EG: 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 featuring young people who understand how important it 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.
MADARRIUS: …Like that…it’s very simple. Well I am about to put this hot water into this….(SOUNDS)
AV: MaDarrius Burgo is in his kitchen, heating water and mixing it with charcoal.
MADARRIUS: Well my ancestors would wear war paint. …They said it gave them magical powers…the spiritualness of it gave 'em powers… It made them not afraid. So the warriors … would wear colors on the way there and then put on the black war paint on the way back if they won.
AV: He mashes the charcoal into a paste with a mortar and pestle.
MADARRIUS: I decided on black because it's the color of victory. It means you won.
AV: He smears the deep black paste in long streaks from his forehead across his eyelids…down to his cheekbones.
MADARRIUS: I put this war paint on to represent my victory in this battle. Every day, I have to wake up and decide to get up instead of staying in my bed. I choose to face the world.
I’m done. I got some werewolf-lookin’ ass eyes, dog.
I'm here.… I won the victory, but I gotta face it again tomorrow. Gotta face it again every day.
AV: This is Our Turn to Talk, a place for young people like MaDarrius...and me...to have real conversations about mental health,
I’m Anastasia Vlasova, I’m 19 and a freshman at NYU.
MaDarrius is a poet and musician. He’s 20 years old and lives in Mashpee, Massachusetts.
MADARRIUS: I'm part of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. I'm Native American, Puerto Rican, and African. So I got all the colors in me.
AV: But it is the Wampanoag traditions, like the war paint, that MaDarrius embraces as a way to strengthen his identity, and his bond to his community.
MADARRIUS: My native name how to say it in my language is ____ which means the Crow that speaks the truth
AV: The crow that speaks the truth, or Talking Crow.
MADARRIUS:… I got the name from a medicine woman of ours. I call her auntie Sherry…. When I was younger, growing up, I used to ask my grandmother, what does that mean? Why do they call me Talking Crow? I honestly hated the name very much. Cuz the explanation she gave me wasn't too good. She said it was cuz I was black. And I talked a lot. Which…you probably know that's true. I am black. And I do talk a lot, but that wasn't really the meaning of it. As I grow older, I find out more and more every day, what that really means to me and my personal being and the Crow is one of the smartest birds alive. So even though I talk a lot, what I say is worth the listen.
AV: In this episode we hear the truth revealed in MaDarrius’ experience, and how he has come to embrace his namesake, Talking Crow, in the form of poetry and music.
We’ll also hear how his deepened interest in the Wampanoag culture was sparked by a tragic accident that forever changed him. It’s what began his mental health journey, and inspired his spiritual awakening.
MaDarrius remembers his life in two parts: the before, and the after. Before, MaDarrius said he was popular,
MADARRIUS: You could ask anybody I was always the happiest person, even though life was hard, you still would always see me with a smile.
AV: …always having fun, always making jokes, and sometimes playing pranks.
MADARRIUS: There was this one time in school where for some reason I had the urge to pull the chair out from the teacher when she tried to sit down, it was in like kindergarten. And like, she fell, I felt bad, but everybody was smiling. And I was like, I like making people smile. I got in trouble for that. [laughs]
[fade out music]
AV: But then, things quickly changed
MADARRIUS: After this accident, it was hard to smile . It wasn't really a good mood. It was more just like…little spurts, little spurts of happiness. So it wasn't always a good mood like I used to always be in.
AV: The accident. MaDarrius was 14, and was dirt biking with his dad, who he didn’t get to see very much growing up.
MADARRIUS: I just wanted to spend time with him if I'm being honest. … I guess I was just down to do it just to be with my father.
We went on the path and as we was going on the path, like he was in front of me. So the dirt was like spurring to my eyes. I didn't have glasses. The dirt was spurring in my eyes from the wheels. And that aggravated me.
So I like went in front of him and I was like, yo, stop, stop.
Give me the glasses if you’re gonna be riding like that, he gave me the glasses. I started being ignorant and well, I just wanted to prove a point, like how it felt like to get the dirt in your eyes. Uh, I definitely did prove a point to somebody, but I don’t know if it was him. And I just went as fast as I could in the opposite direction.
And there was a path and it was kinda like a Y shape. Like, … you can go straight or you could take a right, but in the middle of that is like a ditch. And it's pretty far down. So I tried to take a right, but I was in the sand.
So the sand like messed me up a little bit when I was turning and I went straight off, like the top of it. And I fell all the way into the ditch, which was a huge hole.
And I hit the tree. I fell before the bike, the bike landed on top of me. And it cracked my spine and punctured my lung. I broke my neck.
And I was just laying there for a long time. Um, just for a long time. I couldn't move. That was the crazy part. I couldn't move my legs. I couldn't feel my legs.
