Black Men Cry Too: Kobe Bryant’s Death Opens Space For Black Men’s Mental Health

By: LaShonda D. King, MS

For the last five days, I have observed the outpouring of love, empathy, and (lots of) tears in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death. As I’ve watched, listened, and talked to folks, I have been amazed at how many people are Holding Space for others. Holding space is figurative and literal space intentionally held to support another’s thoughts and emotions, while being present and attentive to your own. Be it the love of #BlackMamba, sports, being a #GirlDad, or just sheer empathy for the families, we have seen this collective public expression of grief and empathy following Kobe’s death.

Holding space is very important, but for the Black community, our voices and emotions are silenced and disregarded. On Sunday, I began to see something different, something important, and something noteworthy. Kobe Bryant’s death is Opening Space for Black men and boys.

“I’ve been trying to get ready for a moment like this…but you just gotta let it be, let it flow…” Kyrie Irving

Kobe’s death has allowed Black men and boys to express their emotions openly, publicly, and unapologetically. I coined the phrase, Opening Space, to describe the opening and utilization of something that was otherwise hidden, closed, or seemingly unallowable. As a Black woman, my emotions are too often minimized, but I still get a societal pass to express some semblance of feelings because I am a woman. Men, particularly Black men, have historically been forced and socialized to suppress pain and emotion, and be void of public expressions of sadness or vulnerability. From public beatings during slavery, to acts of violence against non-violent protesters during the civil rights era, and even in the face of current day police brutality, the faces of many Black men are dry, chins are up, and they hold strong, firm, stoic faces.

Not on Sunday… Black men expressed their pain. Black men took time from activities to process their grief. Black men embraced other Black men. Black men cried that day. They cried a lot. They are still crying.

“Every time I think about it (Kobe and Gianna’s death), I just break down.” My Daddy, Lillard King

Kobe Bryant’s death has been difficult for many communities across the globe. It has hit the Black community extremely hard, especially our Black men and boys. Many Black men have to desensitize themselves just to survive our society. Whether in their own home or walking down a public street, Black men have seen their deaths be legally justified because of someone else’s irrational fear or this country’s consistent practice of treating Black folks as less than human. There is no way to process that you can be killed just for existing. All the pain…they just hold it all in. It rarely leaves and when it does it surface, it manifests itself in ways many don’t understand. Rarely is that space opened for Black men’s pain to be expressed as hurt, sadness, heart brokenness, or God forbid…Tears.

“I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔” Lebron James

Death is all around us. We see it daily. For many though, the pain of Kobe Bryant’s death is oddly personal, indescribable, and more than simply a celebrity death or vicarious grief…This one hit different!

“Words cannot describe the pain I am feeling.” Michael Jordan

Kobe was young, healthy, and vibrant. He was not the stereotypes. He was a proud #GirlDad and present in his family’s life. Kobe was making a difference in the community and the world. No one is perfect, but his image has been mostly that of a positive, upstanding citizen. He worked hard and his #MambaMentality was an inspiration to so many. Whether other communities understand or not, we (Black folks) hold a special place in our ‘families’ and hearts for many public figures. They are our family. Kobe was a father figure, big brother, mentor, cousin, homie, teacher, coach, and so much, to so many.

When that helicopter crashed, people lost that member of their family they looked up to and could be proud of. To make matters worse, they also lost a little sister, a younger cousin, or their own daughter when it was announced that young GiGi was on board. It is often said that deaths and funerals bring Black families together. This is no different. Without making light of the obvious tragedy, the love, support, and connectedness of Black men and boys during this season of grieving has been beautiful for me to see. It is bringing us together. This seed of openness, healing, of growing emotional intelligence, and self-care can bloom if we are conscious of the space that is open for us all.

“I think the most beautiful thing is that it is connecting all of us…and his seeds that he has planted in all of us… those seeds continue to grow…” Kyrie Irving

One thing I want to continue to grow is the Opening Space for Black men and boys to be open, to express emotions, and ultimately to heal. Yes, we know #KobeBryant is an athlete. Black boy, it is okay for you to be sad and cry. Black man, it is okay for you to miss that game or take a day off work to chill. Not everyone will understand you, and that is okay. I understand. We understand. Open and hold space for each other. Your pain is valid. Your hurt is real. Your tears matter. You don’t need to hide your emotions and feelings to be the amazing and strong Black men and boys we know you are. You are #BlackExcellence. You are #BlackBoyJoy. You are our Ancestors’ wildest dreams!

LaShonda D. King is a CounselorCosmetologistEdTech Founder, and a Flight Attendant. She is straight out of #Compton, but you can find her #Hella loving #Oakland. For more mental health conversations, check her out on YouTube (Elle Dee Kaye) or @QueenKingSlays on the Gram.

**Rest in Peace Gianna and Kobe Bryant, Payton and Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser, Alyssa, John and Keri Altobelli, and Ara Zabayan. My love and heart are with ALL those who are hurting.**

Some Resources for my Brothers:

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