During Black History Month, NAMI acknowledges the remarkable work of African American leaders who fight the stigma of mental illness at the core of their communities. Cecelia, Army and Adolphus are the some of the many faces of change.
By Cecelia Williams, Sharing Hope Coordinator, NAMI Greater Houston
My story with NAMI began when a loved one was diagnosed with a mental disorder. As it might be the case for many others, neither I nor my family had a clue as to what to do in the best interest of our love one. I wanted to learn about mental illness, and a mental health practitioner recommended NAMI. Soon after, I and several family members attended the entire NAMI Family-to-Family class series. To all six of us, this experience was a life saver. As a family, we were armed with crucial information that we took back to our community. Inspired and now empowered, all of us became volunteers and some turned out to be teachers.
Even though teaching was highly rewarding, I felt that a more radical step needed to be taken in order to reach the African American community, my community. If they were not coming to the classroom, maybe it was time for me to change the strategy and go to them.
I discovered Sharing Hope, a NAMI’s initiative that caters specifically to the African American community by establishing key partnerships with local leaders, plant the seed of knowledge about mental illness and broaden the networks of support. The diagnosis of my loved one and a sense of social responsibility furthered my drive to provide information to my community, so I got involved first as a presenter and then as a program coordinator.
Balancing graduate school with my duties as a coordinator has been rather challenging. However, being part of this program allows me to better understand and manage the challenge of mental illness and effectively spread awareness of NAMI. The process has been slow but steady. From outstanding churches that have a strong leadership presence in the community to non-faith related organizations, our message has reached a large number of individuals. Our partnerships continue to expand and our voice only becomes stronger. Today, we are proud to have opened many inroads into the African American community to bring forth personable information about mental illness, recovery and how to find support.
By Dr. Army Daniel
Those of us who share the common thread of having a family member or members who are living with a mental illness haven’t known exactly where to turn for help and not suffer personal embarrassment. Far too many of us in various churches and church groups are still living in the 19th century mentality.
From the pulpit to the pews, we now have the opportunity to come out of the closet, and face mental illness for what it is—an illness! Thank god we men and women of faith are finally emerging as a viable component of a changing set of dynamics. Many people in the churches haven’t fully grasped the meaning of mental illness. But the good news is that we have congregations and clergy men and women who are willing to listen, to learn and to go back home to with their congregations and share the knowledge that demystifies mental health challenges.
All of us are active participants in the treatment and healing process. The message that we no longer need to feel alone, and our loved ones need not feel that nobody cares is a powerful one. The philosophy of unity and togetherness stands out as a beacon of hope for those living with mental illness and their caregivers. For truly we are one in the spirit and we are one in the lord!
The fact that more and more of these congregations are willing to have open forums about the mentally ill represents a major forward leap. While funding is extremely important, we need foot-soldiers to deliver the message! Yes, we have come a long way in the last few years, but there is more work to be done. Will it be easy? Of course not! Can we succeed? Of course we can; failure is not an option.
By Adolphus Elliott, Sr.
Speaking about mental illness has helped me cope with my own reality and become more aware of the difficulty of living with a condition that is neither fully understood nor accepted by society as a manageable illness.
This experience has been especially rewarding because it has encouraged others to ask questions, seek additional information, or share their personal experiences and challenges. I have seen first-hand how that sharing my story with honesty has helped me and so many others to better understand mental illness.
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