- stella Akua (Added 8/14/2023)
- Stephanie R Colon (Added 5/21/23)
- Clennon Washington King Jr (Added 5/21/23)
- Julius Green (Added 4/18/2023)
A Call to Action
There is a movement made up of people with psychiatric histories who have been significantly impacted by trauma (both within and beyond the psychiatric system) and other life hardships. This movement goes by many names: Psychiatric survivor, consumer/survivor/ex-patient, and more, and is perhaps best described as several overlapping movements. It is a movement that fights for humanity, dignity, justice, alternative supports, and centering the wisdom of those who’ve ‘been there’ at the same time that societal norms continue to include silencing, devaluing, and unnecessary medicalization of distress in the name of psychiatric oppression.
However, the faces and voices of this movement has consistently skewed white, while the faces and voices of people most deeply and negatively impacted by the psychiatric and other intersecting systems are black and brown. The fact of the matter is that there have been and continue to be many powerful Black leaders within this movement who are too often made less visible by a society that continues to find it easier and more automatic to lift up white voices first.
This ongoing trend causes great harm. Not only in its most obvious inequities, but also by perpetuating a gap for people who are currently struggling and unable to find anyone who looks like them. We need people to identify with, including those who has moved through struggles and beyond to a full life that they are living on their own terms. This gap contributes to more black and brown people becoming stuck in these systems, and fewer emerging as leaders themselves for lack of support and visibility of that potential.
This exhibit is intended as only one of many small steps to counter that trend. We consider it not just an exhibit, but a call to action to lift up more black voices, to at least sometimes take a step back to make space for those who’ve had less access to these platforms, to share or pass along invitations to step forward, and to make intentional efforts to mentor and grow emerging Black voices, too.
All this said, we need to acknowledge that this process is deeply imperfect. Even the existence of this exhibit is itself a product of white supremacy. In some ways, it is complicit by acting as if “Black leader” is something different and set apart from “leader” overall. The accomplishments of Black people in this movement would simply and routinely be acknowledged alongside everyone else without needing to differentiate were we where we should be. And yet, these voices are not recognized enough, and we hope this exhibit can serve as a step along the way, not just to equity but to inclusion for all.
Thank you for taking the time to share in this exhibit with us. We hope you will learn these names and stories, and integrate their words and accomplishments into your work as you move through your days.
Dana Smith, Executive Director, New Life II
Sera Davidow, Director, Wildflower Alliance
Thanks goes out to Laverne Miller, Wilma Townsend, Iden Camobell, Chyrell Bellamy, Keris JänMyrick, Khatera Aslami, Oryx Cohen, Pat Deegan, and Leah Harris for their efforts to help us identify people who should be included. A special thanks to Vanessa Jackson not only for the same, but also for her extensive work in writing ‘In Our Own Voice: African-America Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovery in Mental Health Systems’ and ‘Separate and Unequal: The Legacy of Racially Seregated Hospitals,’ both of which we leaned on to guide us here.
HARRIET TUBMAN was born Araminta Ross, and lived on a plantation in rural Maryland. The name we know her by is a mixture of her mother’s first name and her husband’s last name, adopted when she traveled the underground railroad to escape enslavement. When she was 13, she was hit in the head with a weight. Following that injury, she began hearing voices and seeing visions. One little known fact is that it was some of those voices and visions that helped her to guide over 300 other enslaved people to freedom. Although there’s a risk in her being portrayed as ‘superhuman’ in some way (as if Black people must somehow be magical in order to compete with the average white person), her strength and leadership alongside this positive impact of voice hearing remains an important story for people to hear.
PAULI MURRAY was born in Maryland. Her mother died suddenly when she was three, and her father was confined to the Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Insane when she was 12. This left her to live with her aunt until 1926 when she moved to New York City. She was best known as a civil rights and gender equality activist, as well as a lawyer, professor and poet. In 1964, she wrote a landmark article “Jane Crow and the Law” in support of adding sex as a protected civil rights category. In 1977, she became the first woman— and the first Black woman— to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Although Pauli continued to live publicly as a woman and use she/her pronouns, she privately identified as a man, and described herself as “a girl who should have been a boy.” She was known to have significant struggles with her own mental health, and her ability to recognize that as related to the context of her life and environment helped set the stage for others to do the same in years to come.
Clennon Washington King Jr
Clennon was the first Black person to attempt to attend the University of Mississippi and the second Black man to run for president of the United States (after George Edwin Taylor). His effort to join the graduate program in history at the University of Mississippi began in 1958 during a time when no other Black person had even attempted to apply. Clennon paid a big price for his attempts. When he arrived to register, several police officers awaited him. Upon his forcible removal from the property, he was brought to jail where two doctors declared him insane. From there he spent almost two weeks in a state psychiatric facility before his younger brother (C. B. King, a civil rights attorney who would go on to have a United States court house in Albany, Georgia named after him) was able to get him released. He didn’t give up. After that, he sought the support of Martin Luther King Jr, and together they sought the support of the Governor. Two years later, James Meredith became the first Black student at the school. (Federal Troops remained on campus for the first year to ensure James’s safety. James went on to graduate with a Bachelors Degree in 1963.)
Meanwhile, around the same time that the James Meredith began his studies, Clennon attempted to run for president on the Independent Afro-American Party ticket. He won 1,485 votes in the state of Alabama and ranked 11th nationally. (There were 12 candidates in total.) Some say that, based on his relative success and his actual appearance on the ticket, he was the true first Black candidate. (George Edwin Taylor had been a write-in candidate.)
Clennon did not stop there. He spent the next three decades continuing to run for office and acting in ways people said ranged from eccentric to bizarre. In 1976, he made national news when he attempted to desegregate former President Jimmy Carter’s whites-only Plains Baptist church. He spent his later years in Florida continuing to run for office, and establishing religious organizations including the All Faiths Church and the Party of God. It was on the Party of God ticket that he ran in his last elections, although his primary career was as “Reverend Rabbi” of the non-denominational Church of the Divine Mission he had founded in 1981 in Miami, Florida.
