Co-host of hip-hop’s most popular radio show, “The Breakfast Club,” Charlamagne Tha God has never shied away from swimming in the deep end. The cultural architect has achieved several important career milestones in the last two decades and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
With a “Radio Hall of Fame” award, two best-selling book releases, a popular podcast, and a late-night show on Comedy Central under his belt, Charlamagne has shaped himself to be a powerhouse in the media and entertainment industry.
While professional success is a fruit many are destined to taste, very few have built a platform to the likes of Charlamagne Tha God. Born Lenard McKelvey, the unapologetically Black media personality adopted the moniker ‘Charlamagne’ while growing up on the streets of Moncks Corner, South Carolina.
The son of an English school teacher, his early years involved several run-ins with law authorities and an attraction towards the hustle culture prevalent in the hood. While his future seemed to be set in stone – like many young Black males in Moncks Corner – destiny had other plans for him.
With a will to succeed, Charlamagne slowly worked to turn his life around. After spending long hours at night school to finish his high school degree, the wordsmith eyed the radio industry as his doorway to success.
What started as humble beginnings as an intern at Charleston radio station z93 Jamz, led to Charlamagne’s first break, when he began appearing as sidekick to the legendary Wendy Williams. Having learned the ins and outs of the industry from the best in the business, the man from Moncks Corner, was now ready to take a leap of faith.
Fast forward a few years and Charlamagne became co-host of the nationally syndicated show, The Breakfast Club. Touted as “The World’s Most Dangerous Morning Show,” it boasts an audience of nearly 8 million listeners a month and is regarded as a cultural mecca.
Now 44 and in a place of prosperity, Charlamagne is working overtime to give back to the community that once embraced him through his years of hard work and turmoil. Having struggled with anxiety and depression his entire life, he has a firm belief that one of the most important challenges faced by the Black community is the awareness of mental health issues and access to mental health care.
His book, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me, released in 2018, was a testament to his lifelong struggle with mental health and provides a blueprint for those setting out on their healing journey. Following the success of his book, Charlamagne has gone one step further to set up an organization that deals directly with mental health outreach for Black communities.
The organization called Mental Wealth Alliance (MWA), is a “forward-thinking foundation created to destigmatize, accelerate, and center state-of-the-art mental health outreach and care across the U.S. while building an unprecedented long-term system of generational support for Black communities.”
With years of systemic oppression and inter-generational trauma prevalent amongst Black communities in America, the MWA is a welcome initiative that aims to have far-reaching consequences.
“My founding of the Mental Wealth Alliance is the manifestation of a deeply personal vision,” says Charlamagne.“I believe improving Black mental health is a core tenet of restoring souls, igniting wealth, and inspiring upliftment for Black America.”
The platform aims to raise $100 Million over a five-year period, which will allow it to partner with other Black organizations and industry experts to help work on MWA’s three pillars:
- Train: prepare thousands of Black people to become research and clinical services providers in psychology, social work, and related fields through training and by establishing scholarship funds to provide training to increase the number of mental health care professionals from 4% to 14% to mirror the underserved population in need of culturally aligned mental health support.
- Teach: advocate for the implementation of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Mental Health Literacy (MHL) in public K-12 education nationwide at federal, state, and local levels.
- Treat: support culturally competent organizations in providing free therapy to more than 10 million Black Americans within five years through the support of existing organizations and funding of the establishment of new organizations.
“A strange thing happens when you start to tell your story,” says Charlamagne. “It encourages other people to tell theirs, and slowly but surely the stigma around mental health in the Black community starts to dissipate because folks learn that it’s ok to not be ok and more importantly seek help for not being ok. It was never in my plans to become a mental health advocate, but after I started discussing my journey, writing about it in my second book, Shook One, talking about therapy, and sharing life experiences with listeners, a lot of people reached out to me. I want to be a part of providing that help. That’s why I created MWA.”
Putting the “Breakfast Club” platform to good use, the media mogul has also organized several charity runs to help spread awareness on mental health. In the yearly #Change4Change fundraiser hosted by the radio show, several projects have received funding. Recently the fundraiser helped support a $200,000 benefit to Project 375, an organization spearheaded by NFL player, Brandon Marshall. The project aims to spread awareness on mental health issues while ending the stigma around seeking help and treatment.
Charlamagne also furthered his efforts towards mental health outreach by honoring the Foster Youth at the LA County Independent Living Program’s 2021 Virtual High School Graduation & Scholarship Award Celebration. He presented five scholarships to students looking to pursue a profession in mental health. The scholarships will help support their studies in majors such as Psychology, Political Science, Social Work, and Sociology. The five students are also going to benefit from free virtual therapy sessions, whereas a sixth student will receive free sessions as well as a scholarship from an organization partnering with MWA.
While mental health advocacy has slowly become his life’s work, Charlamagne is always looking for alternative venues to enact positive changes within Black communities. In 2021, he visited the historically Black, South Carolina State University and donated $250,000 towards a scholarship fund. The fund – named after his mother, an alumnus of the college – will be used to provide African American women scholarships to major in English, Communications, or any mental health-related major.
More recently, the media mogul has collaborated with iHeartMedia to launch the Black Effect Podcast Network. It’s the first podcast network amplifying Black voices and Black artists across the world and brings together the most talented and trusted voices in culture for conversations on social justice, pop culture, and more. The network is hosting the Black Effect Podcast Festival in Atlanta, Georgia this year, with the one-day event taking place on Saturday, April 22, at Pullman Yard.
It remains to be seen how the Breakfast Club co-host will use his growing platform in the future, but one thing is for certain. Improving access to mental health care and empowering Black communities through education and media will remain his top priorities.