Julius Boatwright: Steel Smiling Founder Champions Mental Health for Black Pittsburgh - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

BE Modern Man: Julius Boatwright

Mental health entrepreneur; 35; Founder, Steel Smiling

Twitter: @julboatwright; Instagram: @julboatwright

Steel Smiling bridges the gap between community members and mental health support through education, advocacy, and awareness. We’re planning to expose 100% of black adults in Pittsburgh to at least one mental health engagement that improves their quality of life by 2030.

Our programming consists of Mental Health Awareness Month, Beams to Bridges, Suicide Prevention Month Forum, and a Birthday Fundraiser. Mental Health Awareness Month creates space for black community members to receive mental health support from black clinical professionals. Beams to Bridges is a neighborhood-specific, 9-month training and education program for a cohort of black community members to learn about topics such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. This program also provides them with the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to serve as Steel Smiling Champions in their communities. Our Suicide Prevention Month Forum convenes black clinicians, leaders, and laypeople to participate in a panel and forum discussion about suicide prevention.

Finally, our Birthday Fundraiser welcomes community members to celebrate our collective accomplishments. During this experience, attendees can expect free food, music, live painting, line dancing, creative performances, and peer support.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?

I’m most proud of being alive at 35. As a black man, the world is constantly telling us what we’re supposed to be in life. Growing up, my family relocated often, and I spent part of my youth living in public housing projects. I made countless bad choices that jeopardized my freedom and existence. Reflecting on everything now, it’s humbling to see how God protected me. To be breathing today is truly a miracle.

HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?

Four and a half years ago, one of my best friends from college died by suicide. It was one of the most challenging moments that I have ever experienced. Also, I’ve thrived with symptoms of depression and anxiety for 20 years. So, when he passed away, it had a profound impact on me.

As I learned more about processing trauma, I gained perspective on how to honor his legacy. It became clear that the universe needed me to help black people explore mental health. After working in traditional settings, I became interested in collaboratively creating accessible, culturally-sensitive, community-based supports. When these experiences intertwined, it resulted in the launch of Steel Smiling. The rest is history.

WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?

My greatest role model is God. Without his unconditional love and infinite understanding, I’d be nothing. I’ve had thousands of instances that if it wasn’t for him, I’d be dead or in jail. As a result of that grace and mercy, I have learned how to wholeheartedly love people.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

One of my elementary school teachers preached something that has stuck with me since I was a kid. I remember seeing the quote elsewhere, but he was the first person that I remember saying it. He said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

HOW ARE YOU PAYING IT FORWARD TO SUPPORT OTHER BLACK MALES?

Whenever I connect with a black man, I ask how he’s feeling. Oftentimes, we pose the question, but don’t really care about the response. My goal is to gain an intimate understanding of his mental state. However, as black men, we may not be comfortable sharing those details. I’m always considering that my brother could be one second away from a crisis. The least I can do is actively listen and respond to his needs accordingly.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?

On any given day, you’ll hear me using words like vulnerability, compassion, empathy, authenticity, and gentleness. For a long time, I believed that men always had to be tough, aggressive, assertive, dominant, and powerful. I’m not saying that the latter is bad. There are times that call for us to stand confidently in those areas. Nonetheless, I grew to appreciate that there’s also power in emotional intelligence. Being able to share our weaknesses is courageous. For me, manhood is about not letting others define it for you.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?

That I have so many opportunities to impact the lives of young black boys, including through Steel Smiling. When you’re a child, it’s difficult to comprehend how your experiences are designed for such a time. As an adult, I’ve had hundreds of chances to learn with young black boys. It’s eye-opening to witness how God bridges those worlds.


BE Modern Man is an online and social media campaign designed to celebrate black men making valuable contributions in every profession, industry, community, and area of endeavor. Each year, we solicit nominations in order to select men of color for inclusion in the 100 Black Enterprise Modern Men of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize men who epitomize the BEMM credo “Extraordinary is our normal” in their day-to-day lives, presenting authentic examples of the typical black man rarely seen in mainstream media. The BE Modern Men of Distinction are celebrated annually at Black Men XCEL (www.blackenterprise.com/blackmenxcel/). Click this link to submit a nomination for BE Modern Man: https://www.blackenterprise.com/nominate/. Follow BE Modern Man on Twitter: @bemodernman and Instagram: @be_modernman.