Friday, July 7, 2023

Season 2, Episode 13:

Building Connections,

Saving Lives

In this episode, we are talking with Brandon Johnson about building connections and saving lives as a tireless advocate for positive mental health and suicide prevention services.

Season 2, Episode 13: Building Connections, Saving Lives

by Dr. Joyee Washington and Brandon Johnson


Welcome to the Public Health Joy podcast, the safe space for real and honest conversation about what building a public health research career is really like: the challenges, the triumphs, and all the lessons we learn along the way.

I’m your host, Dr. Joyee, a Public health researcher, PhD survivor, and entrepreneur. In today’s episode, we are talking with Brandon Johnson about building connections and saving lives as a tireless advocate for positive mental health and suicide prevention services.

This is where research meets relationship and together, we will find our Public Health Joy! 


With so much to pay attention to in public health work, it can be easy to sometimes lose sight of the needs of your community and the human connection that drives this work. Joining us today is Brandon J. Johnson, a tireless advocate for positive mental health and suicide prevention for youth and adults across the country. Brandon is currently the Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch at the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the Suicide Prevention Branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He also co-leads the SAMHSA Black Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative, which works to reduce suicide attempts and deaths among Black youth and young adults between the ages of five and 24. We talk with Brandon about his journey into public health, what he has learned from occupying a range of different roles, and the importance of human connection in public health work. Brandon elaborates on the adversity faced by people of color, how to approach difficult topics like suicide and violence prevention, and why you can never truly know your impact. We also discuss Brandon’s YouTube Channel, The Black Mental Wellness Lounge, and how it drew him into community work during the pandemic before unpacking what he’s learned from becoming a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES). Today’s episode covers a range of important topics and provides us with a powerful reminder that building connections can save lives. To hear all of Brandon’s thought-provoking insights, be sure to tune in today!

Key Points

  • Introducing today’s guest, Brandon J. Johnson, his work with SAMHSA, and his new role as Acting Branch Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch. [0:00:50]
  • Why any role can serve you and teach you important transferable skills. [0:04:43]
  • Using passion to help you persevere through difficult challenges. [0:09:24]
  • The adversity experienced by people of color, leading to higher rates of burnout. [0:10:50]
  • What it means to understand your community and tap into what they need. [0:11:22]
  • Shining a light on human connection and how it drives public health work. [0:13:19]
  • Brandon’s thoughts on community engagement when dealing with sensitive topics like suicide, and violence, prevention. [0:16:09]
  • Meeting people where they are and how vulnerability will help you in the long run. [0:21:28]
  • What Brandon learned about human connection from being a research assistant. [0:23:24]
  • An overview of what you learn as an MCHES, how it differs from being a CHES, and how MCHES training enables you to have a community perspective. [0:27:13]
  • Occupying a leadership role and the opportunity to model behavior for others. [0:29:17]
  • Why the real work happens after you take your MCHES exams. [0:30:49]
  • Brandon shares what brings him the most joy in his work. [0:33:24]
  • Find out how you can get in touch with Brandon online. [0:35:55]

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[0:00:50] JW: Welcome to another great episode of the Public Health Joy Podcast. Today, we have Brandon J. Johnson, who is currently the Acting Branch Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch at the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The way I came across Brandon, is because both of us are MCHES certified. For those who may not know, being MCHES certified is a Master Certified Health Education Specialist. That is a whole certification process that we will get into later. Brandon, I want you to have the opportunity to go ahead and tell the listeners, tell our folks a little bit about who you are and your journey.


[0:01:39] BJ: Yeah, absolutely. First and foremost, thanks for having me on. I’m excited to be on and have this conversation today and support another MCHES, like because, we’re awesome. It’s good to building that workout for sure. Yeah, so really my journey, currently, like you said, I work at the SAMHSA, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. I am the Acting Branch Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch there. I oversee that entire branch, our programs, the staff, all those things. That is like very new. That’s been since the end of February, that I’ve been in that role. It’s been really cool.


I’ve been in SAMHSA for six years. I’ve been in the Suicide Prevention Branch the entire time. Really, my role there, I think the really cool things that I get to do are like, overseeing our suicide prevention grant program. I oversee our youth portfolio. I am lead within initiative, our Black Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative. We got that kicked off, really, maybe, it’s maybe been a year. Yes, probably been a year at this point that it’s been kicked off, but really working to reduce suicides of black youth and adults between the ages of five and 24. That work is very close to my heart. A real like passion project, but I get to be able to do that like at that level in the phase is really dope.


