Some people experience a tragic event and withdraw to heal their wounds. Others decide taking action is the way to climb out of the hole. Kenny Mercer of Norwalk falls into the latter category. After a good friend died by suicide, Mercer, who runs Full Blast Booking, decided to create an annual music event to raise awareness around suicide and mental health as well as raise funds for a non-profit helping people with lived experience.

The result is Tour for Life, a multi-day music event that has expanded in three short years from a one-night, one-venue event in Connecticut to a multi-day event in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut. All proceeds benefit Mental Health Connecticut. This summer’s event will be August 10-14.

In addition to various hip hop artists, each concert also features on-site therapists as well as information and goody bags with mental health management resources. “I wanted to do a music tour where all the proceeds go to a mental health charity and also to raise awareness,” says Mercer, who is also a musician.

The first concert, which raised $11,000 for Mental Health Connecticut, was an eye opener, Mercer says. “We learned a lot about mental health and how to do an event like this. The best thing to come out of it is we know it’s an annual thing now.”

Even the musicians are excited about the intent of the concerts, Mercer says. “We have formulated a true tribe of supporters,” he says. “They found a cause and an organization that really resonates for them.”

The concerts target hip hop fans in their 30s-50s. “Most people in that age range have children now,” Mercer says of the choice. “They want to be great parents. We truly believe you can’t take care of the things in your life until you take care of yourself. [Tour for Life] promotes self care to the fullest.”

“We want to keep people from killing themselves,” Mercer continues.  “Whether it’s self care, holistic medicine, medical cannabis, whatever — we want to present all the options to you so you can manage your mental health.”

Mercer has a new appreciation for the importance of self-care in part due to having been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “I’m so grateful for all I’ve learned from MHC and partnering with them because it’s easy when you’re dealing with physical issues to spiral into a dark place. I feel the best way to counter all those things that are negative is to keep an eye and thoughts on your own mental health and how you can stay on top of it.”

When people break an arm, they know to go to the hospital or urgent care. “But if you break your emotions, you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to handle that,” Mercer says. “If I’m sad what do I do? They don’t have the answer to that. We want to help give those pointers and options to handle that.”

Overcoming the stigma associated with admitting a perceived weakness can be hard.
“People who come from hard places and a tough love atmosphere, you don’t talk about your feelings when you’re from the hood,” says Mercer. “We’re trying to change that. The stigma is huge but other genres of music, even metal and emo, are finally starting to shed light on mental health. Hip hop hasn’t so much so it’s why we stepped up to shine a light on that.”