Messy Roots Nurtures Men of Color

By Anders J. Hare

After teaching seventh grade students in Charlotte and co-founding Profound Gentlemen, an organization that addresses the needs of Black male students by mentoring Black male educators, Mario Jovan Shaw decided to change course a bit.

Through his work with Profound Gentleman, Shaw said he now recognizes “what it means to take it to the next level,” he said. “Now taking it to the next level is to support all men of color. In addition to working with educators, Shaw said he also supports “many different folks from different sectors.”

Shaw formed Profound Gentlemen with fellow teacher Jason Terrell in 2014, and they were both recognized in the Social Entrepreneurs category of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in 2017.

Now, as the founder of Messy Roots, an organization that works to help men of color live authentically and have a well-balanced lifestyle, Shaw works as a wellness coach and offers life-coaching lessons in mindfulness and yoga. Founded in May 2022, Messy Roots also offers meditation sessions, leadership coaching, horticulture work and wellness retreats hosted around the country and online.

Shaw’s goal is to help Messy Roots members connect with their purpose, core values, goals and live the lives they desire, according to the organization’s website.  

Shaw said he was inspired to create Messy Roots after realizing how a person’s messy foundation can impact them years down the line. He decided to found Messy Roots after realizing all men of color should have that mindfulness and wellness experience he was searching for himself, he said.

“It’s really to own the fact that our roots are, you know, that internal work is messy. It gets everywhere,” Shaw explained. “People don’t like to do the messy work, but I do. So that’s where we got messy with some because if we dig deep in there and get our hands dirty, we can tackle some things.”

Men of color can join the Messy Roots wellness community for $15 per month or $150 per year. Wellness Wednesdays, a weekly meditation session is available for all members or ‘Growers,’ as Shaw calls them. Members can also join a monthly online gathering to meet and share mindfulness practices. Annually, members from around the world are invited to attend a wellness summit designed exclusively for men of color where they can build relationships with each other and access mindfulness materials on the Messy Roots’ online platform.

Another Messy Roots’ initiative, Body Keeps the Score, which focuses on body positivity, is designed to help men of color become comfortable in their own skin, Shaw said. “Many men of color don’t have the opportunity to talk about our body and body positivity. … we might be blocking purpose and our opportunity, because we’re not comfortable in the skin we’re in,” Shaw said. “And so we’re asking, ‘How do we have those type of conversations?’”

A Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructor, Shaw is also able to certify individuals through Messy Roots. One of his goals is to help 10,000 men of color become MHFA-certified during the organization’s first ten years. MHFA is a course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

“If we could help more men of color be able to identify the signs and symptoms of when [someone’s mental health is] going down … now we have, not just therapists, but we have a friend that can recognize and identify those signs and symptoms and have these tools to be able to help someone,” Shaw explained.

As times change and the stigma of mental health changes, Shaw wants to help men of color get to the root of their mental health issues so they can accomplish their goals.

“More men of color are asking themselves these questions: ‘Who am I? What is my purpose?’” he said. “I think that we’re living in a time right now where we need everybody to be able to know what their goals are and what their purpose is, and live in and be their most authentic self. And if we do that, then we have a group of individuals that now are making the world better. We have to make this world better for that next generation.”