Before coming to SAMHSA, I was Maryland’s Director of Suicide and Violence Prevention for almost four years. I did a lot of work in Maryland. That was my first time in suicide prevention, like on that stage, so it was really cool to get into that work. Really before that, I had some work at a local county here in Maryland. I did some work there. I’ve just been in government through and through. I did local state and fed through and through. Before that, I worked at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing for a long time. I had worked there in high school as like an admin assistant, like support staff, like all those things, initially.


Then as I got my bachelor’s from the Illustrious Morgan State University, HBCU here in Baltimore, in psychology, I started to work on like research studies. So, like I was a part of – I was a community health navigator for a heart failure study. I worked on – I led a study that was specifically led us in like led the staff part of it of a study looking at women who experience [inaudible 0:04:00], or pregnancy, which ended up using that data for my master’s thesis at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I’ve done the research thing. I’ve done the government thing. I’ve done the community work thing.


I also have a YouTube channel called, The Black Mental Wellness Lounge, which is like my draw into like community work. Like during the pandemic, I was like, “I need a way to like stay connected to community.” Because we couldn’t go out into community. I created that to really have those conversations around mental health. Yeah, and I can talk about that later, but it’s been a cool journey for sure, getting into this place.


[0:04:35] JW: Yeah. I mean, it’s a lot of different areas, right? I know I hear a lot of people who are like, “That’s the dream to work for government.” Right?

[0:04:43] BJ: Yeah.


[0:04:43] JW: Health is – human services or CDC or anything like that. Like that is the dream, that is the goal, but that’s not where you started, right? So, it’s like having all of these different tracks that you can go on and started, like you said, starting with the administrative and support staff. I tell people all the time, there are things that you are exposed to, that you have done that will lead you down the right path and lead you to where you want to go. Even when you don’t feel like it’s where you want to be right now, like there is a reason why you are in that administrative and support staff role in high school, because without that, you wouldn’t be able to have the perspective that you have in order to move toward doing research in the School of Nursing or do what you do in the federal government. Every role, big and small is important.


[0:05:35] BJ: Absolutely. I try to tell people that often, because people get stuck in career. Like I said, my career wasn’t – it wasn’t, it sounds like when you go through it, like it was just these glamorous transitions and everything aligning. It was not like, I hit bumps, like I had on one study, there was an issue with the budget, so like my pay decrease, like in the local health department that I used to work in, which is why I don’t mention the specific name. I actually left due to experiencing really terrible racism when I was there. That led me to go out and find a different position. But like you said, like even though it’s like that, those difficult pieces, even the pieces that you don’t think connect, there’s always some type of transferable skills and things that you can take.


Even when I experienced that racism was brutal, I was unemployed after that for a while before that state job came up, but it taught me like when people were like, you get interviews and they’re like, “Tell me a time you had to go through adversity.” I’m like, “Well, guess what? I’m glad you asked that question, because I got a story to let you know.” It’s like, now, when you’re faced with – I’m faced with challenges and stuff, I think back to those things. I think back of like that community work. I was doing cardiovascular work. That was the only time I worked in that area. I got three publications out of it. So, like I was able to publish. I was able my first public conference speaking engagement came from that work.


Then like building relationships and being out in a community really taught me like specifically, like how to engage, like what to do and what people in different places are facing, like even outside of like – I’m from Baltimore, born and raised Baltimore city boy. I grew up in West Baltimore. I didn’t do a lot over East Baltimore, whether work that I did in community was over East. I got to learn their unique challenges. It’s always something to take from everything, even the crazy, the traumatic, the seemingly disconnected.


[0:07:48] JW: Yeah. That’s real, like I tell people all the time, like, “Yo, this research life ain’t easy. This is not for the faint of heart. This is not for the you weak.” You have to be in a position where you are passionate about what you do. For me, I know that community engagement work, that building relationships is what keeps me going, because we know the adversity is real. The enemy is real. You’re going to build some of those for real.


[0:08:14] BJ: Absolutely.


