Richmond’s art scene is more vibrant now than it has ever been before. It’s because of this that I’m on a personal mission to see as much of it as I can. So, when James Harris, co-owner of The Well Art Gallery [1309 Hull St.,] invited me to a special presentation this past April, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The Well Art Gallery is the first art gallery to take advantage of the redevelopment of Manchester’s Hull Street corridor. The gallery, named after the Blackwell neighborhood in which it is located, explores art in many forms including sculptures, architecture, paintings and decorative arts. On this day, the walls were adorned with paintings by Justice Dwight.
Dwight was one of the 20 artists selected in the 2018 “ART 180 Takes the Bus” campaign, which celebrated ART 180’s 20th Anniversary. Taking inspiration from family and friends, Dwight’s portraits serve as a bold expression of Black-American beauty, sexuality, spirituality and politics.
However, today, the special presentation that James invited me to wasn’t for the artwork. Instead, it was to view a handsome display of male vulnerability and emotion.
Besides co-owning The Well (alongside his friend Ajay Brewer,) James is also the founder of Men-To-Heal, a movement created to end the stigma of men’s mental health.
“This, in particular, is a part of the stigma that’s within the community,” says James, as he explained to me the purpose of Men To Heal. “I decided to do this because nobody else was doing it. I wanted to be able to provide a service for people I look like because there’s such a drought.”
James has earned a masters in clinical mental health counseling and currently offers outpatient counseling services to male clients via Avail Outpatient Counseling [2025 E Main St.] Every quarter, James hosts Men To Heal at The Well to offer men, their friends and families a safe space to discuss ways to empower men to seek mental and physical supportive services.
On this day at The Well, a panel of five, brave men sat in the center of the gallery to discuss their trials and triumphs with mental health. The theme, “Athletes and MENtal HEALth.”
“We want to walk around in suits and ties, dress and look good. But nobody talks about the issues,” shared Billy McMullen. Billy is a University of Virginia All American who started his NFL career in 2003 with the Philadelphia Eagles and stayed with the league for six seasons before he retired from the Seattle Seahawks.
“We want to be able to say in the meetings that our life is perfect, get the deal done. Everything is so transactional. But we never stop to think about the underlying issues. And those are the issues that need to be talked about.”
Joining Billy on the panel was a civil rights activist, Clarence McGill. Also an athlete, McGill was a member of the group of athletes known as the Syracuse 8 who, in 1970, refused to participate in spring practices until the issues of institutionalized racism were addressed. The protest marked the beginning of his career in justice and mentorship.
“I’m from the perspective that we need to know more about mental health,” says Clarence. “We need to be more proactive in terms of defining mental health and making sure everyone knows what those definitions are and what to do to resolve them.”
Clarence goes on to say, “Mental health now has become more prevalent based upon the issues that young people are confronting. And those issues, young people seem to not be digesting properly. The outcomes are usually negative, whether it’s drugs or suicide, whatever those negative outcomes are, they are happening more and more.”
Clarence may be right. And it is because of this that movements like Men To Heal are so important. The presentation of love and sensitivity, rawness and realness and just the overall display of honesty and vulnerability was moving, to say the least. True beauty was within the walls of The Well, where men found a safe place to be mentally free.
I’ll be sure to attend the next event.