"Once my loved one accepted the diagnosis, healing began for the entire family, but it took too long. It took years. Can't we, as a nation, begin to speed up that process? We need a national campaign to destigmatize mental illness, especially one targeted toward African Americans. The message must go on billboards and in radio and TV public service announcements. It must be preached from pulpits and discussed in community forums. It's not shameful to have a mental illness. Get treatment. Recovery is possible."
--Bebe Moore Campbell, 2005
Bebe Moore Campbell was an accomplished author, advocate, co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles and national spokesperson, who passed away in November 2006.
She received NAMI's 2003 Outstanding Media Award for Literature for the book Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, written especially for children, about a young girl who learns how to cope with her mother's bipolar illness. In 2005, her novel 72-Hour Hold focused on an adult daughter and a family's experience with the onset of mental illness. It helped educate Americans that the struggle often is not just with the illness, but with the healthcare system as well.
Campbell advocated for mental health education and support among individuals of diverse communities.
In 2005, the idea for a minority mental health awareness month came out of a conversation Campbell had with longtime friend Linda Wharton-Boyd. 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.
Campbell’s friends and allies hope to see awareness of Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month grow each year.