[0:08:15] JW: It takes so much courage, so much wisdom, so much discernment. Some people might call those growing pains, right?


[0:08:25] BJ: For sure.


[0:08:26] JW: You got to go through that. You got to go through the fire. Can’t go over it. You can’t go around it. You can’t go up under it. You got to go through the fire and learn what you need to learn in that season of your life, but it’s going to build you. It’s going to build you for what you need to know for the future. When you’re doing research and working with communities and, like you said, East Baltimore is different than West Baltimore. You could have several communities within the same geographic location.


[0:08:53] BJ: Absolutely.


[0:08:54] JW: They’re all different. You can’t interact the same. I’m in Mississippi. I’m like, I’m from Jackson, Mississippi. I’m like, you can’t interact with folks from North Jackson the way you can interact with folks from South Jackson. It’s two totally different areas, two totally different groups of people. You have to be mindful and tap into those experiences that you’ve had. The good, the bad, and the ugly. They are all important for whatever area you are in, in your life.

[0:09:23] BJ: Absolutely. Yeah, it takes all that. I appreciate what you brought up about like being passionate, about like what you’re doing, because I had somebody tell me in undergrad like that’s what’s going to get you through the dark days. That’s what’s going to get you through, those times where you feel like the, like you said, like adversity, the fire, the enemy, all of the above. Like when those things come, like it’s harder to push through than it is to stop. Like, stopping feels like some days, like, “No, this is cool.” Like, “I cannot do this anymore.” Like, “This is okay.” It takes like those moments.


I know I’ve definitely had. I’m sure you have also, like you have those moments where like, you have to like bottle it almost and like pull it out on days where you’re – when things aren’t good or like times where you had impact or somebody just said like, something you said resonated, something you did help, something – you saw some movement or since we’re talking about research you ran some numbers and some things came out in the ways you wanted to. You did some qualitative research and heard some things that validated what you put together. Those things like, you got to carry those. You got to carry the mission with you.


I know some people like do the whole building yourself, like a self-mission in business statement. I haven’t done that. If you are into that, like that’s a cool thing to do or just like staying connected and tapping into that why I think is important, because disproportionately researchers, clinicians, practitioners, who are of color, specifically Black burnout more likely than others, because of we have more hurdles to jump through, more things that we feel like we have to prove, because people second guess us. You’re dealing with the microaggressions, dealing with the backhanded compliments and all the other stuff. So, like staying grounded is important, because once you don’t, it’s easy to stop.


[0:11:22] JW: Yeah. Very easy. Even as you’re talking, I’m thinking about a particular experience that I had. It’s like, you get that one person, that one person who’s like, “Oh, this really helped me, like I’m going to stay in the game. Stay in the game, just a little bit longer.”


[0:11:40] BJ: Absolutely.


[0:11:40] JW: I know, for me and I’ll make this a short story, but I was doing some community outreach. I was at a WIC Center, and at the WIC center the women and children, the families are shopping and getting their groceries and all that type of stuff. I was supposed to be handing out cards and doing my thing. This one lady, I go up to her and I say, “Hey.” It was around insurance at the time. So, “Do you have health insurance? Do you have – are you all set up? Do you need to renew your Medicaid?” Anything like that? She like look, “I ain’t got time for this. I ain’t got time for you. I’m busy.” I’m like, “Okay, I’m right here, if you need me.” I’m about to push that, you know. Then she says something like, “My mother just had surgery or a family member just has – something had happened. That’s why she was like just, “I can’t deal with you, right now. Step back.”


There was something in me that was like, let me reach out to her. Let me just – and I have said this before, I’m from Mississippi. I grew up as a church girl – and being in Mississippi, other folks around you, you got to know your community. Other people are [inaudible 0:12:50] your church folk, too. I guess, there was the Holy Spirit on me that will say, “Go ask her, if you can pray with me.” We in the freezer section of the WIC, and I’m like, “Ma’am, I just want to know if I could pray with you real quick.” Then she said, “Oh, that would be amazing.”


[0:13:10] BJ: Wow.


[0:13:10] JW: Yeah. We pray together in the middle of this WIC, in the freezer section, because that’s what she needed at that time.


[0:13:18] BJ: Right.


