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In a remarkable initiative born out of personal struggles and resilience, Robert Washington-Vaughns has co-pioneered the Black Men Flower Project.
His company is a testament to the power of compassion and solidarity in combating mental health challenges among Black men.
In an interview with People Magazine, Washington-Vaughns opened up about his experiences.
He revealed that despite his success as a lab scientist and outward wellness, he was facing serious mental health struggles.
Those struggles led to a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in 2018.
Washington-Vaughns shared that his journey toward genuine mental wellness was positively impacted by therapy. He later commented that he found moments of solace amidst nature.
He also emphasized the difference it made on his mental health to have a support system. “Having a community of people I could talk to, I started to see the beauty of life again.”
This newfound appreciation for life’s beauty was heavily influenced by his connection with nature, and flowers became a powerful symbol.
Company was conceived when he was in an outpatient facility
In an interview with The Tribe, a Black-owned media company based in Chicago, Washington-Vaughns explained how he conceived the idea while receiving care in an outpatient mental health program.
Further, he expressed his belief that Black Men are often not seen, heard, or acknowledged enough. Washington-Vaughns thinks one way to bridge this gap is by literally giving Black men their flowers.
Washington-Vaughns says Black men only get flowers at funerals
“There’s that lingo of ‘Oh, give him his flowers, he did a great job,’ but when are there physically being flowers given to men? At their funerals,” Washington-Vaughns said.
He was inspired to turn his vision into a reality by joining forces with John Pendleton, a floral designer, and owner of the floral studio Planks and Pistils in Chicago.
Together, they founded the nonprofit initiative which operates on charitable donations.
They enable Black men to nominate peers to receive carefully curated bouquets—a gesture designed to express love, appreciation, and solidarity from Black men to Black men.
Pendleton, 31, emphasized the urgency of their mission, stating, “Black men are suffering. Flowers have been a healing space for me. I want other Black men to experience that.”
Black Men Flower Project can heal through horticulture
Altogether since its inception, the Black Men Flower Project has distributed 120 meticulously crafted bouquets. They did so by utilizing a network of Black-owned flower shops in Chicago, Columbus, New York City, and New Mexico.
Further, Washington-Vaughns and Pendleton are eager to expand the project nationwide, aiming to impact even more Black men through the healing power of flowers.
The Black Men Flower Project aims to inspire dialogue about the mental health challenges faced by Black men while creating a safe space for them to explore their emotions. “By embracing the act of giving flowers, we establish connections and create a supportive network for Black men to openly discuss their emotions, seek help, and find solace in the knowledge that they are not alone.”
The Black Men Flower Project often highlights their recipients on social media through Black Men Flower Fridays.
They post pictures of Black men who have been nominated to receive flowers via the nomination process on their website.