During the last decade, the world has witnessed the meteoric rise of Charlamagne Tha God aka Lenard Larry McKelvey. Hailing from Moncks Corner, South Carolina, the hip-hop-inspired media mogul has attained remarkable success as a radio host, best-selling author, and late-night television host. While his professional endeavors have always attracted applause, his battle with anxiety and depression, and mental health advocacy have inspired millions of Black Americans to strive for a better future.
Charlamagne began experiencing debilitating bouts of anxiety and depression in his early 30s. With little understanding of his condition, he often ended up in emergency rooms fearing he was having a heart attack. While doctors dismissed his cry for help as symptoms of an “athlete’s heart,” one doctor’s visit changed everything. “This is the first time somebody said to me, ‘do you have anxiety? ‘Cause it sounds like you had a panic attack.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, no, not that I know of.’ And he was like, ‘Are you stressed out about anything?’ I’m like, ‘Hell yeah.’”
In 2010, Charlamagne finally received the call he had been waiting for. He got on a call with one of the producers from the radio show, The Breakfast Club, and the rest, as they say, is history. Joining as co-host of hip-hop’s most popular morning show catapulted Charlamagne to stardom and he quickly became America’s most anticipated voice. Few have survived the burn of his hot seat and over the years the media maverick has interviewed the likes of Kanye West, Hillary Clinton, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Travis Scott post-AstroWorld.
While Charlamagne has also gone on to write two best-selling books, host a late-night television show on Comedy Central, and co-host a popular podcast called Brilliant Idiots, he has been determined to base his life’s work on mental health advocacy. In 2018, he released his second national bestselling book, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, which outlines his struggles with mental health and provides readers with a blueprint through which they can begin their personal healing journeys. While tracing the roots of his anxiety back to childhood and cultural PTSD, Charlamagne reveals how important it is to do the work to heal. Since the release of Shook One, Charlamagne has quietly donned the cape of a mental health advocate, working tirelessly to provide Black Americans with opportunities through which they can seek help and, in turn, help others.
In 2021, he launched the Mental Wealth Alliance, a “forward-thinking foundation created to destigmatize, accelerate, and center state-of-the-art mental health outreach and care across the U.S. while building an unprecedented long-term system of generational support for Black communities.” Its goal is to raise $100 million over five years and to partner with Black-led organizations and experts to help destigmatize mental health.
“The Mental Wealth Alliance was inspired by the work that I’ve already been doing, which I didn’t even realize was work,” said Charlamagne in an interview with Forbes. “A few years ago I started telling people about how I’ve dealt with anxiety, bouts of depression. [I started] therapy sessions and putting those therapy sessions in a book, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me. The next thing I know, people are coming up to me in the streets saying they started going to therapy because of me. People are telling me to thank you for talking about my anxiety because those are feelings that they’ve had. You kind of become a mental health advocate without even trying.”
Alongside his efforts to destigmatize mental health in Black communities across America, Charlamagne is also using his growing platform to amplify Black voices. In 2020, Charlamagne partnered up with iHeartMedia to launch the Black Effect Podcast network, which has fast become the leading platform for Black creators to raise their voices and be heard in the podcast space. The network recently hosted the 2023 Black Effect Podcast Festival in Atlanta, where Black Effects’ most popular personalities joined Charlamagne for a day filled with live podcast tapings and informative discussions.
For years, Charlamagne was defined by his stage name and his fast-talking, fire-spitting, provocative personality. But over the years, the world has witnessed a more authentic side to the radio personality, which has revealed itself through years of inner work and sacrifice. “Sometimes people are so stuck on who you were that they’re not even appreciating who you’re becoming or who you’ve become,” he said. “Everybody’s simply doing the best they can and a lot of people have not figured it out. A lot of people aren’t where I am as far as doing the work on myself so you’ve got to give people grace when it comes to that.”