A Network of Mentors- I have invested many resources into my personal and professional development, including gathering many like-minded people into my orbit. Many of my clients are successful entrepreneurs, parents, professionals, artists, musicians, chefs, athletes, and creators. We discuss a range of topics and experiences — offering and receiving advice on many different areas of life.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Charlie McCoy.
Charlie McCoy Oyekwe is mental health advocate, lifestyle entrepreneur, and men’s grooming expert with over 20 years of barber industry experience. He spent 5 years working with the L’Oreal USA parent company Kiehl’s, has a Babson education, and is the CEO of Artisan Luxury Brands. He’s founded 5 successful companies and leads a diverse team of creatives worldwide.
Charlie’s journey of personal struggle, PTSD, and leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses is central to his passion for mental health advocacy. His work centers on supporting cult survivors, underrepresented youth, and men’s mental wellness, by offering programming and mentorship to these communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I’ve been living on the Upper east side for 6 years. Before that, I lived in Brooklyn Heights for 5 years, and before that, I was a volunteer at Watchtower Headquarters in Wallkill for 6 years, which is a lovely part of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York.
While I’m no stranger to living well, I spent my childhood in a wild neighborhood. I grew up on the Northside of Oklahoma City in a barrio named Chisolm Creek during the late 80’s and 90’s. From an early age I was exposed to gang activity, violence, drugs, sex, death, and tragedy.
I was deemed ‘gifted’ in grade school so my mother, whenever she could, enrolled me in accelerated programs and sent me to magnet schools. She worked full-time as a librarian for the OK Historical Society, but for a low state salary which made us poor enough to get state assistance. She became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1989. Maybe she felt, as a single mother, the church would help her raise a son that wouldn’t be another statistic. Or at least that is what I tell myself after years of therapy.
Growing up in OKC until graduation, in total, I went to 8 different schools in the same city. I was bullied as a kid and had at least 9 fights in elementary school, loads of trouble in middle school, and even more issues with my mother and the Witnesses while in high school. Even in the midst of all this I was able to graduate High School, become a professional Barber, and discover a pathway out of OKC to NYC through the Watchtower Organization. The rest is history…
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
We are trying to address two segments of the population that I personally identify with: underrepresented youth in NYC and JW cult survivors in the USA.
There are currently 8 million JW’s, with roughly 18–21% of that number inactive or ex-communicated. Suffering from depression, PTSD, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, this group needs to be re-integrated into society and given tools and resources to excel.
Similarly, Black and Brown youth in NYC make up a significant amount of the population. I hope to impact the trajectory of these kids’ lives, by giving them access to successful people of color through our community service campaign.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
This is very personal for me. I remember what it was like growing up, unable to see my full potential because it wasn’t visible around me.
I also remember the uncertainty of escaping a religion I spent most of my life around. I had to rebuild my worldview along with my social, professional, spiritual, and love life from scratch.
I have had to overhaul my own mental health, not only from the cult indoctrination, but all the other issues facing men of color in our society.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
During the Pandemic I was in a cohort of small business owners sponsored by Goldman Sachs featuring an MBA-style curriculum from Babson College. After that experience, I understood all the errors I made in my first years in business, but I now had the knowledge and networking opportunities to build multiple ventures at a high level. After graduation, I formed The Creative Agency, acquired another Men’s Grooming Brand, and launched The Grooming Alchemist — a non-profit advocating for the mental health of former Jehovah’s Witnesses. We have expanded the reach of the platform to include underserved youth here in NYC.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Synchronicity is an amazing thing. Since my exodus from Watchtower, many of the contacts and clients I’ve gathered over the years have been instrumental in these initiatives, including TGA. I’ve spoken to half a dozen senior level executives in the non-profit industry right from my barber chair about programming, outreach, budgeting and much more. I’m lucky to have access to all these people.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Over the past 8 or 9 years, I’ve been able to work with mega-successful clients, each in their respective fields, and tap into their thoughts about life and business. This steady counsel, along with their examples and consistent presence, has influenced major decisions in my own life and positively impacted my mental health.
I was recently influenced to leave NYC for several months to travel. I went to Latin America in order to improve my mental tranquility and escape, at least for a while, the business turmoil brought on by the Pandemic. I was also able to hit many different U.S cities — to visit family, friends, and mentors of my own.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
There are many things that our country doesn’t want to speak about. With a population of 330 million Americans from different backgrounds, it’s clear how the stigma could remain for so long. As a society, we have to decide to prioritize mental health issues in the larger context of our healthcare system.
As a father, I’m having to think about how to raise my daughter in a different world than I grew up in. Her generation has to shoulder a more advanced technological and socially connected future.
Lack of information, or misinformation, also has a bearing on this stigma. For example, a person from any-town America can join the military at 18, go to Iraq for a few years, and be exposed to violence, war, death, tragedy, and come back at 22 with severe PTSD. This person needs therapy as a veteran…which many Americans would agree with.
What about the kids in America who grow up on the south side of Chicago, the north side of OKC, or the South Bronx. For the majority of their childhood, they are exposed to violence, war, death, and tragedy. Where is their support? Therapy? Do many Americans even understand this dichotomy?
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness
a.) Individuals should express empathy and emotional support for loved ones
b.) Society should adopt a holistic healthcare zeitgeist of mind-body-spirit focused wellness as the new norm
c.) Government should have federally mandated mental health days for the populace.
What are the 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Strong Personal Health Routine- For the past several years I’ve had 3–4 days a week, gym/sauna/smoothie morning routine. This helps me keep my cardiovascular health optimal. You can’t control everything in your world, but you can control your personal actions. That’s where everything begins.
- Regular Reading Routine- I try to read an hour each day. I started this in my mid 20’s. This habit has propelled my worldview by leaps and bounds. This was forced on me when I was accepted into Watchtower Headquarters at age 21 — it was mandatory for us to read the entire Bible cover to cover in one year. Reading is a skill that will vastly expand your perspective on the world.
- A Network of Mentors- I have invested many resources into my personal and professional development, including gathering many like-minded people into my orbit. Many of my clients are successful entrepreneurs, parents, professionals, artists, musicians, chefs, athletes, and creators. We discuss a range of topics and experiences — offering and receiving advice on many different areas of life.
- My Spiritual Routine- I make a practice silence for 20–30 minutes each day. I call it ‘Soul Time’ meditation. Over the last 5 years I’ve worked with Astrologers, Psychics, Tarot Card readers, Chakra Healers, and more for spiritual therapy. My daily rituals are a result of these many experiences.
- My Travel Routine — I have been able to visit many different countries and cities throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin American and the Middle East. This wanderlust spirit has given me the opportunity to experience other ways of interacting with the world. I’ve spent time in most of all the major cities in the US, which has also been instrumental to my overall growth.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Here are a few podcasts that I like:
Impact Theory by Tom Bilyeu
I am Athlete by Brandon Marshall
EX-Jw Activism by Lloyd Evans
I personally enjoy working with professional astrologists, getting psychic and tarot card readings from advanced spirit mediums. While that may not be for everyone, it’s supported my personal journey. I also read and collect esoteric books on ancient world religions and the history of civilizations.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell other people to consider themselves as stewards of our society, caretakers for the next generation, like the previous generations were for us. For each person to succeed on this planet, means to leave your world — your county, your city, your community and your family — in a better condition than when you found them.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!