July 27, 2017

By Dawn Brown


Race and ethnicity are an important piece of someone’s culture. And culture, even when we don’t realize it, has a deep influence on how we live our lives. It’s culture that helps form our values, attitudes and norms. It’s culture that connects us to our faith, our family and our community. Our culture can create and yield positivity in many aspects of our lives. However, it can also create obstacles.

Too often, culture can negatively influence what we learn about mental illness and mental health. Messages of “Let go and let God,” “Don’t air your dirty laundry,” “Tough it out,” among many others cause people to deprioritize their mental health. When culture “norms” affect a person’s willingness or ability to get help when they’re struggling, it becomes a cultural barrier.

Cultural barriers are never easy to overcome, but it can be done—if there are people within the community willing to create change. And this is part of our mission at NAMI: to empower people to break cultural barriers and fight stigma within their own communities.

But we can’t do this alone. That’s why Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) helps NAMI build bridges into the African-American community.

A Prized Partnership

AKA is the nation’s oldest sorority founded by African-American, college-educated women. Today, the sorority has grown into an impactful organization of over 290,000 women working to fulfill the AKA commitment of serving their community.

AKA and NAMI have worked together since 2015 on our shared goal of improving the lives of people affected by mental illness by raising awareness and promoting NAMI programs in the African-American community. AKA is a truly invaluable partner to NAMI, ensuring that people of color see themselves and their culture reflected in NAMI’s programs, support groups and awareness activities.

This year, two outstanding AKA chapters were nominated for NAMI’s Multicultural Outreach Award in recognition of their efforts.

The first nomination went to the members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Phi Psi Omega Chapter for their original video titled “Not Every Disability Is Visible, Breaking the Stigma” and for consistently engaging with NAMI for events and programs. This group take fighting stigma and embracing hope through education and treatment to a whole new level.

The recipient of this year’s award was the AKA chapter in Tennessee for their tireless efforts alongside NAMI Tennessee working on NAMIWalks, promoting programs, taking part in conventions and representing NAMI.

These chapters’ efforts are examples of what this partnership is all about: working together to tear down cultural barriers and build bridges that lead to better lives. We all know there is much work to be done, but NAMI and AKA stand strong together.


Dawn Brown is director of information & engagement services at NAMI.

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