Tell us more about yourself, who you are and what you do?
My name is Jermar Perry, I am a Social Worker by trade. By day, I am the Director of a program at an All-Boys school in St. Louis which sits in the same neighborhood where my wife, niece and nephew reside. Also,my partner and I run a local non-profit called The Village PATH where we help Black men receive free therapy, we hold Healing & Writing Circles for Black men and host events as well as run groups for Black high school aged boys. I am originally from Philadelphia and still consider myself an avid Sixer, Eagles and Phillies fan.
Take us back to your upbringing, did/do you have a relationship with your father? And how has that relationship impacted your life?
When I was in the 4th grade my mother’s boyfriend got shot and up until that point outside of my maternal grandfather and two uncles he was the only father figure I had known. He survived the shooting but in the process, I lost one of the most positive role models I would have at a young age. I would meet my biological father when I was in the 8th grade when my mother was having trouble paying for the bills and took him to child support. On that same night I would meet two older brothers and two younger brothers. Initially it was a little rocky but my father and I have been able to build a strong bond over the years and now he and I are best friends and I love all of my brothers dearly.
Tell us more about The Village TAP and what you’re looking to build?
The Village Therapy and Assistance Program was started as a way for the Black men who attended our Healing & Writing Circle to attend therapy for free. We set out a goal of raising $1,000 and ended up raising $16,000 with the help of St. Louis music artist Sir Eddie C who had a song named Lil Black Boy that helped to push the campaign. The murder of George Floyd and Covid also struck while we were raising funds so people donated at the time due to that unfortunate incident as well.
When did you realize the importance of mental health for us as black men?
I realized the importance of mental health for Black men when I was having trouble in grad school and being in all white spaces. Moving from Philadelphia and leaving six brothers, my family and friends was difficult. It was also hard moving to an area of the country that was segregated in ways that I was mentally unprepared for. I took advantage of the free therapy sessions on my college campus and saw how it helped me grapple with the move as well as me being the only Black man in most of the graduate school classes I took.
For those who haven’t experienced therapy, explain how having a therapist can change your life as a black man?
Having a therapist can change your life because we as Black men don’t have enough outlets to talk about the issues we face. We tend to either keep things to ourselves, joke them away or go to people who are friends and family for advice. Having a therapist is helpful because it’s a licensed professional to assist you with the trials and tribulations that you are going through. In one year I knew three Black men two of whom were under 21 who commited suicide. The rates of suicide especially amognst Black boys being twice as high as their white counterparts shows that we have some work to do.
You guys have provided over 100 free therapy sessions through this initiative which is amazing. Tell us more about your long term goals and what you’re looking to accomplish?
Our long term goal is to keep seeing clients and spreading the word about the program. In the next three years we would like to go from seeing 30 clients to 100 clients. We would also like to keep throwing events, raising funds and awareness. Maybe eventually having a brick and mortar space and expanding The Village PATH to other cities across the country and world.
You and your wife currently raise your niece and nephew after one their father’s passed away and the other suffers from drug addiction. Tell us more about why you decided to step into that role and the impact you want to leave as a father figure in their lives?
My niece came to live with us shortly after my wife and I got married and her younger brother moved in with us after his father passed away. Stepping into the role hasn’t always been the easiest thing for us as a couple honestly. My niece was 12 years old and had been to close to 12 schools by the time she moved in with us and my nephew four years later is still dealing with the loss of his father who was his main caregiver. Deciding to step into that role was one that my wife had to push me into at times. However, seeing the positive impact that we hopefully have had on them has been well worth it.
Who is Jemar as a father?
The father title is one that I also struggle with. Both my niece and nephew have biological fathers. If they choose to give me that title one day then I will be happy to accept it. I think as a father figure not just to the children but to the 100’s of young men I mentor, at times I’m Bernie Mac in the basement and at times I’m Furious Styles from Boyz n the Hood.
What struggles and/or barriers have you faced stepping into the role after their biological father has passed away?
One of the struggles that my wife and I have had is that we both have separate struggles with conceiving our own children. Going through that at the same time as having children in the home from my wifes side was difficult as we have tried to navigate being parental figures.
If you could write a short letter to your dad starting with “Dear Father”, what would you say?
My father and I have a pretty close knit relationship but I would say.. Dear Father, Thank you for being there when I needed you the most and thank you for still being there when I need you to this day.
What’s next for you? How can people follow you?
What’s next for me is what’s always next for me and that is assisting with the liberation of Black people. People can follow The Village PATH at @thevillagepath or our website