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NAMI Heroine Honored with National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
Recovery for All: August 2008
|Bebe Moore Campbell was an accomplished author, advocate, co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles and national spokesperson. She spoke out to eradicate stigma and advocated the importance of bringing mental health education to communities of color. In November 2006, Campbell lost her battle with brain cancer, but friends and family advocated on her behalf and continued the dream of raising mental health awareness, and in July 2008, Campbell’s vision was brought to life.
Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
In May 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives proclaimed July Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn [D-MD] and cosponsored by a large bipartisan group, was passed in recognition that:
- There is an important need for improved access to care, treatment, and services for those diagnosed with severe and persistent mental health disorders and improved public awareness of mental illness.
- Its purpose is to enhance public awareness of minority mental health issues.
From Dream to Reality
In 2005, the idea for a minority mental health awareness month came out of a conversation Campbell had with longtime friend Linda Wharton-Boyd, Ph.D. Campbell’s book, 72-Hour Hold, was about to be released and Wharton-Boyd was organizing book parties. Inspired by Campbell’s charge to eliminate stigma and provide mental health information, Wharton-Boyd suggested dedicating a month to the effort. When Campbell reacted with “You can’t just do that,” Wharton-Boyd responded, “Claim it!” And together they did.
The duo got to work, outlining the concept, deciding what the month would entail, and giving the month a tagline, “Providing awareness, supporting families, and eliminating stigma.” Then they pitched the idea to the D.C. Department of Mental Health and then-mayor Anthony Williams. This led to a news conference in Southeast D.C., where they encouraged residents to get mental health checkups. Support continued to build as Campbell and Wharton-Boyd held book signings, spoke in churches, and created a National Minority Mental Health Taskforce of friends and allies.
However, the effort came to a halt when Campbell became too ill to continue. When Campbell lost her battle to cancer, Wharton-Boyd and a cadre of friends, family, and ally advocates reignited their cause, fueled by the passion to honor the life of an extraordinary woman.
The taskforce members researched obtained the support of Representatives Albert Wynn [D-MD] and Diane Watson [D-CA], who cosigned legislation to create an official minority mental health awareness month. In May 2008, almost a year after the bill was first introduced, the House of Representatives passed it and declared July Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
Honoring Campbell and Supporting Communities of Color
Events were held across the country during the first Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to honor the former author and to raise mental health awareness in communities of color:
- Helen Blocker-Adams, founder and executive director of Hope is Possible, an Augusta, Georgia, advocacy organization, was inspired by the month and hosted a Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month awareness and fund-raiser breakfast themed, “Let’s Take Action!” Nearly 50 individuals attended this event in Augusta, including Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Rep. John Barrow, District Director Reagan Williams on behalf of Rep. Paul Broun, and leaders of NAMI Augusta and Mental Health America of Augusta.
- Linda Wharton-Boyd held a panel discussion in D.C., developed a media tour schedule in which she made appearances on several radio shows, and, to encourage mental health awareness at every age level, organized a children’s read-in.
- NAMI Urban Los Angeles coordinated a successful and ambitious range of activities, beginning with a proclamation and press conference July 1. This was followed shortly after by a presentation during the Leimert Park 4th of July Jazz Festival. July 16, the NAMI affiliate hosted a VIP reception at the California African American Museum, drawing individuals from the American Psychiatric Association and Black Psychiatrists of America, local political figures, and NAMI Urban Los Angeles board members. The group cohosted an informative event with the APA’s Office of Minority Affairs Tour, which attracted more than 200 participants, and organized faith-based outreach every Sunday of the month, sending members to visit 20 churches to speak about mental health and available support. Finally, at the end of the month, as a special tribute to its cofounder, NAMI Urban Los Angeles organized a mental health fair and candlelight vigil.
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Keeping the Flame Burning
The taskforce of Campbell’s friends and allies hope to see awareness of Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month grow each year, following successful models such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure. They have approached staff of Senator Barack Obama to seek support for introducing legislation on a Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month bill in the Senate and have several events planned for 2009.
NAMI National will look forward to providing more resources for local activities and events for Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month 2009. Visit www.nami.org/minoritymentalhealthmonth for updates.