The Invisible Ache: Interview with Courtney B. Vance x Dr. Robin Smith

The Invisible Ache: Interview with Courtney B. Vance x Dr. Robin Smith

UrbanFaith talked with acclaimed actor Courtney B. Vance and famed psychologist Dr. Robin L. Smith (popularly known as “Dr. Robin”) about their book: The Invisible Ache, a moving combination of memoir, psychology, and practical tools that offers Black men guidance and support for reclaiming mental well-being and finding whole, full-hearted living. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Well, Mr. Vance, I gotta tell you, this book starts off like captivating from the introduction page. And it’s one of those things where I was glued in from the start. So Mr. Vance, you’re going through your own background here as well in this amazing book. What did it do for you?

Courtney B. Vance

You know, it’s always the whole idea of telling one’s truth. I can imagine most people, they keep their truths to themselves. There’s no vehicle…for being able to share or just get it off of yourself. And I was blessed to be able to have one. After the tragedy happened 33 years ago with my father, my mother asked my sister and I to go back to our respective cities to find a therapist there. And, just the journey of that… the journey of trying to honor my mom and what she asked us to do. Which I came to find out was saving my life. I had no idea. But it allowed me to be able to begin my journey and get myself whole. To get myself ready for the next phase of my journey, which was Angela. Getting myself ready for that phase of my journey required something else of me, more of me. But if I hadn’t done the work that my mom asked me to do, I wouldn’t have the courage to go the next phase to get myself ready for Angela and then to get myself ready for our twins and get myself ready for what God’s got for me after the twins [went to] college and Angela and I had our life without our children. It’s really all about “be strong and be of good courage,” because life is not going to be smooth. You have to prepare yourself for those battles.

And it doesn’t mean just because there’s a battle, there’s something wrong. It’s just part of life. And you have to understand that wisdom is the principle thing, get wisdom. If you don’t know that trials are part of life, when you come up on a trial, you bail. [But] it’s just the beginning. God’s just trying to get us ready for what he needs us to do. Don’t think that you’re the only one. [God said to Elijah there’s] 3000 other people, God’s got ready. So, I’m just grateful that my mom asked my sister and I to get ready for the next phase of our lives through this therapy and sharing our stories with someone, our truth with someone. And because sharing the truth seems like it’s so much work and so hard, you don’t know that it’s gonna be okay. But that’s just a part of it. As Dr. Roberts says, it’s your God given right to share your truth and your story and to come into fullness.


Dr. Robin Smith

Courtney and I talk a lot on the road and in the book The Invisible Ache that we all have holes, H-O-L-E-S. And so often we’re ashamed of our holes. The parts of us that are broken, and that ache and that hurt, are part of our divine birthright to be human.And we all have holes, longing to be whole, W-H-O-L-E, which is a holy, H-O-L-Y, journey. So if we think about the way in which we were robbed of our whole humanity, the holes and our longing for wholeness and told that we were only three-fifths human, much of The Invisible Ache is about inviting and re-inviting black boys and men and all of those who love them to remind and encourage black boys and men to recognize that it is their right to have their holes, longing to be whole. It is to help black men not only identify their pain, but to claim and reclaim their power that they are indeed wholly human. They’ve got holes, longing to be whole, and that is a holy journey. And so, we know that black men and boys have been so marginalized, have been pushed to the margins that Courtney and I are calling all black boys and men to the floor of their own life, to the table that has been set for them to flourish, to grow, to grieve, to receive, to be fully and wholly human.


Well, you’ve definitely done that in the book. I just wanna once again thank you both. Dr. Smith, can I ask you this question? Why are we seeing these numbers the way that we’re seeing them? When it comes to suicide rate amongst black men. Where do you think this is coming from?


