If you had met Fellonte Misher a decade ago, you would have encountered a teenager who believed the only way he could help his family was through football.

While other students worried about their GPAs, he focused on different numbers.

As a student at D.C.’s Coolidge High School, the 6-foot-2 wide receiver made 13 touchdowns in a season and 17 tackles in one game.

In 2013, while a sophomore at Old Dominion University, he led his team with 95 tackles, interrupted five passes and recovered two fumbles.

In 2015, during his last year of college, he landed 99 tackles, allowing him to end his time on the team with a total of 288 tackles, one of the highest in the school’s history.

That year, the Virginian-Pilot published a profile of him and in it, coach Bobby Wilder described him as “the best player among our seniors.”

But that success is not what Misher wants to talk about when we meet on a recent morning. He brushes past how he went on to play football for international leagues by saying only that he “spent time in Poland.” What he wants to talk about instead is trauma — trauma experienced by him, trauma experienced by other Black men in the D.C. region, trauma that is leaving little boys thinking their athletic skills are the main measurement of their worth.

Misher has spent most of his life getting noticed for what he achieved on the field, and now, he is trying to change a field. The 27-year-old is working on getting his master’s degree in social work, an endeavor he started after realizing too few therapists were equipped to help Black men who, like him, grew up on streets where struggle and loss are frequent disrupters of lives.

Misher was 5 when his dad went to work at an auto detailing business and was killed in a drive-by shooting. Violence later snatched other people from him.

“Most were under 21 years old,” he says, “Some were family members. Some I grew up with. Some I’d seen born and grow up and then their life ended.”

Misher hadn’t considered trying to find a therapist, let alone become one, before he met Sangeeta Prasad in 2019.

At the time, Prasad, a psychologist who teaches in the Human Services and Social Justice department at George Washington University, was leading a group of educators and parents through discussions on racial equity at an elementary school in Columbia Heights. Misher, who was working as an assistant teacher at the school, participated in those conversations. In them, people frequently discussed violence, experiencing it and witnessing it. Someone told of finding a gun on the playground. Someone else described the sounds bodies make when bullets force them to the ground.

After those discussions ended, nothing more could have come of them. That often happens when companies, institutions or schools pull different people together to discuss issues with no easy solutions. People usually leave knowing more about one another but not necessarily willing to do more for one another.

This time was different. Prasad, Misher and another woman from the group, LaToya Walker, a mother of nine and active community member, continued to meet and talk after those discussions ended. Then, they took action.

Together, they founded In the Streets, a nonprofit that is based on a concept that shouldn’t feel novel but does: Instead of bringing outsiders in to help people in Black, underserved communities work through trauma that is affecting their physical and mental health, individuals within the community should be empowered and employed to do that work. The organization aims to help entire families, and to do that, people need to trust that when they, their relatives or their friends walk in the door, they will find someone who understands them.

“Minority communities don’t trust therapists, and in part, it’s for good reason,” Prasad says. Even those with the best intentions too often don’t have the education or background to address the generational trauma and systemic oppression faced by people of color who live in neglected neighborhoods, she says. “No matter how much training I do, I’m not Black and I’m not from Washington, D.C. It’s not just about racial matching. It’s about the lived experience.”

In the days before Thanksgiving, the city saw its 200th homicide of the year. Those who work in violence reduction know that removing guns from the streets and locking people up aren’t actions that alone will make streets safer. The effort has to include mental health work. After Jeremy Black, a Peace Corps worker, was killed by a stray bullet earlier this year, his wife, Cathy Feingold, recognized that. Within days of her husband’s death, she reached out to Ryane Nickens, who founded the TraRon Center, which aims to help D.C. children who have been affected by gun violence, to set up a fund.

When I asked Nickens at the time about the people perpetrating the shootings, she pointed to an African proverb: “A child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

On Wednesday, D.C. police made an arrest in Black’s case.

After Misher and Prasad began talking outside those school discussions, he told her about a group of men he regularly meets on a nearby basketball court. They had lost seven people between them to violence that year.

Prasad assigned 10 of her students to work with the men. She figured the students would gain clinical experience and the men would have a regular space to start identifying their mental health needs and, ideally, get referrals to licensed clinicians. But that last part didn’t happen — and not because the students didn’t try. Prasad says they couldn’t find therapists who were able or willing to take on the men as clients. Even Misher got turned away.

“They said his case was too severe,” Prasad says.

Misher says he spent 30 minutes talking with a woman who was in charge of intake at one place, only to get rejected through an email.

“My thought was, ‘I didn’t even tell you things that severe,’ ” he says.

After that experience, with help from Prasad, he enrolled in the master’s program at Simmons University in Boston. He has been taking classes online and says his face is often the only Black one in those Zoom squares that appear on his screen. Sometimes that makes him feel powerful, as if he has something rare to offer during discussions. Other times, it leaves him feeling frustrated and out of his element.

When that happens, he knows where to turn.

“He can come here and get advice about it,” Prasad says. “Usually you’re all alone and you walk away feeling . . .”

“Defeated,” Aaron Young says, finishing her sentence.

Misher was the first person employed by the organization. Young, a 26-year-old who grew up in D.C., was the second.

Because the organization aims to help people with their mental and physical health, it offers yoga classes in the small office space it occupies in Columbia Heights. About nine people and their mats fit on the floor. Before getting involved with the organization, Young had tried yoga only a few times in his life. Now, he is training to become an instructor.

“I fell in love with it,” he says. Like Misher, he says he once saw sports as his only chance at finding success. “You genuinely feel like there’s nothing else you can do.”

At least, nothing else legitimate. Young describes many of his friends, and himself at one time, working for the “informal economy.”

Walker knows many young men who meet that description or have been tempted by the money that comes from that illegal work. When she walks through her neighborhood, they call out to her, “Hey, Ma.” When she cooks, they knock on her door and ask for leftovers. When they get frustrated with their parents or life, they hear her say she loves them.

“A lot of people give up on them,” she says. “But you can’t give up on them. You gotta keep pushing them.”

Walker says she hopes to eventually see the organization expand its reach beyond Columbia Heights, but she also recognizes that’s not likely to happen soon. The effort is still in the struggle-to-survive stage. Securing funding has been a challenge.

It’s also not been the only one.

Even as Misher learns how to help people, he continues to struggle to find a therapist to help him.

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