When Jay “Jeezy” Jenkins was growing up, talking about your feelings could be dangerous.
Jeezy – as the Grammy-winning hip-hop artist is now known – grew up in Georgia in a neighborhood where poverty grips you by the throat and can sometimes strangle the humanity out of you.
In that world, mental toughness – or at least the perception of it – was a must. Anything less was seen as a weakness to be exploited.
These days, he’s putting his own struggles out for the world to see in his new book “Adversity for Sale,” a New York Times bestselling memoir in which he attempts to blow up the stereotypes he says have plagued him throughout his life and remain prominent particularly in the Black community.
“I had to learn the hard way that everybody needs some help,” the entrepreneur and philanthropist told CNN in a recent interview. “I didn’t know I had trauma. I didn’t know I was depressed. I didn’t know I had anxiety. I didn’t know I had post-traumatic stress. I actually thought something was wrong with me – like, when you come from poverty, this is how you’re supposed to feel.”
It’s not. He knows that now, as a man who’s worked hard to address issues that were taking a toll on his mind and spirit.
“You know, when you’re losing friends at a young age and even in your adulthood and people that are around you, they’re going away, doing 20 to 30 years in prison, and coming back like it’s a normal thing. You don’t understand how desensitized you are,” he said.
His journey is chronicled in raw detail in “Adversity for Sale.” The more honest he could be in the book, he said, the more others would benefit.
“The reason why I named the book ‘Adversity for Sale’…is because I want you to know how many times I’ve lost and continue to lose and still keep the same enthusiasm. And I feel like that everyone Black, White, Brown, whatever needs to hear that,” he said. “Even when you thought that I was on top of the world, the world was on top of me.”
Some of this has been covered in his music, but Jeezy does not think his lyrics contribute to the normalization of the adversities people of color face because his words reflect reality and the life he has led.
“It was my truth, you know, and I feel like the reality is not on us, it’s on America. You know what I mean?” he said. “We can’t control our environments. We’re put in these projects and these buildings in these neighborhoods, and we don’t have the right tools and the right resources. So we have to survive.”
These days, Jeezy is more than surviving; he’s thriving. And he basks in his success, writing at one point in his book, “coming from where I come from, to make it to where I am today, is just as significant as anything Bill Gates and any of those other multi-billionaire CEOs you read about in the Wall Street Journal.”
“As far as I’m concerned, if they came from the ground, I came from under the basement. I had so much to work through and, of course, they had resources that I would never have,” Jeezy said.
He made something out of nothing, he said.
“It represents the same thing: the American Dream,” he said.