Clennon died of prostate caner on February 12, 2000.
JENNIE FULGHAM lived in Zuni, Virginia where she and another ex-patient created a retreat center in 1978. Called the Zuni Federation for mental health, it was an early alternative designed to push back on the system’s focus on “mental illness,” and may in fact have been the first ’peer respite’ of sorts. It was free and open to anyone who had been a patient in the psychiatric system. Jennie herself had been admitted to Central State Hospital in 1947 shortly after an intense spiritual experience in church that came as she was also navigating stress over going through a divorce. Her stay was for 30 days, but led her to lose permanent custody of her two young sons. She also experienced abuse and coercion upon discharge when staying with a family who vowed to support her but instead forced her to take psychiatric drugs and tied her to her bed. Her work was never covered in the media, and is only known due to her participation in the collection of oral histories with Vanessa Jackson.
JAMES BALDWIN was first exposed to the intersections of racism and colorism when he was around 10-years-old. A neighbor killed himself on the doorstep of his girlfriend’s family after the family forced them to break up due to the darkness of his skin. Although not directly involved with any formal peer support role, he nonetheless spoke about the power of using his own experience in his writing, and did so frequently. That meant that he typically wrote about being Black in the United States, as well as sexual minorities, and challenging gender norms. His work also consistently included suicide and the ways in which one’s desire to live in this world can be impacted by racism which is something that few were shedding light on at the time.
HIKMAH GARDINER is a vocal advocate who has served in many roles including Elder Coordinator with the Pennsylvania (PA) Department of Behavioral Health, as well as contributing to the PA Older Adult Peer Specialist Training. In 2003, she appeared on C-SPAN speaking out against ageism and testifying on the experience of older adults with suicide and depression. In that talk, she shared some of her own experience: “Depression has been my unwanted companion for at least 60 odd years. We know each other very well. This adversarial relationship has taken me to the very bowels of Hell, which includes several attempts of suicide, my children being taken away from me, two failed marriages, a serious bout of alcoholism, a great low self esteem and personal dignity, and lost relationships with my siblings.“ She also argued for equity in Medicare coverage for physical and mental health needs, outreach to elders, and more.
PEARL JOHNSON was born into a world that would expose her to extensive childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. By the age of 16, she was institutionalized for being “out of control,” but soon used her natural athletic abilities to help her escape to New York. When she was caught, she was charged with “white slavery” because she had run with a 13-year-old white girl who had joined her in her escape. Facing more abuse when she returned home, she ran for good when she was 17. She reports running for the next 51 years, peppered with time in jail and psychiatric institutions along the way, including 12 years in a state penitentiary for reasons that were never fully explained to her. When she finally felt able to stop running, she became an outspoken advocate, including as a Board Member for the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA). Following her death, NARPA named an award—the Pearl Johnson Advocacy award—after her and have given it annually since.
JACKI MCKINNEY was a survivor of trauma, and both the psychiatric and criminal (in)justice systems. Her struggles also included problems with substances and houselessness. Jacki specialized in advocacy issues impacting Black women and families. She was also a founding member of the National People of Color Consumer/Survivor Network which served to bring together people of color with psychiatric histories who were not otherwise well represented in the larger movement. Jacki was well known nationally for her presentations on topics such as seclusion and restraint. She was also a Board member for the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARP). Jacki was recognized with several awards, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Lifetime Achievement award.
BEN RILEY was only 19-years-old when he led 80 Black people to stage what was referred to as a ‘riot’ at Texas’s Rusk State Mental Hospital. They held the superintendent at knife point for six hours, giving up their weapons only after Ben was able to negotiate with a Texas Ranger. The list of demands they held included access to better counseling, organized exercise periods, an end to prisoner beatings, and the same rights as white inmates as related to food, showering, and freedom of movement. The incident got substantial press leading to headlines such as, “Giant Negro Given Blame For Rusk Hospital Riot.” Unfortunately, the articles also indicated that, after the incident, doctors ordered Ben put in solitary confinement and planned to subject him to a “series of intensive shock and drug treatments.” What happened to him after that point is unclear.
RUBY ROGERS was born in Virginia, but later moved to Massachusetts where she became a nurse’s aide at City Hospital in Boston. In 1983, after experiencing force while held in a psychiatric unit in Boston State Hospital, Ruby became the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit challenging the conditions at the hospital. That resulted in what would become known as the “Rogers Order” (as well as speeding the close of the facility itself). Although the Rogers Order has since become twisted and routinely misused, at the time it was a landmark success in declaring that simply being held against one’s will was not enough to justify removal of their right to informed consent. This was such an important victory that one of the very first peer support centers — the Ruby Rogers Center — was named in her honor when it opened in 1985. The center lasted for over 30 years until it lost funding in 2017.
Ethel “Effie” Smith
ETHEL “EFFIE” SMITH was a well known advocate in the Washington DC mental health community. She served on numerous boards, committees and task forces including the Mental Health Block Grant Planning Council, the Board of Directors of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and President Obama’s Transition Team for Disabilities. In 2002, she worked with collaborators Mary Blake and Mary Hathaway to envision and found the Consumer Advocacy Network (CAN), also serving as Executive Director. In 2006 and 2007, CAN received the Timothy Coakley Leadership Award from the American College of Mental Health Program Administrators for its work to promote entrepreneurship opportunities for people with psychiatric histories. Effie also led efforts to address the needs of women with trauma histories who were in the DC jail, and so much more under the CAN umbrella.
DELOIS SCOTT was quick to share that her path had been driven by loss of her father to alcoholism, and loss of her mother to suicide, as well as her own recovery process. Earlier in her career, she worked at a substance abuse treatment program, eventually becoming supervisor of the detox. Then, in 1995, she became the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network’s first paid Executive Director. She was known for her wit, wisdom, and especially for her faith. In regards to her work with the Network, she was quoted as having said, “I figured that if the Network had a setback, there was a reason for it … No matter if there were financial setbacks, or conflicts with the Board or with the staff… Whatever it was, I learned in recovery program that there were setbacks. But it does not mean that you always have to go back to the bottom.” At Delois’s funeral, many spoke about the positive impact she had had on their recovery.