Dr. Robin Smith

Yeah, black men and the suicide rate for black children, not just adolescents, but black children have increased. Eight-year-olds are dying by suicide. And so, I think the question you’re asking is, what is it that is sitting on the souls of black boys and black men and black people? The surgeon general is considering making loneliness a health hazard. Not like it’s something that is upsetting, but because he knows, and the statistics and research are showing, that isolation and loneliness can be as toxic, if not more, than some of the chronic diseases like diabetes or cancer or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is more detrimental to our health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That doesn’t mean it’s good to smoke 15 cigarettes a day, but it says what isolation and loneliness does to black men and to black boys. And so, the reason that we are seeing such an increase in depression, anxiety, as well as attempts at suicide and unfortunately, suicides is because we don’t ask black men, does it hurt? We ask, where does it hurt? Courtney and I asked this in the book. And the increase in suicides, but also in mental torture, has so much to do with isolation, systemic racism, and the inability to understand why I hurt so badly.



Mr. Vance, if I can ask you a question here, when it comes to going to counseling in the black culture, especially with black men, there is kind of this stigma towards it. What would you say to a black man like myself [about why we] need to go to counseling? Like here’s why it’s a very healthy thing to do.

Courtney B. Vance

And I would say that you’re talking to someone who was in the achievement business up until I was 30. I mean, that’s how I was raised. I was raised to excel in sports, academics. We knew the classroom was where we were supposed to do our thing. And we did. And that cured a multitude of evils and sins. You know, I could retreat into my books and get pats on the head and on the shoulders and get great job, great grades, wonderful, wonderful . And meanwhile, you know, my father and mother were dealing with their invisible aches based on how they were raised and where they were coming out of The [Great] Depression, raised in the depression. And what their mothers and fathers were able to give them coming out of just the vestiges of slavery and their parents were slaves. But we’ve all been harmed by the vestiges of slavery, white, black, brown, beige and everybody in between. We’re all dealing with the trauma of that act. And mentally, emotionally, you know, we’re dealing with the trauma of the pandemic and what it did to those babies and young people that Dr. Robin mentioned. We’ll be dealing with the repercussions of that for generations because nobody wants to talk about it. We’re in the business of achieving but pretending. And the out that they find is to end the life as opposed to begin the journey of self-discovery. So, as Dr. Robin says, this is holy work. This is a ministry where we’re dealing with this book of just getting people to recognize everyone gets to the end of their rope, but get to the end of your rope, not the end of your hope. Get to the end of your rope and look up and ask for that help that is there for all of us. We all get to that place where we don’t know what to do. You’re sitting on your bed at the two in the morning and you don’t know what to do. Then the next step is what Dr. Robin says, then let’s begin. Here’s some information. Here’s some tools. Here’s some exercises. Let’s just begin. Don’t just give up. Don’t give up. Just begin.



Guys, the last question here is, I’m going to stay true to our time, I’m going to ask you both of these questions differently on the last one. Dr. Smith, I’ll start with you. You mentioned shame in the book, which I thought page 21 was the best part of the whole book. Can you talk about like what the problem is with shame and when it comes to the black man?


Dr. Robin Smith

Yes. And thank you for that question because I call shame and blame the toxic twins, but shame is a spirit killer. Shame murders the soul often. And we don’t know that. We don’t know when we are feeling not good enough. You know, I call it the not good enough wound, It’s like being followed 24/7, 365 days a year, the way black men feel often when they go into a department store. They just know that someone’s eyes are just on them, that they are being targeted, not just physically, but that there is an expectation that they will fail, that they will suffer, that I mean, that they will steal, that they will harm someone. W.E.B Du Bois said “how does it feel to be a problem?” Then he went on to say, “when you’re not the problem.” What does it feel like to have someone stalking you, Ahmad Aubrey, what does it feel like to have someone [watching you] when you’re jogging or living while black? And so there is something that happens around victimization. When women have been violated, when they have been sexually violated or physically violated, often they will not want to tell people as if somehow, they contributed to the assault. You know, people will even say, “well, what were you wearing? What did you have on?” So whether that’s to a woman or saying to a man, did you have a hoodie on? This is the whole thing about what did you do to make someone hate you? Instead of that black people have been targeted most often because of our excellence and our refusal to die. And so shame is something that it’s a warped misunderstanding about whose fault and whose responsibility your life and hardship is. And I just want to say this in closing, that does not mean we don’t have responsibility. It does not mean that we are not accountable. It does not mean that I can just let someone else do my work. But what it does mean is maybe I can have more courage and strength and resilience, as Courtney often reminds us to do the work if I understand where my responsibility begins and where it ends.

