Social Inclusion means that we all matter – every person has value, and each of our contributions are important to the wellbeing of the community. Those of us in recovery from mental health or substance use, can inspire others to move beyond misperceptions and the nuances of exclusion when we speak the truth of our recovery experience. We are led by our vision of a welcoming community in which we are all equal and free to live, love, learn, lead, work, pray, and play.
The goal of the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign, led by PEERS, is to create these welcoming communities throughout our county. Our work is eliminating mental health stigma and discrimination. As a consumer-run nonprofit, most campaign staff and volunteers are people who have discovered our value and gifts in spite of our mental health challenges. The authenticity of our lived experience of mental health recovery is expressed through three core modalities in our campaign to change hearts and minds toward inclusion and social justice: Empowerment, Spirituality, and Outreach & Education.
Our Empowerment events, such as Empowerment through the Arts, Mindful Movement, and Sisters Circle introduce innovative wellness practices to people who want to heal, find their voice, and give back. Focusing on personal wellness and peer relationships, we open our doors to interested community members for an array of open events that promote self-awareness, build confidence, and foster connection.
Spirituality and spiritual practices are often a key component of wellness plans. Through the Spirituality link of our campaign, we provide a safe space for consumers, family members, providers, and representatives of faith communities to dialogue and learn together how to open minds, expand hearts, and increase access to culturally responsive mental health and wellness services each month.
The Spirituality work has been a key to engaging mental health awareness in the African-American community. Though our work with the African-American Action Team and the Mental Health Friendly Churches project, we are reaching out and teaching about mental health recovery and resources to empower communities to access care and support.
Our Housing Action Team unites representatives of 11 Alameda County housing programs to collaborate with mental health advocates on projects, raise mental health awareness in housing programs, and educate consumers of their rights to affordable housing. By developing a class to promote skills and resources for shared housing, we will offer WRAP for Housing as support. Our speakers bureau Lift Every Voice and Speak regularly delivers mental health recovery presentations at housing sites to educate residents and staff.
When one of the Outreach Peer Educators from Lift Every Voice & Speak courageously shares her personal story of overcoming stigma and challenges to live a life of service and connection and giving back to their community, we connect with our audience through our shared humanity. When a person with a mental health label claims his wholeness, value, gifts and commitment to creating welcoming spaces for others, everyone who listens is inspired to let go of common misperceptions and see the person behind the label.
In the Fruitvale District, we are working with volunteers, community members, veterans and immigrants to design and build a Peace and Wellness Garden on the grounds of the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park (PHHP). The garden features a paved storytelling circle with a flagstone bench-in-the-round. It will be inscribed with hope-filled messages of healing from trauma, finding and sharing our voices, and connecting with community. We broke ground on the Peace and Wellness Garden on February 12th. We are hosting a Community Storytelling event at the PHHP site on April 20th. The opening of the Peace and Wellness Garden in May will be a festive celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and our shared commitment to creating peace and wellness for ourselves and our larger community.
Stay up to date on the many monthly activities of the campaign by visiting the calendar at www.peersnet.org/calendar. Or subscribe to our monthly updates by e-mailing your request to Christal Byrd at email@example.com.
For over 10 years, PEERS has been the premier organization in Alameda County to share what WRAP is in our community and what it has done for the lives of those who use this tool. So the question now is “What is WRAP?” WRAP, Wellness Recovery Action Plan, is an evidence-based system that is used worldwide by people who are dealing with both mental and physical health challenges, as well as those who want to attain the highest level of wellness in their life. In WRAP, individuals are encouraged to have a sense of hope by taking small steps of personal responsibility and developing powerful wellness tools to help themselves feel better when they are not feeling well. It is a system that is strength focused and promotes empowerment, personal responsibility, education, and self-determination.
Now that we know what WRAP is, let’s go into why WRAP is important. For the majority of our lives other people have told us what they think is best for us. Growing up we have been taught that our elders know best because they have already gained experience in life and they can teach us. So we should listen and do as they say. We learned that those with college degrees in certain professions knew more about us than we did, so we should listen to them. What we learn in WRAP is that each individual is an expert on himself or herself. As individuals only we know what we like, what triggers us, what angers us, what we are like in crisis, and what we need to do after a crisis to get back on track. Who else is going to know this much about you other than you? No one.