Ola Mae Quarterman-Clemons
OLA MAE QUARTERMAN-CLEMONS became known as the “Rosa Parks” of Albany, Georgia when she refused to sit in the back of the bus and told the driver, “I paid my damn 10 cents and I’ll sit where I want.” For that, she was jailed for 30 days and expelled from Albany State College, but it led to a larger boycott that sped change. Not long after, Ola Mae had what she referred to as a “nervous breakdown” leading to a commitment at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia where she would spend the next 35 years, and receive nearly 100 shock treatments. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, although her primary “symptom” was deep sadness. Three years after her release in 1998, she was interviewed for inclusion in the book, “In Our Own Voice: African-American Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovery in Mental Health System.” In 2007, the Albany transit building was renamed in her honor.
QUINCY BOYKIN was a veteran who served in the Vietnam war, facing both problems with mental health and substances upon his return. His first interaction with the mental health system happened more than 20 years after and led to a 3-month involuntary stay in a psychiatric facility. He described that period as what broke the cycle of decades of heroin use. As Quincy’s voice grew stronger in his recovery, he raised important questions including about the trend to give Black people harsher psychiatric labels, and how those misdiagnoses were debilitating. Quincy was a member of the Harlem chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality. He served as Director of Consumer Affairs for the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. Shortly after his death, the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services named an award in his honor—the Quincy Boykin Memorial Award—which is still given today.
FRANCES PRIESTER was born in South Carolina, but spent much of her adult years in Illinois, Washington DC and New York. She served as Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs for the Departments of Mental Health in both DC and New York State. After that, she moved on to direct the Bureau of Cultural Competence for the Office of Mental Health in New York, and then settled into the role of Advocacy Specialist for her remaining years. There she was responsible for mobilizing New York communities to eliminate disparities in mental health service delivery. In 2017, she was given the Quincy Boykins Memorial award by the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services for her exemplary and inspiring contributions to the recovery, empowerment, and integration of the full diversity of all New Yorkers with psychiatric histories.
Yeye Luisah Teish
YEYE LUISAH TEISH was born in Louisiana, but in more recent years, has called California her home. She is an author, teacher, spiritual advisor, dancer, priestess, and psychiatric survivor. In 1976, she edited the Third World Edition of Madness Network News (one of the most well known publications by and for psychiatric survivors but that often lacked non-white voices). In that issue, she authored an article called “That Nigger’s Crazy.” The article drew into question the biased “science” of people like Samuel Cartwright (who coined the diagnosis of “drapetomania” given to enslaved people who ran away), Shockley, and Jenson. Luisah spoke in some detail about her own emotional distress in her best known book, “Jambalaya,” referring therein to her “nervous breakthrough.” She has contributed to numerous anthologies, and her work has appeared in several publications including Ms and Essence.
DEWITT BUCKINGHAM lived in California and was a co-founder of Black Men Speak, a speakers bureau founded in 2009 in Alameda County. DeWitt was also deeply involved with Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and reportedly sponsored over 50 people. A powerful speaker with a compelling voice, he was often sent as an ambassador for NA to conferences where he spoke to thousands. As an older Black man, one of the things that made his talks so powerful was his vulnerability, and willingness to openly show emotion on stage. He was also willing to name taboo topics, and was known for a speech he gave called “the Curse” about incest in his family. DeWitt was always busy with many projects, including a non-profit that he started called New Dynamics Hope Project. Through New Dynamics, he started many initiatives including a temporary respite program for Black men with psychiatric histories who had underserved medical needs.
COOKIE GANT was based in Michigan where she co-founded Mindfreedom Michigan. She was also a co-founder of Mindfreedom International’s Coalition, and served on their Board of Directors for several years. Cookie held many identities including psychiatric survivor, shock survivor, lesbian, activist, photographer, and poet. Among her goals was supporting other disability activists to be able to experience some of the same conferences and other essential leadership development opportunities to which she had had access. After her death, Connections for Community Leadership (CCL) and Michigan Disability Rights Coalition came together to create a scholarship fund in Cookie’s memory to help achieve that goal. In 2007, the Alternatives Conference—a national gathering point for many psychiatric survivors and peer supporters— also first gave the Cookie Gant and Bill Compton LGBTQIA+ Leadership Award which has continued to be awarded annually since that time.
CINDI FISHER primarily identifies as a family member when it comes to her role in the psychiatric survivor movement. However, her commitment and contributions have been so significant that it would be a substantial oversight to not include her here. Cindi became involved in the movement in her extensive efforts to free her son, Siddharta, from psychiatric incarceration. Her efforts have included a 100-mile march, and a 40-day liquid-only hunger strike. She also founded a group called ‘Movement of Mothers and others Standing up together’ (MOMS), and has been instrumental in the development of a Peer Respite/Soteria Summit that has developed in recent years to further understanding and access to these types of alternatives to the mental health system. She credits her son with being her greatest spiritual teacher.
YVONNE SMITH is an Advanced Level Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) facilitator, and sits on the Copeland Center Board of Directors. She has been the Chair of the National Council on Independent Living’s Mental Health Committee since 2016. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Yvonne worked with public defenders to get people out of locked psychiatric facilities to help keep them from being infected. A vocal activist, Yvonne has testified many times before the DC City Council and the US House of Representatives on a variety of topics impacting people with disabilities, as well as at the United Nations Geneva committee to eliminate racial discrimination. She used to break into the nearby state hospital wearing a white coat and passing out brochures on recovery, stopping only once she became too well known. After that, she got a contract to do WRAP at that and one other hospital, and founded a patient government. Yvonne also hosted a podcast —a collaboration with Lauren Tenney— called “Late Night with a Hero” starting in 2014 and extending over four years.
