By: Tatiana Gonzalez Quiroga
How a movement in art was born
When you look in the mirror, what looks back at you?
“Is it love staring back?” asks Tarik Daniels, founder of the nonprofit group.Whatsinthemirror?. “Love of self? Love of people?”
For people in communities of color who don’t see love reflecting back at them, Tarik is here to change things. With Whatsinthemirror?, this #Firestarter is aiming to transform the conversation around mental health.
The Roots of a Movement
Tarik, who’s based in Austin, Texas, chose to build his movement around this cause because it affects him on a deeply personal level.
From a young age, he saw his grandmother, whom he lived with throughout his life, dealing with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He also witnessed his sister rushed to the hospital after attempting suicide.
Those experiences with his family led Tarik to become an advocate for mental health. When he got to college, he realized there was a way to combine the cause that’s close to his heart with another one of his passions: art.
Where Advocacy Meets Art
Tarik has always been an artist. In college, he became interested in doing theater for the oppressed. That’s when he had his “light bulb” moment. Why not combine art with mental health advocacy?
It was an idea that was meant to be. For Tarik, art is an outlet to cope with the obstacles in life by expressing himself while also working through traumas and triggers. He believes that art is a universal coping method that resonates with almost everyone. It can also educate people.
So in 2015, he started Whatsinthemirror? with the mission to advocate for communities of color. The organization strives to go places where mental health is not brought up and change the narrative. Its name is based on the fact that we all face ourselves in the mirror before going out into the world each day.
By combining art with mental health advocacy, Tarik tackles the stigma surrounding mental health and shows others the challenges the African American community faces with mental health. Whatsinthemirror? hosts events such as plays and art shows that shed light on these topics.
The organization wants the African American community to understand the effects of systematic and institutional racism on their mental health, and, as a community, move forward and endure together. By working together to understand the impacts of mental health, the stigma can be reduced and, hopefully, one day eliminated.
Tarik and his nonprofit have already made a lasting impact in Austin. He was recognized as an Outstanding Community Leader by the Central Texas Family Support Conference (the longest-running mental health conference for African Americans in America) and was an Austin Under 40 Award 2019 Winner.
Expanding the Conversation
Like all #Firestarters, Tarik aims to keep growing his movement so that it can help more and more people.
When Whatsinthemirror? first started, it focused on East Austin, a part of that city that has historically had a large black population and where mental health advocacy was not visible. Now the organization is striving to expand its outreach. It wants to address the unique challenges that come with being black and a woman, black and queer, or black and young.
Apart from mental health, Tarik also advocates for speaking up about other injustices against people of color, like the senseless deaths of Sandra Bland and Muhlaysia Booker.
“Without justice for our people, we have to continue to work to create tools and techniques to combat the trauma and triggers we live in everyday America,” Tarik says.
Whatsinthemirror? helps confront these injustices and creates a way for people to express their emotions that stem from these traumas. He is proud of a recent pop-up town hall to discuss the safety of trans women of color and mental health while also discussing the recent traumas associated with the murders of trans women.
A Growing Movement
Tarik’s other goals for Whatsinthemirror? include building its social media presence so that the organization can reach people online that it can’t reach in person. You can follow Whatsinthemirror? on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Tarik is also in talks to create a mental health app. Additionally, he seeks to focus more on access to mental wellness care for communities of color, since access is their biggest barrier to seeking treatment. And he is working on creating a database of mental wellness clinicians and organizations of color.
We’re excited to see how Tarik will continue changing the discussion around mental health and giving a voice to those who are often silenced, especially in the African American community.
Where to Seek Help
If you’re struggling with a mental health issue right now, please know you are not alone. Here are some resources where you can find support.
About the guest author: Tatiana Gonzalez Quiroga is a student at Louisiana State University and a 2018 graduate of the inaugural Governor John Bel Edwards Fellowship. She is also the 2017 Undergraduate Student of the Year, and, like Terri Broussard Williams, is an LSU Ambassador. She is president of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) on Campus at LSU. Tatiana serves as an intern for the #MovementMakerTribe. She is spending her summer interning for Sen. Bill Cassidy in Washington, D.C.