Working for Healing in a Hurting Nation

By Amy Robertson, Member NAMI NC Board of Directors

Saturday, May 30th was our National Day of Hope, where over 30 NAMIWalks events took place across the US. It was surprisingly successful in a world of COVID-19 concern. NAMIWalks Your Way was born from a quarantine quandary; we were forced to solve the challenge of keeping our most important and impactful fundraiser alive while social distancing. Our walk organizers turned the proverbial lemon into lemonade, using creativity and innovation to transform our traditional walk into a virtual walk event.

On the day of our North Carolina NAMIWalks event, our Board of Directors for NAMI NC held our monthly board meeting that afternoon. Many of us came into the web meeting energized by our individual walks with loved ones, friends and neighbors. Personally, I was still sweaty from my walk but jazzed for the efforts of our fellow NAMI allies. I couldn’t wait to hear our executive director, Garry Crites, provide his update from the Walk.

Also, on the agenda for that day, in addition to our normal reviews of committee reports and financials, we were set to continue to draft our strategic plan for the upcoming fiscal year. That was another item I was super-charged to tackle, due to my non-volunteer persona as a business and culture strategist. It was going to be a great meeting.

This was May 30. And just 5 days earlier, George Floyd died in the streets of Minneapolis. As those 5 days passed, different reports were shared on various news outlets. And, as those 5 days passed, the frightening facts of that event were revealed to us.

Garry had initiated a conversation amongst us on the topics of inclusion and diversity, the mental health challenges of our under-represented communities and how we can focus more on positive outcomes with our strategic plan. Garry has been in his role for less than twelve months, and I was pleased to hear he intended to follow through on an initiative that he shared during his interview process.

I noticed that our African American board members were quiet, reflective, sad. Then one began sharing how she feels. She shared some pretty vulnerable thoughts with us regarding her lived experience with racism and mental health in the black community. One by one, each of our African American board members shared their perspectives. It was pretty raw, and I felt their exasperation.

I am an action-oriented person. I am also a person who typically has thoughts to share on almost any topic. Admittedly, sometimes keeping my mouth shut is a real challenge for me. During this vulnerable discussion, I started to say something, to add something. I unmuted my microphone. Then a filter inside me said “Stop. Just stop.”

So I did. I was silent. And I heard them. They were grieving.

I have hope that we can all do better.

There are groups of people in our world who feel left behind, uninvited and unwelcome. It is way past time for exclusivity to convert to inclusivity. Committees, corporations – we all have a call to action. We must rethink our processes, approaches and definitions of what “good” looks like.

The Executive Committee will be recommending that the Board of Directors of NAMI-NC form a new dedicated committee focused on welcoming all individuals, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, social or economic status. This group of board members will be tasked to reach and serve under-represented people in the mental health community.  It is our plan to identify meaningful actions that will positively impact mental health and wellness to everyone. This work is meant to augment the actions that NAMI is currently doing on Diverse Communities.

That board meeting was tough, but it will help to inspire change long overdue.