WALI MUTAZAMMIL was the first Black man in Maryland to be certified as an Advanced level Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) facilitator, and the first to bring WRAP to Africa. He is a Certified Peer Specialist, executive producer and executive director of two DVDs, “WRAP Works in Ghana,” and best selling co-author of “The Art and Science of Success.” Wali is internationally known as a transformational leadership consultant, leadership development, and executive and organizational coaching. Currently, Wali is President and Chief Executive Officer at Behavioral and Mental Wellness Coaching, inc. As a veteran of the US armed forces himself, he also keeps busy with several projects related to veterans advocacy, including offering WRAP to veterans and members of their family. Wali’s ideal customers are working with organizations that have allocated resources for improving mental wellness in the workplace and at home. He holds expertise in supporting behavioral health professionals to identify positive resources to sustain individual personal wellness.
VICTORIA GAINES experienced her first incarceration on a psychiatric ward in the late 1980’s. Eight years later, an abusive boyfriend physically assaulted and restrained her. Not long after, he called the police, claiming she was a “non-compliant mental patient” and a threat to his and her own safety. This led to her second involuntary commitment during which she experienced mental abuse and forced drugging. Victoria was driven by that experience (and two more incarcerations after that) to become a vocal advocate. She has shared her story on many occasions, including on Mindfredom’s website, as well as the multiple websites she’s developed herself (titled “The Story of a PROUD Nutcase”) with the mission of ending psychiatric violence and human rights violations. She has also sent out countless pleas for others to join her in the fight. Her work boldly calls out the psychiatric system as “part of the system of social control and … an arm of the police state.” Although it is now two decades after she first made those statements, her work continues to hold true.
WILMA TOWNSEND has played many roles in bringing the voice of lived experience to the forefront. This includes contributing to the 2003 President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, serving as the first Black Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and as the first Director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health’s Office of Consumer Affairs. She has also been instrumental in expanding the definition of ‘recovery’, and is a national expert on person-centered care. In 2011, she keynoted at the American Psychiatric Association’s Institute on Psychiatric Services where she declared, “Recovery is not the absence of symptoms.” Wilma is also co-wrote, ‘EmergingBest Practices in Mental Health Recovery,” followed by “Consumers in the Mental Health Workforce: A Handbook for Community Providers” in 2006.
Malidoma Patrice Somé
MALIDOMA PATRICE SOMÉ was kidnapped from his village in West Africa when he was four, and left at a nearby French Catholic boarding school aimed at erasing indigenous culture. At 21, he found his way back through a series of dreams and visions. But, past the usual age of initiation and perceived as poisoned by Western culture, villagers were fearful of initiating him which meant he could not stay. A sense of purpose found in the meaning of his name (to befriend strangers, and perhaps even enemies) sent him to the US. Here, he observed that people with psychiatric symptoms (what he saw as a spiritual emergence) were medicalized. He spoke against this as a terrible loss. Over the years, Malidoma Patrice shared of his culture through his book, “Ritual: Power, Healing and Community,” divinations, and in many other ways. He offered many words of wisdom over the years including, “If death finds you, make sure it finds you living.”
DARNELL LEVINGSTON lived in California and was a co-founder of Black Men Speak, a speakers bureau founded in 2009 in Alameda County, as well as a member of the Pool of Consumer Champions. He was known for being a vocal advocate on a number of topics including increased access to detox programs, HIV initiatives focused on Black men, and more, and could often be found on the street holding signs with messages such as “End the violence.” During an interview with Mental Health and Wellness Radio, Gigi Crowder, Ethnic Services Manager for the Office of Health Equity, Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services spoke of Darnell as one of the most well known advocates in the region. Darnell was also a member of the Howie the Harp Center—one of the first peer-run centers in the nation— and eventually came to work there. In 2010, Darnell received an award from the African Health Institute of San Bernadino for his advocacy toward reducing health disparities.
Stephanie R. Colon
Stephanie has survived a great deal to get this point in life including incest, sexual assault, domestic violence, and a civil war in Nicaragua. She was also institutionalized in psychiatric facility in New York State when she was younger. However, navigating that path has led her to become a powerhouse in the non-profit sector, with 40 years of experience. She has been a community organizer and planner in her capacity as an executive director, bilingual case manager, clinical supervisor, therapeutic cultural arts coordinator, group facilitator, certified peer specialist and personal medicine coach. She has worked for state and municipal governmental agencies in Africa, Central America and in the United States.
At present, Stephanie serves as a grassroots organizer for the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) Northeast Regional Leadership Committee. She developed and facilitated racial equity and peer recovery-centered curriculum as a peer specialist at the Institute for Family Health and a consultant at the Northeast & Caribbean Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network/ Regional Peer Worker Support Circle at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Stephanie is also a commissioner within Black Women’s Blueprint/Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a facilitator and presenter with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Metro NYC and a board member of Friends of Recovery of New York.
Stephanie dedicates her life to advocating for the end of stigma and oppression of BIPOC folks, people living with mental illness, people in the LGBTQIA+ community and those in recovery from substance use. Her passion also drives her work as a comedian/ performing artist/choreographer who feels that the arts can be used as a vehicle to promote emotional and physical healing.
DENISE CAMP’s first career was in bio medical engineering. In fact, she was the first Black graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Biomedical Engineering department. However, after facing her own struggles, she became invested in peer support, and went on to accomplish a number of other firsts including first Black woman to be trained as an Advanced Level Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) trainer (able to train new trainers) in Maryland, and first Black peer supporter in the state to receive an Affordable Healthcare Act Education Award. Denise was also a part of the team that piloted Maryland’s first Certified Peer Specialist program, and has been instrumental in expanding accessibility to WRAP across the nation. Additionally, Denise worked for 11 years as a WRAP Project Coordinator and Training Specialist for On Our Own of Maryland, and has been a vocal advocate quoted more than once in local news media on budget cuts and other key issues.