[0:13:19] JW: That’s the importance of – you know in research, we ain’t talking about no prayer, right? We’re not talking about church, right? We’re not talking about all that kind of stuff, but when you start bringing that community engagement piece, and you know your people, you know your community, you can tap into what’s important to them and what they need at that moment. They don’t need a survey at that moment. They don’t need your card or whatever else you’re trying to do, get them to do an informed consent.


Sometimes they might need a prayer. Sometimes they might need a word of encouragement. Sometimes they might need you to come with them to check on their family member or their child or whatever. It’s important to keep those things in mind when we’re talking about research and community engagement, because it’s about more than that. It’s about building relationships.


[0:14:08] BJ: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, those things like can’t be overstated, like just making sure to understand like people. I said this like recent. I can’t remember where I was at some presentation. I was like, we talked a lot, especially in research, like there’s a lot about like numbers and data. You get your participants. You assign them ID numbers. It was like, there’s that kind of thing, but there are people at the end of the day, like beyond any metrics or things that you’re getting, like those are real people. Engaging and understanding, like what’s going on with you? Like you said, it’s those like social determinants of health, because it’s like, if I am struggling trying to figure out if my family member is going to be okay.


If they are, who’s going to pay for how we’re going to cover the bills other than, you know, or if they need someone to like take care of them now, because the surgery was like invasive or challenging, like who’s going to be able to do that? How is that going to mess with that job? Like all those things. I can’t hear what you’re saying about this potential study that may be helpful to me at some point. Yeah, so like, I really resonate with that. Those community connections, those people connections, those human connections, I think are really what like drive this work. It’s important for us like not to lose that.


[0:15:36] JW: Yeah. That’s the thing, is remembering that these are real people. For a lot of folks in public health research and different professions, we’re so tapped into the job that is easy to forget that these are real people who have to go home to their own jobs. They got their own family members. They got their own situations going on. We have to remember that. I think it’s important in thinking about your work, right, in suicide and violence prevention those are some sensitive topics. I’m curious as to, we have to be careful, right? We have to be careful in how we address those topics, especially in engaging with communities. How do you keep communities engaged around the topic of suicide or violence prevention without crossing those boundaries, right? That might be harmful or that might be triggering or something like that. How do you do that?


[0:16:30] BJ: It takes time. I think one of the biggest pieces is that it takes authenticity, right? Like, so one of the things that I try to find myself on and to try to convey to people in a way that’s honest and authentic to who I am and why – listen, you talked about the church, you talked about those things. Like my purpose is connected to this work very much. Like we all go through years where we’re like, “What am I supposed to be doing? Why am I here?” Like, “What’s the thing? What’s the point?” Like I know very firmly now, like I always does. I always try to say it with as much confidence as I can muster, but I know that it’s this work. It’s just suicide prevention work.


For me, I try to allow that to push through first beyond what I can offer you, beyond what resources I have, beyond why we’re having the conversation, beyond this setting. Like I want people to know that I give a rip. Like I do, like when I do this work like, I don’t know what anybody is going through when I’m talking about this stuff. I don’t know what you’re going through, Joyee, at this point in time, right? Like, we’re here to have a conversation around for your podcast, but I don’t know. Like we never know what somebody truly is going through.


If I can lead with like, I really want you to be okay. I really want you to be well. I think I have some things that may be useful for you. You let me know if they are or if they aren’t. Maybe this thing over here may work. Maybe this won’t, but leading with that like gives people an opportunity to like feel that if they want, they can drop the wall that they have. Everybody walks around with a wall. A lot of people say masks. I like to say wall. I think it’s just because of the feeling that I’m in, but like, people walk around with those. The wall is as thick as what you’ve experienced.


If you’ve experienced people like taking advantage of you or you’ve experienced a lot of trauma or you hold a lot within you, that wall is going to be thicker, right? I just want people to know if you choose to knock the wall down. I am doing everything that I can, because everyone makes mistakes. I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that I’m not a reason you add another layer, right?


Going with that chance of present people with like a range of things that may be helpful. It may be a crisis line. It may be a text line. It may be connection to your culture. It may be this faith-based organization over here doing this work. It may be this community-based organization over here doing this work. It may be this crisis stabilization unit on this side of town. It may be finding you a place of food pantry to feed your family. It may be helping you figure out how to file unemployment, so you can get a check to help out. It may be finding you transportation to get access to mental health services that may be on the other side of the town that actually take your insurance. Like, it may be helping you call your insurance to know what questions to ask to see what you can find a provider.


