibilities and more roles in terms of speaking and mentoring and things like that. And I'm just like, 'Elder, you doing it. Like, did you realize you doing it like that, but the person who was afraid to talk in front of two people, now you talk in front of 2000 people with no hesitation. Like you are really doing it.'
Add-ins: [00:41:00] Beat
Anastasia: [00:41:00] Elder, how does hearing that make you feel?
Elder: [00:41:04] It, it means a lot cause not only do I understand my power, like I understand my influence as well. So it's like, of course I'm not perfect behind closed doors, but whatever I do, if I don't think that it's something that should be promoted, I'm not going to be out here, you know, not talking what I'm doing, you know?
You know, keeping it real, you know, and not, you know, faking it or anything like that. Just keeping it real and doing what I can to influence the people around me, like a hundred percent.
Add-ins: [00:43:01] Beat
Anastasia: [00:43:02] Joni stressed that during a lot of the Heart Smiles sessions and talks, she looks to her Heartbeats, what she calls her young peer advisors, to guide the conversation. Elder has become a powerful mentor in this space.
Elder: [00:43:20] I've had people, you know, text me and hit my DM and say like, 'Oh, Elder, like you inspire me,' you know? And I'm like, 'I do? Like really. Okay.' like, when I talk to my peers and like, they tell me their problems and they really like, don't have an answer, a lot of times I really do like, have some methods and have some advice to really like, help guide them in the right direction. So like, just being able to be that person that somebody can call when they feel like they losing it, and being able to calm them down, like, it mean a lot.
Anastasia: [00:43:53] And so obviously Ms. Joni has had a huge impact in your life and
Elder: [00:43:56] The biggest.
Anastasia: [00:43:58] yeah, what do you think are some of the main things are the most important, impactful things that she's taught you?
Elder: [00:44:07] I gotta think of one- like a couple - Overall, she just taught me how to be a leader. And the things that come with that, like doing things that you don't want to do and putting yourself in positions that may be hard, but still persevering through it. And you know, your word is your bond. If you said you're going to do something, then you have to do it by any means necessary….. I actually understood the power of my voice. Because at first, like I still am shy honestly, but I kind of understood how to like maneuver it, you know? They say to the quietest is usually always the loudest. So I usually try to just sit back and just listen, cause when I talk, then people, they're going to be like, 'Oh, you can talk?' and then actually listen to what I say.
So what really just make me come out of my shell was understanding the power that I had in my voice and the, the movement and the things that can really happen when you speak up and you speak for what you believe in. Because a lot of times I really don't see stuff like stuff I'll see stuff, but I just be like, just shake my head. But now I'm like, I'm like, Uh-uh, somebody has to do something like, and I say something
Anastasia: [00:46:38] Elder has done a lot of healing throughout the last few years through advocacy and her own therapy. She's helped herself and she's given back to her community.
And through it all, music has always been what gets her through the toughest moments. She says her songs are like a diary for her. Her healing journey helped inspire her newest original song - Make It Out, which you’re hearing now.
[MAKE IT OUT plays]
Add-ins: [00:48:15] BEAT
[One of her songs playing, then fades into the background]
Elder: [00:48:20] music plays a really big role in my life. I love to listen to music. And for a long time it was listening to explicit m - music. And my mother kept saying like, stop listening to that music. So I said, well fine. You know, if I can't listen to it, I'll make my own music. So I just started writing, writing rhymes on how I felt and experiences that I go through. And it's funny, cause when I look back on my rhymes, sometimes I feel like I can relate to some of the stuff I was saying more than I could even relate to it when I was writing it.
Anastasia: [00:48:49] Elder has written about 15 songs. She says making them is a form of therapy for her.
Elder: [00:49:00] It's just rapping is what I do to heal. So music, it means a lot to me and being able to express myself through my music, it means a lot to me. And being able to know that people can connect with my music and find peace through all my music also means a lot to me. I speak from my heart, you know, I'm passionate.
Elder: [00:50:16] So just being able to grow through my music, like right after I made, Imma Be The One and somebody broke me, and I had to take a step back and I had to, you know, sit with myself. I came back and I came back with a song, you know, I'm Still Standing.
"see, I will do some things that nobody knows, but I gotta stay silent. Gotta stay on my tiptoes. Nah, I ain't rockin' ice, but at least my flow is cold. And I got to keep on grinding cause I told him how it goes. You got two choices: you win or you die. See, I come from a city where you gotta survive. The devil whispering in my ears, he'd been telling me lies. I know you thought that it was over, but I bet you surprised. <MUSIC BLEND BEGINS> See, I will remain focused, I ain't never given up. Because what I got is talent, I swear to God if this ain't luck. And I'm aiming for the top, so I'm never going back. And I'm stronger than that rose that grew up from my crack."
Anastasia: [00:59:32] So Elder, what does the idea of being Brave in the context of all of these incredibly important, but heavy topics mean to you?
Elder: [00:59:35] I feel like the act of being brave, it means a lot. Because we're living in a scary city and being a leader takes a lot of bravery. Doing things that you don't want to do, having conversations that you don't want to have, but at the end of the day, somebody has to do it. You know, either you do it or it doesn't get done. That's kind of how I try to look at it.
So just being brave. And it's funny because people don't realize that bravery and resilience and persistence are just as important as skills like adding, reading, and writing. Like if you run into a situation and you don't know how to conquer it, that's a problem, you know? And you just give up as soon as it gets hard, like that's a problem. So not just being brave, but being able to teach my peers to be brave and showing them what bravery looks like.
Anastasia: Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk.
Young Elder is currently a sophomore at Coppin State University in Baltimore, and you can check out some of her music on YouTube.
As I’ve said before, just putting our stories out there, about how we have learned to manage our mental health, helps to remind us we are not alone. One of the things that Young Elder shared was just how important it is to stand up for what you know is right, and say something.
Next time, I speak with a sophomore from Louisiana who explains the personal stakes of, just, speaking up:
Abi: [00:00:18] “Being able to say out loud that I was a victim of sexual assault, being able to say that out loud was definitely something that changed how I saw mental health and mental illness. For sure.”
Anastasia: If you’re a young person, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your story? You can go to ourturntotalk.com to share.
Ok, so maybe you're not ready to share your story, but maybe you have a question for us. We will be answering your questions in an upcoming Our Turn to Talk episode. No filters, no shame here. Submit your question on our website ourturntotalk.com
Our Turn to Talk is a production of Principle Pictures. We believe in the power and impact of storytelling through podcasts and films to build empathy and inspire change. Season One is a partnership with This is My Brave, an organization using performing arts to fight the stigma around mental health challenges and addiction. I’ve been very proud to intern there for the past two years. A very special thanks to Executive Director Erin Gallagher and Program Manager Katie Grana. Check out This Is My Brave at thisismybrave.org.
This episode of Our Turn to Talk was produced and edited by Megan Botel. Mixing by Mitch Hanley.
Beth Murphy and Jennifer Marshall are our Executive Producers. Additional support in the field and in the studio from Patrice Howard, Hannah McEachern, Ed Kashi and Ben Kolak.
Support for Our Turn to Talk is provided by The Hollister Confidence FUND, The Hershey Company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Rose-Marie van Otterloo and the Risa Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Washington.
I’m Anastasia Vlasova and I’m so excited to be on this journey with you. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
Hello everyone, Erin Gallagheragain. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. Are you inspired by what you heard today? Are you ready to share your own story about your mental health journey? If yes, here’s how you can do it.
Go to ThisisMyBrave.org and select Share Your Story. We can’t wait to hear your Brave!