Growing up, hip-hop artist Christopher LeMark couldn’t understand why his parents abandoned him and others mistreated him.
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Like many people who are abused, Christopher internalized his struggles and blamed himself. For more than 30 years, he dealt with this trauma on his own, but one day in 2018, he broke down and couldn’t stop crying.
Christopher happened to be sitting in a Starbucks in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois, when he realized he needed help to cope with his pain.
“I just couldn’t stop. … So I went to therapy,” he explained. “After some challenging sessions, my therapist sat up in his seat and he said, ‘It wasn’t your fault you were abused.’ And now, for the first time, I heard it. I had been feeling like it was my fault, because that’s what happens. It’s so much shame that comes with being abused.”
With help from his therapist, Christopher began to heal from a lifetime of trauma and neglect. Along the way, he became passionate about giving other people a chance to live their best lives as well. He thought about the specific things that had saved him: coffee, because he was in Starbucks when the realization first hit; hip-hop, because music has always been his lifeline; and mental health, because, as he puts it, “Healing is the new cool.”
He quickly set out to remove the stigma around mental health and normalize going to therapy by opening a Chicago nonprofit called Coffee, Hip-Hop, and Mental Health.
On the surface, it’s a regular coffee shop with hip-hop themed drinks, but there’s a deeper purpose. Every beverage sold helps pay for free therapy sessions for anyone who needs them!
Christopher’s coffee shop has now sent hundreds of people to therapy, and the store has become a safe space for his neighbors to talk about the difficult aspects of their lives.
People don’t come here just for a cup of coffee. They come here because of the therapeutic transaction. People want to be seen, and we tell our staff, ‘Make sure you love on them,’ and that’s the issue. A lot of people are not seen. We give them the opportunity, for a single moment, to be heard and seen.
Coffee, Hip-Hop, and Mental Health has given Christopher’s life a new purpose. He realized that all of his trauma and healing was necessary so he could be where he is right here, right now, to help others. What a beautiful way to take control of a painful past and move into a brighter future!
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