LINFORD GAYLE was an Army veteran who spent several years struggling with houselessness, problems with substances, and suicidal thoughts. He found his footing in 1993, and quickly forged his path to service and advocacy. In 1994, the Mayor of San Francisco appointed Linford to help direct funds for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Funding Committee. By 2003, he was appointed as the Director of Consumer and Family Affairs to the County of San Mateo Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. He received many awards, including the Geri Taylor Memorial Award presented by the Northern California Psychiatric Society in 2009. Linford was also a vocal advocate for racial equity and LGBTQ+ rights. He had said he never thought he’d live to see either a Black president or same-sex marriage become legalized. He was happy to see both before he died, and even happier to be able to marry his longtime partner, Abit Aleman.
LAVERNE MILLER has served as an attorney, a tenant advocate, and in a range of roles related to the mental health system. In 1996, she became the Director of the Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center. During her time there, LaVerne led a number of initiatives including providing peer support to people with psychiatric histories who were impacted by 9/11, as well as development of the first training program that prepared peer supporters to work in the legal system. She then spent 10 years working with Policy Research Associates, before moving on to Director of the New York City Workforce Consortium for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 2018. That same year, LaVerne appeared on C-SPAN speaking at the Administration of Criminal Law’s 10th annual conference at New York University, sharing some of her own lived experience and advocating for changes in the legal system.
CATHY CAVE was one of New York’s earliest trauma champions, co-developing Trauma Informed Peer Support (TIPS), and coordinating the Mastering the Key Connection Statewide Trauma Conferences in the mid 1990’s. She served as the New York Office of Mental Health’s Director of Cultural Competence, and more recently, has worked as a consultant to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). There, she worked with a number of Technical Assistance Centers and co-led their Wellness Initiative. She has also worked with the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health, focusing on accessible, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed approaches to supervision, leadership, and organizational practices, as well as structural oppression (racism, ableism, etc.). Cathy currently serves as an advisory member to the Equity technical assistance center. In 2014, the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services recognized Cathy with the Frances Olivero Advocacy Award for her work strengthening the message of trauma-informed approaches across the nation.
VANESSA JACKSON identifies as an activist with a passion for women’s health. Based in Georgia, she serves as a Soul Doula and therapist who is additionally trained in Reiki, energy healing, crystal healing, aroma therapy, and more. About her own struggles, she says, “As I negotiated the inevitable crises in my own life, I found it most helpful and healing to take an integrated approach that explored the emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and community aspects of my “problems.” One of Vanessa’s most notable movement contributions came in 2001 when she published, “In Our Own Voice—African American Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovery in Mental Health.” The book opens with an introduction that shares some of Vanessa’s own history that brought her to write this book, including her grandmother who escaped psychiatric oppression and her sister, Michelle Yvette Jackson, who did not and died by suicide in 1984.
Keris Jän Myrick
KERIS JÄN MYRICK is an author and advocate who has testified before Reps. John Lewis and Corey Booker. She has held many leadership positions including CEO of the oldest and largest peer-run organization in California (Project Return), President of the Board for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Director of Consumer Affairs for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). She describes her experience of being given a schizophrenia diagnosis as similar to “having a thief come into [her] life and steal many years.” Sh explains that –unable to get those years back– she instead focuses on helping others avoid the same loss. Keris also describes the importance of seeing other people who looked like her experiencing recovery in order to feel it was possible for her, naming meeting Jacki McKinney as life changing. Toward this end, in May of 2021, Keris developed and began hosting a podcast called Unapologetically Black Unicorns.
TRACY LOVE was arrested in her early 40’s for defending herself against an abusive partner, but what could have been her darkest moment ended up leading her to hope when—after years of trying to get help— a provider talked to her about Post Traumatic Stress and depression for the first time. After that, she went on to work as a service provider, wellness educator, and recovery specialist. She was an original developer and trainer for Emotional CPR (eCPR), teaching people how to assist others through emotional crisis. In 2004, she was a consumer voice for the implementation of the California Mental Health Service Act (Prop 63), aimed at transforming the mental health system. Tracy also assisted with development of a local recovery program, trained local police departments on cultural attunement and crisis intervention, and has served on several Boards including as President of the Board for the Peer Wellness Collective in Oakland, California.
CARLTON WHITMORE serves as Director of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Office of Consumer Affairs, as well as on a variety of state and national advisory committees, including the Stakeholders Advisory Board for Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. Previously, he oversaw Goodwill Industries’ Peer Advocacy Leadership Program, focusing on supporting people with psychiatric histories to re-enter the workforce. In 2012, the New York City Coalition for Behavioral Health recognized him with a Leadership Award for promoting the empowerment of New Yorkers with psychiatric histories. And, in 2022, he was awarded the Brendan Nugent Leadership Award by the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services similarly for his work in promoting equity and advancing the empowerment of other individuals with psychiatric histories in the state.
DWAYNE MAYES was, at one point, non-verbal due to the emotional pain and trauma he experienced. A piece of art he made in 1994 (during that time) hangs in his office as a reminder of his recovery journey. All these years later, Dwayne serves as Director of the Recovery Network and Peer Training for the Mental Health Association in Westchester, New York. Before that, he was Director of the Howie the Harp Advocacy Center, and, prior to that, his background was in navigating Social Security and other benefits. Today, he is a Certified Community Work Incentives Coordinator with the Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) of the Social Security Administration. Dwayne has also been called upon to speak in many arenas including at the National Disability Rights Network annual conference (2006), and at the MeetTheXperts Symposiums (2013/14, Netherlands). In 2008, he received the Robin Hood Foundation Heroes Award.
DANA SMITH is a peer specialist, recovery coach, pastor and more. He co-founded and serves as Executive Director of New Life II, the first Black-led, peer-run, faith-based community support organization located in Connecticut. Dana was also instrumental in the development of the Integrated Healing Facilitator (IHF) curriculum, and now serves as an IHF trainer. He is deeply invested in his community, and has spent much of the last 15 years organizing community events, securing food and supplies for unhoused people, and more. Dana has been recognized with multiple awards, and in 2021 he was inducted into the Connecticut Hall of Change, designed to recognize and memorialize formerly incarcerated individuals who have made substantial contributions to Connecticut communities since their release.