It could be any of those things, but let’s just start with the human aspect of, I want you to be okay. I want you to be well. I want you to have the resources you have. If you don’t want to spend any time talking to me, if you go in your corner, like something can resonate that you’ll call or text 988 at a time where I’m not around where you might need it or find out where this like support group is over here for moms, or new dads, or people who’ve experienced loss of children, like whatever those things may be. Like, it’s a delicate thing. Like I said, nobody’s perfect. That’s why, usually before I do a talk, I always let people know, like we’re going to talk about some heavy stuff. If this is where you’re in, here’s some resources. Like connect with them. I think it’s great that 988 does texting now, because I can tell people –


I usually tell people, like if you need to leave the room, like make a call, do something like that, which I still do. I also say, if you just want to stay here, if you don’t want the awkwardness of now having to get up and walk past people like to get – to leave the room, you can text right here while I was sitting here and nobody’s going to know. You can be on your phone, text 988, talk to a trained crisis counselor and nobody’s the wiser. You are taking care of yourself in the moment. Like, those are the things that I think that I try to do. It’s a delicate balance, but I’ve found that I think people, more likely than not, are going to at least see you as an ally, see you as someone wanting to do positive. I think that can make or break the difference right there.


[0:21:28] JW: Yeah, for sure. As you’re talking, one of the things that I’m thinking about is as health educators, right? We are often saying, we need to meet people where they are, right? That takes a special skill, a special gift, a special superpower to be able to see people, just see them, see them for who they are, where they are in the moment and meet their need, where they are, because that’s what’s going to help build that relationship. If what they need is prayer in that moment and you meet their need, you have bused down a wall.


[0:22:04] BJ: Absolutely.


[0:22:05] JW: It is coming down. If you have given them the resource to the text, to the hotline that they need at that moment, and you’re not focused on your own agenda and what you have to get done, that’s another wall busted down. That’s what we have to start learning is how to build those relationships and engage with one another to build that trust, because when those walls start coming down, we can start getting vulnerable.


[0:22:31] BJ: Absolutely.


[0:22:33] JW: That vulnerability will help us in the long run. That’s another thing we don’t talk about in a research, right? We don’t talk about the vulnerability piece of it, and what that means for us, because I know I’ve been engaged in some research and building relationships with community members. It is hard. It is tough. It is emotional. It is mentally draining, because you become a part of each other’s world. When Miss Susie is hurting or Miss Susie is in the hospital. I’m hurting, because I’m like, we want Miss Susie to be all right. We got to get together and make sure Miss Susie’s family is okay. What’s going on? What’s happening? Because that’s the glue, that’s going to help hold us together and keep us accountable for seeing one another –


[0:23:24] BJ: Yeah. I remember like early on when I was at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. I was a part – my very first study that I got connected with was a study, and shout out to Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. I learned so much that I didn’t anticipate. Once again, I went there for admin, ended up doing the work for my master’s thesis there. But we were doing this study where we were engaging with older adults at this assisted living facility in Baltimore. It was like a meditation life skills coping strategy support group that took place at the assisted living facility.


We tracked cortisol levels of the older adults like over the length of time, specifically of the – who are in the program. Like we – I would go and I would be a part of the meditation program. Like I didn’t actually like administer it, but I was there and made these connections. Again, older adults and this is middle of Baltimore City. I don’t know how many folks are in Baltimore City, but Baltimore is 80 plus percent black. It’s a whole, basically our elders, because all our elders in this place. As we’re doing this like, I’m seeing these people weekend and week out. I’m there almost daily recruiting, answering questions from folks. We had meditation. It might have been twice a week. I can’t remember now. It feels like it’s so long ago. Like when we were there, so much stuff happened.


Again, like you said. I’m again, consent, I’m doing all of – I’m research assistant, so I’m like doing all the legwork, right? All the legwork for this. Like building those bonds was like so powerful. There was one time I remember, there’s a [inaudible 0:25:13] real quick. I remember, there was a woman there who were like was pretty to herself. Didn’t like engaging with people, some people may have described her to me as mean. She was pretty, she was like, shut off. There was one day I had to go and pick up. We did like saliva samples.


