Hope Starts With Us: Bebe Moore Campbell’s Legacy – Mental Health for All

JUL. 12, 2023

Hope Starts With Us: Episode 25

In this episode of NAMI’s podcast, NAMI CEO Daniel H. Gillison Jr. speaks with friends of Bebe Moore Campbell, Dr. Linda Wharton-Boyd and Nancy Carter about Bebe’s impact and how we can all play a role in keeping her legacy alive. 

You can find additional episodes of this NAMI podcast and others at nami.org/podcast.

We hope this podcast encourages you, inspires you, helps you and brings you further into the collective to know: you are not alone.  

Episodes will air every other Wednesday and will be available on most major directories and apps.


Episode Audio:



Episode Video:


Featured Guest:

Dr. Linda Wharton-Boyd

Dr. Linda Wharton-Boyd

Dr. Linda Wharton-Boyd was a longtime friend of Bebe Moore Campbell who conceptualized the idea of a national minority mental health month. After Bebe’s passing, she worked with others to pass legislation that officially designated July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month in Bebe’s honor. Dr. Wharton-Boyd continues to keep Bebe’s legacy alive through her work with the Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health task force and the “Erase the Stigma, Not Her Name” campaign.


Nancy Carter

Nancy Carter

Nancy Carter co-founded NAMI Urban LA (formerly NAMI Inglewood) with Bebe Moore Campbell and served as a past board member of NAMI National. She is a fierce advocate, passionate peer and loving family member. As one of Bebe Moore’s late friends, she is passionate about keeping Bebe’s legacy of mental health for all alive today and always

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Episode Transcript:

[0:00] [background music]

Linda Wharton‑Boyd: [0:01] One of the things that Bebe was very clear on, and that was that if we could erase the stigma of mental illness in our communities, our people would be more ready to get help. We're going to leave this black woman's name alive and moving, because this movement that she started is for real.

Nancy Carter: [0:17] Bebe came into my life in 1999 for a reason, she stayed for a season, and she's been in my heart for a lifetime. She gave all of us that energy and that impetus to say we can fight back.

Dan Gillison: [0:31] Welcome to Hope Starts With Us, a podcast by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I'm your host, Daniel H. Gillison Jr, NAMI CEO. We started this podcast because we believe that hope starts with us.

[0:46] Hope starts with us talking about mental health. Hope starts with us making information accessible. Hope starts with us providing resources and practical advice. Hope starts with us sharing our stories. Hope starts with us breaking the stigma.

[1:02] If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health condition and have been looking for hope, we made this podcast for you. Hope starts with all of us. Hope is a collective. We hope that each episode with each conversation brings you into that collective to know you are not alone.

[1:20] Today, I'm joined by longtime friends of Bebe Moore Campbell, Nancy Carter, and Dr. Linda Wharton Boyd, in honor of BB Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

[1:32] We are so thrilled to be able to share about Bebe's legacy and how we are all continuing to carry the work she started forward today. Personally, I met Bebe way before I ever thought I would ever be CEO at NAMI or even working in the mental health space. I had no idea that she was an acclaimed writer, a national speaker, and the mom of a Hollywood actor.

[1:54] I didn't know about her involvement with NAMI, or about all the struggles she faced trying to find resources for her daughter living with bipolar disorder. I just knew she was a college friend of one of my friends and former colleagues at Xerox.

[2:08] One night when Bebe was in DC working with Congress, my friend hosted a dinner and I was fortunate enough to meet her. She created a lasting impact on me over 15 years later, and I'm proud to be working in this space, hoping that I'm truly continuing the work she started.

[2:23] There's so much that can be said about Bebe. Can you all share more about Bebe? Who Bebe was to you and how you met her, and some things people may not know about her? Nancy? Linda?

Nancy: [2:37] I'd like to throw it to Linda and just make a slight correction, Dan. I wish that I had been Bebe's longtime friend. We had a very short relationship. There's an old saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

[2:54] Bebe came into my life in 1999 for a reason that we all know, she stayed for a season, and she's been in my heart for a lifetime. We actually only knew each other from '99 until she passed. Linda was her longtime friend forever and ever. Linda, I think you should take this ball and roll with it first.

