Book Review: The Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain And Reclaiming Their Power by Courtney B. Vance and Dr. Robin L. Smith with Charisse Jones

[1] The rise of death by suicide by African Americans is increasingly becoming a prominent topic of discussion in the African American community.  The recent passing of Dr. Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, an administrator at Lincoln University, a historically Black university in Missouri, highlights the mental well-being of African American people.[1] Religious communities, social service organizations, politicians, educators, the helping professions, and African American social organizations are voicing their concerns about the emotional health of African Americans and the rise of suicide.  Family members feel freer to speak about their kinfolk and others who decide to end their life by suicide.

[2] Courtney Vance, a Tony, Emmy, and NAACP Image Award African American actor and Dr. Robin L. Smith, an African American minister and licensed psychologist, have written a book which engages suicide, a subject often ignored by the African American community.  Each chapter of the ten-chapter book details Vance’s journey to emotional well-being following the suicide deaths of his father, Conroy Vance, and godson.  Dr. Smith builds on Vance’s journey, offering practical and culturally sensitive wisdom necessary for African American males to pursue strong spiritual mental health and wellness.

[3] One of the most intense moments, to this reviewer, Vance describes in the first chapter.  Following his father’s funeral service, Leslie Vance, his mother called Vance and his sister together and told them to go get therapy (she didn’t ask them) and that she was going to get therapy.  Vance’s mother recognized that self-care was the beginning of the journey to healing and wholeness. This is a critical point of the book, tending to self.  Emotional well-being begins with recognizing that one is out-of-balance and that something is not right emotionally.

[4] A second moment, one which makes the book engaging, is Vance’s willingness to be vulnerable and to embrace his feelings.  Dr. Smith, too, names this as a much-needed change of behavior by African American men.  Issues like weakness, shame, a desire to be a “macho man,” and resistance to sharing one’s feelings can be obstacles to emotional well-being.  Those tendencies contribute to the invisible ache Vance and Smith identify.

[5] The last chapter focuses on the need for community.  Vance and Smith are quite clear in this regard.  African American males can benefit by finding people who “see” them, listen to their story, and are in their corner.  Those individuals may be from other communities of color.  Vance and Smith are clear: African American males need to be connected to people who look like themselves.  This type of connection with members of the African American community who know the language, cultural codes, and nuances of being an African American male in this society, creates space for being who they are and want to be.  Self-worth and dignity start with self; however, the community augments the drive toward feeling worthy and being seen.

[7] The reader may be wondering: What relevance does The Invisible Ache have for a predominantly White denomination?  Several points could be made.  First, this book is important for all people, especially those who minister in, with, and among African American people.  Knowledge, understanding, and seeing the experiences of African American people, especially African American males, can lead toward the transformation of the ethos of the denomination.

[8] Second, The Invisible Ache is a clarion call for African American men to take charge of their (our) spiritual and mental well-being.  Empowerment, as Vance and Smith share, means confronting both our internal and external problems.  Internally African American males face multiple issues, including but not limited to a story that reinforces their (our) worthlessness and deficiency.  Externally African American men, like African American women, face stress, bullying, being ignored, racism, and other blocks to our spiritual and emotional well-being.  The Invisible Ache presents a charge to take control of the historical story told about African American men.  African American men are a gift, fully created by a loving and just Creator.  The book provides a sense of hope and direction for African American males to embrace their (our) giftedness.

[9] I highly recommend this book.  It will be a blessing to those who read it and internalize the wisdom Vance and Smith offer.  And, as Vance did, keep the Bible close by!


This review is based on the Kindle Edition.

[1] Janice Gassam Asare, “Academia Is Failing Black Women: Examining Misogynoir Within The Academy.” Accessed January 16, 2024 at


Richard J. Perry

Richard J. Perry, Jr. is Associate Professor of Church and Society and Urban Ministry at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Dr. Perry is a member of the Advisory Council for the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, represents the Lutheran Ethicists Network on the Theological Roundtable, and serves as convener of the Conference of International Black Lutherans (CIBL, USA).