Local wellness group focuses on de-stigmatizing mental health among Black men

FITCHBURG – Three times a week, a small community room in Fitchburg is silent; but speaks a language of power.

Every Monday night, Thursday morning, and Saturday afternoon, members of the I Am Balanced Wellness group get together in a safe space to open up about the struggles they face as Black men. During the meetings, you can also find the men practicing meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and, hardest of all — vulnerability.

“Sometimes you get to a point of no return, you know? Incarceration, overdose…That’s why I created this space,” said I Am Balanced Wellness Founder, Johnnie Phiffer.

While the group has only been around for seven months, Phiffer said the inspiration for its formation began six years ago, when he attended his first yoga class. When reflecting on the experience, Phiffer recalled being overwhelmed by yoga’s ability to calm his mind; a powerful hobby that he ultimately brought to a community often facing a much harsher stigma surrounding mental health.

“Something is always on your mind,” Phiffer said. “When you’re driving and the cop gets behind you, or you’re in competition with other Black men or gangs. Just all the traumas and all the things that you have to worry about on a daily basis are crazy. And then there are the things that we’re afraid to talk about because we’re afraid we’ll be judged or we’re afraid that we won’t be manly. So you know, it’s hard to talk about that kind of stuff to other men.”

With stability and strength at the forefront of every meeting, Phiffer said he can already see the mental growth in both himself and the men surrounding him; progress that drives this group toward its goal of ending the stigma around mental health now, for a better future tomorrow.

Any man of color is welcome to join I Am Balanced Wellness, regardless of experience practicing yoga and/or meditation. The group regularly meets inside the COPA building, located at 2841 Index Rd. in Fitchburg. Click or tap here for a full meeting schedule and here to view the group’s Facebook page. For additional information, call (608) 313-4002 or email iambalancedwellness@gmail.com