But my arms still work, so I'm trying to pull myself forward. Like, I'm trying to tug the grass, trying to pull myself forward as much as I can. And I can't even budge. And I don't even know the bike’s on my back. Cause I can't look over my back to see the bike cause I'm face down on the ground.
So after I stopped pulling, and like nothing’s happening. I laid there and I was just looking at the sky and just admiring how beautiful it was at that point. Thinking about who's going to remember me, like when I die. Cause I was pretty sure I was gonna die. Cause it had been a long time I was sitting there like not thinking anyone was coming, so I accepted death by then. I thought about my mother and my little sister. And I knew those would be a couple of the people who would always remember me every day, who would always keep me with them every day, even if I wasn't here. And I knew that, that’s all I needed.
AV: After the accident, MaDarrius faced months of intensive care and medical procedures. But the recovery wasn’t just physical, he also had to reorient his entire perception of his life and his expectations for the future.
MADARRIUS: You can feel when you're in a coma. My grandmother told me this story. She was like, I knew you could hear me because I would talk to you you would just cry with your eyes closed. You would just cry and you would try to break out
So I know, I felt everything in the coma. But when I woke up, it was a shock. Like, how did I even get here?
I was hopeful until one night the nurse walked in and she was like, you know, you are never going to be able to walk again? And like right there. And then like everything in me just lost all hope, everything.
ANASTASIA: Do you remember what kind of thoughts you were having, what was running through your head when the nurse told you that?
MADARRIUS: All of them were very negative thoughts. They were deteriorating my soul, like one by one. It was full blown depression to the point I didn't even think I had depression. To the point that I just wanted to die. I didn't want to live. I wanted to live, but I didn't want to live like this.
AV: In that moment, MaDarrius knew his life was forever changed. He would be living his life in a wheelchair. The grief he felt made falling asleep each night hard… but waking up was even worse.
MADARRIUS: I would wake up every single morning at 4:30 on the dot, like I had a bell in my head that was like beep, 4:30, wake up. And every morning my stomach would just be feeling like it's like getting like crushed or stabbed. And it was just a horrible feeling.
I had to look forward to that. It's like looking forward to getting your ass whipped by the school bully after school at three o'clock and I don't even want to go to school, no more. You know what I'm saying? So if you put it like that, like what I'm saying, it's like, I don't even want to live no more. Cause I gotta, I gotta wake up every morning at 4:30 and it's me. It's not even everybody else. This is nobody else's problem. It's in my head. I'm the reason why this is happening.
ANASTASIA: Did you ever try therapy for this, or talking to someone about what you were going through?
MADARRIUS: I tried therapy once and it was the worst day ever. She asked me questions that you can ask me now and it won’t phase me but during that time, it brought me back to the moment. I was going crazy in my bed. I was going crazy.
AV: MaDarrius now knows what he was experiencing was PTSD, or, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The dirt-bike accident was physically horrific. It left him partially paralyzed.... And mentally, he was reliving that shock and pain every single day, which is really common for the body and mind to do after a traumatic event.
For MaDarrius, that turned into these anxiety attacks.
MADARRIUS: I kept on having those anxiety attacks every morning at 4:30. I needed to get rid of them. They were making me want to hurt myself.
AV: And so he didn’t really have any other choice but to ask for help and face his mental health. Eventually, about two years after the accident, he finally connected to a psychiatrist
MADARRIUS: I was a lot more open to it because psychiatry is not like therapy.
AV: He got MaDarrius talking for the first time and helped him a lot.
MADARRIUS: The dude was awesome, the dude who I have I still have, He’s a really good dude.
ANASTASIA: So, what have you learned about your anxiety attacks and your mental health in general?
MADARRIUS: you have to find a way to just live in the moment you can't live in the past…if you live in the past, you die in the present.
AV: Perhaps as a reminder to live in the present, who MaDarrius is…is etched into his skin. He has several tattoos that remind him…he is Wampanoag, Puerto Rican…and the Talking Crow.
MADARRIUS: My crow was the first tattoo I got. It's a crow, but it's wounded. (rustling) you know what I'm saying? Like, it's a crow with bandages wrapped around his wings. And when I saw that, I was just like, that's me the crow that can't fly, the crow that can’t fly. So that's why that was my first one. And it's probably my favorite one.
AV: Over the next couple of years, MaDarrius continued working with his psychiatrist. But he also turned to his community for guidance and wisdom, through traditions and parables.
MADARRIUS: I got a story, though. It's a native American story. It's about two wolves, and one wolf, the good wolf, which is like happiness, love. The next wolf is the bad wolf, which is like anger and like depression and jealousy. And the grandson asks his grandfather, he says: well, which one is stronger? And the grandfather's response is, the one you feed.