Linda: [3:16] Sure. I'd love to. Listen, Bebe and I were classmates at the University of Pittsburgh.

Nancy: [3:22] I know.

Linda: [3:22] She came from Philadelphia and I came from Baltimore. Our intersection was at the university. You had two urban girls coming together at the University of Pittsburgh. We worked together. We joined the Black Action Society.

[3:38] Bebe started an organization ‑‑ I always like to tell people ‑‑ called Black Women for Black Men. She always about connecting. She was always ‑‑ even on during the campus ‑‑ she was always connecting us. She came with a serious mind to write and to improve her writing.

[4:01] She studied under several well‑known authors that taught at the University of Pittsburgh. We stayed together all these years. It just goes back to 19 dot, dot, dot. Unless you know how old I'm. Goes back to 1969. She was ahead of me, but we came together.

[4:25] The intersection was at the University of Pittsburgh, and we just became friends and remained friends throughout the years. She supported my family, I supported her family. We knew her daughter. With that through her first marriage and then her second marriage with Ellis Gordon.

[4:41] Her beautiful granddaughter, Alicia, and her mom, oh my God, her mom was the center of her life. She was very much a part of our lives as well. Knowing Bebe was like knowing, everybody say your BFF, she was a BFF. She's a BFFF, a friend forever and forever and forever.

[5:02] We find it not robbery to share her passion with others, share her advocacy and mental health, and when you read her writings, she was able to delve deep to the soul of a person. That was also indicative of who she was. She came to you full steam ahead. You got the full flavor of Bebe Moore Campbell when you met her.

Dan: [5:30] That's so true in terms of just the impact that she had and her writing. I brought with me something I wanted to show everyone real quickly and this is one of her books, "72 Hour Hold." It'd be one of Bebe's great books. Here is a picture of Bebe on the back.

Linda: [5:51] There she is.

Dan: [5:52] Important for me is that in me getting this Bebe signed this for me on the 30th of June, which is very soon, if you will, of 2005. If you think about where we are in 2023, this is incredible to talk about this. Bebe made a huge impact for so many underserved communities, especially communities of color.

[6:19] She stood for those who were miscounted, misunderstood. marginalized, undervalued, underrepresented. When there were no resources for her predominantly Black and brown community, she went to fluent White neighborhoods, found resources, and brought them back. She started out by advocating for her daughter because there is truly no greater advocate than a mom.

[6:41] What started out as advocacy for one turned into advocacy for so many. Can you both talk more about what Bebe did to create impact and awareness about mental health conditions in underserved communities, especially communities of color, and why was that so important?

Nancy: [6:59] I can speak to that, Dan, because that was the focus of our relationship in the years that we spent together. As a little background, Bebe and I met in a strange way. I wrote an article for one of the NAMI magazines. It was called From a Whisper to a Song, and the whisper came in a phone call to me on my answering machine.

[7:25] I came home one night in 1999. My son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1994. He was also an actor up and coming. Bebe and I shared a best friend. I was in one ear. She was in the other ear. Finally, the friend said, "You two need to talk," but Bebe had celebrity, I did not.

[7:48] She did not want to talk to a stranger and certainly didn't want to put her business in the street and was very clear about that. The phone call came anyway, and I heard the voice. As soon as I heard it, I knew why she was calling. I thought, "Oh, my God. This woman that I admired so much. I had gone to book signings and thought, 'Oh, Lord.'"

[8:10] Then, in that moment, I realized, "Oh, my God. I think we're in the same club." I picked up the phone, I called. Again, reluctance on her part. We finally figured we needed to meet. She said, "Do you go to church?" I said, "Yeah." She said, "Why don't we meet at church?" I thought to myself, yep, because she's not going to invite me to her house yet. [laughs] She doesn't know me.

[8:39] We met in church, OC Smith City of Angels, and five minutes into the service, a hand reached out to me and I reached out to her. For the rest of the service, we were holding on to each other for dear life, tears streaming down our faces. When it was over, we hugged and she said, "Girl, do you want to come over?" I said, "Yeah."

