MHA's affiliates across the country make a big impact in their communities. Every affiliate is a unique organization providing programs that best serve community needs. Mental Health Connecticut is headquartered in West Hartford and serves the people of Connecticut.
By Jacquilyn Davis, DEI & Engagement Coordinator, Mental Health Connecticut, Inc.
Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was formally recognized in 2008, thanks to the tireless advocacy of nearly 100 individuals who co-sponsored a Congressional resolution to bring awareness to the unique struggles minority communities face along their mental health journeys. Bebe spearheaded this movement and after she passed away in 2006, her fellow advocates took it forward to passage two years later. Bebe’s legacy is evident in the dedication of those who fought to create this month of awareness in her name and continue to celebrate and honor her lifetime of accomplishments.
Mental health is something we all have in common. How we choose to care for our personal mental health and the options we have available for care are not things we all have in common. The cultural stigma, access to care, and availability of mental health resources create gaps in the system and they are some of the many reasons why Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is so important. We must talk about these gaps, address them, and create a more equitable society to ensure everyone can care for their mental well-being, regardless of their racial identity.
Bebe was a phenomenal writer, speaker, teacher, and published author of plays, novels, articles, and children’s books. She was dedicated to mental health awareness and was a founding member of NAMI-Inglewood (now NAMI Urban Los Angeles). She was an advocate for minority mental health and openly spoke about the stigma minorities face when confronted with the decision to seek treatment for a mental health condition. She spoke of the unique barriers in minority communities and bravely addressed the fact that racism is trauma. As many are currently joining forces to declare racism a public health crisis, I wonder what role Bebe would play in seeing it become a national declaration.
I’d like to think that Bebe would advocate for the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, reintroduced in 2021 to create a National Center on Antiracism and Health at the CDC, create a law enforcement violence prevention program, and nationally declare racism as a public health crisis. If passed, funding would be available for research and data collection on the impact of racism on physical and mental health as well as anti-racist public health interventions.
Bebe is remembered as a devoted advocate for minority mental health.
“We need a national campaign to destigmatize mental illness, especially one targeted toward African Americans,” she said,“It is not shameful to have a mental illness. Get treatment. Recovery is possible.” She used her platform as a writer and her work with NAMI to spread messages of hope, resilience, and breaking the stigma within minority communities.
Bebe’s legacy and commitment to minority mental health lives on in her published works. “72 Hour Hold” was a revolutionary novel that openly spoke about mental health struggles within the black community. While fiction, the story was based on her personal experiences with mental health conditions within her own family. “Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry” is a children’s book that shows how community care is utilized to help a young girl cope when her mother, who has bipolar disorder, is having difficult days.
According to Mental Health America, “Community care refers to ways in which communities of color have provided support to each other. This can include things such as mutual aid, peer support, and healing circles.” In the book, the young girl turns to her grandmother and friends for support. In Bebe’s dedication she states, “I dedicate this book to all children whose mommies struggle with mental illness, addiction, or both and pray that the village will support them.” An advocate and storyteller, Bebe used her talents to make a lasting impact on the mental health community.
I personally admire Bebe’s sense of purpose and how she was able to motivate others to be better while also acknowledging that journey for herself. “As I grow older, part of my emotional survival plan must be to actively seek inspiration instead of passively waiting for it to find me.” Her words resonate with my own journey for improving my mental well-being.
On this journey, I have been seeking my identifying traits that describe the mixed woman I am today. Born a minority in my community, I still identify with the word within the appropriate context. Being mixed, I am a minority. While Census data shows a shift in the once “minority” group becoming the “majority” in our lifetime, I don’t seem to fit within their guidelines of non-white vs. white. My Blackness, my Whiteness, my Native American ancestry all make up who I am.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been labeled, misidentified, forced into boxes, and told who I am by other people. “Your dad is Black so that makes you Black.” “Black on the outside, White on the inside – you’re an Oreo.” “Are you sure you’re not adopted?” “You’re Puerto Rican, right?” A wise man once told me that it’s not about what they call you, what matters is who you answer to.
As a mixed woman I have struggled with the labels that place my identity against itself. I am not BIPOC, nor am I a person of the global majority. I am who Bebe was fighting for - a minority. I’m proud to honor and celebrate her month this July with a community that continues what she has fought for – bringing awareness to minority mental health.
No matter how you identify, this month is for all of us to learn about each other’s unique mental health journeys. I encourage you to seek inspiration this month in the differences we have in approaching mental health care. For additional resources and information on Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, visit https://www.mhanational.org/BIPOC-mental-health-month or the additional source links below.
Jacquilyn is a mission-driven individual with 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. She became the first DEI & Engagement Coordinator at Mental Health Connecticut in 2021 though her journey into JEDI work has been a lifelong one. She has a passion for learning American history, practicing cultural humility, and is committed to being an antiracist. Jacquilyn lives in Portland, CT with her partner of 12 years. To connect with Jacquilyn on LinkedIn, visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacquilyn-davis-4007471a.