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Steel Smiling Making Mental Health Services Accessible

Photo courtesy Steel Smiling
Photo courtesy Steel Smiling

In the past few years, mental health awareness has increased thanks in part to the pandemic, and to famous people talking about their own mental health concerns. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five adults live with mental health concerns, and one in five youth experience a severe mental health issue. This awareness has brought about more need for services and programming to help those facing mental health issues. But there are still huge gaps in awareness and

Photo courtesy Steel Smiling
Photo courtesy Steel Smiling

services, especially in certain populations, including Black people.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have Steel Smiling, a nonprofit that specializes in “bridging the gap between Black people and mental health services.” NHM Magazine interviewed Julius Boatwright, founder and managing director of Steel Smiling.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): A bit of background on Steel Smiling—why was Steel Smiling created? What was the need?

Julius Boatwright (Boatwright): In December of 2015, Steel Smiling was created after a dear friend of mine from college passed away due to some mental health challenges. Prior to his passing, I was already working in the mental health field as a therapist. During that time, I was able to witness firsthand how the system was failing people like him. I then made a conscious decision to take action and do something about it.

NHM: How did you come up with the name “Steel Smiling?”

Boatwright: The name for Steel Smiling came from a few different intentional ideas. The first being that I wanted to launch an organization for Pittsburgh that would honor the Steel City and its rich history. I knew that word could also build on the fact that steel is strong, unbreakable, and lasting. No matter what happens on our mental health journeys, we can STILL find a way to be resilient and smile through it all.

NHM: What is your role in Steel Smiling?

Boatwright: As the Founder and Managing Director of Steel Smiling, I’m responsible for the following: fundraising, relationship management, partnerships, public speaking, financial sustainability, program oversight, staff management, supervision and storytelling.

NHM: Who does Steel Smiling serve?

Boatwright: Steel Smiling serves the mental health needs of Black community members in the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and Southwestern Pennsylvania.

NHM: What is the overall mission?

Boatwright: Steel Smiling bridges the gap between Black people and mental health support through education, advocacy, and awareness.

NHM: Why is serving the Black population so important?

Boatwright: Serving Black community members is important because we have so many opportunities to provide mental health support to our friends, family, and neighbors. When we’re intentional about equipping Black folks with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to be community mental health advocates, it positively transforms entire neighborhoods.

NHM: How do the services work? How does one begin utilizing the services?

Boatwright: Beams to Bridges, our 6-month Workforce Development Program, provides Black adults with the knowledge, skills, and competencies to become community mental health advocates. Candidates are identified in collaboration with select nonprofit partner organizations. This way of delivering mental health training is transformative because it is designed to build capacity at the nonprofit partner’s organization. Steel Smiling recognized early on that we can’t solve every challenge that exists within the Black mental health ecosystem regionally. However, with the right type of thoughtful and strategic collaborations, we can contribute to building a stronger infrastructure for the future.

The Black Mental Health Fund, our funding, peer support, and wellness navigation program, provides assistance to Black residents throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. Community members can call or email Steel Smiling or check out our social media channels to learn more about the program and its offerings.

NHM: How is Steel Smiling different from other mental health services?

Boatwright: Steel Smiling establishes relationships with community-based nonprofit organizations to strengthen the delivery of their mental health services and programming. These services and programs are delivered free of charge to Black community members in spaces that our community partner organizations provide support.

NHM: How can others from the general population assist your mission?

Boatwright: If folks are interested in supporting Steel Smiling, please feel free to make a donation to support our General Operating Expenses and/or the Black Mental Health Fund specifically.

NHM: Are there any special events/projects coming up in the near future?

Boatwright: In September of 2023, Steel Smiling will host a Wellness Provider Showcase in partnership with the Kingsley Association. Those interested may find more information on our website at

NHM: As a licensed master social worker, what do you want others to know about mental health?

Boatwright: As a licensed social worker, I want folks to know that mental health impacts all of us. With that being said, we should be intentional about supporting ourselves and others along the way. Sometimes, we won’t have the energy, capacity, or knowledge to provide people with the mental support they need and deserve. I do believe there are instances that we can help ourselves and others be well. Ultimately, we have the individual and collective power to heal.

NHM: What do you want people to know about Steel Smiling?

Boatwright: Steel Smiling is growing into a Black-focused intermediary organization. With that being said, we’re centering our efforts on helping other Black-led and Black-centered nonprofit organizations strengthen their mental health programming, policies, and procedures. Please feel free to reach out to us if you’re interested in learning more about us.

For more information about Steel Smiling visit, call 412-532-9458 or email

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