Da’Vinchi Opens Up About His Mental Health Journey For the First Time

The ‘BMF’ star talked to Complex about his story and why taking care of his mental well-being has been so crucial and how he plans to help others do the same.

Davinchi Mental Health Interview

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Davinchi Mental Health Interview

Da’Vinchi wasn’t ready for BMF to blow up as quickly as it did. The series, returning in its second season this week, was a massive hit for Starz. The Brooklyn-born actor’s breakout role as Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, one of the two Flenory brothers from southwest Detroit who built one of the most influential crime families in the country in the ’80s, came after turns on Grown-ish and All American. Such a high-profile part has made him a rising star fans should look out for, but the sudden fame has made him feel vulnerable.

“I was not bred to play ball on this level,” Da’Vinchi says. “It fucks with you and then sometimes it’s a lonely feeling because you don’t know who to trust. It’s just a whole new world at every level.” That strangeness compounded the unprocessed trauma of his childhood. Da’Vinchi’s family struggled financially when he was growing up, which left them in a constant fight for survival that has carried into adulthood. The actor, born Abraham D. Juste, tells Complex that he’s no stranger to the street life he’s portraying on the screen.

Da’Vinchi was born in Brooklyn, to Haitian parents, and when he was younger, he was always getting into trouble and having to conceal his background to avoid getting picked on by other kids. “Whenever you were a kid and your parents were from a different country, you’re automatically an African booty scratcher, you’re just a foreigner,” he says. “You’re fresh off the boat and they just gravitated towards picking on the foreign kids.” But the most destabilizing event of his younger years was the shooting death of his cousin, which triggered the actor’s big brother into a self-destructive spiral. Witnessing the effects that gun violence had on his family made Da’Vinchi realize the impact that mental health access could have on people who come from environments like his and the one on his show. 

“I’m here to speak on behalf of the work that I do just so I can explain I’m not trying to promote this violence,” Da’Vinchi says. “I would never try to do that because I come from that environment. I would never promote something that’s going to just kill us.” He and his team are in the process of creating a mental health tour for students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other institutions. The actor has also come up with tools and a self-care routine to help him navigate his own anxiety.

In addition to therapy, he also practices self-care by limiting his phone usage (he does 30 minutes phone-free each morning upon waking up), he exercises, listens to motivational content, does guided meditation for anxiety, says positive affirmations, and prays for five minutes a day. Da’Vinchi opened up to Complex about his struggles with mental health, his family’s story, and why he believes using his platform to help others is his life’s true purpose. Read our conversation, edited for length and clarity, below.

Da'vinchi Mental Health BMF

Your publicist tells me you’ve been working on your mental health.

Well, right now I’m in a great place. I’m in a great mental place, thank God. I’ve seen the therapists before, and had conversations like that. I have a good circle of people around me. I think adjusting to fame, which I’m still not adjusted to, that’s probably one of the most difficult things I have and will ever go through in my life. There’s no ingredient to fame. There’s no bible, there’s no way you can deal with it properly. Personally, I don’t think we were meant to be famous on this type of level, because when you think about it, when you’re famous it’s like you’re omnipotent, you’re ubiquitous. It’s like you got a fraction of God’s power. You could be in multiple households at once and only because of this box that multiplies you—this television screen, this iPad screen, or whatever device you’re on. You become a God in a way. The side effects of that are just wild—how people perceive you, how people look at you. 

There are always side effects in whatever you do, and I just think with fame we’re still figuring that out. I was not bred to deal with a lot I’ve been fortunate to have. I was not bred to play ball on this level. With all the trauma that I’m used to seeing, that didn’t prepare me really to be here. It fucks with you, and it’s a lonely feeling because you don’t know who to trust. I’m finding my way and then keeping my little circle tight. It is really tough, but I’ve been managing for the most part. I meditate a lot, I pray a lot, and I stay to myself a lot. I keep doing what got me here so I don’t lose touch and lose sight of what I really want to do with all this. But it’s tough, man. You got opportunities and access to any and everything for the most part and I have never been one that wanted a lot. I never wanted all the fancy cars and all the fancy jewelry. For me, it’s like I could literally have access to whatever I want and it’s kind of scary.

Davinchi Mental Health Interview

You mentioned trauma from when you were younger, from the things that you have seen. How has that affected you emotionally, and mentally now that you’re an adult?