When Shift Happens: Michelle McKinney Hammond x UrbanFaith

When Shift Happens: Michelle McKinney Hammond x UrbanFaith

Dr. Michelle McKinney Hammond is one of the most successful authors in the country. She is the new host of UMI’s Sunday School Made Simple. She is an award winning artist, producer, entrepreneur, host, former advertising executive, internationally sought out speaker, and faith leader. But she has had her life shaped by profound changes and difficulties. In her latest book When Shift Happens, she gets real about her struggles, her faith, and the lessons she has learned about embracing change through our seasons of life. Full interview is above. More about the book and author is below.

In When Shift Happens: Say Yes to Your Next (available September 12 from Whitaker House), Michelle examines the difference between those who flounder and those who flourish in the seasonal transitions of life. She details the ways that understanding and addressing the season you are in–and assessing its purpose–allows people to not only survive their shift, but to thrive.

Michelle brilliantly bridges the gap between modern society and ancient biblical times, showing that God has been helping people endure “shifts” for centuries. She doesn’t shy away from sharing her own challenging situations, recounting her experiences with the pandemic, a car accident, and other personal traumas, along with how she found the strength through God’s teachings to say “yes” to these challenges as they arose.

“Mindset is everything when confronted with unanticipated change,” Michelle writes in When Shift Happens. “You are never out of options unless you choose to be. Emerging cycles all point to one thing—whether you are ready or not, shift happens. It’s not the end. There’s always a next!”


MORE ON THE AUTHOR: Many discovered the explosive talent of Michelle McKinney Hammond with her first bestseller, What to Do Until Love Finds You: Getting Ready for Mr. Right, in 1997. Since that time, Michelle has enjoyed a multifaceted career as an author, speaker, singer, producer, actress, relationship expert, and life coach, reaching men and women from all walks of life.

4 Ways Marriage Requires Adaptation

4 Ways Marriage Requires Adaptation

As a young married couple, we have several friends who are still single and many who are in relationships wanting to be married. Many of our friends ask us for advice on their relationships. How do you know when your significant other is the right one? How do you move forward from single, to engaged, to married? What is your advice for the difference? How do you navigate your relationship in healthy ways? We don’t have all the answers, no couple does. Each relationship is unique. But we agree one of the most important skills and principles we think is core to marriage is adaptability. When we get married, we must adapt in ways we are often not taught prior to being married. Here are 4 ways we see adaptation as key to moving from relationship to marriage for those who want to be married.

1. Your mindset must adapt

From the time most children can reason they are being shaped with expectations for what romantic relationships should be. Parents, peers, and popular culture shape our mindsets for better or worse. Many of those mindsets are unrealistic and toxic. When we have serious relationships as adults, we do not have a sense of what marriage is really like or what it should be like. Many of us expect our spouse to do what we want, agree with us about big and small plans, be present with us for everything we find important, and generally not exhibit any human flaws. Moreover, we expect them to think like us. And this is a big area of necessary adaptation. It does not matter how much or how well you communicate (and most of us don’t do that well), your partner is an entirely separate person from you who will think differently than you. You must adapt your expectations with humility and grace to thrive in sustainable ways. For example, you know that people should ask if you are hungry when they get something to eat. You believe that is what loving spouses do. But your partner may have been raised to believe you speak up if you want someone to get you something to eat. You can avoid a lot of arguments by first discussing this difference and then allowing that each person will not get the action “asking if you are hungry” right even if you talk about it 10 times. It may take two conversations for them. It may take 27. It doesn’t make them bad spouses. It doesn’t make them uncaring. They may get better in the future. They may not. In either case, they will think the way they think, not the way you think.

