Tuesday, April 23, 2013

NAMI; Pushing to the front of the bus! The National Alliance on Mental Illness in the spotlight!

     On April 17th, the National Alliance on Mental illness held their annual awards breakfast in downtown Cleveland. It was a day to honor individuals who have dedicated vital parts of their lives and careers to promote awareness to these misunderstood, but common disorders. As a past award recipient, I both respect and admire the work these generous individuals have done.
     When the guests arrive they are greeted with a poster that described the "Multi-Cultural Outreach"  that is advocated by this organization. Like the disorders themselves, the people in attendance were a cross-section of America. This advocacy unites people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and social economic status. All have a common goal to bring awareness to the commonality and dangers of mental illness, and advocate behalf of those afflicted and their loved ones. With that in mind, it is sad to see virtually no media attention was given to honor not only the award winners and speakers; but everyone who tireless efforts contributed to improve the lives of the victims of these invisible disorders.
     What is clear to many is that people who suffer from a mental illness face the daunting task of not only the condition, but the added burden of a disease that is associated with such a dehumanizing stigma. Additionally, the ones plagued tend to experience an immense deal of ignorance from seemingly intelligent individuals. Two good examples of this came from members of the Ohio Statehouse. A former Representative was candid when he told me that, for social service resources, the mentally ill are forced to the back of the bus for the increasingly scarce dollars. Another Former State Senator, was hypocritically blunt when he informed me  "there are more important issues than bigotry!" It must be added, he could not think of one at that time.
     This organization has a mission to confront ignorance, empower individuals to recover, and to recapture the life that everyone is entitled to live. Michael Baskin, the President of NAMI of Greater Cleveland, spoke about this empowerment and specifically, empathy for those in need. When diversity is talked about, he lets his, and NAMI's actions speak for themselves, and one particular speaker proved that.
     Reaver Nelson gave an inspirational discussion of how mental health issues affect that LGBT community (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender). It was an eye opening presentation as this group suffers depression, domestic abuse and chemical dependency at a rate significantly higher than the rest of society.  She put a human side to these stigmatized members of this community and reminded us of the enormous amount of discrimination they face throughout their lives. As she spoke to the audience of about 230 attendees, there were no judgmental comments, just empathy and understanding. That is true diversity and inclusion, as once again, they are united in a common cause.
     The award winners were; Haines Lanctot, Karen Jarr, Craig Fallon, Dr. Nora McNamara, Craig Sams, Dr. George Tesar and Sally Follet. They were all called up to be recognized without the benefit of television cameras, or the famous red carpet. All have done something unique that everyone should be proud of, and that is saving lives! Their generous contributions have helped restore dignity to people who have been punished for just getting sick. They were some of the many who stood up and said no, we will not tolerate people to die needlessly and without hope.
     NAMI itself is rarely in the spotlight for the work that they accomplish. What the public does not realize is that this organization is run on a shoe string budget. The Greater Cleveland chapter which offers 32 support groups throughout Northeastern Ohio, accomplishes this with a budget of less than a half million a year. As anyone can tell, this is significantly less than what an average professional athlete earns in a year.
     There are so many superlatives that can be used to describe this organization and all the people who contribute to helping others. Many sufferers of mental illness, me included, are grateful for what they do accomplish. If I had to pick out one achievement, it would be from personal experience, and that is simply be," they help make people feel human again!" The main reason they do accomplish this  is that  NAMI is a group of people that truly care and understand the roadblocks the unfortunate victims face.
      Many of us discover this organization when we are at the bottom of the barrel of life. Like others, I was alone, my life in ruins when I first met this group of people just over ten years ago. Today, I have a job that I have received a promotion, plus a business, I am a writer, and have given over 500 speeches on this very subject. A major part of my and others success is finding groups of people like the ones honored who cared enough to reach out a helping hand. I can also feel free to express that many of us pay that help forward to assist others.
     Sadly, there is some irony here. A few blocks from the Hilton Garden Center where the awards ceremony took place, serves as a reminder that many do not understand true greatness. It was there that a banner stood to honor a basketball player with the words, "We are Witness." All that this was showcasing was a  rich narcissistic athlete whose only concern is what he can get for himself. At this meeting,  we honored true greatness in ordinary people whose greatest reward is saving lives. Their work is a true witness to something special.
     To all the award winners, thank you, and God Bless!

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