Meet the man behind breathe: a guided healing journal for black men.
A few weeks back, I had the chance to catch up with a friend on my front porch over some post-work day drinks. That friend was Brennan Steele, former Nashville-native and Duke grad now living, educating, and writing in Memphis.
In a season of deep division and disconnection, it was incredibly refreshing to not only see Brennan, but get to hear about his latest work and where he’s heading with it. Brennan is a Teach for America Memphis alumni, a teacher at Believe Memphis, and he’s also the founder and mastermind behind Breathe Brotha as well as the author of breathe: a guided healing journal for black men.
During Brennan’s tenure in Memphis, he has developed a deeper understanding of his identity as a Black man. He makes it clear that this city and her people have given him the chance to heal, explore, emote and breathe without feeling the weight of the societal expectations of manhood.
Soon after COVID hit, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor left him “completely limp.” Brennan recalls, “I had already struggled before to emote because of the expectations we place on masculinity. After those murders, I found myself stuck because I was experiencing this racial trauma I didn’t feel like I could fully process. Though I was starting to overcome the notions of masculinity broadly, I was still deeply aware of my blackness and didn’t want to process or emote in a way that would be deemed threatening.”
Brennan dreamed of ways to provide a space for Black men to emote in the same way he wanted to—a space to pursue healing through journaling when folks, especially Black men, have to battle stigmas that make other avenues like counseling less appealing or accessible.
And so the Breathe Brotha movement was formed.
Brennan wrote a journal titled breathe: a guided breathing journal for black men, which promotes healing and wholeness for Black men. The book is a 45-day guided journey to start “thinking about your personal story, understanding your identity as a Black man, and developing your emotional intelligence.” Each day you check in with yourself and are invited to write through a prompt, and the final day of the journey is an invitation to write your whole story—from when you were born to the present day.
“Personally, I’d love for someone to say that they were given the space to think about the deepest part of themselves and connect to a community of Black men that are journaling. Having a deeper understanding of ourselves as black men also allows us to have richer relationships and show up better in the spaces we occupy. When other men have been vulnerable with me, it’s allowed me to be vulnerable in kind.”
Brennan is also an educator, and his passion for mental and emotional wellness extends into the classroom at Believe Memphis Academy. As an educator, he is passionate about the academic development of students, but he’s also greatly concerned with their social and emotional development. The young students in his classroom are the future of our city and country, and his investment in them is one that can greatly impact their futures. Brennan’s work on breathe and his work with his students are interwoven. He explains:
“I see breathe as the restorative work for black men who weren’t given the tools to process the world around them as black boys. As such, my job as a teacher every day must be taking part in the preventive work of building up the mental and emotional wellness of all of my students, but especially my black boys.”
I strongly encourage you to join Brennan on the breathe journey. Even if you aren’t Black, our stories are deeply entwined, and the pursuit of justice and joy for Black communities and lives is as important today as it was four centuries ago.