CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD
Setting the Record Straight on Mental Health, Black Evolution & the Power of Positive Thinking
Ask him and Lenard McKelvey, AKA Charlamagne Tha God will tell you that his path to success was a little unorthodox. Growing up in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, Charlamagne was met with many challenges including multiple run-ins with the law, having to attend night school, and getting fired from multiple radio jobs. Fast forward to 2020, and he’s now a New York Times Best Selling author, co-host of one of the top nationally syndicated urban radio shows in the country, The Breakfast Club, made several television and radio appearances, serves as executive producer of his production company, C Tha God World, and is co-host of the Brilliant Idiots podcast, which began in 2014. All of this, including overseeing several new business ventures that’sunderway shows the phenomenal growth and personal success he has been able to acquire. How though has he been able to change the trajectory of his life so significantly that he has now become one of the most compelling and recognizable names in entertainment?
He credits many things; among them his faith, family, a strong work ethic, and more specifically the power of positive thinking. This is why he stresses the importance of mental health and has dedicated much of his time sharing this empowering message to those he comes in contact with, particularly youth within the AfricanAmerican community. “I think dealing with your mental health is really the root to everything,” explained the Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, author.“It is so big because we as black people have passed on so many generational traumas and a lot of hurt to each other. Hurt people, hurt people and we just redistribute that pain to the people that look like us. We redistribute it to our women, we redistribute it to other black men –we are violent, so we have to deal with those traumas,” he adds.
Charlamagne often talks about this pain he’s all too familiar with that stemmed from childhood. After dealing with personal traumas and learning about some of the obstacles his father faced, it forced him to look at his own faults, which ultimately helped him becomea better son, husband, and father to his three girls. “When you start dealing with your mental health and you start becoming a better human being, you can start leaving your baggage at the door – it helps you in all of your relationships,” he stressed. “Even though I loved my father, I didn’t want to be the man he was because of the pain I saw him cause my mom. He dealt with his mental health issuesthroughout his life, and if he would have told me about his mental health issues earlier when I starting having my bouts with mental health, I would have known that there were resources available for me to actually get right.”
Once Charlamagne realized that part of his purpose was to help others with their own mental health struggles, he set out on a mission to take this life-changing message across the globe. In November 2018, he partnered with Dr. Jessica Clemmons for a VH1 special entitled, In Session: Live with Dr. Jess,where he shared several of his anxiety triggers – some of which are projected by society, such as the killing of unarmed black men by police officers, while others are more personal like what he calls parental paranoia. “Your heart’s walking around outside of your body and it’s hard to relinquish control of your kids to the world,” he says.“Then when they start going to school their little adults now and you can’t protect them from the outside world, you can’t protect them from encountering bullies at school,” he adds.
Most recently, Charlamagne appeared on The Tamron Hall Showwhere he addressed the stigmas men face when dealing with mental illness. This was a similar message he shared during the first annual Minority Health Film Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.“In order for us to heal, we gotta tell our stories,” expressed Charlamagne. “That’s the biggest thing I would tell the city of Milwaukee: Just don’t be afraid to share your story.” One of his more profound and resonating messages came during a visit to Claflin University during their 10th annual CALA-Bash (Claflin’s Arts and Letters Annual -Bash) held in April 2019. He and several students joined in on a conversation about the misconceptions around depression and anxiety that plague African Americans. “We try to dismiss every emotion if it’s not a positive one, if it’s not happiness,” Charlamagne noted. “That’s not the way life is. I’m human sometimes. I’m going to feel this way or that way.”Topics on how to deal with stress and societalor ‘secondary’ trauma was also addressed. The timingof this discussion was significant as rapper Nipsey Hussle was killed just a month prior in his hometown of Los Angeles, California. “The death of Nipsey Hussle hit a little different,”admitted Charlamagne. “I’m tired of hearing stories about humans killing other humans for absolutely no reason and it really hits different when those humans are black men because what happened to Nipsey can happen to any one of us at any given time.”
Charlamagne not only reflected on his interview with Nipsey a year prior, calling it one of his most memorable, but also shared how the visit to Claflin was particularly important for him because although he did not attend college, he realizes those years are fundamental for students, particularly those within the HBCU community. “HBCU’s develop character. It’s a place where a lot of people truly come into their own when it comes to black identity. It’s where students gain a sense of pride and confidence.” Charlemagne also reflected back to a time when black pride and black power was more prominently portrayed throughout society – when people could be found wearing HBCU gear and clothing that lifted the black community, sporting African medallions, and rocking Malcolm X hats. This was also during the time when his mother, Julie Ford McKelveywas attending South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC. It was then that he really began to understand the value that HBCUs bring to the world. “As I got older and started seeing some of the things my mom learned while she was in college, I realized the impact that HBCUs make and I understood what they mean.
