We need to do more to address issues of racial discrimination and injustice. Too often, African Americans are criminalized for living with mental illnesses, which we know are medical conditions. I’m proud that our Contra Costa NAMI California affiliate is involved in several campaigns. Below, I use one as an example to share how we are engaging the community and making progress.
Mobilize your community in response to a problem or crisis.
Miles Hall was a 23-year-old African American young man who lived with mental illness and was killed in a police shooting in Walnut Creek, CA on June 2, 2019. His mother, Taun, had done everything she could to get him support, even attending our Family-to-Family course and building a relationship with the Walnut Creek Police Department. Miles was a gentle and talented soul, and had been living in the predominantly white middle class home in Walnut Creek since the age of four. He was killed just steps from his home, and neighbors and family members were, of course, heartbroken and outraged. Together, they formed an advocacy group, the Friends of Scott, Alexis and Taun Hall (FOSATH). It’s a very diverse group but mostly white Americans who knew Miles and recognize that his ethnicity contributed to his death.
Create opportunities to talk about the problem and seek solutions.
I serve on the Administrative Team and Co-Chair the Implicit Bias and Mental Health subcommittees of FOSATH and our affiliate works to support their efforts to build better relationships between law enforcement and families. One of the ways we achieve this goal: over a meal and dialogue. Sitting down to talk about problems is always a necessary first step.
Call on community members for support.
Because of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place protocols, I had to be creative about how to promote conversations about mental illness and address the disparities. I started a mental health awareness ribbon campaign, which includes a black ribbon behind the green to acknowledge that we must do more to address mental illness and fight for racial justice for African Americans. With support from board members, NAMI CC is partnering with the Miles Hall Foundation and FOSATH to distribute the ribbons. The ribbons are large and are being assembled by NAMI CC volunteers at their homes. To be visible, they are tied around trees, in front yards, on mailboxes, and hung on doors throughout Contra Costa County, with many seen in Walnut Creek. Our county’s Behavioral Health Director, Dr.,Suzanne Tavano, even has one on her home door. To offset the cost for the materials, we suggested a $20 donation to support Mental Health Awareness month and raised funds to support our programs to help community members impacted by mental illness.
Celebrate small victories.
For the first time in their history, the City of Walnut Creek issued a proclamation to acknowledge May as Mental Health Month. They used verbiage we supplied to them that addressed equity and culturally responsive practices, calling for “Mental Health Friendly Communities for All.” Charles Madison, our former President who lives in Walnut Creek, and I thanked the city; Taun Hall remotely accepted the proclamation.
Spread the word.
As the ribbons started popping up in Walnut Creek, I talked to local news outlet KRONON TV about the efforts we are making. KTVU also carried the story. In addition, I contacted Congresswoman Barbara Lee and encouraged her to say a few words at the tribute for Miles and she is going to send a statement.
Reach people where they are.
We provide faith-based trainings that are designed to broaden dialogue by addressing disparities. We primarily train and educate African American faith leaders, providers, and other stakeholders about mental illness and share considerations about how it is manifested in the African American community. The hope is to create Mental Health-Friendly Communities for African Americans impacted by mental illness.
You can visit justiceformileshall.org to learn more about the work to find justice for him and create change for families.