[9:01] Linda, that's when I first heard about you when we got to her house. It was she and her mom, and we were sitting around the kitchen and talking about the fact that it couldn't just be the two of us struggling like this. I said, "Well, I had heard this through school, I went to Howard, a few people there, but nobody's talking."

[9:21] Of course, your friend who would start things said, "We need to find more people. We need to have a group. We need to do something about this." [laughs] I cracked up, and I said, "OK, yeah. Let's try it." Again, she wanted to do it, but she was reluctant for people to know. She said, "I don't want to do it at my house." I said, "I don't care. We can do it at my house."

[9:47] Literally, in the living room where I'm sitting right now, we started what would become NAMI Inglewood, NAMI Urban Los Angeles. There were five of us to begin with, and we were a mother's prayer group. At that point, all we knew to do was pray.

[10:06] We knew we had been dropped into the middle of the ocean, and the tsunami had come and swallowed all of us, and where were we going to go from there? Our kids were in trouble. I told everybody, and we all agreed from the moment that the diagnosis came in and the breaks happen, you start calling on the Lord in ways you never thought you would call on Him.

[10:32] We said, "We pray." We prayed at the beginning of every meeting, and we prayed at the end of every meeting. In the course of that, Dan, Bebe found NAMI. She and her mother went and took the 12‑week Family‑to‑Family class and came back and said, "We really should do this. We should all take the class," which we did.

[10:53] At the end of it, the lovely instructor, who, as an aside, I will tell you, called Bebe Baybay for the first six classes until she heard her on NPR and realized, "Oh, it was Bebe Moore Campbell, New York Times Bestselling Author." We had a laugh about that for quite a while.

[11:16] The long and the short of it is, Baybay and all of us were invited to take the teacher training, which we did. All of us had grown up with that old trope of whom much is given, much is expected. At the end of it, we knew we had to teach these classes and pay it forward.

[11:37] The question was, where would we do it? I live in Santa Monica on the Westside in California, and I was content to stay right here. Bebe said, "No." We needed to do it in the Black community. We needed to do it over where she lived.

[11:52] I reluctantly said, "OK, I guess I'm driving to Leimert Park." [laughs] We ended up starting our first class in, it was 2002, and shortly after, I said, "If we're going to do this, we need to have our own affiliate." There was a lot of pushback, "Do we really want to do this? Do we not want to do this?"

[12:16] Bebe arranged for us to go to group therapy, because at that point, we all knew each other rather well, and they knew that I also had a bipolar diagnosis. The thought was, "Nancy must be having a manic moment, because we're not going to do this."

[12:35] We went to group therapy, and at the end of it, the lovely therapist said, "You know, there really is a need in the community, and you ladies should certainly take the ball and run with it."

[12:46] At that point, everybody gave in and said, "OK," and Bebe said, "You got me. If we're going to do it, let's do it." That's how we started the affiliate.

Dan: [12:55] That is incredible...

[12:57] [crosstalk]

Nancy: [12:57] We started with the first class down where they told us it would be like 15 or 20 people if we were lucky. We did no publicity. Again, very reluctant for people to really know. 45 people showed up at the class. That's how great the need was.

Dan: [13:15] This is incredible.

Nancy: [13:16] It was phenomenal.

Dan: [13:17] That's phenomenal, and that's great background in terms of how the affiliate began. We talk about us being a collective, NAMI being a collective, NAMI being a community, NAMI being a collaborator, and NAMI being a convener, and you just illustrated that so well.

[13:37] Linda, could you tell us more about how Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month came about, and why?

Linda: [13:47] One of the things that Bebe was very clear on, and that was that if we could erase the stigma of mental illness in our communities, our people would be more reticent about getting help. They would be more ready to get help.

[14:03] She was at my house here in Washington, D.C. Anytime she came on the East Coast, she always stayed with me. We were up late one night because she loves those late‑night talks. I'm trying to get some sleep, she loves the late‑night talks.

[14:17] We were up talking, she says, "How can we get something named behind us? We need to get something." I said, "Just claim it. Just say it." She said, "Just say it?" I said, "What month do you want it to be?" [laughs] She says, "OK, let's call it." We said July. We said "OK."