You don’t think about it when you’re a kid and you go through something. The trouble can last a week or a day or a second, but then the trauma has its own timeline and it’s from the littlest things. I remember growing up, we used to—because of our circumstances—do a lot of different things because we never had. Poverty is the mother of all crime. A lot of times, the different things that we would do were all predicated upon not having anything. But now when you’re in this position in life, I have become the prey. When you’re in a certain environment you think, I’m the meat, I’m that juicy turkey that’s in front of the lion right now. Then it alters how you see things, how you move and that’s just one point of it. It definitely affects you a lot.

How important do you think it is for people, especially those in their 20s who are adjusting to adulthood, to see a therapist?

It’s extremely important. Everyone needs therapy. The craziest part, I think the most broken humans are the ones who think they don’t need it, which is scary. I’m not trying to compare suffering, I don’t like playing comparative suffering games and trying to act like a certain group of people is suffering more. That’s not what I’m trying to say. But it’s just a lot of people whom I’ve seen who are really broken; they’re the ones who run from it the most. I think therapy for young adults is really important.

I remember my oldest brother, he was a superhero in my eyes. And when he was about 19 or 20, my cousin was his best friend. These guys were two peas in a pod. I was 9 or 11. I remember my mother woke up one morning screaming and I didn’t understand what had happened, but he got killed. He got shot in the head four times.

Oh, no. I’m so sorry.

My brother that summer happened to be in Florida with my father, and then he heard the story. These guys played basketball and did everything together, played video games too, all that shit, and it fucked my brother up so much. It fucked us all up. But I did not understand how much it messed with my brother until 10 or 12 years later, because that had a downhill effect on my brother. I watched my brother go from being a superhero to basically almost killing himself on several occasions because of the streets, drugs, and a whole bunch of different things. If he had a therapist or if he had the right amount of attention around that situation, his life could have gone completely different because that wasn’t dealt with properly. Your mind is going to create its own self-defense mechanism, and I think he found not the best way to deal.

I know for sure if there was, not even just a therapist, maybe if it were my parents or someone, but everyone was just so busy meeting the basic needs of survival that certain things like what is really going on within a child’s brain are almost a luxury. I’m not trying to blame anyone, but a therapist would have for sure helped. It takes something as simple as that to stop a tsunami from happening. But you got to catch the shit first and sometimes we’re not aware enough to catch it. That’s why I want to help people see certain signs. Sometimes you could really avoid it and it does not happen to get to that point if you just catch it early enough. But the problem is a lot of times you just don’t do it and then it could get dark.

I definitely recommend everyone. Even if you feel like you don’t need it, you should just go and have a conversation with someone because the thing about trauma, it’s tricky. I didn’t realize how traumatized I was until hanging around human beings who had healthier outlooks on life than me. I’m like, “Damn, I’m pretty fucked up.” I’m like, “God damn it. I don’t process that like that.” I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s what trauma is.” We don’t use that word.

Because it feels normal to you.

It’s so crazy how numb we are to it. But that’s not good. It doesn’t stand out to us. We’re so used to it that we just go about our day. But we really need to talk about it and process it and break it down, because it’s hurting us in more ways than one.

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How do you make sure that while you’re helping other people you keep yourself aligned and centered?

Through therapy. Finding different mentors and just reading, meditating, just doing stuff that got me here. Sometimes you’re pouring into so many people and it’s hard for someone to pour into you at times. It’s tough. Some weeks I’ll be really off-balanced and I’ll be like, “Oh my god, I just need rest.” I do a lot of energy work and get a lot of massages done now because a lot of times you store stress in different parts of your body. I’ve been learning how that’s super helpful. I work out and I chill in nature a lot. Just relaxing and breathing. I try to stay away from certain toxic environments. That’s just really draining to me. I just try to do different things like that just to regulate my mood and my brain. Otherwise, it’ll be off balance and if it’s off balance, then, I can’t do anything. And I think digital minimalism. I purposely don’t spend a lot of time on social media because social media will fuck you up mentally. It has its pros and when it works for you, it worked for you. But it has its cons and it’s like poison. Anything that has the ability to release dopamine on a hijacking quick level has to be regulated.

Being vulnerable and just talking about it, I’d just be so honest and real with people about it. It works. I realize I grew up very closed and street cold. You don’t trust anyone, no one you grew up with, only blood. But I found the secret of being vulnerable is that it’s just the more you open up and talk about your things, the more you can find solutions and increase your chances at a better life.

Davinchi Mental Health Interview

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