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Rapper Phor on his public battle with depression: ‘It’s OK to not be OK’

Phor, who is also a tattoo artist, said mental health issues in the black community are often swept under the rug.

Phor, a rapper and tattoo artist part of the cast of  “Black Ink Crew: Chicago.”
Phor talks to the graduating class of Ombudsman Chicago June, 13, 2019, about his recovery from recent mental health issues.
Provided by Xavier Leeds

Battling depression since childhood, recording and tattoo artist Cory “Phor” Robinson McGinnis said his path to healing began after he publicly opened up about his mental health, a subject he says is taboo in the African American community.

Phor’s been afflicted since he was young. It started with his dad not being a part of his life and his family being evicted from their home, he said.

In a February episode of “Black Ink Crew: Chicago” he opened up about his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts for the first time with a castmate and colleagues from 9MAG tattoo shop. It was a time in his life where he was “ready to let everything go” — literally.

During the episode, the 32-year-old shared a desire to end his life.

“You know what my goal was today? To drown in that pool,” he told cast members.

“During the show, it was the first time I had a support system around, and while filming the show, it isn’t the easiest thing to do. I’m just glad I’m able to speak on it because beforehand I was ashamed, and I didn’t want anybody to know that because I’m so used to being a backbone for everyone else,” Phor told the Sun-Times.

He said mental health issues amongst African Americans often get swept under the rug, and recognizing there’s a problem is the key to healing.

“I feel like the first thing to do in order to recover is to admit it,” he stressed. “Don’t be afraid. It’s OK to not be OK.”

Jinnie Cristerna, a clinical therapist in Schaumburg, said a lot of times when people of color go to get help, they’re labeled as “crazy” or told they should handle their issues on their own.

Phor said it can be difficult when it comes to getting help because people don’t want to feel as though they’re a burden on others.

“If you don’t tell people what’s going on, how can you get help? Reach out before it’s too late,” he said. “Just love yourself, you are strong enough, you are powerful and the fight is worth it.”

Phor from Black Ink Crew: Chicago
Phor gives keynote speech at Ombudsman Chicago graduation ceremony, June 13, 2019.
Provided by Xavier Leeds.

Phor recently shared his story with students from Ombudsman Chicago alternative high school, and told them they all have a purpose in life, no matter what obstacles they may face.

“You are all loved in your own way,” Phor told the graduates during his keynote speech. “Look at what you’re doing today, graduating, and soon you’ll find your bigger purpose.”

Addressing the graduates and talking to others made him stronger since the airing of the “Black Ink Crew” episode, he proudly said.

Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church said African Americans with mental health issues often seek him out in times of need instead of going to a health professional.

And with the closing down of six city-run mental health clinics in 2012, churches have been given an assignment they’re not qualified for, he said.

“It’s unfortunate [pastors] have to wear all these other hats,” Acree said. “People should be dealing with medical professionals, but there’s no accessibility in our neighborhoods.”

Mental health advocates say those experiencing suicidal or other dangerous thoughts should call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.