[14:34] She said, "You just name this?" I said, "We just name it and we just do it." We got together, we met with the officials in Washington. I remember it was Mayor Tony Williams that made the announcement about July being National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

[14:53] Upon her passing, I met with Congressman Albert Wynn, who was out of Maryland, and I said, "I need your help. We need to get this month declared Mental Health Awareness Month." We worked with Albert Wynn, who was also, by the way, university of Pittsburgh Alum. We worked on it.

[15:17] Mr. Hubbard and his office were so very helpful. We gave him all the wording for it, and it passed. It passed on the first reading. I said, "What?" [laughs] We were very excited about this.

[15:30] I had hoped that she would be alive to hear. I just say she's in heaven. She must be rejoicing with us that we were able to get this month named after her and do the work that's necessary. We started with people in Philadelphia helping us to do this work.

[15:45] We looked at Pittsburgh, we looked at Baltimore, we looked at Washington, D.C. Helping us to get the advocacy work done, because people are afraid to let anybody know that they have any mental [inaudible] . Because it's so looked upon so negatively, people do not get the help that they need.

[16:06] That was the major piece of her whole advocacy. We started working on it, and working on it, and working on it. It is fundamentally a grassroots movement, the same way the NAMI Urban Los Angeles got started and when it was Inglewood. It's a grassroots effort.

[16:26] We know that once we put our feet to the fire, we can get things done. That's how we started. Of course, she passed. We wanted to keep her work alive, the work that she had done all over the country, in terms of making people aware. That book, "Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry," that book was just powerful.

[16:48] [crosstalk]

Linda: [16:51] A lot of young people going through this, their parents are suffering from mental illness. They don't know what it is. This book was a way of explaining it. We were able to keep the momentum going even after her passing so that her work would not be in vain.

[17:06] That's why we fight now so hard to keep her name within this movement. There are those who are trying to erase her name, and so I came up with the campaign, Erase the Stigma, Not Her Name.

Nancy: [17:19] Amen. Thank you.

Linda: [17:20] That's the campaign that we've [laughs] been running. We're concentrating on the wrong thing. We should not be concentrating on her name. We need to be concentrating on how we can erase this stigma in our communities so our people can get the help that they need.

Dan: [17:34] That stigma is huge.

[17:35] [crosstalk]

Dan: [17:36] What is the status of preserving and protecting Bebe's name? Why is that so important? How can individuals align as advocates to not erase Bebe's name from the month? My apologies for all three questions, but you're absolutely on it, so I wanted to go there.

Linda: [15:32] I say to people all the time, "It's OK, you can name it BIPOC Month, whatever you want, but we're going to leave this black woman's name alive." This movement that she started is for real. It is needed. It is needed in the community of colors.

[18:07] They need to see people who look like them that's addressing this issue and is seeking parity as it relates to treatment research in this area. We feel it is a calling for us who are doing this. It's a calling. It's a labor of love, but we must do it to save our people because mental health is real.

Nancy: [18:29] Amen.

Linda: [18:29] We need not to throw it under the closet. I always think about that movie, "Soul Food", when Uncle...I forgot the uncle's name who lived in the house.

Nancy: [18:38] I had one.

Linda: [18:39] Only at the end they found out he wasn't as crazy as they thought he was. He came out with all that money and that TV. If you remember at the end, he dropped the TV and all this money came running.

[18:50] That's what we do. We put people in the corner, we hide them because we don't want anybody to know, "Don't tell anybody that Uncle Bubba is not this talking out of his head. Let's not telling anybody."

[19:02] We just hide them and so we can no longer hide this illness because just like we treat high blood pressure, diabetes, and any other illness we need to treat mental health illness and make out people whole, make individuals whole.

[19:17] Let's help the families, let's help the loved ones. All of those who are around persons who may be impacted by mental illness, it is our duty. It is our sworn duty to do something about it and to help this. Our task is, again, to erase the stigma, not her name.

[19:37] Our task is to advocate for more mental health treatment. Our task is to look at this whole issue and say to the world, "This is real. Let us deal with it straight up and upfront and save our people."

Dan: [19:52] Let's continue that conversation.

Nancy: [19:54] Linda, thank you.

