Battle Scars & Blossoms: A Journey Through the Mind With Micah Dawanyi
Mental health is a universal theme, yet not often incorporated into the stories of characters of colour in fiction - but Micah Dawanyi’s second book may help break the stigma.
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
“I think there’s room for more complex stories. There’s room to show people of colour in situations that we normally don’t see them in, wrestling with real challenges that we often don’t get to see them wrestle with.”
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
15 September 2022
In his fictional story ‘Battle Scars & Blossoms’, Micah Dawanyi explores mental health, generational trauma, the benefits of therapy, and the dangers of emotional suppression. These deep psychological themes are universal yet not often incorporated into stories about characters of colour, but as society looks to move to a place of healing and breaking mental health stigmas, it could become an important resource for many.
‘Battle Scars & Blossoms’ tells the tale of Noel Young, an incoming college freshman reeling from his adolescent involvement in a fatal car accident, broken family relationships, and financial struggles. When Noel starts a new chapter of his life on his new campus, he hopes to put his past traumas behind him. With his mom on his case, trying to get him to reconcile with his past, Noel turns to campus life, work, classes, and new relationships to “distract himself” from the dark cloud of inevitable problems hanging over his head. But you can only run for so long. Perhaps against his will, Noel is eventually forced to embark on a journey of self-discovery to find his peace.
I spoke to Micah Dawanyi, the young author of ‘Battle Scars & Blossoms’, producer, speaker and nationally licensed sports coach based in South Florida. Two years ago, Dawanyi published his first book ‘Step Into My Shoes: Memoirs From the Other Side of America’, a book about racial injustice and discrimination, told from his perspective as a young Black man. Still an undergraduate college student at Nova Southeastern University, Dawanyi went on a whirlwind of a journey with this first release, featuring in publications across the country and the world, becoming a public speaker, working on social justice projects, and more.
This is when the very idea of ‘Battle Scars & Blossoms’ originated. “‘Step Into My Shoes’ was about racial injustice, but I had one chapter at the very end where I talked about how mental health is intertwined with racial trauma,” explains Dawanyi. “That seemed to be everyone’s favourite chapter, much to my surprise. It became so much of a standout that it even led to me doing a segment on mental trauma for the National Public Radio here in the United States. So I think the idea of dedicating an entire book to the topic of mental health started to really intrigue me from there. I’d also just switched to a dual-studies program in college, where one of my fields of study was psychology. I was getting introduced to all of these fascinating concepts about the mind and behaviour, and I thought it’d be interesting to embed some of those concepts in a story”.
When asked about his motivations diving into such deep themes, Dawanyi explains that at the core root of things, his own experiences are his primary motivator. “Coming from the Black community, I was very much influenced by the “mental health is weak and unimportant” mentality,” he says. “That led to this emotional numbness, where I didn’t really know how to cope or understand my feelings and emotions in different seasons of my life. As I got a little bit older, I started to spend a lot of time reflecting on the magnitude of this issue. I really wanted to create an example of how the stigma can affect marginalised groups, and I knew I could use my writing to do so. Creatively speaking, I was also really excited to push new boundaries with a fictional body of work, since my first book was non-fiction”.
The book offers many lessons, but Dawanyi shares that he wishes readers to decide what they will take away from it. “The beauty of being an author is that the “creative specificity” that you apply to your writing can become universally appealing to different people for different reasons”, he says. “There might be something different that resonates with each person, but speaking generally, I hope readers understand the importance of emotional intelligence. That’s probably the overlying theme in the book. There are other themes too, like the benefits of therapy, for those who have the resources, the impact of parenting on the mental health of children, the importance of being vulnerable and honest with yourself, and so on. Overall, I think there are some beautiful, personal revelations to be found for readers within this story”.
He also explains the main idea for ‘Battle Scars & Blossoms’ came from unexpected places. “The title randomly popped into my head in January of 2021, and I created the cover art design that same month,” he says. “The writing itself took about a year. For whatever reason, I became really inspired by the Disney movie “Soul” when I watched it in September last year. Up until that point, I’d just been fleshing out random ideas and possible plot points. But after watching that film, everything just clicked. To this day I couldn’t tell you why that movie specifically inspired me to make this book in the way that I did, but maybe that’s the beauty of inspiration; it doesn’t always have to make perfect sense”.
The book offers a refreshing level of representation in a landscape that still lacks so much of it, with publishing houses still struggling to share the authentic, unfiltered perspectives and experiences of people of colour, especially when it comes to the topic of mental health.
“I think there’s room to discuss the complexity of life when it comes to people of colour in literature,” says Dawanyi . “In a lot of cases, stories seem to display the experiences of people of colour through a very monolithic lens, only dealing with a certain type of struggle that fits a certain stereotype. I think there’s room for more complex stories. There’s room to show people of colour in situations that we normally don’t see them in, wrestling with real challenges that we often don’t get to see them wrestle with. With mental health specifically, I think there’s room to add honest conversations about the way socioeconomic context affects mental health. Lack of trust with medical institutions, generational cycles of trauma, barriers to accessing mental health resources; things like that. Literature is a place where writers can wrestle through those ideas and create pathways to conversations and solutions. That’s really what’s important”.
Battle Scars & Blossoms (Amazon Publishing) by Micah Dawanyi is out now.