It makes so much sense. Like an animal only gets strong when you feed it. If you don't feed that animal for a long time, it gets super skinny and it'll die. So if you don't feed the bad Wolf, then it'll die eventually.
AV:: Coming up we will hear how MaDarrius uses music and poetry as a coping mechanism.
MADARRIUS: … What made it possible for me to smile again? It was definitely lyrics, like words, raps. But that was a long road down to get to that.
AV: I’m Anastasia Vlasova, more after this short break.
EG: 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.
And 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.
–HEALING FIRE SCENE–
MADARRIUS: So this is my powwow grounds…
AV: On a late afternoon in June, MaDarrius rolls across a field next to the Mashpee Wampanoag Government Center.
MADARRIUS: …all around here this is where I grew up as a kid coming here every single year with all the tents, the drums, they cut down a lot of trees around here. I think they cut down the tree I stuck my first knife in when I was … seven years old…
AV: The elders are conducting a healing fire for anyone in the community to attend.
MADARRIUS: So…a healing fire…Mmm. You can feel it….. You can smell the fire, you feel the bass of the drums. …When you bring a lot of people to one place…and do one specific thing, it manifests a lot of energy altogether ….You just show up, have faith, come in good spirits and leave with better spirits.
Excuse me auntie?
LOPEZ: : Hey, how are you?
MADARRIUS: I'm good. How are you?
LOPEZ: Good. Good to see you.
MADARRIUS: Good to see you too.
AV: “Auntie” Marlene Lopez is the Mother of the Rabbit Clan, and a tribal elder. One of several unofficial aunts within the tribe, she’s preparing the healing fire at the center of a circle, a concept both physical and metaphorical in nurturing the spirit.
LOPEZ: …That spirit sought us. We didn't seek the spirit. So you have to take care of that spirit. …
It’s very important for your mind to think in a healthy place and not think that you're worthless because your spirit is worth something, that's your mind that's telling you you are not worth something, but you are worth something or you wouldn't be here. We're all here for a reason. …we're here for a purpose. So it isn't our right to take that purpose away. It was given to us. So you have to respect that, nurture it, take care of it. Spirit is the center of your being
NAOMI FRYE: …sometimes we just need to come together, hear the drumming, you know, we got some food and we have a prayer circle.
AV: Naomi Frye is the peer recovery specialist for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and one of the Healing Fire organizers.
FRYE: …some of 'em sometime will do a poem…because that helps them throughout their, uh, recovery. So we, I just try to pull out what their gifts are and let them go ahead and start and do that. And we’re just letting everybody know that we're here as a tribe, we're here for each other. …because that's where strength is.
AV: This is a message underscored by the tribe’s medicine man, Soaring Eagle, who is talking to everyone here.
MEDICINE MAN/SOARING EAGLE: … all of you who are struggling, our hearts, the elders’ hearts, the clan mothers’ hearts, and all of us are with you. So if there's any time that you need someone. … just to want to talk to somebody, cause that's very, very important, because …there's a lot of people out there in the world that do not have what we have. And we as native people really should appreciate that.
So I ask that you please start looking inside yourselves to who you are as a Wampanoag person and where you do, you do have a place in the circle amongst the people. And we need you to understand that we miss you in the circle. And let me tell you, young folks and all…you're always welcome to the circle
AV: An invitation to return to the circle, a place to remember, bond and heal…
AV: MaDarrius exits the healing fire circle and rolls across the grassy field to his car.
MADARRIUS: The thing about fire and smoke to native Americans …we believe that since it touches the sky and it goes all the way up into the heavens that our ancestors can hear our messages and hear our prayers through it. Yeah. I believe in it.
Very, very healing, very healing experience.
AV: In earlier episodes of Our Turn To Talk, other guests have talked about the importance of having a coping mechanism, something to distract them from unhealthy patterns or behaviors. For MaDarrius, it’s writing and music.
MADARRIUS: Well, It just gets me out my head. It gets me out of thinking bad thoughts and stuff that'll make me upset, sad, depressed… you're not even thinking about that." It's like, oh, what can I write next? What's the next thing I'm going to say?
AV: He was fortunate enough to have started early.
MADARRIUS I started rhyming in sixth grade. I kept on rhyming, kept on rhyming. Started freestyle and in seventh grade, eighth grade, we would rap battles and all that. And then I got in the accident. I didn't want to do nothing.
AV: MaDarrius says he couldn’t even listen to music, let alone make it. He stopped writing, he stopped singing and rapping. He couldn’t find the joy in anything.