Dan: [19:54] If I build on that, one of the ways we are continuing to build on NAMI's legacy across our alliance is through the development of initiatives that encourage community conversations and safe spaces for people of color, like sharing hope, [Spanish] , and our new BIPOP Male Mental Health Initiative.

[20:12] What are some practical ways others can continue Bebe's legacy of eliminating stigma, bringing more awareness, and creating more accessible resources for underserved communities?

Linda: [20:24] I think as we work with our faith‑based organizations we have a movement in Washington working with a number of the churches and faith‑based institutions. We have to meet people where they are with this issue.

[20:37] We have more pastors now having mental health programs within their parishes and their churches, so that people will understand that there's a place they can come to get some help. We are asking our sororities and fraternities to take this on as an issue.

[20:57] We know since the pandemic that the mental health crisis in our children, it's a crisis in America right now with what's happening with mental illness with our children. We're working with the American Pediatric Association right now with getting the word out in their communities.

[21:15] They declared, as you remember two years ago, that we are facing a mental health crisis as it relates to children. This problem is not going away. We can't sweep this under the rug. We have to deal with this problem we must address.

[21:28] If we first start with getting people to realize that it's OK. It is OK to talk about this. It's OK to get help, and we have to make those resources available to people. I was very pleased to get the 988 number, that there's a number that people can now call.

[21:45] We just got to get these states to fund this initiative, so they're more callers that people can call in and get help. They need to know, just like you called 911 for help, they need to call 988 for help. That will help in some of this police violence that we see.

[22:03] People are mentally ill and we resort to shooting them, choking them, or choke holds on them when it's a mental health crisis. We have to train those who interact with the public how to recognize the sign of mental illness, and let them know what to do as well.

[22:21] We have to storm the gates of heaven, if I can say and say, "Let's get this. We got to do this. We have to do this to save our people."

Nancy: [22:30] Linda, thank you.

Dan: [22:31] It's a collective and it will take all of us. I would say to you that as we think about NAMI moms, and we think about the legacy of NAMI starting 44 years ago by NAMI moms in Madison, Wisconsin, Bebe Moore Campbell was a NAMI mom.

Nancy: [22:47] Yes, she was. Absolutely.

Dan: [22:47] We hold onto her name as a NAMI mom.

Nancy: [22:51] Yes, absolutely.

Dan: [22:52] That's what we're looking to do. We need to eliminate stigma. I want to ask you all both this, we know the world can be a difficult place.

Nancy: [23:01] Dan, can I just interject for one second?

Dan: [23:03] Uh‑huh.

Nancy: [23:04] We started in the faith‑based community, Linda. One of the first outreaches that we did when we moved past, or whenever we moved past, teaching family to family and the NAMI programs, but we initiated our own programs. We reached out into the faith‑based community heavily.

[23:22] The second thing we did was criminal justice. When we began teaching our classes, one of the first questions I asked the families that were sitting there, "Has any of your loved ones had involvement with the criminal justice system?" 8 out of 10, 9 out of 10 hands would go up.

[23:41] In our group, every single one of our loved ones had gone to jail, been arrested. In 2005, the "LA Times" did an article on me in their magazine section called the Go To Jail Card. What I said was, "If you were in the throes of psychosis and walking down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills naked, you would have an ambulance pick you up and take you to Cedars Sinai or UCLA Hospital."

"[24:09] If you display the same behavior in East [inaudible] or walking down Rodeo Drive in the Black community, you got to go to jail card." Our young people, I don't care whether they were from the highest to the lowest, ended up in Twin Towers jail, which is now the first or second largest psychiatric hospital in the country.

[24:33] We jail people with mental illness. It is categorically wrong. No one gets well from a jail cell. In fact, if you start out with a diagnosis, and for me, if you spend five minutes in custody, you now have post‑traumatic stress disorder. For every second you spend in jail, you increase the amount of time that it takes for a person to recover.

[24:58] We came together with a couple of the other NAMI affiliates in 2004 and we started the first criminal justice committee. We went into the Twin Towers jail and we conducted classes for the Sheriff's department.

