Op-Ed: Jumaane Williams: A Work in Progress

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

Last Friday we had the pleasure to sit down with NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams for our [Un] Correct NY Podcast ( listen here). 

While Jumaane has already forged an impressive track record as a City Councilman, and has ambitious plans to transform the public advocate’s office, his approach to openly discussing mental health issues is quite remarkable in this day and age, and is worth singular praise. 

In his acceptance speech last March, Williams ended with an impromptu message, “ I’ve been in therapy for the past three years. I want to say that publicly. I want to say that to Black men.”  He went on to discuss the mental anguish of his childhood, how people are wrongfully expected to hide their emotions, and his important realization that no matter what his position in life, the world has a space for him. Jumaane has continued to discuss these raw yet crucial topics, including on our podcast, and I suspect he will continue in the future. 

Many politicians talk about their personal struggles or obstacles in their path to success. But there is always a tone to these stump stories that imply those challenges have been vanquished, and now before you is a person who has become better, battle-tested, and of course relatable. With Jumaane you don’t get that sense. You feel that he states that he is a work in progress; that while he has made gains to know himself, he is just starting the journey. He, just like everyone else, is trying to get through life, keep it together, and enact the change he wants to see in himself and in the world. He sees the baring of his problems as a way to connect with his constituents who he knows can understand this struggle. 

Mental health issues are a substantial yet under-discussed epidemic. So many social problems stem from our ability to ignore what makes humans happy and stable – it’s just incongruent with the way things work in America. While I am not a Democratic socialist, I believe our current form of capitalism has gutted and/or ignored the basic foundations of happiness i.e. economic stability vs. the gig economy, actual social interaction vs. social media. The innovation of constant contact and instant consumerism has been paid by those workers who often sacrifice their state of mind in exchange for a paycheck. 

Can’t all of our leaders be like Jumaane? Shouldn’t all New York public officials be in therapy? And shouldn’t those who already are, talk about it more? I mean it’s New York- we are the therapy mecca- if not here, where? 

Isn’t Jumaane’s message what all of our public officials need to be sending to our communities at this moment? To remove the stigma of mental health issues by leading by example, showing that no one ever must choose between the false dichotomy of power and vulnerability? 

I don’t always agree with Jumaane’s politics, but it makes me feel great to know that a man who is representing the people of New York has such self-awareness, the knowledge that he can openly emote pain, tear up in public, and yet continue to draw an inner strength about who he is. Isn’t that who we want to represent us? Isn’t that a quality that we, as a people, should strive towards?