MADARRIUS: Then a couple of years down the line. I found my love for music back and I realized I didn't have to stand up to do it. Like I couldn't play lacrosse no more. I couldn't play football no more. I couldn't play no sports, but I could still talk. You know what I mean? I can still say something…
I don't even think we will be talking right now if it wasn't for music.
–SCENE: Marc Turner’s house–
MUSIC CAR/ambi fades up
MARC TURNER: I got all the equipment set up, I just need to get the microphone..
AV: On a Friday afternoon MaDarrius arrives at his friend Marc Turner’s house to work on some new music. Back in late 2020 they formed a hiphop duo.
MARC TURNER: I’ve been working out so.. <car door>
AV: Marc picks up Madarrius in his arms
MARC TURNER: You’re a little lighter now
AV: And carries him from the car …
AV: …all the way down the stairs…
MADARRIUS: Yeah go. Can you see my underwear? You got me?
TURNER: Yeah I got you.
AV: … to Marc’s home studio setup in the basement.
MADARRIUS: Don’t drop me…it’d be a bad day.
AV: Marc also lives in Mashpee. He’s 18, and goes by the rapper name Rockdicey,
TURNER: Alright, You ready to hear this?
MADARRIUS: Know what i’m sayin?
TURNER: It starts off with you rapping the first 8 bars……
MADARRIUS: Same thing for the second verse?
TURNER: Umm, yeah,
MADARRIUS: There's a lot of things I can't feel because I'm paralyzed–the ground that's under my feet. But music? I can feel it, it tingles in my body. I can feel like shower me in just magicness.
TURNER:. Wanna spit what you got?
MADARRIUS: Today gotta be good… yesterday was a catastrophe. You awake your majesty? Yes. I respond happily. Glad to be… smile full of pain and agony. Tragically, radically magically. So that's tragically, radically …I’m spinning passionately.
TURNER:. Boy, this song you are being super lyrical on this song.
MADARRIUS: I be lyrical on every song, son
TURNER: Yeah. But this is like super, super lyrical.
TURNER: If you need to save that verse for another song, then I don't blame you cuz
MADARRIUS: So I start writing. Sometimes I don't know what I'm writing about. Sometimes it's just random stuff. I got mad, random rhymes, just to rhyme with my friends and stuff when we cypher freestyle.
MADARRIUS: will you count bars?
Today was a good one yesterday was a catastrophe. Are you awake your majesty? Yes I respond happily. Glad to be. Face full of pain and agony
MADARRIUS: But when it's for a specific reason, every word has to mean something, not just to me, but to you.
MADARRIUS: This is for the weak who don’t know how to speak. Born 2002, January 18. FADE UNDER
ANASTASIA: Like most of this season’s guests, MaDarrius performed in the This is My Brave National show. Here is part of his performance.
[MADARRIUS BRAVE TEEN PERFORMANCE UP]
[closing music in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDprjLctTqE]
ANASTASIA: So, you’ve been through so much. And I know you said you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for music. What else gives you the courage to keep going forward, keep healing, and make the most out of life despite what you’ve been through?
MADARRIUS: It's more about the inner strength and outer strength in most cases in life…., it doesn't always go to the faster, stronger man, but in the end, sooner or later, it goes to the man who thinks he can. And thinking you can, there's no nothing to do with how strong you are, how fast you it’s who it's who you are.
MADARRIUS: Like heaven is what you make it. It's today right now. Like if you want to live a heavenly life, you got to go through hell sometimes to do that. But some people don't, which luckily they don't, but sometimes you gotta know what the dark is to see the light.
AV: Thank you all for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. And thank you so much to MaDarrius for taking the time to share his story.
To hear more from MaDarrius and our other incredible teens, search This is My Brave National Teen show on Youtube.
[fade up closing music]
Just like MaDarrius uses poetry and raps to get him out of his head, our next Our Turn to Talk guest also found healing through writing about his experiences.
Joe: I wrote a poem, um, titled dear my mental illness and it sort of takes the form of a letter to my mental illness. You know, I'm not good at writing letters. I'm good at writing poetry. So that's what I did. Um, and it's kind of a breakup letter with my mental illness or a declaration of independence, I guess.
[quick fade credits music]
AV: 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 thisismybrave.org.
This episode includes content courtesy of the WETA WellBeings Youth Mental Health Project. Learn more at WellBeings.org and join the conversation with #WellBeings.
This episode of Our Turn to Talk was produced and edited by Patrice Howard, Megan Botel, and Mitch Hanley. Beth Murphy and Jennifer Marshall are our Executive Producers. Additional support in the field and in the studio from Hannah McEachern, Ed Kashi and Ben Kolak.
Support for Our Turn to Talk is provided by The Hollister Confidence FUND, The Hershey Company, 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.
EG: Hello everyone, Erin Gallagher again. 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!