Again, research assistant work, right? I’m there. I’m going to pick this up. She was like, “Just give me a second. I got to figure this out. You can come in.” There was something, I can’t remember. It was something I had on her, something she made comment about it. Like, I said something about like where I got it from, I think my own, or somebody gave it to me. Like as that happened, like we started talking. Before I knew it, I was at this ladies’ apartment for three hours. Mind you, I had like six other places I was supposed to go in the meantime, but for three plus hours, like engaging. I’m realizing that like, she’s not mean, but nobody’s talking to her. Nobody like is doing this.


Ever since then, after that, she was like showing up, like she would be very nice when she saw me. Like the other research assistants were like, “What happened?” She’s always very just like, or just like, if you get that. I was just like, there’s so much more to her than what your initial interaction is. I think that like as you’re saying that, like understanding, like the people behind the work is, it’s so critical. They really like shaped the rest of my time with that study, because like I was trying to like – again, not to have like three-hour conversation with everybody, but like just knowing that like whatever I’m getting may or may not be what is actually like behind this person.


[0:27:04] JW: Right. Right. That, I think that’s a good transition into the things that we learn as MCHES professionals, right?


[0:27:12] BJ: Yeah.


[0:27:13] JW: For those who are listening, like I said earlier, MCHES is the Master Certified Health Education Specialist, you have to take a whole exam. It is a credential that is offered by NCHEC, which is the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing. I know for me. I was CHES before. CHES is the entry level of certification and MCHES is the advanced level. I was CHES Certified first. The difference between CHES and MCHES for me has been that in CHES, the course, you’re doing a lot of the community engaged work. You’re applying a lot of that planning, implementation, evaluation, all that type of stuff on the groundwork.


Now as I’m further in my career and I’m a CEO, I’m an entrepreneur, I have to work with the people around me. Work with my team to set the example, right? So, as an MCHES professional now, I’m in more of an administrative role. I noticed that a lot of my time as a CHES professional, being employed by other businesses, other folks, it starts from the top, right? Who’s ever in that administrative position. I want to be sure that as an MCHES professional and in those administrative level positions, that now, I’m setting the example and setting the role for seeing people as human.


[0:28:36] BJ: Right.


[0:28:37] JW: How does that impact the rest of the team and their interactions with the community? Because I may not be as involved as I used to be getting engaged with the community, although I want to be, but now I got to manage budgets and do all this, do all this human research stuff – yeah, I got to do all that. But being with the community is where my heart is.


[0:29:03] BJ: Right.


[0:29:04] JW: When I can’t do that as much, because I have other responsibilities, I need to make sure that my team has the skills and the capabilities to see the community and see people as human.


[0:29:17] BJ: Exactly. Yeah. I think that the MCHES is like really equips you for that, like to have that different perspective. I didn’t go CHES first. I went straight to MCHES. I went from CHES like before I was ready, like I didn’t have all this stuff. I sat forward a lot later, like I circled back on it later. Really, it’s really important like in those leadership positions to be able to like set the stage for other folks. I don’t think we realize like how much we have influence over that, whether it be through direct or whether we be through modeling, right, and showing people how to have compassion and empathy for other people, and to see people as assets, right, and not at a deficit looking at them from a that strength-based viewpoint, advantage point of people is critical.


I now, especially in this position, this is my first-time having staff since the study at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing like having like direct staff. I’ve had like other folks report, but not like working with them at that level. For me, it’s important to set that tone and make sure our priorities are correct and be able to know how to set the priorities, right? Like how to do that? What data to look at? Like what’s moving? Like what’s – where priorities like and all those things, to be able to set those is a great opportunity. MCHES, definitely lets other people know also that you know how to do that.


[0:30:49] JW: Right. The other thing that I appreciate about being CHES and MCHES is that taking the exam itself is great, but it’s not everything. You still have to do the work after you have taken the exam. Getting your continuing education hours and serving in different capacities and actually applying what you have learned and what was on that exam, applying it to your work. That’s where the jewel is. That’s where the gems are, is when you can, the exam is only one part of it. When you start taking that stuff from the exam and applying it in real life, that’s where the magic happens.


