Pastor Dana Smith (he/him)
Pastor Dana Smith, along with Pastor Evelyn Smith, is the Founder and Executive
Director of New Life II, Connecticut’s first black owned, faith-based, & peer-led recovery
community organization. New Life’s mission is to transform neighborhoods by equipping
and empowering individuals that are caught in cycles of hopelessness,
disenfranchisement, dependency on drugs and/or alcohol, or mental health struggles to
build self-reliance, sustainable development, and continued upward mobility.
Dana was raised in Brookside Avenue housing project in New Haven with his parents,
Gloria and Curly, and three brothers and one sister. Early on, he began smoking and
selling marijuana, then moved to cocaine. The next 20 plus years, he was in and out of
courts, jails, detox, and treatment programs. After being run out of New Haven, then
Middletown, Dana moved to New Britain where unhoused, living wherever he could, and
selling drugs, he was in and out of treatment for the next three years until ending up at
Frank and Erige Boddie’s faith-based recovery house in New Britain. It was here that
Dana says he was found, found God, and met and married Evelyn Bryant.
Together, they formed the goal of bringing their lived experience to create a recovery
community based on peer support and meeting people where they are.
They now run New Life II Recovery house for men and founded “Unshakable” men and
women, a program for individuals who are looking for a “New Life”.
Pastor Dana co-chairs the Greater New Britain Reentry Round Table, is Vice president
of the North Oak NRZ, holds Recovery House Trainings and Inspections, is a member
of the Black Ministers Alliance, and is the Founder of New Britain’s first Reentry
Welcome Center and Connecticut’s first Black Faith Based Peer-Led Recovery
Community Organization/Center. It is here where they offer trainings on Harm
Reduction, Addiction, Mental Health, how to use Narcan, The facts and Myths on Peer
support, Motivational Interviewing, Financial Literacy classes, Neighborhood resources,
Information on Hepatitis C and HIV, Computer labs, assistance with navigating
211, finding housing, and most of all providing an ear to listen.
Pastor Dana is trained as an Integrated Healing Facilitator train the trainer, is a National
Certified Peer Support Specialist, Recovery Coach, Recovery Support Specialist, and
Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper instructor. Dana is the proud father of Justin, Vineisha,
Anthony, and Za’khi and lives in New Britain with his wife, Pastor Evelyn, son Za’Khi
and their dog Tommy.
Chackupurackal “Chacku” Mathai (he/him)
Chacku is an Indian-American, born in Kuwait, who became involved in consumer/survivor/ex-patient advocacy when he was 15 years old. Chacku’s and his family’s experiences with racism and xenophobia-related assault and trauma resulted in his own loss of safety and confusing extreme states, including hearing voices and other sensory changes as a youth and young adult. These experiences, including continued racism in schools, with police, and the behavioral health system, launched Chacku and his family towards a number of efforts to advocate for alternative supports, equity, and inclusion in the community. Chacku immediately experienced the challenges of being both seen and unseen as a person of color in the psychiatric survivor/ex-patient movement, leading him to search for ways to dismantle racism in every role and initiative.
He has since accumulated over thirty-five years of experience in advocating for alternatives such as peer support and racial equity in community and in behavioral health systems in a wide variety of roles, always centering lived experience and human rights. He has both held, and lost, important leadership roles in youth leadership and community organizing, executive and board management, and behavioral health infrastructure development.
He started some of the first independently run peer support meetings in Rochester when he was 16 years old. His first legislative advocacy effort was the same year, in 1986, and involved challenging a Democratic and well-meaning Congresswoman to see her own proposed policies supporting increased community policing to “reach” young people with substance use and mental health issues as a racist and punitive approach. His first public advocacy presentations included “The Problems with PACT”, challenging the forced treatment advocacy campaigns of the 80’s and 90’s purporting that Programs of Assertive Community Treatment, known as hospitals without walls, could meet the needs of the “seriously and persistently mentally ill”.
He also advocated for more local organizational funding and new programs, and eventually joined campaigns for disability rights protections and supports such as the Self-Determination Act and resulting Health Care Proxy and Advance Directive regulations, Americans with Disabilities Act, Ticket to Work Incentives Improvement Act, Medicaid Buy In, Most Integrated Settings Law (Olmstead Plans), and employment and education supports. Chacku opposes involuntary commitment, and any forced or coercive practices. He emphasizes the need to call out policies or practices resulting in racial inequities as racist. Chacku also developed a framework for antiracist liberation movement leadership and organizing, with an accompanying model for facilitating interracial dialogues on race, racism, and racial equity as part of the National Campaign for Executive and Board Leadership of Mental Health Non-Profit Organizations which he started and led in 2014 as the Executive Director of the STAR Center.