2. Your heart must adapt

Opening our hearts is a challenging task. It was much easier when we were younger, just venturing into the world, filled with enthusiasm to embrace everything life offered. During our adolescent and young adult years, navigating through life seemed effortless. We were influenced by social media, television shows, and the experiences of our elders and communities, all guiding us on how to coexist with our significant others or what society deemed as finding a “successful” partner. We internalized notions about the ideal height of our spouses, the number of children they should have, and the careers they should pursue. We even hesitated to consider anyone who didn’t meet these expectations. Consequently, societal influences and challenges compelled us to guard our hearts, never settle, and cling tightly to our preconceived ideas of the perfect spouse. Now, understand me; having personal boundaries and standards is healthy. However, the problem arises when our expectations become unrealistic and hinder our ability to form deep connections and intimacy with our partners. Some of us may find ourselves grieving over unmet expectations that arose when we initially began dating, got engaged, or entered marriage. Our partners may face career setbacks that limit our financial freedom, or one partner may not share the same desire for the number of children they may have together. Reality may not align with the idealized image we envisioned in our minds and hearts. This fear can cause us to retreat inwardly, creating a sense of distance from one another. However, when we choose to let go, we open space for love to find its way into our lives. Letting go involves recognizing our agency, embracing vulnerability, and granting ourselves the opportunity to receive love, even when it may bring difficulty. Opening our hearts to the intricate complexities of marriage can be terrifying, but relinquishing unrealistic expectations is essential for growth in our relationships. It demands intentional effort from both partners and a willingness to release our fears, allowing genuine and unfiltered love to flourish. Let go of the burden of expectations and embrace one another for who you are, remembering that love can overcome fear.

3. Your behavior must adapt

We behave in ways that are consistent with our context. Our behavior is one of the most adaptable things about us as human beings. We are very good at adapting our behavior to new schools, new jobs, new organizations, new friends, and new situations but sometimes we have a hard time adapting to our romantic relationships. We feel like we shouldn’t have to adapt to our spouse. They should accept us for who we are. But as followers of Jesus, we should be willing to change how we behave as an act of love. If we know our spouse is allergic to a certain food, we wouldn’t cook it for them just because we like it. We might make a separate version for ourselves or make something entirely different. Adapting what we would normally do to show care for our partner is an act of grace. This does not mean we need to conform to all our partner’s desires. They won’t conform to ours either. But if we yell to express our anger because that’s the way we were raised, and our partner hates yelling because they grew up in an abusive house, we should find a way to express ourselves without yelling. We can always change our behavior and our spouse can work on changing theirs. We can only work on ourselves they must work on themselves.

4. Your plans must adapt

The concept of sacrifice in relationships often triggers resistance. It brings to mind feelings of pain and discomfort, especially when we have meticulously planned our lives through spreadsheets, vision boards, and journals, envisioning how they should unfold in the coming years or even decades. But what happens when those carefully constructed plans are unexpectedly threatened or fall apart? How do we navigate the decision to uproot our lives or relocate across the country for the sake of our spouses or families when we are happy, successful, and settled? Or how do we cope when an unforeseen injury or illness disrupts our envisioned future for our families? In such moments, whether to embrace or reject the idea of sacrifice becomes increasingly crucial. Sacrifice is undeniably challenging; it may be one of life’s most difficult lessons and being in a relationship can make this concept even more difficult. Most would likely choose the former if given a choice between experiencing life without pain, challenges, and uncertainties or enduring a painful journey with inevitable bumps and bruises. However, the truth is that without sacrifice, joy cannot fully exist in our relationships. During those difficult moments of sacrifice, the presence of joy serves as the adhesive that holds our relationships together. Maintaining open and honest communication during the process is crucial, as it keeps both partners informed about each other’s feelings and helps them adapt to the changed plans. Engaging in weekly check-ins with your spouse can be particularly helpful, as they allow each person to express their emotions and articulate their needs without the fear of judgment. By fostering a safe space for open dialogue, couples can navigate the challenges of sacrifice while maintaining a solid and connected relationship. We are each responsible for our own feelings, not our spouse’s feelings. But being aware of how our partner is coping during challenging transitions enables us to meet each other’s needs in healthy ways and intentionally throughout the week. Consistently practicing this awareness and consideration is crucial in building connection and intimacy, particularly during difficult moments faced together. By actively supporting and understanding one another, a solid foundation is created, and bonds are strengthened while navigating the ups and downs of life as a team.

Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes: An Interview with Jane Elliott

Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes: An Interview with Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott is one of the most impactful educators and social activists in US history who performed experiments as a teacher that showed convincingly how racism impacted children. Her blue eyes vs. brown eyes exercise in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and subsequent world wide publicity of the exercise changed how society viewed race. Her work is a major basis for scholarship on race as a social construct. UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with this hilarious and brilliant woman to discuss faith, the impact of her work, and her hopes and concerns for relationships between people from different backgrounds today. The interview above has been edited for length, clarity, and content. The views and opinions of Ms. Elliott are her own, not necessarily those of urbanfaith. 

Marriage Be Hard: Interview with @Kevonstage and @Mrskevonstage

Marriage Be Hard: Interview with @Kevonstage and @Mrskevonstage

Marriage is one of the most important institutions in the lives of believers. Unfortunately it is rarely spoken about beyond the headlines of culture wars in the news or as the excuse some believers hide real conversations about sex behind. A lot of believers have a hard time keeping it real about how hard it is to be married. Kevin and Melissa Fredericks, aka KevOnStage and MrsKevOnStage, rarely hold back on keeping it real in conversations.

With over a million followers on social media (which don’t happen for church folks), they are some of the most busy and influential believers on the internet. Their authenticity and creativity have helped them connect with the “churchy” and unchurched alike. But like all married folks they have had challenges in life and in marriage. Their new book Marriage Be Hard is a candid look at their marriage and the lessons they have learned along the way through reflection, therapy, The Love Hour podcast and real work. They hope to help couples everywhere to get past “just making it” in marriage to thriving through their insights.

UrbanFaith sat down with Kevin and Melissa to talk about their journey and their book. The full interview is above, more information on the book is below.



Discover the keys to upholding your vows while staying sane in this hilariously candid guide to relationships, from the husband-and-wife team of comedian Kevin Fredericks and influencer Melissa Fredericks

Growing up, Kevin and Melissa Fredericks were taught endless rules around dating, sex, and marriage, but not a lot about what actually makes a relationship work. When they first got married, they felt alone—like every other couple had perfect chemistry while the two of them struggled. There were conversations that they didn’t know they needed to have, fears that affected how they related to each other, and seasons of change that put their marriage to the test.

Part of their story reads like a Christian fairytale: high school sweethearts, married in college, never sowed any wild oats, with two sons and a thriving marriage. But there’s another side of their story: the night Melissa kicked Kevin out of her car after years of communication problems, the time early in their marriage when Kevin bordered on an emotional affair, the way they’ve used social media and podcasts to conduct a no-holds-barred conversation about forbidden topics like jealousy, divorce, and how to be Christian and sex positive. (Because, as Kevin writes, “Your hormones don’t care about your religious beliefs. Your hormones want you to subscribe to OnlyFans.”)

Honoring Our Heavenly And Earthly Fathers on Father’s Day

Every year during Father’s Day, a wave of complexity sweeps across the country. Father’s Day can be an great occasion for celebration, a reminder of loved ones lost, a day of sadness for those who did not grow up with their fathers, a day of angst for those who do not like their fathers, and a day of relaxation for the dads who treat it as a break. And every year in churches, we try to figure out how to approach and celebrate Father’s Day. Father’s Day is not celebrated in our society the way Mother’s Day is, and everyone knows it. We know how to celebrate mothers. We know what to get them; the flowers, clothes, crafts, candies, meals, and more are readily available with updates each year. But Father’s Day feels mysterious. We ask ourselves, did we already get this tie? These socks? This outdoor equipment? Why is it that we may struggle so much to honor fathers but find it easy to bless our mothers? The answers are unclear and varied. But if we start with figuring out how to honor God as our heavenly Father, it may help us get better at honoring our earthly fathers.