SHARON WISE is a filmmaker, public speaker, artist, and advocate. Born in Chicago, her early years were filled with child abuse, houselessness, sex work, incarceration, and mental health issues. Sharon experienced a number of psychiatric hospitalizations and incarcerations, but it wasn’t until she was 26 and being held in King County Jail near Seattle that things began to turn around. There, she became involved in a form of peer support, helping other incarcerated women. Upon her release from that facility, she moved to Washington DC and has lived there ever since, working as a Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) facilitator, and Community Outreach Specialist. One of Sharon’s proudest accomplishments was founding ’Round Midnight,’ delivering food and supplies to unhoused people. In 2018, she (in partnership with Glenn Holsten) won a Golden ADDY for the film ’Letter to Niyyah’ inspired by efforts to reconnect with her daughter.
Julius Green was a prominent leader in the New York City peer support movement. Much of his early work involved collaborating with the late Howie Vogel in bringing Double Trouble in Recovery peer support groups to hundreds of New Yorkers struggling with both substance use and mental health challenges. Julius worked tirelessly to make sure that these groups were available and accessible to people of color.
Until his deat in 2001, Julius was an influential leader in the city’s first efforts to build a peer workforce. He was one of the first graduates of the Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center. He was one of the very first peer specialists hired by a behavioral health agency. He was a much sought after lecturer and speaker, and mentored and supported new trainees and recent graduates.
Julius was a trailblazer who was always optimistic about the future of a peer workforce. He was also instrumental in the Howie the Harp Center’s relocation to the Theresa Towers in Harlem. Undaunted by the reluctance of several landlords to rent to a “mental health program having those people hanging out in front of the building,” Julius advocated strongly for the move. He felt that it would be welcomed and also stand as a living legacy of not just Howie the Harp, but also the people of color in leadership positions who fought for the Center’s survival following Howie the Harp’s untimely death.
Juilus was the Center’s first Assistant Director. His vision for the Center and the peer workforce was for both to reflect the rich diversity of the peer community. The Center and the evolving workforce are his lasting legacies to us all.
Special thanks to LaVerne Miller for drafting this bio for the exhibit
Jonathan P Edwards
JONATHAN P EDWARDS is a social scientist, licensed clinical social worker, public health professional, Certified Peer Specialist, and Certified Personal Medicine Coach living in New York City. He contributed to the development of, and subsequently led, the largest peer support workforce within the New York City Hospital system at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn. Jonathan’s contributions to peer support include research on job satisfaction, involvement with the National Association for Peer Supporters (N.A.P.S.) in developing National Practice Guidelines, and independent consultancy. He also serves as adjunct faculty at Columbia School of Social Work, and was instrumental in planning and facilitating the inaugural “Surviving Race Dialogues” in Savannah, Georgia in August 2022, which was hosted by Surviving Race: The Intersection of Injustice, Disability, and Human Rights. He is also the recipient of several awards and is co-editor of the book, “How It’s Done: Wisdom from Peer Support Specialists and Supervisors”.
CELIA BROWN was one of the most consistently visible Black women in the psychiatric survivor movement, and also known as one of the kindest. She was an activist and a human rights advocate who balanced work in the community with her role as a Regional Advocacy Specialist for the New York State Office of Mental Health. Although she resided in New York from birth, Celia’s advocacy work also led her to travel internationally including to Finland, New Zealand, and Ghana where her family had roots. She was the first Peer Specialist in New York and one of the first in the country, and served as Mindfreedom’s chief representative to the United Nations. Celia also was at the helm of work to explore the intersections of Hip Hop, survivor work, and healing. Additionally, she was a co-founder of Surviving Race: the Intersection of Injustice, Disability, and Human Rights which held its inaugural ‘Surviving Race Dialogues’ in Savannah, Georgia only three months before Celia’s death in December of 2022.
Helen “Skip” Skipper
HELEN “SKIP” SKIPPER describes herself as having experienced every system New York State has to offer from prison, to shelter, to substance treatment. She works as Executive Director of the New York City Justice Peer Initiative (JPI). Prior to that she was instrumental in developing the New York City Peer Workforce Coalition, serving as Executive Chair from 2016 to 2019. She has worked in a variety of leadership and direct support roles related to peer support. 2022 was a breakout year for Skip as she won three awards including the Wellness Innovator Award as given by Women of Color Magazine, the College and Community Fellowships’ Inaugural Rising Star award, and the Cookie Gant & Bill Compton LGBTQIA+ Leadership Award as given by the Alternatives conference.
MITZY SKY is an award-winning poet, storyteller, activist, and advocate. Her first book, “Top of the Zinc Roof,” was published in early 2023. Prior to that, Mitzy was responsible for developing a ‘Compassionate Advocacy’ training that she offered for several years through her work at Advocacy Unlimited in Connecticut. Mitzy is also featured in the full-length film, ‘Three Rooms,’ produced by the Wildflower Alliance, an examination and unpacking of psychiatric oppression. Mitzy is also involved in local, national, international (including Drop the Disorder), and personal movements to undo internalized oppression in all of its forms and seeks ongoing to share her wisdom with her Beyond the Story project about shame resilience, the forgiveness of self, others, and awareness that all might benefit from it. She enjoys spaces of creativity, traveling, and meeting people but is just as joyful on the couch listening to the rain, watching a movie, or reading a good book.
CHYRELL BELLAMY defines herself as Black, Woman, Queer, Hood, Mad, Scholar, Organizer, Researcher, Poet, Mom who is determined to push traditional institutions towards progressive change. She is the second Black woman to be promoted to full Professor in Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry. She is Director of the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH), Peer Support Services and Research, and the Yale Lived Experience Transformational Leadership Academy (LET(s)Lead). Her research routinely incorporates peer participatory approaches that help ensure individuals who’ve lived it also have a hand in guiding how various approaches and questions are evaluated. She holds all of these roles while also openly identifying as a person who has lived experience with multiple marginalized identities related to psychiatric diagnosis, trauma, and problems with substances. In November 2019, she and a colleague (Ayana Jordan) were given an award for their work in co-developing the IMANI Faith based Opioid Recovery Program which centers peer support, community, faith-based, and harm reduction approaches for Black and Latinx communities.