Charlamagne said getting back to black empowerment is what compelled him to title his first book, Black Privilege, Opportunity Comes to Those That Create It. He wants his readers to understand that it’s a privilege to be black while bringing awareness to systemic black privilege, which he feels is largely created through the HBCU culture. “HBCUs give you a different identity. It’s there you will meet people that you’re going to need in the corporate world later on in life,” he explained. “I talk a lot about black privilege and the concept of black privilege, which for me is something spiritual. It’s an honor to be in this black skin because we are a special group of people, but you want to see that systemic black privilege. I think a lot of that systemic black privilege happens via HBCUs because these are the people that go on to become architects, engineers, lawyers, and business people and they are going to all work together and pull their resources and continue to uplift us as a community.”
Charlamagne recently dedicated his time and resources to support his mom’s alma mater, which is the only public, four-year HBCU in the state of South Carolina. During the University’s 2019 homecoming, Charlamagne announced the establishment of the Ford Family Endowed Scholarship, named after his mother and grandmother. He presented a check for $250,000 that will support African-American women majoring in English, Communications, or those who are interested in pursuing a career in the mental health industry. “Investing in an HBCU is investing in the future of our people,” he acknowledged. “It’s a blessing to be a blessing.”
Growing up with a population of only 10,000 in his hometown, not a lot of people were interested or involved in the same career Charlamagne was, however, he had mentors like his mom, who was an English major and always kept a book in front of him, his grandmother who consistently spoke wisdom over him, and his father who pushed him to aim for higher heights. “Although my father had his battle with mental illness he never gave up on me. He didn’t want me to make the same mistakes he did so he gave me books like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Message to the Black Man in America, by Elijah Muhammad, and had me watching speeches from Minister Farrakhan. He instilled a lot in me.”
Looking back to the day he walked into his first radio job at Z-93 Jamz! in Charleston, South Carolina, Charlamagne says he remembers visualizing his future even in that moment. “I remember sitting there listening to Big Tigger, Wendy Williams, and Angie Martinez, and going back and listening to old Petey Greene Interviews,” he recalled. “In Charleston, we had Doug Banks and Tom Joyner and I remember saying to myself, If I’m going to do radio, I want to do it on that level. I want to be a super jock.” He held on to that dream, writing down that one day he would become the biggest nationally syndicated radio personality in the country. “I never thought otherwise,” he emphasized. This is particularly why getting a handle on his anxiety was so important for him. “The things I don’t want to happen I don’t think or talk about at all because if I hold on to those negative thoughts for too long, and something negative happens to meI’m going to feel like I caused that. This shows the power of positive thinking.”
Now that he feels like he’s finally walking in his purpose, Charlamagne says he will continue to carry out the message of mindfulness and advocation for people to become more mentally aware. “I feel like that’s going to raise a new generation of men and a new generation of women,” he says. “In this moment I feel like all of my experiences in life, whether they were good or I thought they were bad, I used all of them to tell this larger story of just being a better person and being mentally healthy. Personal evolvement is the main factor, he says, referring to his favorite book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. “That’s why I always loved the Nation of Islam because it was all about growth and evolution, so I want people to look at me and see the same thing.
Owning his own mistakes and refusing to give up on his dreams is wha tpropelled Charlamagne to the next level of success. Undoubtedly, doors of opportunity started opening early for him, but once he mastered his mental health obstacles, the opportunities were limitless. He now encourages others to do the same and sums up three things they should add to live out their full potential. Keep God first, stay humble, and keep working. “That’s my motto for everything,” he noted. “To me, you have to have some type of spiritual foundation. I feel like all things are possible if you have God in your life. That’s number one. I also feel like when you have belief in God it’s like having a belief in yourself because we are spiritual beings living in human existence and not vice versa,” reflected Charlamagne. “Stay humble, because you never know who’s goingto be who. You should treat people the way you want to be treated at all times. Everybody should give positive energy and I think if you put that out there you will get it back.” Finally, he says, “keep working and stay focused at whatever your craft is. Once you find out what your passion is, stay at it and understand it’s not going to be easy. You have to have patience and you got to keep working.”
Byrd, Aliya (2019, April 5) Charlamagne thaGod says African-Americans can’t dismiss all negative emotions. Retrieved from
Linnane, Rory (2019, September 10) Charlamagne tha God brings a mental health prescription to Milwaukee: storytelling and free therapy. Retrieved from https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/solutions/2019/09/10/charlamagne-tha-god-headlines-milwaukees-minority-health-film-fest/2262820001/
VH1. (2019, November 14) In Session Live with Dr. Jess ft. Charlamagne tha God(Act 1) [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7t7BOh75JE
The Breakfast Club Power 105.1 (2019, April 2) Police Identify Nipsey Hussle’s Suspected Killer As Eric Holder[Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9oauvWHS48