By Marin Swesey, NAMI Multicultural Action Center manager
One of my first experiences with NAMI was at a welcome reception for a special mental health disparities track at the 2006 NAMI annual convention. Though the room was packed with many new faces, my attention was drawn to a group of enthusiastic self-proclaimed "NAMI mommies," the founding members of then newly formed NAMI Affiliate, NAMI Urban Los Angeles. One of them was soon to be honored for that spirit forever in the hearts of mental health advocates.
Bebe Moore Campbell was an accomplished author, advocate, co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles and national spokesperson. Through her work, she broke barriers of stigma and advocated the importance of bringing mental health education to underserved, diverse communities. In November 2006, Campbell lost her battle with brain cancer. Two years later, friends advocated on her behalf to make a dream reality: the U.S. House of Representatives proclaimed July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a month of national recognition of her ideals:
- improved access to mental health treatment and services and public awareness of mental illness are of paramount importance; and
- enhanced public awareness of mental illness and mental illness among minorities.
I am proud to be a part of NAMI's strong support of this special month and see so many NAMI leaders across the country embrace the opportunities it brings by raising awareness, building community partnerships and celebrating diversity in the mental health community. Since 2008, the NAMI annual convention has served as a platform to kick off the celebration with a town hall networking event-and will do so again this year in Chicago. NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates have hosted a variety of events including seminars, block parties, brunches and vigils.
Beyond NAMI, some other major organizations and agencies have taken notice and taken part: in July 2010 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched a national public service announcement campaign to promote mental health recovery among diverse communities in partnership with the Ad Council; and the National Network to Eliminate Disparities hosted a two-part "Celebrating Mental Health in Diverse Communities" webinar forum.
Join me next month in celebrating National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month 2011. Find out what is happening in your community or plan your own events for July. You can find background information, resources and activity highlights on the NAMI website.