Fearless Five | Baltimore
- Advocate for Mental Health
- Love Fearlessly
I wanted to be a superhero, but I didn’t know what my superpower could be. I wondered if there was some type of “love” superpower where you can just love people, heal them, and make people feel great.
Co-Founder and Director of Community Engagement for Above It All.
Meet Tsanonda Edwards
Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. The idea that they are alone is a perception that Tsanonda Edwards and his team at Above It All are fighting against. Every day, they are healing minds and improving lives in communities throughout Baltimore.
It does not take long to feel Tsanonda’s superpower. We sat down with the Fearless Sports’ newest hero to discuss his commitment to educating the public and advocating for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.
What is Above It All?
It is a psychiatric rehabilitation program where we work with young people, ages 5 to 17. Young people are dealing with depression, anxiety, grief, trauma.
Our organization works with them to overcome those barriers and obstacles and reach their greatest success.
I carry my family with me everywhere I go.
No one wakes up and says they want to be a superhero…. What motivates you?
I’ve always been a lover of people. So, for me, my superpower has always been love. Love on people, listen to people, care about what they care about. It’s my belief that love is the most powerful drug in the world.
I realized my superpower is fearless love. To some, it can be viewed as strange, especially from men. Telling other brothers you love them can be awkward, to some people, right? What do you mean you love me…we’ve only had a couple of interactions? And I tell them that I do: You’re a person, you matter, you have impact on this thing called life, regardless of whether you realize it or not.
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His Fearless Story
What were some of the turns, hills, and valleys in your journey to becoming who you are?
I was brought up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, initially, college wasn’t [an expectation]. It was more like…you finish high school, you get a job, you devote yourself to your religion, and anything that gets in the way of that or impedes is not viewed kindly.
My mom kicked me out the February of my senior year of high school. So, I basically graduated from high school homeless. I was still accepted into college, and it was one of the best decisions for me.
But then again, that’s when the partying started, and I was kicked out and I had to figure out a way to take care of myself. I also had to figure out a way to get back to college, because that was one of the times I felt the most myself.
I later graduated with a 3.0 and I attended grad school for a degree in Human Services.
What is it that you think people who have a bias toward mental health could learn from those who have gone through this struggle?
So, the first thing I always say is, “I am crazy.” I believe everybody has a little bit of crazy in them and they need to lean into crazy fearlessly. It’s what makes us great.
I’m going to be tackling issues that may not be comfortable. I’m going to tell you that, yes, women deal with depression and men deal with depression, too. I’m going to tell men that it’s not OK for you to belittle women and their interactions with one another. We’re going to vent. We’re going to try to understand each other and guess what? It’s going to look kind of crazy at first until folks start healing.
What insight do you offer to a person who has seen behind the curtain, and they believe that they’re not smart enough, strong enough, or rich enough to impact any change.
The first thing I would say is, “Welcome to my world!”
I get it. I felt that way for so long. I never thought I would reach my fullest potential. I never thought I was good enough.
But, my therapist said, “It doesn’t matter how much you know or how much schooling you have. It doesn’t matter how much anyone else knows or how much schooling they have had. No one can be an expert on you, like you.
You’re an expert in yourself. So that means that whatever you’re giving to this world, no one can say it’s not good enough. No one can be an expert in themselves, like themselves. So be an expert in you.
What is the first thing a family or young person could do on their own to improve their mental health?
First is the need for self-care. It allows you to know the nouns of who you are. Make sure that you’re writing those things down. Put it in your phone, make a note of it so that you can tap into those people, tap into those places, tap into those things. That would be a great start for people. If you are in touch with the “nouns of you,” then it’ll make you that much stronger.
Can you tell me how being a father and husband impacts your work?
There was a time when I thought that this life was about me. Family has given me a completely different perspective. I wake up in the morning with an ongoing purpose. Monday through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. My purpose is always my children. My purpose is always my wife. That is why it’s important to make sure you pick the right partner in this thing called life, because that person and your children will become your driving forces.
There’s a reason I wear my ring all the time. One, it makes me think about my family. Second, for whatever the reason, people give a certain amount of respect to a married family man. So, I carry my family with me everywhere I go. They’re my inspiration.
When you’re able to tap into people with thoughts of your family, there is nothing like it, because you want the best for your family. So, now I have to make sure that the love and adoration I have for my wife and children extends to my Baltimore family and beyond.
How are we, as a society, allowing the stigma of mental health to keep us in the dark?
A big part of the reason we built Above It All was to help battle the things that we, ourselves, dealt with when we were younger.
I think that more people have battled depression than we realize, especially from a young age. I have been diagnosed with depression. There were times when I would go into these caves because I felt drained trying to be the life of the party. I believed I had to bring the energy that I felt people needed. But what I was doing was ignoring the things that I needed. I needed to reflect on myself and get some help.
One of the first things that my therapist said to me was that often depression is linked to feeling like you don’t have a voice. But, through therapy you understand that you not only have a voice, but you also deserve to be heard. You are greatness personified. You are amazing. You are fearless. Once we feel that in ourselves, then we can have that same impact on our communities.
Can you explain your approach to fearlessness?
A lot of fear comes from trying to reach other people’s expectations. It’s so much better to chase your passions without worrying and being concerned about what others are thinking.
Fearlessness, to me, is just chasing your dream without being concerned about what anyone else thinks. Now, it is also important to take people into consideration, but do it without allowing those thoughts to impede your focus.
How has [resilience] hindered or supported your pursuit of strong mental health?
I think that resilience is an amazing thing, and it’s something that culturally we display on an ongoing basis. But there are times when being resilient and strong are not enough. Sometimes we need to lean on others.
We are hindered because we keep things in. Sometimes we feel it’s better to lean on coping mechanisms, especially with regard to mental health. It’s better to go to the bottle. It’s better to go to drugs. But we need to systematically push those things out of the way, so that we can reach our greatness. That means venting to our tribe. And that means, potentially, seeking therapy.
So, I encourage people to hold onto their resilience and strength, but also understand that there’s strength in not doing it by yourself.
What do you say to someone who is embarrassed to show that vulnerability?
My belief is that mental health, therapy, and self-care are not things we should be afraid of.
We have to get to a point where we understand that these things actually make us better.
And if we want to impact culture, impact people, and impact communities, we have to make sure we’re OK first. People understand going to the doctor, but for some reason, therapists and mental health have a stigma around it, and we have to break through it. We have to accept that mental health is a part of our life. If we really want to live our best lives, then we have to seek the help we need.
What do you do to stay in the fight?
I look at my children as inspiration.
I’m very big on impact. It’s why I look at my children and I ask myself, “What kind of world do I want to build for my kids?”
I’m very big on tapping into people, tapping into the elders, tapping into my mentors, tapping into people who have lived experience. They understand what it means to fight, what it means to believe, and what it means to thrive.
We all know that there is a ceiling that has been placed on us as African Americans. Attending Morgan State University was probably the best thing I could’ve done, because not only do you take classes that will speak directly to the culture, but once you leave that network of people, they in essence become the leaders of this next generation. I’m touching those folks.