RICHMOND, Va. -- Anthony “Ajay” Brewer knows the feeling of success. The Richmond business owner and entrepreneur owns Brewer’s Cafe in Manchester and is in the midst of expanding his signature juice brand.
“I feel thankful for being in this position and being able to chase my dreams and solve problems every day,” Brewer says.
But the Richmond businessman, husband and father also know the heartache of loss and the pressures of providing for his family.
“Owning a business has probably been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Brewer says. “Throw on top of that, a worldwide pandemic.”
Over the past year and a half, Brewer has lost two businesses, support staff and customers due to the pandemic. Thankfully, he says, he’s equipped with the coping skills to help him persevere through challenging times.
“I personally don’t think, to this day, that men acknowledge that they’re not doing okay or we don’t know how to communicate that in a way that will be received to let folks know that we do need help,” Brewer says.
Brewer partially credits his resilience to James Harris, who is Brewer’s therapist, mentor and friend.
“Once you’ve gone through therapy, you realize how effective it can be,” Brewer says.
Growing up in the foster care system and later becoming an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, Harris decided to pursue a master’s degree in clinical health counseling to help people who are struggling with their mental health, especially men since studies show they’re less likely to ask for help.
“We’ve got a lot of society equating vulnerability to weakness, so it’s easier to hold those things in,” Harris says.
Harris says that often leads to depression, anxiety, addiction and aggressive behaviors in men. He says traditionally, men find it difficult to benefit from therapy if it’s not with someone they can relate to. Harris says this is especially true for minority men.
“A lot of people don’t want traditional talk therapy or psychotherapy,” Harris says. “They would much rather have a relatable, cohesive experience.”
Six years ago, Harris founded the Healing Hub, a place where people can go for individual or group therapy or activities like yoga, Zumba and other exercises involving mindfulness. He says mentoring programs also help people with financial literacy and legal issues such as the restoration of voting rights.
“For a long time, a lot of things have been consumed only for a specific population, you know whether that’s for people who can afford insurance or people who can afford self-pay or people who are not on a bus route,” Harris says.
He says accessibility to mental health care should be extended to those who can’t afford it and therefore offers free mental health services to several clients. Proceeds from his recent book “Man, just express yourself” and donations help fund many of his programs.
Brewer says Harris’ organization has changed many lives, including his own.
“A lot of times, growing up in the neighborhoods that I grew up in, we think that’s a white man’s job or a rich person’s job, I can’t relate to that and to see people like James fitting into that space, it’s huge and helpful. It makes it easier for someone like me to say I’m going to get some help now because they genuinely believe what I’m going through, they understand what it means to be me and they can give me some tools, guidance and resources,” Brewer says.
Brewer says his outlook on life and success has changed over the years and has given him peace of mind, despite the challenges around him.
“I used to let my wallet lead me and now it’s genuinely my heart.”
For more information on Harris’ organization, visit their website.