Like most of the kids in her school and on her block, 16 year old Josetta Adams used to listen to hip-hop music. But, when Josetta slipped into a depression, she started to listen to rock music that matched her mood. She also began painting her nails black and wearing t-shirts adorned with skulls. Her way of expressing her feelings went against the norms of her family and her community, quickly labeling her as different and even as far as calling her a "sell-out". Depression is an uncomfortable topic for anyone, but amongst an African-American family it can be taboo. Josetta is no longer depressed but she wants to figure out why her family, friends, and community have a difficult time understanding her way of expressing herself and why it's hard to talk about these feelings of sadness in her family and community.
This morning the second of the latest series from WNYC's Radio Rookies. Rookie Reporter Josetta Adams comes from a family where feelings of sadness aren't really talked about. So when Josetta slipped into a depression, she didn't know where to turn. She started to listen to rock music. She felt that it matched her mood - but her new taste in music sparked criticism from friends and her Caribbean American family. And Josetta was left wondering how to stay true to herself - and still express her feelings.
NARRATION: I paint my fingernails black and I listen to rock.
JOSETTA: This next song is dedicated to my brother Patrick.
NARRATION: I listen to rock when I'm mad.
SONG: And if your heart stops beating I'll be here wondering did you get what you deserve...
NARRATION: My Chemical Romance—I LOVE them! Now I feel relieved.
(song fades up)
JOSETTA: Yeah um my neighborhood has a lot of black people.
NARRATION: We live in East Flatbush so, when I walk down Church Avenue I don't see teenagers with dyed black hair covering one side of their face or with eye brow piercings, or banging their heads to rock—in other words there are no Goth or Emo people here.
JOSETTA: I think that's my brother, ugh what the hell is he looking at?
PATRICK: You think is cool dress up like that.
JOSETTA: So how do you feel about me wearing black nail polish and listening to rock and wearing all black?
PATRICK: You're a sell out!
PATRICK: You never use to be like that. You were regular, wearing hip hop clothing, you were actually just like me.
NARRATION: I actually had to chase this dude to his room to get him to give me a better explanation.
JOSETTA: Pat! What did you mean when you called me a sell out?
PATRICK: You're acting another culture.
JOSETTA: What culture am I acting like?
PATRICK: White people.
NARRATION: Uuugh! I'm just trying to be myself...
PATRICK: You're wacko wacko. (under)
NARRATION: The reason why I got into rock was actually because I was depressed and Hip Hop & R&B and all of that stuff wasn't helping me deal with it.
HIP HOP SONG FADES IN
JOSETTA: Ah woo woo woo—what is that?
JOSETTA: Take Chris Brown for example—Ugh I can't stand him.
SONG: Chris Brown is in the building!
JOSETTA: Hip Hop and R&B to me it's all about people in love and sex and money and whatever...
JOSETTA: Baby...I can be in your pants...(laugh)
HIP HOP SONG FADES OUT
NARRATION: By the 8th grade, I was always arguing. I felt like hurting myself.
ZOLOFT COMMERCIAL: Whatever you do you feel lonely and don't enjoy the things you once loved.
NARRATION: I saw a commercial for Zoloft, an anti-depressant, and I thought I needed it...But I wasn't about to take a drug for the "nerve cells of my brain."
ZOLOFT COMMERCIAL: ...nerve cells and the brain.
NARRATION: I wanted therapy, BUT therapy isn't in my mother's vocabulary - she said N-O NO.
(Car door slam)
NARRATION: And talking to her about feelings has always been out of the question.
MOM: My daughter is rude, (laughs), she has an attitude...
JOSETTA: Maybe its because you don't understand me...
MOM: Oh you right, you damn right, I have no idea who you are, thanks to that gothic—
NARRATION: Thanks to that gothic?
NARRATION: "Crap", she says.
NARRATION: (laughs) My mom just laughs all the time...even when something bad happens to her.
JOSETTA: Do you ever feel like breaking down. Do you ever feel out of place—like somehow you just don't belong, and no one understands you.
