British reality star Vas J. Morgan is committed to making an impact.
As someone whose own reality meant cyberbullying and racial trauma as a Black gay man who was in the spotlight, Morgan is a role model for overcoming addiction, anxiety and depression — and coming out even stronger.
Growing up in London, Morgan was a born entertainer. He skyrocketed to fame when he was cast in the reality series The Only Way Is Essex in 2014, but that time in the public eye led to a mental health struggle and addiction.
Today, Morgan is two and a half years sober, and is sharing his own mental health journey to help others dealing with the same. He launched the ‘I Am Enough’ campaign to give members of the Black community free access to resources to help deal with trauma and other mental health related issues.
(In less than 12 hours of launching, Morgan raised more than $25K with donations; he also created “I Am Anti Racist” t-shirts to offer free mental health resources to Black communities.)
Read more about Morgan’s journey from TV personality to inspirational mental health advocate and positive change maker.
Karin Eldor: Can you share a bit about your background as a reality star? Did you always want to be famous and an actor, early on?
Vas J. Morgan: Growing up the youngest in my family, I always wanted to entertain. I loved performing but as I never saw anyone that looked like me on British TV, I didn’t even think it would be possible. When I entered adulthood, reality TV was brand new. I really only had The Hills, The Simple Life and The Osbournes as a reference. All of which were so far removed from my reality. So I never thought being a reality TV star was a thing! The concept of ‘famous for being famous’ wasn’t a concept yet.
Eldor: How did your role in the reality series The Only Way Is Essex come about?
Morgan: It was never my goal to be on reality television, but when my friend Lauren Pope asked me to join her on the show, I saw it as a great opportunity to represent other people like myself, gay and Black, who I hadn’t seen on shows like this before.
Eldor: You had said that while growing up, there weren’t people that looked like you, as a gay Black man — you didn’t have role models in that sense. Can you share some thoughts about this?
Morgan: I was lucky enough that my parents immersed me in Black culture using music; They ensured that I was familiar with all their favorite Black artists — Bob Marley, Whitney Houston, Brandy, etc. But on television, I never found anyone that I could identify with. It was still taboo to be gay, and Black representation had always been marginalized in British television.
Eldor: I know you were subjected to racial abuse on social media when you joined TOWIE in 2014. What were some steps you took to deal with this?
Morgan: I have been subject to rejection and abuse my entire life. Whether it was coming out and dealing with my family’s acceptance of my sexuality, from systemic racism in school, on television, or blatant racism on social media. At the time, my way of dealing with this was self-harm, through substance abuse, bad decision making and really internalizing all of this stuff.
Eldor: I’m so sorry to hear this. How did you deal with cyberbullying and social media, at the time?
Morgan: My policy has always been to ignore, block and delete but when thousands of people are calling me a monkey, telling me to go back to my country and to kill myself, I couldn’t help but internalize that hate. I would find myself searching my name on Twitter and actively reading all this hate as a way of self-harming.
Eldor: Well, I love the positive impact you’re making with the launch of your “I Am Enough” campaign. Really, congratulations on that! I love that it aims to help members of the black communities get access to mental health services.
I know you were inspired to set up the fundraiser after the tragic death of George Floyd. Can you share more about what led you to take action so quickly?
Morgan: My personal journey toward self-acceptance has made me realize how important mental health is. I spent four months at an incredible institute called The Cabin unraveling a lot of the issues that I had been internalizing for the last decade. I realized how fortunate I had been to afford the lifeline that these therapists and doctors were able to provide and I realized not many people have the same means to access the critical help that they need.
I was sent a video of George Floyd — a man that looked just like me take his last breath, and his only crime was looking just like me. This brought a lot of traumatizing memories back of low self-esteem and self-hate. It brought back memories of being told that Black is wrong. Luckily I had the tools that The Cabin had given me to remind myself that I am enough and knew instantly that other people within Black communities may be deeply triggered by these current events, might be suffering too and may not have the luxury of having access to resources that can help!
Eldor: What else are you working on now? I know you are also an editor for TINGS Magazine, for example…
Morgan: I founded the platform with Justin Campbell in 2018. From the beginning it has always been our goal to be a modern representation of what the world looks like in terms of diversity. Our first three covers were Sofia Richie, 21 Savage, and Deepika Padukone.
I am also working on a fashion company with my close friend and former co-star Lauren Pope. I can’t talk about it now, but we’ll be making an exciting announcement soon.
Most of my time these days are focused on my philanthropic work. In addition to I Am Enough, I have a foundation in Africa called The Vas Morgan Foundation that is dedicated to improving the education system in West Africa. We’re currently working on building a school whilst developing old schools in rural areas.
Eldor: What are some of the next steps and goals for I Am Enough?
Morgan: I plan to continue fundraising to provide free professional mental health resources to Black communities. I want to continue to grow the I Am Enough platform to be an access point for these resources, for daily affirmations and to share other stories that will inspire people to seek the help they need and to pave the way forward.
Eldor: Where do you want to take the I Am Enough organization?
Morgan: Right now we’re focusing on the Black community but in the future I want to grow this platform to include women, LGBTQ+, other people from struggling communities, and more.
I want to open an I Am Enough center that will be a safe space for people to meet others and share without stigma and judgment. A place for people with mental health issues to heal and grow together!