By Amanda MacLaren | Photography by Anna Norwood
When Rain Bennett moved to Durham about a year and a half ago, he was met with something he says he hadn’t felt in a long time – a deep sense of community, one that has embraced him. “Part of that is the culture that’s inherently here,” he says, “the people who are here, and it’s reflected in the conversations that we’re having.”
Rain, a filmmaker, founded the video and digital media production company Six Second Stories in 2018. He’s also a personal trainer and Lululemon brand ambassador, and when he was approached by a Lululemon assistant manager to create a speaker series, he knew that it needed to be different – it needed to have heart. “Instead of, ‘I’m going to present about this topic and show you a PowerPoint,’” Rain says, “I’m going to open up and be vulnerable and tell you a personal story of my journey or someone who I’ve worked with on this journey on mental health, on financial health and physical health, whatever the topic might be, in order to create this safe space for people in the audience to then feel comfortable asking a question or sharing about themselves something that may have stigma attached or be hard for them to talk about, to create this kind of community conversation that’s almost like a therapy session.”
So, through a partnership with Lululemon and WeWork, Six Second Stories launched “Health and Happiness: A Storytelling Series on Living Your Potential,” which focuses on a different pillar of health every month. In May, the series started on the topic of mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month.
“As you can imagine, it got pretty heavy at times,” Rain says of their first event. “There was a point where Dr. Nicole Cranley – she’s a behavioral scientist and blogger – was like, ‘I’m just going to be open and honest and tell a story I’ve never told in public before.’ And she came from a very personal perspective where she told a story of abuse that she had dealt with and what the stress and anxiety did to her mental health.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Rain continues. “I get emotional thinking about it right now.” Earlier in the evening, Tom Ferguson, the CEO of Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken, hit a similar note of honesty when he spoke about how his new hobby, birding, helped him recover from addiction, depression and anxiety. His message is simple, but profound: “First would be to never give up trying to get better,” Tom says, “don’t settle with feeling sad. Second is to find your hobby. It was the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received, and I think it saved my life.”
The experience can be powerful, Rain says.
“To see these strong people be completely vulnerable and open up in front of everybody, it has an immediate impact on every person in that room,” he says.
“For me, it served as a stark reminder of the importance of mental health and wellness,” Manisha Dass, a research public health analyst for RTI International and an attendee at the mental health event, shared after the event. “The stories all resonated with me on one level or another. I felt like the stories were either about me or ones I have heard from those who are close to me. Which goes to show that at one point or another, mental health will come up. More than anything, I felt comfortable. In a room full of (mostly) strangers, it helped tremendously to know I’m not alone.”
The final Health and Happiness series topics will hold its final session on community health on Oct. 9, at 5:30 p.m. at WeWork at One City Center. “Our mission of this series was to start the conversation,” Rain says. “When I see the impact here, it gives me hope that we can do it all in a larger capacity. I would love to see it continue to grow and for other people to see it and start to do the same themselves.”