Photo courtesy of Tommy Don Talley Jr.

Using mental health pop-ups and unique health events that promote healing from trauma, the mission of Tommy Talks is to normalize discussion of mental health. The initiative was founded by Tommy Don Talley Jr., a longtime resident of Hegewisch. He said he felt the need to share his own story about childhood trauma, which then led him to start Tommy Talks in 2021 and help others in their mental health journeys. 

At the organization’s mental health pop-ups and other events, community members engage in discussions about difficult but important topics such as suicide prevention, alcohol and drug use, healthy ways to cope with stress, and places to seek help. “The word ‘therapy’ has been so stigmatized that it scares people. So we don’t just talk [about] therapy,” Talley said. “It’s [about] showcasing different ways to help whether it’s meditation, yoga, peer support, through activities or creating writing.” 

For example, during “Light the Night,” one Tommy Talks event, more than one hundred community members came together for a healing activity. Participants wrote down something painful, placed it inside a paper lantern, and released it into the sky as a way to let it go and move on. “Tommy Talks serves as an advocate, a breaker of generational curses, a partner, a community organization, a peer support group, a guide to resources, and so much more,” Talley said.

Eventually, Talley said he wants to take his mental health approach to schools and even create a mental health center in the Southeast Side. And while a lot of the events have taken place in Hegewisch, Tommy Talks will be expanding to other nearby neighborhoods soon. Its next pop-up event will be about suicide prevention and will be held at St. Francis de Sales High School on September 29 from 5pm to 9pm; all interested are invited to attend.

Tommy Talks, Instagram: @tommytalksnpo

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