Sera Davidow (she/her)
Sera Davidow resides in Western Massachusetts where she has been a part of the Wildflower Alliance since its visioning process, serving as Co-Director and then Director since it became funded in 2007. There, she has gained over 15 years of experience in project development and oversight, grant writing, public speaking, curriculum development, training, supervision, and leadership among so many other things. She also worked as a lead trainer for the state’s Certified Peer Specialist program for nearly ten years, is a founding member of the Hearing Voices USA Board of Directors, and publishes articles regularly on Mad in America. (Additionally, Sera is well versed in the ins and outs of being a Mystery Shopper but that’s a job for a different story!)
Sera received her first psychiatric diagnosis as a teenager, accumulating a handful more by her early twenties. That, along with a lengthy history of self-injury and emotional distress, led to her first experience being held against her will in a psychiatric facility at the age of 22, and an array of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs. However, it was her ‘non-compliant’ and rebellious nature that paved her way down another path and to a full life where she re-defined herself as a survivor and has found success without any diagnoses or psychiatric drugs.
Her employment journey first brought her to a position in the conventional mental health system, but she soon found her way to peer-to-peer support communities, advocacy and social justice efforts. Through this work, she has gained a range of experiences including starting up a peer respite (Afiya), opening community centers, and producing educational materials (including co-authoring handbooks on peer respites and developing peer roles, as well as co-authoring two book chapters on suicide). She has also developed a passion for filmmaking, beginning with ‘Beyond the Medical Model’ in 2013. Most recently, she has invested substantial time in anti-oppression work in its many forms, including the development of Wildflower’s three-day, innovative anti-oppression training.
More is available about Sera, her story, and her work in this 2017 article from Sun Magazine: An Open Mind – Sera Davidow Questions What We Think We Know About Mental Illness
Samples of Sera’s writing are available below:
Oral History Co-Coordinator
Ebony Flint (she/her)
Ebony Flint grew up in the projects in Boston. She identifies as a trauma survivor; having overcome the struggles of a life with continuous sexual and emotional abuse from a very young age. She spends much of her time teaching strategies to help others navigate and address emotional and/or mental distress and other challenges. She is very passionate about this work, as a parent of a child with special needs and a person who has overcome traumatic experiences alone. Ebony is a Certified Peer Specialist, a Peer Group Facilitator for Alternatives to Suicide and Hearing Voices Network, and a Wellness Recovery Action Plan Facilitator for adults, young adults, and trauma survivors. She has experience working with people both within the community and in hospital settings.
Ebony has a teenage daughter and resides in the Central Mass area. She loves laughing, learning new things, watching UFC, and sarcastic t-shirts!
Oral History Co-Coordinator
Mical Henriquez (they/them)
Mical is the Assistant Director and Latine Communities Connector for the Wildflower Alliance’s Wild Ivy Social Justice Network. They are a black queer disabled trans non-binary first generation Afro-Indigenous Dominican. They identify as a trauma survivor and are passionate about decolonization, restorative justice, and social advocacy work. They reside in Western Mass where they also co- facilitate a theater collective for trans and gender expansive youth, as well as songwrite and perform under the name Red Jasper. In their free time they enjoy spending time with their dog Appa and rabbits Ella and Louis, being with friends and community, hiking, dancing, and watching cartoons.
Natan Cohen (they/them)
Natan is a trans and autistic team member who grew up here in Western Mass. Natan is someone who has experienced bullying, addiction, emotional and spiritual abuse, homelessness, chronic illness, and many extreme and unusual states. They have sought answers everywhere from western medicine to the far reaches of alternative healing and spiritual communities, only to find well-being and belonging in peer support. Natan is a lover of compassionate truth-telling, comedy, science, and sharing the potential of peer support.
As a former drug dealer, Natan’s work has included a focus on holding space for people who are currently and formerly incarcerated. Natan spends much of their time leading trainings, offering support on our Discord server, and our website.
In their free time Natan is passionate about cats, roleplaying games, parenting disabled children, video games, fantasy and science-fiction, and spending time near moving water.
Amy Troyer-Karas (she/her)
Amy is a mother and psychiatric survivor living on Pocumtuc, Nipmuc and Wabanaki land. She comes from Amish and German ancestry, and identifies as a white, queer, neurodivergent, anti-imperialist Christian. Her life was completely transformed by a profound spiritual emergency in the months following the birth of her child. Despite having a tremendous support network, she was involuntarily committed at that time. Since then, her journey of healing has led her to recognize the necessity of addressing intersecting and interconnected systems of oppression and dehumanization. She wishes to credit the grassroots education of Liberation Spring seasonal classes and POOR Magazine’s PeopleSkool, as well as the wisdom gleaned from working alongside powerful working-class and/or BIPOC community organizers including Talauna Reed, Crystal Chaplin, and Lisa Ganser.
Amy serves as Wildflower Alliance’s Administrative Development Coordinator, and occasionally works as an Advocate at Wildflower’s Afiya Peer Respite. She loves crafting of all kinds, writing, learning about herbal medicine and spending time with her family.