Nickolas Gaines is a veteran, national speaker, and mental health practitioner with a decade-long career providing spiritual and clinical care. In addition to holding graduate degrees from Moody Theological Seminary and Tennessee Temple University, Gaines hosts the “Black on Black” Time podcast and works as a content creator for REVRY network. Being a father of two sons, he writes about fatherhood, masculinity, queer identity, mental health and race for Ebony Magazine, The Root, and The Humanist.
In this interview, Gaines reflects on Marvel’s (2018) Black Panther [Film], and shares his insights on mental health, representation in media, and celebrating Black lives. Gaines calls for this years’ Black History Month and celebrations of Black life going forward to be mindful of the “intersections of our identities, so that ‘Black’ doesn’t just mean cis-het, Hollywood size, Christian, and able-bodied.” He explains how representation and respect are essential for Black folks, especially youth, to imagine heroic futures.
A conversation between Vivian D’Andrade and Nick Gaines on February 5, 2018:
How do you blend your mental health and creative professions?
In a lot of ways, me being a creative helps me in my own. Being a creative allows me to process what I’ve heard especially as a therapist hearing so much pain and trauma. I think that the work that I do as a creative whether its podcasting or writing or speaking or working on a documentary, I’m always thinking about a mental health angle because that’s something that will always be really important in the Black community.
What’s your first memory of seeing Black people in media?
Contrary to some of the common stereotypes of Black people, I also grew up with shows like Family Matters, which was like Full House. Also, I used to watch Oprah put people at ease every day, and as a therapist I would model that. One or two positive representations or reflections of my Blackness impacted my sense of self and my career in mental health so much.
What was your first impression of the Marvel’s anticipated Black Panther movie?
I’m excited because this is a movie in which black people are in lead roles, it’s a largely black cast, and black people were behind the scenes as well. It’s nice to see this idea of Wakanda, this idea of a futuristic society wherein everything is different than our current reality of having bigots and white supremacists in office. Imagine a world in which our interests, health, and humanity are recognized!
What do you think the experience of seeing the movie will be like for you? For your Black sons?
I’m glad that we get to have this experience together. What’s important about Black Panther is that it’s necessary for Black representation in media, and for my sons to see that there can be super heroes who look like them. It’s necessary in the world we live in for them to be able to pursue things that people say are impossible. So, I’m excited to watch my sons light up seeing superheroes that look like them, and even though superheroes don’t exist, I want them to think anything is possible.
What do you think will change about Black representation in media over the next five years?
I’m hoping that we start to see more intersections of our identities so that Black doesn’t just mean cis-het, Hollywood size, Christian, and able-bodied. I hope we start to amplify Black people who are trans, queer, non-gender conforming, full bodied people, and that those of us newly included in media will not just be represented but also respected.
What do you think will change about celebrations of Black life over the next five years?
In five years, I’m hoping that we have a new President and I’m hoping that we will see a resurgence and strengthening of what it means to be Black. I hope that we are unapologetically bold. I really want us to stop focusing on how white people see us, and just live our lives.
How does one ignore feeling like they are under the watchful eye of others when that may be at times a reality?
Even though the reality of what we have in front of us in terms of oppression, access, and opportunity, is not what we want, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dreaming of a world like Wakanda. If it takes a little Black kid to watch that movie and think that the world can be theirs then that inspires hope and inspires people to live radically.
What can you tell us about the connection, if any, between Black representation in entertainment and Black mental health?
I think we are still doing a lot of work in entertainment to destigmatize mental health and in terms of the black community making mental health something that is not dismissed. Often, we have to hit rock bottom before we get help. We need to be honest about peoples struggles; life is long, and sometimes we need help to get through it.
What do you wish America knew about Black people?
What I’m wanting allies to do is move beyond their tears and guilt, and move towards action. I want everyone to ask themselves: How do I dismantle my own privilege? How do I challenge family to not be racist? Am I supporting people or policies that are harmful to communities of color?
How do you/ or how would you advise others to practice self-care while being Black in America?
I believe that self-care is the intentional preservation of our mind, our body, our soul, and our spirit. When I lived in Utah, it was hard to just breathe and live without enduring racism. Self-care is about pursuing anything that brings you joy and makes you feel whole. So, if that means you have to sit in a corner and look at memes, calling home so you can say things you can only say with friends, listening to music, or seeing Black panther then do it. Do whatever brings you joy otherwise you won’t be able to survive living in Utah, dealing with the administration, and getting through school.
Lastly, what are you wearing to the Black Panther movie premiere?
Oh my gosh, I don’t even know yet, but it’s going to be amazing and very Afro-centric. Africa is a part of you so lean into that.