Adrienne Barr watched with pride as her daughter, Leah, completed her cheer routine. The single mother knew performances were not always easy for Leah, who often experienced stage fright before she took the floor.
15-year-old Leah is now a successful and confident dancer because of her focus on mindfulness, according to Barr, who was inspired to share her and Leah’s personal battles with anxiety to help others and uplift members of the Black community. This passion led to the creation of her book, “Dancing with Butterflies: Discovering Mindfulness Through Breathing.”
Between motivating her mother to pursue writing and providing feedback in the publishing process, Leah has been integral in bringing the book to life. The main character is named after her and is a ballerina who overcomes her performance anxiety with breathing and mindfulness exercises she learns from her mother.
Barr said her experience as a single mother has affected her career and inspired her to push forward with her book.
“Having Leah’s support and just letting her see it come to fruition, it’s just reinforcing everything that I’ve ever taught her,” Barr said. “You can be responsible, and you can still live your dreams, regardless of what your circumstances are.”
Barr, who was born and raised in Burlington, is a human resources business partner at JR Cigars, a tobacco company in Alamance County. Her best-selling book, awarded teacher’s pick on Amazon, was published in September 2020.
Barr said both she and her daughter experience anxiety, which is one of the reasons she addresses the topic in her book. Her writing highlights the importance of a supportive environment by creating a judgment-free space when addressing children’s mental health.
“We need to make sure that we have an open space for children to be able to communicate with us and to describe their feelings without them feeling like they’re going to be belittled or attacked,” Barr said.
Creating awareness for Black mental health
Barr graduated from Johnson C. Smith University — a historically Black college in Charlotte — and is an outspoken advocate for mental health in the Black community. On the back cover of her book, Barr wrote, “This book encourages African-American children to recognize the beauty in body awareness, so they can have the confidence to dance their way to their dreams!”
“I think that first and foremost, us as a community, we need to have more conversations about [mental health] and be more open about it and less judgmental about it,” Barr said.
Barr said in times of struggle, she draws on her religious faith and prayer, but also encourages seeking professional mental health treatment.
“I’m a Christian. But I also believe that the good Lord placed every human on this earth to be a helpmate to one another,” Barr said. “And we do have mental health professionals as human beings to help us get through those thresholds.”
Black mental health advocate Gabrielle Lee — who faced criticism from her family when she was diagnosed with depression — also emphasized the importance of having open discussions in the Black community. Lee runs the Black Mental Health Matters blog and social media account and provides wellness resources to the Black community.
“I realized that they’re so many people like me that go through this, and they can’t tell their family or feel judged by them,” Lee wrote in an email to Elon News Network. “My pain inspired me to start this page to help anyone who’s struggling and feel alone. I believe we can eliminate the stigma by actually acknowledging that it can happen to any of us despite our race.”
Barr said in addition to having open conversations, seeking mental health resources from professionals can help to relieve issues.
“A lot of times, there are a lot of resources that maybe we don’t even think about,” Barr said. “There are free grief counselors in your area; you can also go to [The National Alliance on Mental Illness] ... and you can get some free mental health resources there.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a non-profit organization and the U.S.'s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to providing resources to Americans affected by mental illness. Virginia Hamlet Rodillas, the helpline manager for NAMI of North Carolina, said NAMI’s mission is to provide mental health care.
“It is important for everyone that needs mental health care to have access to it. Being able to receive treatment and support early will allow an individual to get on the road of recovery earlier and increase their quality of life,” Rodillas wrote in a statement to Elon News Network. “Treatment and support is available. Individuals may not know how to get the help they need or where to turn. NAMI NC’s Helpline Team assists individuals and families every day in navigating the complicated mental health system in our state.”
As mental health awareness gains more recognition, Barr hopes to continue her mission to inspire others through her writing which promotes mental health initiatives and spreads positivity, as her book aims to do.
“Believe in yourself,” Barr said. “First and foremost, make sure that you take care of your mental health and don’t let anyone stop you from doing that.”