[25:12] We took the bull by the horns and said, "OK, it's our kids that are being affected, and in this community, we have to do better and we will fight back." That's where Bebe came in. She gave all of us that energy and that impetus to say, "We can fight back. We won't settle for less." We have to. Our kid's survival is at risk.

Dan: [25:36] Thank you very much for that. What you've just shared is that this is about leadership, this is about tone, this is about execution, and this is about being that collective.

[25:46] I want to wrap up by asking you all both this, the world can be a difficult place and sometimes it can be hard to hold on to hope. That's why each week we dedicate the last couple of minutes of our podcast to a special section called Hold On to Hope.

[26:02] [background music]

Dan: [26:04] Nancy and Linda, can you tell us what helps you hold on to hope?

Nancy: [26:09] For me, I hold on to hope by paying it forward, I talk to the ancestors, and I try to pass it along to the next generation. We stand on other's shoulders. Bebe knew that only too well. We're not the first group that will tackle these issues. We will not be the last. When I'm really down and I'm really low, I just listen to the voices.

[26:39] I listen to those folks, my family, my friends, Bebe, everybody who's passed away, and I just ask them, "Order my steps. Put me in the right place to make change." I pay it forward by finding other young people who are out there in the community who want to do more. We have to invest in the next generation.

[27:06] I just turned 77. I'm an elder of this tribe now. For me, it's my sacred responsibility to pass it on. There's a young woman now that I have to mention, Erika Kendrick. I told her, "Honey, you got the torch." I can sit home now and relax because she is the consummate advocate in her mid‑40s and she's out there every day, beating the drum for mental health.

[27:31] I told people if Bebe and I could have put our eggs into one person that had a child, it would have been Erika Kendrick. She's an amazing writer. She's an amazing advocate. Everything we ever wanted to do is in that one little person. That's how I hold on to hope.

Dan: [27:51] Thank you very much, Nancy. Linda, last word from you.

Linda: [27:55] Sure. I would say hold on to hope because there are those here in our society that are behind you. You know that with hope, with prayer and supplication, they can make it. You can make it if you try. You can make it if you try. There are those of us who are here to help you.

[28:17] NAMI is here to help you. NAMI Urban Los Angeles is here to help you. The Bebe Moore Campbell National Mental Health task force is here to help you. There is treatment. There is help, and I just want people to know the resources are here. We have the American Psychological Society. Their new president is taking this on strong. Dr. Tim O'Brien is taking this on strong.

[28:42] You have the American Psychiatric Association. There are a number of groups that are here to help with the problem. Don't be afraid to ask. The hope is in the asking. The treatment is what you will get. Just open your eyes, open your heart, and know that there are organizations and people here to help. That's the hope that we have in the future.

[29:07] [background music]

Dan: [29:08] Nancy and Linda, thank you both so much for your time today. One of the things I want to say as we wrap up is that we have a conference that we host that will be in August called Pathways to Hope. You talked about the faith community.

[29:23] Pathways to Hope is a national conference. It's virtual, and it is with faith‑based leaders from all denominations, and it is to address this area of stigma and mental health. We invite our audience to go to nami.org/pathwaystohope to look that up.

[29:44] Let me close by saying this has been "Hope Starts With Us," a podcast by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you are looking for mental health resources, you are not alone.

[29:54] To connect with the NAMI helpline and find local resources, visit nami.org/help, text helpline to 62640, or dial 800‑950‑6264, or if you are experiencing an immediate suicide, substance use, or mental health crisis, please call or text 988 to speak with a trained support specialist or visit 988lifeline.org.

[30:22] Finally, if you'd like to learn more about Bebe Moore Campbell and how you can get involved with carrying on her legacy this month and every month, visit nami.org/bebemoorecampbell. To learn more about identity and cultural dimensions of mental health, visit nami.org/culture. I'm Dan Gillison for NAMI. Thank you so much for listening today and be well.


About the Host:

Dan Gillison

Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.

Follow on Twitter: @DanGillison

Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. is the chief executive officer of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Prior to his work at NAMI, he served as executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) in addition to several other leadership roles at various large corporations such as Xerox, Nextel, and Sprint. He is passionate about making inclusive, culturally competent mental health resources available to all people, spending time with his family, and of course playing tennis.

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