In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Billboard has partnered with Ian Davis and Brandon Holman of The Mindful Creative on a series of conversations with music artists and executives about the self-care practices they use to keep themselves on track, both during the pandemic and beyond.
Today’s conversation is with Jeriel Johnson, executive director of the Recording Academy’s Washington, D.C. chapter and executive sponsor of the academy’s Black Music Collective. Launched last September, the BMC is an advisory group of Black music creators and professionals dedicated to amplifying Black voices within the academy and the music industry at large. A seven-year veteran of the Recording Academy, the Philadelphia native and Berklee College of Music graduate joined the organization in 2014 as senior project manager of urban music after holding prior posts at NBC Universal and Warner Bros. Records. He was recognized as a 2021 Billboard Change Agent for advocating for major industry changes during a year rocked by the pandemic and protests for social justice reform.
I define mental health and wellness as finding peace through self-care. Because we have so many things going on in our work and personal lives, we need to figure out how to effectively balance all of those things yet still be productive and enjoy life.
It all starts with perspective. My family — my wife and four children — is the most important thing to me as I work to hopefully build a legacy. After that comes my love of music … I’m so thankful and blessed to be able to work in the music industry, which is something I remind myself of when I’m facing demanding or challenging moments at work. I’m a musician and keep my drum practice pad sitting on my desk. So if I ever need to just let some steam out between meetings, I start rat-a-tat-tatting real quick. Even in the way I work, I think very musically and try to find the rhythms as I handle what needs to be done. It’s all connected for me.
For many years, people haven’t been open to talking about mental health. Now people are becoming more comfortable in embracing the issue. They’re expressing their feelings, challenges, mental health goals and sharing resources. And as more people communicate and work together in a thoughtful and collaborative way on the issue, then the stigma will start to fade. And while there are a lot of great resources for people who are currently struggling, it’s equally important that we also develop more preventative measures to help people get ahead of any problems before they get way out of hand. It’s really just about creating more awareness and continuing to support and be kind to each other. It’s the original template of life — and we can always use more of that.
With any company or job position, it starts with listening. I’m talking really actively listening to understand the needs of your team, to learn about and help develop their interests and skills so you can help them work through potential work problems as you support their growth. And that leads to empowerment and trust. One of the greatest ways you can empower someone is to trust them fully. That’s been one very helpful approach for me toward fostering mental health and wellness in the workplace: listening and knowing when to stand in front or follow my teammates’ lead.
As for myself personally, I try to go out for a run every day, or at least three to four times a week, before I start work. That gives me time to process what the day ahead looks like. So before I even sit down in front of my computer or join a meeting, I’ve already had a victory for the day and can better handle any issue without overreacting. It’s about knowing where to place your perspective when challenges come at you.
That’s imperative, because we’re all stressed out and dealing with different issues, whether work-related or personal. So when confronted with an issue, give yourself space that you can preemptively and proactively walk into so you can handle anything that comes your way. For instance, give yourself the space to write or type out what the problem is before having that direct conversation. Or maybe it’s a matter of going outside to yell and scream to release your frustration or anger before dealing with the issue. Whatever the situation may be, think first about how you want to respond before actually doing so.
In our business, many of us don’t prioritize our physical wellness. I know I didn’t for many years. Sometimes our work hours aren’t great and we don’t always eat the best foods. But finding the time to be active and feeling what it does for you mentally is amazing. I wish everyone would just do something to get their adrenaline going and their blood pumping. You will see and feel the benefits.
At the beginning of this month, I kicked off #EveryDayInMay to help raise awareness about mental health and wellness through physical fitness. I’m doing this with friends but am also challenging everyone to do something active every single day in May. We’ve had so many people take on the challenge and share what they’re doing. You don’t have to run necessarily. It could be an exercise workout, yoga, biking, walking … just some measure of fitness activity each day.
As a family, my wife, children and I meditate. My wife thought of doing this two years ago to help the kids wind down at the end of a long week and prepare them for heading into the next week. While we also encourage physical outlets like soccer, dance and karate, meditation is another way to teach mindfulness. As has been the case with many families, it’s been a challenge to manage virtual school during the pandemic while providing other outlets so they can unplug from their devices. At the same time, my wife and I are keenly aware about creating space for them to know that we’re always here and have their backs; that they can talk to us about anything at any time.
As told to Gail Mitchell, Ian Davis and Brandon Holman.