Saturday, June 6, 2020

Moving From Talk to Taking Action

Looking at what is going on in the world today, I believe that it is possible to transform our current horror and heartbreak into healing and action. It is my great hope that we are moving toward the right side of history - a history that will acknowledge on all fronts that black lives matter. I also understand that 'my great hope' is not good enough. 

This discussion has a place on this blog because social justice, racial inequity, and resources related to mental health treatment are intrinsically connected. All of these issues must be addressed when it comes to effective suicide prevention. 

So today, I am grateful that Gigi Crowder, L.E., Executive Director of  NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Contra Costa, has allowed Lighting Up The Sky to share her personal statement in regard to these matters.

Gigi Crowder's words: 

At the Moraga, California Black Lives Matter protest where I spoke on Thursday, many young people carried signs that read 'Silence is Equal to Violence!' I loved the energy of this group of young mostly white American youth. They are fearless and will lead the way to affecting change.  I hope many of you will join them. Those who are familiar with my work to improve outcomes for POC (people of color)  have reached out to me, sharing their concerns. They recognize the advocacy I do for my Black community and knew this would be a difficult time for me. It is extremely hard to see so much pain, and I recognize the devastating trauma that will follow. As a transitioning age adult, I know this time is like no other in history and we must maximize the momentum. To have so many people outside of my community finally hear the cries of the African American Community and join in the struggle, is breathtaking and nothing I ever thought I would see in my lifetime. I am cautiously optimistic, recognizing that out of chaos, as a woman of strong faith I can also see opportunity.

I know the remainder of this message will be difficult for some to digest. I learned a long time ago what people think of me is none of my business. Many of my colleagues have asked how they can assist in supporting African Americans in fighting for social justice for Black people. For those that are serious, I have some of my own suggestions. Rather than solely focus on what happened in Minneapolis or Georgia, please first look at what happens daily right in your own local county. Look at the horrific disparities African-Americans experience so often, being criminalized for living with mental illness (which is a medical condition). 

In Contra Costa County, all one needs to do is visit our criminal justice mental health units to witness a glaring example of the consequences of being black and living with mental illness. Many who live with severe mental illness receive their treatment in the most restricted environments without opportunities to recover.

Sadly, we lost a young man, Miles Hall, who lived with mental illness. On June 2, 2019, he died at the hands of Walnut Creek police officers. In my opinion he was murdered. His mom did everything a mom should do to get him assistance. Taun Hall attended our NAMI Family to Family course, she was trying to get him eligible for our Assisted Outpatient Treatment Program, she built a relationship with Walnut Creek police and their Mental Health Evaluation Team officer, yet the system failed her. You can learn more and join our fight for justice by visiting

For any well-meaning individual who desires to make a difference demonstrating that black lives matter, you must move from talk to taking action.

At NAMI Contra Costa, for several years we have received a small amount of  funding to do specific outreach to the Asian/Pacific Islander (API) and to the Latinx Communities. I was so excited and shared with many community members that this upcoming fiscal year we would (for the first time) receive $20,000 from the Mental Healthy Services Act to fund two part time outreach workers for the Black Community. I understand we must look beyond language barriers and also consider cultural barriers if we are to reduce health disparities. Yep, it was only $20,000, the same amount we receive to support the API and Latinx communities. Not a lot of money, but I can make it go a long way toward supporting families. Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago to learn we will not be receiving those minuscule funds. In the midst of this global health crisis - one that has highlighted the disparities in my African American community - it feels heartless that these funds are now not going to be coming. So yes, I am angry. We need these additional funds to hire outreach workers more than ever now! Black parents comprise the bulk of calls that we receive for families who have a loved one involved in the criminal justice system.

If you want to do something to support black families share your discontent about us not getting funding. Write a letter, make a call, do something but don’t remain silent. Question the decision! The need has been  demonstrated. I created and run the East County African American Family Support Group out of my home monthly. It started with 2-4 moms and dads, and has now swelled to over 10 attendees.

I have been in this field for over 35 years and it certainly feels like every time African Americans are ready to move forward someone puts a foot on our necks to impede our progress. Please ask yourself how you can help to dismantle the institutional racism that permeates health care systems throughout the nation. Ask yourself am I a part of the problem or do I have the courage to position myself to offer a viable solution?

Finally, when working with African Americans please 'see them,’ and honor their heritage by allowing them the opportunity to contribute to their wellness journey. Ty are the experts of themselves. Understand, the old mantra, 'I don’t see color,’ is not helpful. You need to see color to understand the additional barriers faced by BIPOC. When working with African Americans, please consider utilizing culturally responsive, community defined, strategies that have been proven to produce better outcomes. Feel free to consult with me if you need assistance with this. 

Finally if you are an ally, don’t give up your privilege, but use it for good. It is time for allies to become accomplice to achieve equitable services for all.

I promise to continue doing my part. Let’s stand together strong and make a difference demonstrating that in Contra Costa County, Black Lives and Black Minds Really do Matter!


Gigi R. Crowder, L.E.
Executive Director 
NAMI Contra Costa 

Miles Hall
February 15, 1996 - June 2, 2019