IDEN CAMPBELL is a native New Yorker-by-way-of-DC transplant who now calls the Pacific Northwest home. Iden has been an activist for most of his career particularly in the field of suicide prevention. He has served as an advisor on the Lived Experience Committees for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Most notably, he founded Twelve6 Strategies, approaching suicide from a human rights and social justice framework. In 2011, Iden decided to speak out against transgender violence after his intern, LaShay McClean, was murdered. At that point, Iden knew that he could no longer live under the radar as a Black transgender man and not speak out against the violence surrounding Black trans women. With that passion, Iden also became a national speaker around social justice for transgender people.
LOIS CURTIS grew up with cognitive disabilities for which there were few adequate supports at the time. This contributed to her spending just under 20 years in various psychiatric and other institutions in her home state of Georgia from the age of 11 on. In the 1990s, she—alongside Elaine Wilson— became a lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court of the United States case of Olmstead v. L.C. The case was a landmark success, and in June of 1999, the court declared that segregation of disabled people was in fact an act of discrimination. As a part of that decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled “confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement and cultural enrichment.” This decision and the recognition that came with it continues to impact our systems today, serving as a demand to find the least restrictive settings possible.
DARYL MCGRAW is based in Connecticut where he also spent many years in and out of the prison system. In 2010, he left prison for the last time and began to implement the plan he had developed while there. In 2014, he became the first Black Director of the Office of Recovery Community Affairs for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Around that same time, he founded and became president of Formerly Inc, Connecticut’s first consultancy organization created by formerly incarcerated people to support individuals returning to the community from prison and their families. Daryl is now a nationally recognized public speaker providing talks and training on equity and inclusion, after incarceration supports, recovery, and more. In 2022, he gave a TEDxHartford talk during which he shared some of his own story and spoke on urban trauma.
TERRESA FORD was born in 1969 in Buffalo, New York, but moved south to make her home in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007. There she was responsible for writing a grant proposal that would bring the Hearing Voices movement to the state. She started the first Hearing Voices group in Georgia not long after. In 2019, Terresa was featured talking about her own experience hearing voices in the short film, ‘Beyond Possible: How the Hearing Voices Approach Transforms Lives.’ Terresa holds an MFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a M.Div. in theology from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. As of 2023, Terresa continues to live in Georgia, working as a hospital chaplain and in training to become a spiritual director.
TEENA BROOKS has been active in peer and recovery communities since 1999. She is Assistant Director of Consumer Affairs at the New York City Office of Health and Mental Hygiene. Prior to that, she worked for the Urban Justice Center for 13 years. There, she focused on initiatives such as improving treatment of people with psychiatric histories by the New York Police Department, increased accessibility of supportive housing, and abolishing solitary confinement for incarcerated people. Teena has also been an active member of Surviving Race: The Intersection of Injustice, Disability, and Human Rights. With Surviving Race, she took the lead alongside other movement leaders like Celia Brown to offer gathering points like “Sister Circle,” dedicated to women of color and their allies coming together to discuss strategies for promoting health, recovery, and wellbeing. In 2019, Teena was recognized by the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS) with a public policy leadership award for “outstanding contributions at the state or community level.”
TAINA LAING has worked at Baltic Street Advocacy Employment Housing (New York’s largest mental health peer organization) since 2002, and became their first Afro-Latina Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 2020. A passionate advocate for seeking equality and addressing disparities, she often states “Peer advocacy supports are integral to all social determinants of health! We cannot allow social or health policies to be written without the inclusion of the peer perspective and insight.” In 2022, Taina was elected the Co-President of the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS). Additionally, she sits on the Boards of the New York State Peer Certification program, and the Institute for the Development of Human Arts (IDHA). In 2022, the Office of Mental Health recognized Baltic Street with the Commissioner’s Community Care Award. The award served to recognize the organization Taina oversees for its extraordinary achievements and positive impact on the mental health system.
Gogo Ekhaya Esima
GOGO EKHAYA ESIMA spent several of her adult years lost in the US psychiatric system. However, when she began to recognize her experiences as spiritual emergence and connected with healers from her own ancestral traditions, her life changed. She is one of two people whose stories are featured in “Crazywise,” a film about making more space to recognize what often gets called “crazy” as having meaning and wisdom. In recent years, Gogo Ekhaya has become recognized as a public speaker, including offering a keynote address at the 2017 World Hearing Voices Congress. She has served as a certified Mental Health Recovery Specialist, and is an initiated Sangoma traditional healer in the Shangaan and Zulu lineages of Southern Africa. Additionally, she is a published author, including in the 2018 book, “Shamanism in the New Millennium.” She is also co-founder of the Makhosi Foundation, dedicated to preserving indigenous cultural knowledge, healing arts, and conscious spiritual traditions.
RO SPEIGHT is a Peer Specialist, Peer Supported Open Dialogue Co-Trainer, Hearing Voices Network Facilitator, Intentional Peer Support Practitioner, Alternatives to Suicide Facilitator and Psychiatric Systems Human Rights Advocate for those marginalized by a Westernized Bio-Medical paradigm. Ro embodies this advocacy through training Anti-Oppression frameworks regarding lived experience perspectives within interdisciplinary mental health contexts. Ro has been a part of pioneering training development that embeds the intersections of psychiatric system lived experience, racialization, and structural oppression within various mental health contexts. Ro has contributed to psychiatry resident curriculum development at Columbia University and has advocated for diversifying Peer Supported Open Dialogue in the United States as one of few Peer Supported Open Dialogue Co-Trainers of Color.
