Jeriel Johnson of the Recording Academy – Billboard

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Billboard has partnered with Ian Davis and Brandon Holman of The Mindful Creative for a series of conversations with music artists and executives about the self-care practices they use to stay on track, both during the pandemic and beyond.

Today’s conversation is with Jeriel Johnson, executive director of the Recording Academy’s Washington, D.C. chapter and executive sponsor of the academy’s Black Music Collective. Launched last September, the BMC is an advisory group of black music creators and professionals dedicated to amplifying black voices within the academy and the music industry at large. A seven-year Recording Academy veteran, the Philadelphia native and Berklee College of Music graduate joined the organization in 2014 as a senior urban music project manager after holding positions at NBC Universal and Warner Bros. Records. He was recognized as a 2021 Billboard Change Agent for advocating for major industry change in a year rocked by the pandemic and protests for social justice reform.

I define mental health and wellness as finding peace through self-care. Because we have so much going on in our work and personal lives, we need to find a way to effectively balance all of these things while still being productive and enjoying life.

It all starts with perspective. My family – my wife and four children – is the most important thing to me as I work to hopefully build a legacy. After that comes my love of music… I’m so grateful and blessed to be able to work in the music industry, which I remember when I’m facing demanding or difficult times at work. I’m a musician and I keep my drum practice pad on my desk. So if I ever need to let off some steam between meetings, I start rat-a-tat-tattooing real quick. Even in my way of working, I think very musically and try to find the rhythms while I manage what needs to be done. Everything is connected for me.

For many years people were not open to talking about mental health. Now people are more and more comfortable embracing the issue. They express their feelings, challenges, mental health goals and share resources. And as more people communicate and work together thoughtfully and collaboratively on the issue, the stigma will begin to fade. And while there are plenty of great resources for people struggling right now, it’s equally important that we develop more preventative measures to help people anticipate any issues before they spiral out of control. It’s just about raising awareness and continuing to support and be kind to each other. It’s the original model of life – and we can always use more of it.

Whatever the company or position, it starts with listening. I’m talking about very active listening to understand your team’s needs, to learn more about their interests and skills, and to help them develop them to help them resolve potential work issues while supporting their growth. And that leads to empowerment and trust. One of the best ways to empower someone is to trust them completely. This has been a very useful approach for me to foster mental health and well-being at work: to listen and know when to stand in front or follow the example of my teammates.

Personally, I try to go out for a run every day, or at least three to four times a week, before I start working. It gives me time to process what the day ahead looks like. So before I even sit down at my computer or join a meeting, I’ve already had a win for the day and can better handle any problem without overreacting. It’s about knowing where to place your perspective when challenges come your way.

It is imperative, because we are all stressed and face different problems, whether professional or personal. So when you are faced with a problem, give yourself a space that you can preemptively and proactively step into so that you can deal with whatever comes your way. For example, give yourself space to write or type what the problem is before having that direct conversation. Or maybe it’s about coming out to yell and yell to release your frustration or anger before fixing the issue. Whatever the situation, first think about how you want to react before you do.

In our business, many of us do not prioritize our physical well-being. I know I haven’t done that for many years. Sometimes our working hours aren’t great and we don’t always eat the best foods. But finding the time to be active and mentally feeling what it does for you is amazing. I wish everyone would do something to get the adrenaline pumping and the blood pumping. You will see and feel the benefits.

Earlier this month, I launched #EveryDayInMay to help raise awareness for mental health and wellness through fitness. I do it with friends, but I also challenge everyone to do something active every May day. We’ve had so many people take up the challenge and share what they’re doing. You don’t necessarily need to run. It could be a workout, yoga, cycling, walking…just some measure of physical activity each day.

As a family, my wife, my children and I meditate. My wife thought of doing this two years ago to help the kids relax at the end of a long week and get them ready for the next week. While we also encourage physical outings like soccer, dancing, and karate, meditation is another way to teach mindfulness. As has been the case for many families, it has been difficult to manage virtual school during the pandemic while providing alternative outlets so they can unplug from their devices. At the same time, my wife and I are very aware of the need to create space for them to know that we are always there and supporting them; that they can talk to us about anything at any time.

As told to Gail Mitchell, Ian Davis and Brandon Holman.

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