Yolo Akili Robinson Is Building Up Black Communities

yolo akili robinson

Photo by Yolo Akili Robinson

Yolo Akili Robinson (he/him/his) is a non-binary mental health and wellness activist for Black and marginalized communities with little access to mental health services.

As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit mental health organization BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective), he has focused his career on providing educational wellness programs and training in CDC behavioral health. Yolo also conducts interventive workshops and is a certified yoga instructor.

Up Close and Professional

According to BEAM’s website, “Yolo has worked primarily in three areas: Batterers intervention/family counseling with Black men and boys, HIV/AIDs, and healing justice/wellness.” He specializes in Black masculinity, sexuality, and spirituality as well.

In 2005, Yolo obtained a Bachelor of Arts in African American/Black Studies and Women's Studies from Georgia State University. After receiving an education in these focus areas, he decided to change his name from Michael Todd Robinson Jr. to Yolo Akili.

Proceeding college, he spent time as a counselor at the National AIDS & Education Services to Minorities (NAESM). He also counseled Black men and boys on masculinity and violence. He then went into coordinating the Men Stopping Violence (MSV) initiative training Black Men on how to act against sexism and violence toward women. In addition, he was the co-founder of Sweet Tea: Southern Queer Men’s Collective, which included gathering queer profeminists fighting against sexism. 

With over 10 years of experience in counseling, training, project management, and coordinating, he developed the tools and skills to lead a reputable organization such as BEAM.

Yolo's Impact At BEAM

When reflecting on Yolo’s career, a great emphasis is placed on his work at BEAM. BEAM is a mental health organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, that centers on Black communities and supports self-care and growth while providing access to resources that promote wellness and healing strategies for the mind and body. They also promote interventive practices tailored to Black culture. 

Founded in 2015, BEAM was inspired by Joseph Beam, a Black gay man who was a visionary, writer, and activist for gay rights and feminism. According to Yolo, “I wanted to try to make an organization that could speak to the gaps I saw in mental health. I didn't see anyone training the first responders in Black communities (pastors, barbers, parents, teachers, coaches) on how to refine their skills when responding to distress in a way that centered social justice.”

When asked what it means to be recognized his work in mental health, he humbly assures that his accomplishment in the mental health space is not credited to him alone. “I think of it as more of the approach to the work being honored, not just me. It's the approach BEAM has taken to mental health, rooted in the analysis and framework of Black feminists like bell hooks and Audre Lorde.”

I think of it as more of the approach to the work being honored, not just me.


BEAM offers programs, training, coaching, and other resources and education. One of its signature initiatives is to tackle the altered view of masculinity within the Black community. BEAM’s Black Masculinity Reimagined program offers a safe space for Black men and masculine folks to connect, network, and build skills that combat community violence and strengthen mental health. Through behavioral training and group support, the program addresses the “link between toxic masculinity, male privilege, mental health, and sexual and domestic violence." It also “reinforces anti-sexist, anti-transphobic and anti-patriarchal beliefs and behaviors." 

BEAM’s programs also include the Black Healing Remixed, which utilizes Black culture and music to discuss topics pertaining to mental health, and Heart Space, a virtual space for Black people that uplifts conversations about wellness, community, and connection. An additional program is The North Star, an online support group that allows mental health and healing professionals to discuss mental health-related topics among peers. Its skill-based trainings consist of the Black Mental Health And Health Justice Peer Support Training, Emotionally Intelligent Leadership Training, and Organizational Wellness & Coaching.

BEAM’s website includes a Black Virtual Wellness Directory in which individuals can “find a Virtual Black therapist, doula, yoga teacher, mediator and much more,” according to the site. They also have two grants, The Southern Healing Support Fund, which provides funding to Black mental health and healing practitioner recipients, and The Black Parent Support Fund, which offers some financial support to Black parents or children living with mental health conditions

Yolo informs Verywell Mind, “My biggest hope with all of our programs is to continue to build and resource Black communities.”

He also hopes to challenge America’s current system of mental health with policies that focus on workplace wellness, low wages, overpriced housing, unethical health insurance, and healthcare inequalities. Yolo emphasizes the importance of changing “systems of oppression-transphobia and racism.” 

Receiving His Flowers

Yolo is recognized for his work by many notable organizations, such as the largest health philanthropic institution in America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Yolo was awarded the 2018 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Health Equity Award.” He was additionally acknowledged as an “Empowerful Spotlight” for his leadership work at BEAM during the 2020 BET Awards. In his early career, he received the 2009 Creative Leadership Award from the Feminist Women's Health Center.

His work at BEAM has received attention from various celebrities and, more recently, from Black horror/comedy filmmaker, actor, writer, and comedian Jordan Peele, who in 2020 donated 1 million dollars to five Black Lives Matter organizations, giving $200k to BEAM. 

My biggest hope with all of our programs is to continue to build and resource Black communities.

Achievements and Media Presence

Yolo is the author of the book "Dear Universe: Letters of Affirmation & Empowerment for All of Us." He also played a part in writing the New York Times best-selling book "You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, And The Black Experience," edited by Tarana Burke and Dr. Brené Brown.

His writings and contributed work have been mentioned on media platforms such as Huffington Post, USA Today, Ebony, Women’s Health, etc. He has also written various articles for Huffington Post.

Yolo is not only an award-winning author and activist but a public figure and motivational speaker, delivering many keynote speeches at universities and conferences, not to mention his encouraging podcasts and videos made accessible to the public.

A podcast in particular that Yolo visited in May 2021 is the Black Awareness podcast, Let's Talk Bro. He expressed how he was exposed to false depictions of masculinity and judgment of his sexuality throughout his childhood by uncles and other male figures. Due to his experiences, he seeks to change this toxic portrayal of the world's expectations of Black boys and men. 

Yolo on Mental Healthcare and Self-Care

When asked, “What do you think/feel about the state of mental health in America today?” he states that “America wants to "AI or pill" our mental health away, but America doesn't want to root out the infestation of inequality that produces mental health distress. "Too many of our leaders are not imaginative or bold enough to help us reimagine care systems that grow us beyond pathology,” he adds. 

Yolo strongly believes that we as people can tackle these issues in healthcare and quality of life by working together and opening our minds to change. According to him, if striving towards a “wellness system” focused on care and healing is made, “people don't have to go hungry and homeless because of mental health.”

Regarding his own mental health and self-care, Yolo informs Verywell Mind, “As A Black non-binary person, I have to be honest—I invest in many practices. I have morning care rituals: prayer, meditation, affirmations, and sound healing. I see my therapist at least monthly; my reiki spiritual support quarterly. I also work out and watch what I am eating…I also work hard to maintain a life that has love at its center. Love and care for others and love and care for me.”

By Tiara Blain, MA
Tiara Blain, MA, is a freelance writer for Verywell Mind. She is a health writer and researcher passionate about the mind-body connection, and holds a Master's degree in psychology.