Three Rivers Champion: Julius Boatwright

Boatwright works to connect everyone who needs it with mental health support.


Three life experiences led Julius Boatwright to found Steel Smiling, a nonprofit organization that bridges the gap between community members and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness.

The first was that he’s lived with symptoms related to depression and anxiety since he was a teenager. The second was his time working as a community-based therapist — it was then that he became curious about informal, preventative mental health engagements.

The third occurred when a college friend died by suicide. “That’s when I began to acknowledge my life calling with more conviction, confidence and clarity,” Boatwright, 35, says.

As the founder and CEO, Boatwright helps to coordinate informal gatherings where black community members can learn about mental health, share stories about their experiences and strive to collectively heal.

“The grand vision is to connect every resident in our region to resources and treatment,” Boatwright says. “Ideally, after we expose 100 percent of black adults in Pittsburgh to one informal mental health engagement by 2030, we hope 50 percent of them will consider receiving support that could potentially improve their quality of life.”

In addition to his leadership role with Steel Smiling, Boatwright also serves as a board member with the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. While he says that it’s important to donate time to others because it’s part of being human, he makes it clear that he doesn’t view volunteering as simply helping someone.

“That makes it seem like we're giving people something that they don't already possess,” he says. “It's about unlocking our innate ability to change. That energizes us when it comes to our community work.”

And to anyone who may be going through a hard time, Boatwright also has words of wisdom:

“Whatever you might be going through in life, please know that you're loved, valued and appreciated. In the midst of pain and trauma, your existence still deserves to be celebrated,” he says.

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Categories: Three Rivers Champion