SIMPLE PLAN: (Song)
NARRATION: For m-e, rock music and the skulls and black gloves that come with it are the best way I know how to express myself. Back in the 8th grade, When I was feeling really down - It was a way to say that I wanted my brother to stop bullying me, I hated my mother's boyfriend, I hated school and I wasn't happy to be me...
NARRATION: I would throw on my favorite skull sweater, stick my headphones in my ears, turn the volume all the way up...and walk. I still do. And now when I pass by some mother in a green nurse's assistant uniform screaming at her children, I wonder how she deals with her feelings of sadness or frustration. Does she even talk about it? Does anyone around here? I had to find out.
CLAUDETTE: I just don't like to put all of my stress or whatever I am going through on anyone.
NARRATION: That's Claudette Henry. One of the first people I went up to in front of a Salon in my neighborhood. She was born and raised in Jamaica.
CLAUDETTE: You have to understand West Indian parents most of the time you cannot say the things that you really want to say to them.
NARRATION: But then there is this girl Jenny—she's Jamaican too—and she says that she does talk to her mom when she's down.
JENNY: Yeah; a mother, your friends, a brother, an auntie...
NARRATION: But she says most people she knows don't.
JENNY: I think a lot of people hide that they're depressed and resort to fighting and not talking to family members.
NARRATION: And Michael Anderson agrees. He's the only guy who was even willing to talk to me about it.
MICHAEL: Depression is not really something talked about a lot in the black community. It's just something that's there but generally foreign.
PHYLLIS: Um...Caucasian, white people...whatever, they actually go to counseling.
NARRATION: This woman named Phyllis was sitting in the park watching her kids play.
PHYLLIS: Black people they will tell you that we don't do counseling! That's for wimps and white people, whatever.
TERRIE: We are very faith based and to do anything other than pray to God is betraying him.
NARRATION: Terrie Williams is the author of a popular book called "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting." She says that black people in America don't show their pain because of slavery.
TERRIE: During times of slavery we had to suppress everything. Suppression and oppression lead to depression. Actually to be a black person in this country you'd have to be almost crazy to not be depressed...
NARRATION: As I was listening to Terrie I kept telling myself don't do it don't do it! I didn't want to cry.
TERRIE: Um...what are you talking about?
JOSETTA: My brother...I was talking to him about how I was into all this stuff and he called me a sell out.
NARRATION: Listening to what Terrie had to say...part of me wanted to go straight home and fall asleep to rock. But something broke inside of me.
NARRATION: I don't want to be a sellout to the white man or anyone. I am a Caribbean and African American girl! I love how the color of my skin can be compared to a rich milky chocolate. I love mango! But...I also want to be able to express all of my emotions—the good, the bad and the ugh...
JOSETTA: Mah, I have to talk to you.
NARRATION: For the first time I realized—
JOSETTA: Can you lower the TV down?
NARRATION: I want to talk.
JOSETTA: Can you lower the TV down? I have to talk to you.
MOM: Oh no...eheh, please not now.
JOSETTA: Did you know that I was depressed before?
MOM: You were what?
JOSETTA: Depressed before?
MOM: No...that's news to me. What make you depressed?
JOSETTA: I don't know.
NARRATION: Oh boy...the laugh again...
MOM: Next question, next question.
NARRATION: Can I blame her? I do the same kind of thing to hide my discomfort. Instead of laughing, I look something like a beady-eyed black bird whose thoughts are impossible to read.
MOM: Ma are you sure you're not depressed anymore?
JOSETTA: Yes I'm sure.
MOM: You're not right?
MOM: Thank God...it's a bad thing, you know it's an illness right? You know that, right? Ah man.
NARRATION: I'm not sure why my mother and I have a hard time talking about our feelings. Is it because we're black, from the West Indies? Maybe because she's never spoken to her mother or just because she's a single mom—raising five kids by herself, and working full time.
NARRATION: (sigh) Whatever it is, I'm tired of the bitterness in my voice, in my attitude and in my relationships. I'm tired of pushing people away. I want to try harder to open up to them and for them to try with me.
FOR WNYC I'M ROOKIE REPORTER JOSETTA ADAMS