In this installment of Our Stories, Jhe’Vonte speaks profoundly on his experience of going to therapy after being adversely affected by life- threatening situations. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise- white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of Jamaican experience…this is Our Stories!

In the Jamaican society, we embrace a rich culture that we pride in transferring from one generation to the next. Our traditions are so deeply entrenched that sometimes we think that we can’t start new traditions or even leave some behind. In such instance, we see where men are continuously marginalized—excluded from what they should be involved in, and included in what they don’t necessarily desire to be. Often times, they feel scared or ashamed of admitting that they need someone to talk to, because of how our society has created a looking- glass for them. But here, we read the story of Jhe’Vonte Webster, a third year University student, who had the courage to defy the odds and seek therapy, for his betterment and for those around him.

Tell me, what are your views on self- awareness?

People like to bank on the term of being self- conscious. But for me, what I always use is, ‘Being conscious of one’s self’. Being conscious of yourself means that you’re being conscious of your flaws; you’re being conscious of the pros and cons of your character. But at the same time, it’s not necessarily in a way to keep you down or, keep you in the ground, it’s more like you understanding who you are as a person, getting a full insight into who you are, because everybody is always like

‘oh I’m the most amazing person’

— like yeeaah, you’re amazing, but being human you are subjected to having flaws. Being aware of those flaws now allows you to grow, as oppose to accepting that you’re a bad person and doing nothing about it. So, for me, self- awareness is important in every aspect of life.

How does that perspective of self- awareness help you to grow—and live—in the Jamaican society as a man?

That’s a very important question…

You know how every year some people make New Year’s resolution—some people actually follow through, some don’t. Personally, I make resolutions and for 2021, I decided that I was going to stop living in people’s shadow.  You know, people always believe in me…always saying,

–‘Jhev you look like one a dem man deh weh fi up deh suh’

–but I was always like eeh—I’m good down here, you get me. I’m a humble youth enuh and I use to under- sell myself a lot… and in addition to under- selling myself I always bank on the fact that

— ‘oh there are other people who can do it better than me’

— and that led to self- esteem issues, you know. That’s the type of person I was. But, I remember somebody said

‘don’t run certain jokes about yourself because you’re basically affirming these things over and over again, even though it’s a joke’.

So I kinda internalized those things and said to myself,

–Jhev, for 2021, no more under- selling yourself… no more banking on the fact that you’re a modest person—don’t use that as an excuse for you to not take opportunities when opportunities come. So, essentially, that’s the mandate that I gave myself, in that, work on me as a person, work on my self- confidence and self- esteem. Mi just start tell me self seh, Jhev, if not you then who?

Even when I think of where I’m from, for the most part, most people just say

–‘life, beat me

— and a just it that. But there’s this part of Masicka’s song ‘Stay Strong’ where he says ‘life ask me to show me might’. He’s saying that life nuh perfect but it’s asking you to show your might. So for me that’s the outlook I’ve started to take because I want things… I want good things… me wah be more than just a statistic. So even though I’m conscious of my environment, of who I am and where I am, I’m also conscious of the fact that I don’t want to be like that. I want to come out of this situation. I want great things.

Jhe’Vonte Webster is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the All Stars Academic Services

That was a powerful response, I love that answer. So with that, let us delve into the topic of therapy.

You mentioned that you had some daunting experiences in your life. Please expound on what happened that made you decide to seek therapy.

So, last year, I was at church making some preparations for a funeral— I’m an Event Manager at my church. So we were at the back preparing and a man ran onto the compound, I guess he was a wanted man. There were police officers chasing and firing at him. They had an M- 16 and a Pistol just shooting at him and the man ran onto the church grounds… they were basically cat-and-mouse around the church.

I was in charge of the children so I was trying to get everybody safely inside, but by the time I was finished, it was too late for me. So I had to move elsewhere because I didn’t want him going in on the children. In trying to escape now, the man held on to me…using me as a human shield basically. By then, we were both cornered by the police. I looked dead, straight down into the nozzle of the M-16 and I saw his [the police] finger right on the trigger. The thing is, 9 out of 10 times, people in ‘wrong place wrong time’ situations end up dying—that was the first thing that crossed my mind. Like,

‘Jhev, you’re going to die… you’re going to get shot’.

