Playwright puts mental illness in spotlight

Welcome to the first installment of Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, a series drawing your attention to issues in the Black community— from entertainment to education— that could use your support.  Check out our stories and then make the choice whether or not you want to put your money where your mouth is. 

Today’s cause: a Chicago-based playwright who is fundraising for an on-stage endeavor to highlight and fight mental illness in communities.


By// Kyra Kyles

Chicagoan Wendell Tucker grew up knowing he had a problem relating to the world around him.

As a child, he recalls stabbing himself with needles when he got upset.  The physical pain was the only way he could dull the emotion, he reveals.

But it wasn’t until the 32-year-old survived two suicide attempts and was struggling desperately to avert a third that he realized he needed professional help.

“I called the suicide hotline late at night,” Tucker, a longtime playwright, tells JET of the harrowing experience last summer.  “They told me I needed to go to an emergency room if I still felt the way I was feeling in the morning.  When I woke up, I was still having those thoughts, so I went to a hospital.”

After several days under suicide watch, Tucker received a diagnosis that shocked even him, after years of thinking he was just “overly sensitive” or moody.  He has major depressive disorder, a condition he treated with medication and now, ongoing therapy.

But Tucker says he couldn’t be satisfied just saving himself.

There are too many others in the inner city– particularly African American and Latino men– suffering the same symptoms.  But instead of receiving support, they are being told they need to “pray on it” or “learn to chill out.”

“Depression is still treated like some disease that only affects white women,” Tucker asserts.  “There are people out here suffering and they don’t know there is help. We have people out here witnessing violence in their communities, who are raised by drug addicts…  Some of these gangbangers out here too, could be suffering from emotional issues that lead them to do what they do.”

That thought process drove the creator and writer of hip-hop infused plays, including “By a Black Hand” and “I Used to Love H.E.R.” toward his next creative project.  He began penning “Wendell Tucker Hates the World,” an autobiographical one-man play with touches of comedy and melancholy.  Tucker patterned the show after some of his idols, including Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, who knew how to tell painful stories in approachable, always hilarious ways.

Wendell Tucker entertaining on stage during “Wendell Tucker Hates the World.” Credit: Theori

“The play starts off very funny because comedy is the bridge to the audience,” Tucker says.  “Then, once we build that bond, we talk about some of the ugly things about my condition…the parts nobody wants to discuss.”

The piece, which ran for two weeks in August, and will reboot by the end of October is about more than drawing a crowd, the playwright insists.  And that is why he is fasting until September 6 in order to raise $5,000 to provide a permanent home for it, as well as begin building bridges to mental health care providers he hopes will bring their patients to the production.

“I’ve been doing this since July 28,” Tucker explains of a fast that restricts him to nothing more than one glass of juice and unlimited quantities of water.  “It’s called Hunger Aims and it’s just the first attempt to raise the money for our cause.”

So far, the campaign has collected about $500, and it officially ends at on Sept. 7.  Tucker, who has toured the country with his plays, feels this one is different and that is why he is putting his health on the line to meet the goal.

“I’ve had people come to the show and tell me they have struggled with mental illness…people you never would have suspected,” he shares.  “And these are people of color.  People from the inner cities. This is the next epidemic.”


Would you like to support “Wendell Tucker Hates the World” and Tucker’s efforts to raise awareness for mental illness?  Click here and donate until the campaign ends on Sept. 7.