By Tiffany Ginyard,
Special to the AFRO

What do hip-hop, Baltimore club music and coping skills have in common?

Jessica Fauntleroy, a local social worker, figured the combination could be a tool to teach children to be alert and self-aware. Furthermore, she thought a catchy wellness anthem for Black kids to bop to would be the perfect compliment to compliment her latest children’s book, “The Adventures of Young Royalty: Sarai Shakes Her Worries Out.”

“My Toolbox” is the title of the track, conceptualized by Fauntleroy and performed by her 13-year-old son, AP Da Young King.

The lyrics in the song offer kids a practical mindfulness technique by referencing advice given to Sarai Winston, the book’s main character:

“Stop. Breath. Shake it off.
Keep ya head up that’s all you need
Now it’s time to power up
Use your mind. Yes, Indeed….
…Sarai, Sarai. Shake it off.
Negativity, take it off.
Positivity. Be Yourself no need to be fake at all…”

Sarai is a third grader who lives in a big city and often feels troubled by the problems in her community. Sometimes, she gets really nervous at school. There’s even a point in the story where Sarai’s frustrations start to affect her school work. In the end, Sarai uses coping skills she learned from MiMi, her grandmother, and advice from her school counselor, Mr. Smith,” an HBCU graduate who lives in Sarai’s neighborhood.

“My Toolbox,” a wellness anthem performed by Baltimore artist AP Da Young King, is now available on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music. (Courtesy Photo)

“I thought it was important for readers to see Sarai surrounded by strong Black men as teachers in the classroom and at home,” said Fauntleroy, a Morgan State grad who started her career as a case worker for the city’s Department of Social Work in 2006. Shortly after earning a master’s degree in social work from Howard University, she became a licensed clinician and opened Restoring Destiny Mental Health Services, a mental health agency that provides outpatient mental health care to adolescents and adults.

“I want to be a part of creating solutions and reminding children and families that we are not helpless– we are able to save ourselves,” said the mother of three, whose life work extends well beyond seeing clients for therapy. 

In addition to writing a blog and conducting motivational speaking, Fauntleroy is an education advocate and thought leader among Black social workers. Since 2018, the West Baltimore native has been a member of the Parent and Community Advisory Board for Baltimore City Public Schools. In 2020, she served as committee chair. She is a former agency internship site supervisor for graduate students at Coppin State University’s Department of Social Work. Currently, she serves on the board at Baltimore Family Alliance.

“We call her our ‘friendly neighborhood therapist,” said Lakesha Ross, CEO of Beautiful Hearts and Minds Health Services in Baltimore County’s Woodlawn area. 

“It’s because kids love her. She can relate to them– as well as the parents, which makes her perfect for families. They feel comfortable being able to express themselves to her. She’s just amazing. I call her for everything.”

Jessica Fauntleroy is the owner of Restoring Destiny Mental Health Services and J’elle Inspires, a multimedia agency focused on publishing books and digital content that assists youth and families with overcoming the impact of trauma. (Courtesy Photo)

Fauntleroy is not your typical therapist and her therapeutic approach is far from textbook, which are the top two reasons why she’s widely sought after by behavioral health service providers throughout the DMV region. In addition, Fauntleroy’s down-to-earth delivery of culturally competent, trauma-informed, strengths-based mental health care is what keeps her practice overflowing clients. 

Ashliegh Ownes, managing partner of Hearts and Minds, insists it’s the “Straight Outta West Baltimore” swagger draws women and girls to their agency, where Fauntleroy works part-time as an outpatient therapist. “She’s in the area; she’s from the neighborhood. She’s gone through [and overcome] the same stuff personally…she just falls right in alignment with the culture here,” said Owens. 

“People keep coming back because she is a big part of the warm environment we have here. It’s a place owned by Black women for Black women, a place where people can say, ‘I feel free in who I am to get the help that I need,’” said Owens.

“She’s the first and only person we went to for therapy for minors,” said Ross. “She comes in looking like a young Black professional, but she’s relatable.” Young women listen up when she speaks because they see an image of themselves when they look at her.  The way she wears her hair, her style of dress, the way she reps her hood, and the energy she brings to a room lets them know she’s just another fly girl from around the way.

“Growing up with teen parents impacted by the crack epidemic, I learned about the importance of problem solving skills at an early age,” said Fauntleroy. “I was always that ‘lil mother’ to other kids around me. It was natural for me to become a therapist.” 

According to her, every child should be aware of, and often reassured, of their innate ability to overcome any challenge with the power of their own minds. She is gracefully unapologetic for the out-the-box approach to empowering Black families with culturally relevant wellness tools to help themselves and holding practitioners, including the Black ones, accountable for being culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of people with marginalized identities.

In an age where the term “trap therapy” is trending, Fauntleroy relies on the authenticity of her story and breadth of experience to break through the systemic barriers to quality, equitable care and stigma associated with mental health among Black people.

 “I wouldn’t say I consider myself a trap therapist – because I was like this before I ever became a therapist, but I would suggest practitioners who work with kids and teens to continuously assess problem solving skills and [follow up with] education to assist with the gaps in these skills,” said Fauntleroy, “and I recommend parents use this book and song to empower themselves and their children about the importance of deep breaths, mindfulness, critical thinking, and problem solving.”

“The Adventures of Young Royalty” is available at the JelleInspires.org, and “My Toolbox” is available for download on Apple Music, Apple Music, and DISTROKID, and the video, which was shot in downtown Baltimore, can be viewed and shared via YouTube.

Tiffany C. Ginyard is the founder of the Fly Girl Network, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on raising the collective consciousness and well-being of Black people in Baltimore and beyond through conscious-raising media, youth & leadership development, and collaborative healing initiatives. 

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