BJ Williams Is Making Mental Healthcare Accessible for Underserved Communities

BJ Williams
Photo: Elise Conway.

While Black Americans aren’t any less likely than others to develop mental illnesses, they are underrepresented as patients and lack the resources to get help for their mental health care. This is of concern as some reports indicate that African Americans are more likely to experience psychological distress when compared to other ethnic groups. They also disproportionately face risk factors associated with mental illness — such as homelessness, violence, poverty, and additional challenges to accessing adequate mental health care.

As a result of the above, it is clear why Black-led mental health organizations and advocates are so vital when it comes to destigmatizing Black mental health and providing support to the Black community.

One of these advocates doing the work is BJ Williams, an LA school teacher who founded a bus that provides transportation to mental health professionals to areas in need in LA and Las Vegas, including his own high school. Just these four words, “Can I be vulnerable?” not only began Williams’ personal mental health journey but also were the foundations on which he built his organization. But who is he?

Introducing BJ Williams

BJ Williams is a former college sports all-star and current school teacher working at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. His journey to mental wellness was a progressive and intentional one that occurred throughout the years. He lost his mother to alcoholism at the tender age of 16 and his older brother to suicide a few years later; he claims to have attended one funeral per year since 1998.

Through the suggestion of his girlfriend of the time, Williams attended couples therapy before introducing individual therapy in his journey too. From here, he was compelled to share his story on social media and with his friends. To his surprise, he wasn’t the only one in his social circle who had gone to therapy—just one of the first to speak about his experiences widely.

He says, “I think [my friends] not speaking about it was from a position of therapy and mental health having a stigma on it, so they didn’t really want people to know about their situation.”

Williams believes that once the conversations began and they could be open about their experiences and reasons for going, it was like a weight was lifted off their shoulders. He says, “It was kind of like, ‘okay, well, somebody came out and said they were going to therapy, and they didn’t really care about what others thought about him going—as a matter of fact, he loves it.’” According to Williams, it was this that opened up the conversation and possibility of mental health treatment to a bunch of people. He says, “I didn’t expect that to be a result of me talking about my experiences, but it was a welcome revelation.”

I didn’t expect that to be a result of me talking about my experiences, but it was a welcome revelation.


As a result of this, he posted the first episode of Can I Be Vulnerable (CIBV) online — a web series that offered a safe space for Black men to share their mental and emotional health journeys. This series was of particular importance to Williams due to the current state of mental health services regarding Black Americans overall, but especially as it pertained to Black men.

He says, “The American healthcare system is absolutely atrocious and you have a bunch of people– specifically Black men– who don’t want to go or participate. And to be honest you can’t really blame them because it’s always been bad for us.”

Therefore, for Williams, it is of particular importance that it is people from their own communities who reach out and offer help. “People don’t want to go into some stranger’s house who goes to talk about how they know how to solve their problems. It’s dangerous… It’s much easier and puts people at ease when it’s one of their own,” he states.

CIBV Mobile and Its Impact

This thought process is part of the reason and thinking behind the launch of the CIBV Mobile, a bus providing the transportation of mental health professionals to underserved, low-income communities of color in the city of Los Angeles.

Not only did the bus bring mental health practitioners from their own communities to those in need, but it also helped in making mental health care accessible too. However, while he hopes he can get the CIBV Mobile to more areas, consistent funding is a barrier. As it stands, the GoFundMe has raised over $11,000 of its $25,000 goal. However, this was only enough for the purchase of the bus and its running costs for two months—which, while being a great achievement, was only the start.

As for how he feels about being recognized for his work, it is very clear that Williams did not begin this journey for acclaim but just to help. He says, “Obviously, I’m the face of this and spearheading it, but [the recognition] isn’t important to me.”

I want [accessing mental health services] to be as normal as getting a cup of coffee or going to the gym. There are gyms everywhere and personal trainers everywhere– it should be that easy. That’s what I hope to see.

Rather, the most important aspect of this work for Williams is helping those he can and helping them get in touch with their own vulnerabilities. He is also very much aware of his own limits and not over-extending himself: “I’m a one-man-team for the most part, so I’ll do what I can, when I can, for as long as I can. And when I can’t, I’ll stop.”

This doesn’t mean that he isn’t focused on the end goal, but rather he is keenly aware that it will take whole communities working together to improve things for everyone. “The work will always be there, and I’m not the only one with a mental health platform that is doing amazing work,” he says. Therefore, for Williams, it is the work being done on the ground by mental health practitioners that speaks for itself.

As for his hopes for the future of mental health care, he desires that people can access services for free and with ease. He states, “I want [accessing mental health services] to be as normal as getting a cup of coffee or going to the gym. There are gyms everywhere and personal trainers everywhere– it should be that easy. That’s what I hope to see.”

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. Mental and behavioral health - African Americans.

  2. American Psychological Association. African Americans have limited access to mental and behavioral health care.

By Zuva Seven
Zuva Seven is a freelance writer, editor, and founder of An Injustice!. Follow her on Twitter here.