But, within a split second I was able to kinda flash out of the hold and then they started firing at the man. I don’t know how he escaped but everything happened so fast. I had to get up and shout

–‘don’t shoot, don’t shoot’

and then I ran off.

But the trauma that it put me through…I couldn’t go to church until like a month after, because every time it’s like the situation was playing over and over in my mind. And because of that I’ve been extremely paranoid, that now, when I’m home my door has to be locked every time. If I’m walking, I’m just looking around every time. If I see strange people, I’m automatically on the defensive. So, my mentor suggested that I go to therapy. PTSD Therapy.

So, that happened on a Saturday, and the following week I was walking home…and a voice just said to me,

— ‘run!’

and I just started to run. I reached to a corner and I saw a couple guys who I know, so I stopped [and was] talking to them. And then like, mi mind just seh,

–‘yow, run!’

And me start run again. This time I didn’t stop until I reached home…and as soon as I reached my door, I heard that those same guys got shot in a drive- by shooting—few of them died. Guess my guardian angel was protecting me.

Those things happened in February 2020, my grandma died the December before that…

 So how did that affect you or make you feel?

I guess I didn’t handle it well. I just ignored it. It was in December and I had exams so I just kinda shut out all of that feeling and focus on exams, until I eventual forgot about it.

But when I was in therapy, the lady pointed out that I had some mild depression. So all of those scenarios amalgamated. Just a boiling pot for me as a young man weh neva have no avenue fi really express myself.

We spoke about the financial challenges. Would you say that therapy is affordable?

For me, it was Four Thousand Five Hundred Dollars…for the place I went. I wouldn’t say it’s affordable but I guess it’s a fair price.

Do you think that our Jamaican culture makes it easier for men to seek help or have access to the facilities?

I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s easily accessible in Jamaica, in all honesty. I think in Jamaica, generally, we have a culture that doesn’t give room for mental health. We have a culture that frowns on mental health …especially in regards to therapy because they always say it’s a

–‘White people thing’. And the usual,

–‘You alright because me give you money…me provide a roof over your head. So you have nothing to worry about’.

But they don’t understand the intricate aspects whereby, you’re saying,

‘Listen up, I’m actually NOT okay’.

And the thing is, they weren’t taught to sit and talk about things and really be emotionally intelligent. So, it’s not accessible in that there’s not really much places to go, and the fact that our older generation don’t really believe in it.

You said that attending the sessions at first, showed you a different side to life. How so?

Well, it was a culture shock. I was like,

— ‘what am I doing here?’

Everybody there were rich people. But the lady encouraged me that it was a safe space… and even now I still use that phrase when I’m talking to my friends. In the process though, she just started off with a few sentences and then I just—went off. I just started talking, just let everything out. We spoke about a lot on the first day, so moving forward in the process we didn’t really focus on what happened. We spent most of the time discussing what I would do next. She said,

–‘Listen up, this is what you need to buy into: the idea that life is fragile, the idea that life is short, you could’ve been gone within a split second but you’re still here’.

Because of that, I am now more comfortable talking about those experiences publicly, especially because she got me to understand that yes it happened, but I’m still here. Now what I need to do is to live and take joy in knowing that I still have a purpose. So the bulk of the time was really us talking about moving forward and living my true potential.

So, now I have a whole different perspective—I’m an optimist. It was emotional but insightful. And the thing is, some people block their mind to therapy so it’s hard for them to open up. They go into it and then say,

— ‘you know what, nuh bother’.

A lot of them are rebels because they were forced to do it, so it doesn’t work for them. But it was a conscious choice for me, so essentially I was very receptive and open- minded… so that is why it worked for me.

In our interview, you stated that there are some elements stifling young men in our society, which makes them reject the idea of therapy. Tell us some more about that.

I think some of the cultural elements in society make men very palpable in this society. The whole, ‘overly- macho’… the ‘toxic masculinity’… dem cultural elements deh, you know… dem thing deh are things that are stifling us from doing what we need to be doing… stifling us from actually reaching our true potential as men. ‘Cause at the end of the day, a lot men be like,

–‘Oh you know I’m the man so I should be the dominant force’

–but at the same time you can’t be the dominant force. As I always say,

— ‘men want a woman to submit, but women want a man they can submit to’.

