After his NFL career ended and his girlfriend left him, former Green Bay Packers player, Jay Barnett, suffered from depression and attempted suicide. With his support system and professional help, Barnett built a new life mentoring youth, speaking publicly, and writing. Through his programs like the ME project a five-week self-development and exploratory program designed
After his NFL career ended and his girlfriend left him, former Green Bay Packers player, Jay Barnett, suffered from depression and attempted suicide. With his support system and professional help, Barnett built a new life mentoring youth, speaking publicly, and writing. Through his programs like the ME project a five-week self-development and exploratory program designed for teens and his books, such as Letters to a Young Queen, Barnett educates youth on self-love and acceptance. His most recent book, Hello King:Claim Your Throne, is garnering more attention toward mental health within Black men, which has often been downplayed or labeled as taboo within the Black community. In 2015, Barnett was honored as one of Black Enterprise’s BE Modern Men. Obviously, we had to pick his brain on everything from his work with the youth to depression to love to what exactly is going on with the Black man.
Fancy: How would you describe your swagger like what makes Jay, King Jay?
King Jay: I think my ability to be creative with my words and my uniqueness in how I deliver my message and to tell my story.
Fancy: I noticed you relate youth of all ages. Why do you think this is so?
King Jay: The one thing that I do well is understand my audience and how to deliver the message to them. A lot of the time, some of the speakers are so busy or so into trying to get the people to see how smart they are or how intelligent they are, trying to use big words. For me, myself, it is all about connecting, being able to connect with the youth. Being able to open with a spoken word piece, that sets me apart. It helps me to engage with them, because everyone listens to music. Everyone likes words that rhyme, so it allows me to showcase my skills and ability, put words together metaphorically, and be able to create this unique ability of mines in a story, but I don’t use a cookie cutter approach.
Fancy: What made you open up about your suicide attempts?
King Jay: I saw a very vicious cycle, just other men like myself that were struggling, especially from the sports realm, living in silence particularly those guys that were no longer playing like myself, and even some of the guys who are still playing. I saw a lot of them using certain things to substitute and to suppress their anger and their depression. I think once I began going to counseling and once I began to get educated and understand what depression was, and what I was dealing with, I began doing some self-work and self-healing within myself. I became more confident about sharing the struggles that I was dealing with. I saw so many young boys who were dealing with the same thing, and basically, we lacked the tools to be really be effective in life. It was not something that I volunteered myself for. I didn’t volunteer to be depressed or go through my situation with my parents or failing- or what I call failing, in my football career. That placed me in a situation to be a voice, and as an African- American man to showcase my strength through my vulnerability, compiling all of that together inspired me to write a book, Hello King. Last year, I wrote a book for young ladies, Letters to a Young Queen and it became this bible for a lot of young girls across the nation. So I said I have to do something for these boys, these young men, because we are told to be men, and we are told to be leaders, and we are told to make a difference, and we are told to grow up, but we don’t know what any of that looks like. We don’t have a clue what that is, so through my experience and overcoming all the challenges and obstacles, living all the lows and climbing out of the valley, I had to pen all of that down and create a tool, not only just to encourage them, but a tool to help develop them- a tool to help them understand what manhood is, their value, and that is what Hello King is. Seeing all the negativity that is portrayed of young Black men, through the news and the media, I wanted to be that catalyst to really bring about a change and really change the depiction of how we are displayed and really give young men something to live for through my book.
Fancy: Do you believe if you were still in the NFL, you would be the same person?
King Jay: No, I do not. (Laughs). I do not. Looking back on it, you hear people say this and its cliché, “God plans is always right”, but I’m a living testimony that his plan is really the best plan. I really would not be the man that I am, because the challenges would be different. Not only would the challenges be different, but I am not sure the support system would be the same as well. I am very grateful for the experience that I had and the opportunity, but I am also just humbled by the man that I am becoming. I have yet to arrive, but I most definitely don’t think that I would be the same person.
Fancy: Right now, the world is watching and discussing the police brutality killings. What are your thoughts on the matter?
King Jay: I grew up in Mississippi, so I have experienced racism on another level, where an officer pulled a gun on me while I was sitting in my car. I was grabbing my license, and my car came up as a stolen vehicle, and by the time I was pulling my license out, he already had the gun on me while my window was down. Another time I was followed to my house. I have a lot of personal experiences with that, so the dialogue i want to create with these young men is really about- everything is about who you are, and my message for them is we can’t depend on them to identify us for us. We must do that ourselves. Even in compliance, there are still a lot of challenges that we face as African- American men, and it is very unfortunate, but I really like to place the focus not on the officer, but on these young men to help them realize that their life means something. Because what could go really go the wrong way, is if we began to focus on the lives that we are losing so much that these other young men began to feel like their lives are not worth anything, and they start to live that out. We must be careful how we present it, and so my issue is not with the officer because we cannot control them and what they do. We cannot control the t law, but we can control who we are, what we become, and what we present. The challenge is even when we present ourselves as kings and what we speak about, there’s still a chance, that you may be mistreated. You may be racially profiled, and you may receive a disservice of an officer doing anything but protect and serve. You must not forget who you are, and that is what is important to me in the discussions that I am having, because I don’t want to see this thing go the opposite way. Often times, when we continue to present an issue, people have the tendency to not so much as act, but they begin to react. I want them to focus on acting and not reacting. That’s my message to them, because it is very unfortunate that we have people that have complied, and they still lost their lives. My prayers go out to those families, and like I said, I have been in those situations, and I drive away shaking my head, but at the same time I’m like, “Jay you can’t allow this one or two encounters to change you from the path you are on,” because you can easily go the other way.
Fancy: What do you think is the disconnection between the black man and woman?
King Jay: The disconnection is understanding how he feels, meaning not how he feels about you, but how he feels about him, how he feels in general, how he feels about life, and basically how he feels is his perspective or how he sees things. So many times, people want us to see things with the same lenses as them, and that is just not how things are. That’s just not the reality of it on many occasions, I think. Black women are some of the most educated women on the face of this planet now, and therefore I had to write this book, Hello King for these young boys and young men. Because we have spent a lot time developing and educating them (women), and now the problem is they don’t have any men to marry because we never educated the men. That is why you will see a lot of single, educated women dealing with guys that are not on the same level or platform. I think it needs to be understood too that he is different from you. We are not two of the same. That is really because- I tell people all the time, you cannot love someone the way you expect to be loved, because how I receive love is not how you receive love, and that is going to be determined by the environment and the culture that shapes you, creating the idea of what you perceive love to be. That is really the disconnect, we don’t have the understanding of- not so much as just roles because we can come out of the same house and see things totally different.
King Jay’s latest book can Hello King can be found in Barnes & Nobles and on Amazon, Kindle and other national retailers.
This interview has been shortened and was originally published in our Uplift the Black Man print issue.