EBONY FLINT is a childhood survivor of sexual abuse and incest who grew up in an area where violence was far more prevalent than opportunity. As she found her path to healing, she also found peer support. Now, she serves as the first Black Director of the Wildflower Alliance’s Wild Ivy Social Justice Network, and has founded ‘A Tribe Called Black.’ Through a collaboration between both organizations, she has led many initiatives including Black Teens Talk, Queens Healing Queens, and Irate Expressions. She is also one of three Wildflower trainers who have been instrumental in developing their cutting edge anti-oppression training. In 2022, Ebony co-facilitated the first ever Alternatives to Suicide training specifically for black and brown communities in Colorado. That same year, she was named Social Justice Advocate of the Year by Healing Black Women. Throughout all she does, she infuses knowledge gained from her own experiences as a survivor of trauma and the psychiatric system, as someone with invisible physical disabilities, and as the mother of an autistic child.
KELECHI UBOZOH is a Nigerian-American writer, mental health advocate, liberatory coach, and suicide attempt survivor. As a Black “goth” kid with big emotions splitting her time between New York and Stone Mountain, Georgia- she navigated racism and isolation and felt out of place everywhere. By 13, after losing her grandmother and anchor in the world to cancer, she began thinking about suicide. She experienced her first stay in an inpatient psychiatric unit at that point, where she was told she was broken, would never heal, and felt punished for telling the truth about missing her grandmother. She experienced other traumatic hospitalizations and later began her recovery journey after finding peer support and radical mental health professionals. She began her career as investigative report in New York City and was the first student reporter ever published in The New York Times, but after being inspired by mad movement leaders, she quit her job, packed her bags, and drove across the country to California to work at a consumer-run mental health non-profit in Oakland, called PEERS. Now, she has worked in the California for over a decade around peer support, suicide prevention, stigma reduction, and mental health research. In 2019, she co-edited a book called, “We’ve Been Too Patient: Voices from Radical Mental Health” that featured 25 stories challenging the biomedical model and tackling issues of overuse of psychiatric drugs, forced treatment, and police brutality. Kelechi has now spoken out publicly about her experiences in many venues, including an appearance on CBS This Morning with Gayle King, O the Oprah Magazine, and in The S Word documentary, where she speaks about the importance of shattering the silence and stigma around suicide in the Black community. She was also a guest on Keris Jän Myrick’s podcast, Unapologetically Black Unicorns, in 2021. In 2022, she was invited by her mentor Sally Zinman to present on her journal article, Black This Whole Time: The Black Lives Matter Era and the Urgency for Black Liberation within the Mad Pride Movement where she interviewed Black Mad Movement Leaders like Celia Brown and Keris Jän Myrick.
EARL MILLER spent most of his adolescence in foster care and psychiatric institutions. His longest hospital stay was nine months. He became active in the psychiatric survivor movement in his twenties when he started working with the Wildflower Alliance in Massachusetts. He shared snippets of his story along with a performance of “Tools are Shackles” in Wildflower’s award-winning short film, “The Virtues of Non-Compliance.” He also plays a significant role in their feature-length film on psychiatric oppression, “Three Rooms.” While working with Wildflower, he developed a cutting edge approach to integrating peer support into working with currently and formerly unhoused people, built on his own experiences of houselessness. In 2022, he became one of the first Black leaders of an alternative to policing crisis response team. As of 2023, the team—Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service (CRESS, in Amherst, Massachusetts)—is the only alternative crisis response team in the nation not attached to police or a clinical mental health provider.
IMADÉ NIBOKUN founded the website ‘Depressed While Black’ as a part of her Columbia University non-fiction creative writing MFA thesis. The organization’s vision is “a world where people of African descent heal from severe depression through Black Affirming mental health support and advocacy.” As a suicide attempt survivor and someone with a psychiatric history herself, she has spoken to how she grew up thinking that depression was a “white person disease” and how she had to learn she was deserving of support. ‘Depressed While Black’ has grown over the last handful of years, and now also includes a project to help Black people held in psychiatric facilities get access to Black affirming self-care products. Additionally, in 2020, Imadé created the ‘Help Me Find a Therapist’ program to assist people in finding Black therapists in a field where they are largely under represented.
LORENZO LEWIS had a difficult childhood. When he was 10, his father died, and a teacher told him to “be a man and stop crying.” This became a repeating message that it wasn’t okay to show emotion.as a Black man. This led to outbursts in school, a placement in a behavioral health facility, and incarceration. Upon his release, Lorenzo found a different path that included getting support to unpack his childhood traumas and a career in social services. It was at that point that he realized just how unaware many in the mental health system were of the historical and racial traumas impacting Black men. This led Lorenzo to found The Confess Project. Launched in 2016, the Confess Project trains mental health professionals to understand the impact of racial trauma. It also began an initiative to train barbers across the nation to become mental health advocates. This was inspired by the finding that 58% of Black men would seek mental health support if it were available through a barber shop. Lorenzo’s work has been featured widely in the media including Men’s Health Magazine, CBS News, and National Public Radio.
stella Akua (fae/faer) is a musician, performance artist, and writer living in Los Angeles (on unceded Tongva land). fae is a psych survivor and a student of abolition with an adoration for survivors of trafficking (slavery), prisons (psychiatric and otherwise), and other forms of torture and captivity. stella grew up in Chicago and graduated with Honors in Literary Arts from Brown University in 2017; faer writing has been published in various ways, stella’s favorite of which is on the way. In 2020, fae published the piece ‘Abolition Must Include Psychiatry’ with faer friend Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthimkhulu via the Disability Visibility Project. Akua has worked as a peer support/housing navigator for unhoused women, and was a Crip Camp and Adobe Fellow in honor of Ki’tay Davidson. Akua’s music is released under the moniker ‘girl Troll’, and includes songs centering the undead doll, the divine Black-queer feminine, self-liberation from captivity, and the queer utopian world fae and faer communities are living/creating right now. stella is a proud survivor of severe intersections of misogynoir, transphobia, s*x trafficking (slavery) attempts, and other torture. fae is extremely psyched to get to be on this list. fae hopes to collaborate with every angel on this list in liberation work as colonialism destroys itself.