God is Our Father

The Bible refers to God as a father in multiple places in the Old and New Testament. Moses notes in Deuteronomy 1:31 that God cared for Israel in the wilderness like a father cares for their child. The Lord protects and provides for Israel as He leads them out of bondage. He says at the end of the same book that God is to be respected because He fathered Israel by creating, forming, and establishing them, and He mothered them by giving birth to them. Psalm 68:5 identifies God as the Father of the fatherless and defender of widows. God is the Father who cares for us when human fathers are not present. Isaiah 9:6 prophesies that God is the everlasting Father, and Malachi proclaims that all in his audience are children of the same Father God. But Jesus makes this relationship with God even clearer. Jesus calls God His Father, and He is identified as the Son of God in each of the Gospels. In Galatians 4:5-7, Paul explains that believers in Christ are children of God,  and John declares that truth in 1 John 5:1. So it is clear in scripture that God is a Father to all who will receive Him as one. But what does that mean for us?


How God Relates To Us As A Father

God is a Spirit and cannot be fully understood or explained using any analogy or even human language. God is greater than any roles we could use to try to explain Him:  father, mother, king, brother, friend, lover, lord, healer, provider, protector, or otherwise. But God chooses to reveal Godself in ways we can understand so we can have a genuine relationship with God. It is because of the descriptions of God relating as a Father in Scripture that we can relate to God a little better and also to human fathers a little better. God relates as a father in many ways but a few key ones we’ve already mentioned are as a source of identity, a protector, a provider, a caregiver, and a guide. God rebukes David and also encourages Him which other biblical fathers do. Hebrews 12 makes it clear that God corrects us because we are His children. Galatians 4 underscores that God blesses us because we are His children. God is present with us in good times and bad times, like any good father. God leads, encourages, provides, protects, corrects, counsels, comforts, and instructs us in the wilderness and the places of plenty as a good Father. Most of all, God loves us as our heavenly Father. God has shown Himself to be a good Father, but how can we be good children to God our Father?


How We Honor God Our Father

Jesus gives us the perfect example of what it means to be a good child of God, demonstrating how to honor God. Summed up, it is to love God. We love God through obedience. We love God through spending time with Him. We love God through caring about what He cares about. We love God through giving to other people, because He doesn’t need our money. We love God by doing the work and ministry He has called us to do. We love God by loving our neighbors well. We love God by doing justice. We love God by using our lives to bring Him glory, which is to live in a way that makes Him proud. Jesus explains at length in John 8:31-58 that Father God loves it when we believe in Jesus and do what He said. 1 John 5:1-5 is exceedingly clear that obeying God and loving others is how we can express our love to God. Now that we understand how to honor God as our Father, how do we honor our earthly fathers? 

How Can We Honor Our Human Fathers

Human fathers can never truly compare to our Father God. We shouldn’t even expect them to reach that standard. But they should follow God as the standard, and we should honor them as our fathers if we have good relationships with them. Earthly fathers can be honored in many of the same ways as our Heavenly Father. 

It all comes back to loving our dads. When we care about the things our fathers care about, it makes them happy. It may be sports, cooking, fishing, movies, work, decorating, or some other hobby. When we show care about what dads care about, it brings them honor. We give to dads because they do need our money and gifts, unlike God. Give them something they like, and ask for ideas if you need them. Spend time with your dad if you can. Many people wish they could. If you have an opportunity, then take advantage–it will definitely bring your dad happiness on Father’s Day. 

When young children do what their father says, it brings their father honor and happiness. As a father myself, I cannot tell you the joy I have when my children do what I told them to do without complaining, demonstrating a bad attitude, giving up, or getting distracted. When we are older, this obedience becomes conversational. If you want to honor your father on Father’s Day, ask him what He wants! Sometimes we spend so much time trying to figure out what our dads want instead of simply asking them and then following through. This simple form of relating can bring honor to a father like nothing else. 

But many dads will tell you the best honor their children can give them on Father’s Day or any other day is to live lives that make them proud. Just keep following God your Father. If you honor God with your life, you can rest assured you are making our Heavenly Father and every good dad proud.