[0:31:34] BJ: Absolutely. I totally agree with that. It’s really like, it’s really key to be able to like do those things. I tell people a lot, too. Like it’s one big piece and aspect of the MCHES like is around program planning and development and like being able to put those things together. I feel like a lot of folks outside of like that credential sometimes don’t know that it’s a part of like health education like. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re trained to do. We can build a program from the very start to down to the final evaluation and report. I was like, we know how to do that. That’s a big skill. If you can combine that with your passion area and compassion for people like that’s where lives can change. That’s where we can have major impact, even beyond just the research, but like that’s where things can move.


[0:32:29] JW: Yeah, absolutely. Make it connecting all the different pieces together. The planning, the implementation, the assessment, the evaluation, the research, the advocacy, the community engagement, the management. I’m going through all the areas of responsibility. All the different pieces. It’s so important to connect them in any season of your work that you’re in, whether your entry level, mid-level, senior level, retired, doesn’t matter. In the area of your career that you’re in, there’s some element of what we call the areas of responsibility in that CHES and MCHES certification. There’s some area that applies to your real life.


If you’re in the grocery store and you see somebody, you’re engaged in community. When you’re having a conversation with them. When you say, “Hey, how you doing?” Ask them about their day. Ask them what’s going on. That is really engagement. That’s building that relationship. That’s super important. As we get ready to wrap up, I have one last question for you, which is, what brings you joy in your work?


[0:33:32] BJ: I think for me, I mean, the joy in my work, like I said, this is definitely a passion project for me. Certainly, the Black youth suicide work, the Black mental wellness knowledge work is really critical, like to be able to do that work at the level that I’m at and lead as initiatives. We get an expert panel meeting last year. We had young people come and show up and do those things. I probably should have said this at the beginning of the podcast, but I’m not representing the feds on this podcast. Definitely, I should have said that at the beginning, but like, being able to do stuff that, we had young people there. We did a session that I got to lead where we let the young people run the show, like what do you want us to know? What do you want us to do?


One young lady said, she was like, “If you let us.” She was like, “We’ll tell you everything that you need to know to help us.” At the end of it, she was just like, “Thank you for creating this space. We don’t often get these spaces, but thank you for creating this space.” Things like that, like definitely, bring me joy, understanding like having people that we talked earlier, circle back and say, “Hey, this clinician you sent my family, I got my child into therapy.” Like, “This thing that you sent me like, like I tapped into it at a time where I wasn’t feeling well, and it was helpful.”


Like, you’re never going to always get those things. You’re not going to get good, that validation. We talk about a lot in suicide prevention, because you want to talk about high burnout. It’s a place with a lot of burnout. You never truly know the impact that you make. Not everybody’s going to say like, “Yes, I was thinking about harming myself and this stopped me.” You’re never going to know those things, but it really like when you get it, it means so much. It means so much to get those things. So, helping people, especially young people and kids that is what brings me the most joy.


[0:35:36] JW: I love that. That community-driven and creating those safe spaces for our community members to share, and to lead, and to help us as researchers and professionals help us do what we need to do to serve them. In wrapping up, if people wanted to get in touch with you, or learn more about you, or what you have going on, what are some ways that they can get in touch?


[0:36:01] BJ: The Black Mental Wellness Lounge. It’s probably the best way to do that. That’s on YouTube. Just type in the Black Mental Wellness Lounge. It’s there. We’ve started in 2020. At this point, there’s probably, I think there’s 50 now. I think there’s 50 videos up there at this point. So many different topics. We have Black clinicians come on to talk. I do talks and stuff. I talk about my [inaudible 0:36:23]. I talk about the MCHES, also on there too, and what that is in my career journey. We have a split segment called Future Black Voices, where I get my colleagues in public health, mental health and social work to give out advice to up and coming like for kids in college or high school, who are interested in getting into this work. I just encourage folks to check that out. On Instagram, we’re Black Mental Wellness Lounge. I’m on Twitter as BranJJohnson1. Yeah, I would love to connect with folks and talk more about these topics.


[0:37:00] JW: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being our guest today. This was in another amazing conversation. This will wrap up another episode of the Public Health Joy Podcast.




[0:37:14] JW: I am so grateful for this time we got to spend together. If you enjoyed this episode, I need you to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impact, visit This is where research meets relationship. I’ll see you next time on the Public Health Joy Podcast.


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