In the midst of the pandemic, Christopher LeMark was almost a year into his charity dedicated to serving Black and brown communities around Chicago with mental health resources when he decided to expand into a full-service coffee shop based in Lakeview East. The charity seeks to normalize therapy for minority communities, as well as creating safe spaces for creative and healthy expression.
In July 2019, the group launched its first event and 20 people showed up. Therapists, a DJ playing ’90s hip-hop, and coffee were on hand. Ever since, the charity and its events have grown, with socials organized to promote open and honest conversations.
The nonprofit that spawned the coffee shop, that opened in November selling creative hip-hop themed drinks which funded sending people to therapy, is celebrating its two-year anniversary at an event at Thalia Hall on Wednesday with live music and “the biggest mental health party in Chicago.”
LeMark, founder of the charity, grew up on the South Side of Chicago without a mother or father, and lived in several different group homes. He endured physical, mental and emotional abuse during his formative years.
After being arrested at 18 and given a second chance by a judge, LeMark said he found both God and a love for performing music. He began performing poetry, then hip-hop on the local Chicago scene.
LeMark had internalized trauma from his upbringing until one day in October 2018 when he broke down, crying into his coffee. LeMark realized he needed help. He headed to therapy, where he was told for the first meaningful time that the trauma and the abuse he had endured was not his fault.
LeMark saw his own community had a stigma against turning to therapy. That’s when he created the nonprofit purposefully named Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health, and began his journey to normalizing therapy for his community.
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SOURCE: Chicago Tribune, Mariah Rush