So men always want to be an Alpha male but I think that term is skewed, because it’s just about who can be loud and whatever, but it ties back to the first term about being self- aware…being emotionally intelligent, respectable…someone who is adamant for personal growth. That’s it! So, therapy for me is personal growth and a lot of people shy away from it because they feel like if you nuh dark then you’re effeminate or being a woman. If you nah shut up and wul it like a bull then yah nuh man…and a that a trick nuff a the man dem nowadays, cause that nuh mek nuh sense!

And it’s something that me did suffer with too, as a young youth growing up. But the thing is, me sit down and medz it and seh,

–‘what am I benefiting from this?’

Remember, the suicide rate for men is higher than women—men are more likely to do it. So even though we are told that women are more emotional, we are equally alike, but it’s just that women are more in touch with their emotions, while men are taught NOT to be in touch with their emotions.

So essentially, it’s like we have to handle everything with force and if we can’t handle it then we just out ourselves… as oppose to taking up your phone and calling somebody and expressing yourself, telling them how you feel. If something bad happened, talk about it.

— ‘This is what I’m feeling’

— ‘This is how you made me feel’

— you know… So that is it, kinda moving away from the idea that being a man you have to shut up and hold yuh own cause man nuffi love chat. Yes, you are a man, but you’re a human first! And as human beings we need to be social. We need to express ourselves.

You are now more comfortable talking about your experience. What other area in your life has improved?

Yeah, uhm, as I said I’m way more confident in myself …way more confident in my abilities to do what I have to do. I’m a lot more efficient with how I manage my time, how I manage the people around me. And basically, my whole outlook on life has been changed. So, now it’s no longer me finding somebody to hide behind, because I’m usually the person who works behind the scenes—well, used to. And now it’s like,

–‘No. Why work behind the scenes and a give other people the praise? Why not work for yourself? Go out and do weh yah do. Yah star!’

And that’s just me finding a new lease on life. You know, finding a peace doing what I have to  do.

On the set of Jamaica Observer for Jhe’Vonte’s show ‘Jamaica Observer Youth Oppotunities’.

So, did the trauma affect your performance in your schoolwork?

No, not really. The only thing that kinda affected me was the passing of my grandma. But, I’m a bookworm, so it didn’t really affect me. Then again, I didn’t give myself any time to think about it because …when things happen I actually get more work done, so it could be argued that I was more efficient.

How long has it been since the incident?

February [2021] would’ve made 1 year. As for therapy, I only went for a month… and that was by choice because I overcame the trauma.

If you had 5 minutes to encourage males to seek therapy, what would you say to them?

Well, for the males that I grew up around and whom I can relate to, we were rejected from before we were born. So, society, systemically told us that, you know, you’re down there, that’s where you were born, that’s where you should stay. But, is it that we’re going to agree to that? Is it that we’re going to live our lives to prove them right? Prove to them that we’re going to be a statistic? That toxic masculine guy that just mek a bag of noise and fight women and…bare foolishness? Is that the legacy that we want to hold?

So, for me, the legacy that I want, is that when I step into a room everybody say,

–‘Wow, its Jhev’, not

— ‘Oh, a Jhev again’.

And the only way for us to do that is for us to be mindful of who we are. It’s for us to take the steps required to develop into who we need to be. It’s for us to build who we are—‘cause we have a vision already so we have to start building it. The thing with that now, which is important, is that we can’t do it alone. We need a room to express ourselves.

Me want the man dem fi sway from the narrative whereby we think we have to agree to society. Me want the man dem fi look into it and see that there’s nothing wrong with talking and seeking help… ‘cause the only way you can get help, is if you seek help… and we need help as people. We are more than just people fi sit down pon corner and dig out we hand middle. We are Black men, Real men, Black Kings. So live up! Live up to the standard of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. Live up to those standards. Idolize those men…great men who their names live on for generations. Stop idolize the waste man dem. We want fi idolize great men, because we are great men. We have the ability to be great men but we need to be conscious of ourselves. We need to seek help and we need to go and do the right things.

I can tell that you’re passionate about the mental well-being of young men and that you want to make a change… and that you want other men to make a change with their lives too. Thank you for sharing your story with us.