As human beings, we do not go through the same experiences in life. Some situations may be similar, but not the same. Aside from going through different experiences we also handle those situations as uniquely as we are. So what has PEERS done to share the word and work of WRAP in our community? PEERS offers One-Day Overviews of WRAP to over 300 participants every fiscal year. We provide ongoing WRAP groups in different locations throughout Alameda County. We offer Three-Day Mental Health Recovery and WRAP trainings, and Five-Day Facilitator Certification trainings so that others can become Certified WRAP Facilitators and spread the work of WRAP.
PEERS is passionate about WRAP and what it has done for our community, our staff, and the change it’s creating around the world. At PEERS, we hope to continue doing the work we love and share this tool with as many people as we can.
I have been following PEERS for quite sometime. I have watched on the sidelines as PEERS has grown and set the stage for peers to get empowered and shine in their lives. I have as well wished that we had something like that in my Tennessee hometown, which we do not in my opinion.
An opportunity came for me to fill in as Associate Director while there was a shift in leadership. A new executive director was coming on board. It was a great time in my life to say yes and get an inside look at PEERS and what they were about. I was on temporarily for 90 days and it was amazing being in the spirit of folks being seen and heard, advocating at a personal and agency level, inviting others in the community to show up and watching the buzz in the office as people grow, change and connect with one another.
It's a joy connecting with folks on a daily basis at PEERS. The diversity of individuals that I see daily and the lessons I am learning from others' perspectives are priceless. People from all walks of life enter the PEERS office on a daily basis. I very seldom interact with such a diversity of people on a daily basis. This place is really helping me to grow in every moment, and supporting me to remember that I have a perspective and so does everyone else. It reminds me that my personal journey is mine and how I connect with those around me is through understanding that.
I enjoy the connection with my work as well. I am here to support the staff so that we at PEERS can deliver the best possible services. When we are well as a community and support people who come in for services, we do an amazing job at connecting.
I look forward to the moments at PEERS where I will continue connecting in a diverse community without shame, blame, guilt, judgment, or criticism of myself or others.
WRAP panel participants (left to right) Sanya Yao, Willi Mutazammil, and Shoki Sasaki
Six individuals from four continents shared how WRAP has been instrumental in their lives in a panel at the second international WRAP Around the World Conference in Oakland on January 28. Whether WRAP was being used as a tool for personal recovery, professional development, or parenting, panel participants praised the difference it was making both in their own and in their communities’ lives.
Helen McCrarren, Ireland
When Helen McCrarren was originally trained in WRAP, it wasn't the real stuff. Instead, it was a watered down version that lacked the values and ethics and other key components of WRAP. It was during an advanced level facilitator training with the Copeland Center that McCrarren's life changed.
"For the first time in my life, I had the experience of being in a safe environment where I only received strength-based feedback," McCrarren said. "I kept waiting for a criticism as to what I was doing wrong but it never came. On day five, I left with an expanded sense of who I was and thinking I could change the world."
It didn't take long before McCrarren started applying the principles of WRAP to parenting. She quickly realized that her children were experts on themselves and quite capable of knowing their best interests. She also learned the importance of giving strength-based feedback and that even the well-intentioned criticisms had to go.
"I began to realize that any bad behavior from my kids was a sign that they were undergoing stress in their lives," McCrarren said. "I resolved to first get the story of what was going on rather than respond to that behavior."
Another values and ethics lesson McCrarren applied to her role as mother was around the practice of labeling.
"It's so easy to label children, especially when you have more than one," McCrarren said. "You start looking at them as the smart one, the nasty one, or the awkward one. If I start to do that, I need to step back and look at what is going on."
The concepts of self-advocacy and support have also played a prominent role in McCrarren's life. Just as McCrarren is comfortable telling her children that she is struggling and needs extra help, so too she wants her children to know that she will support them should they go through challenges.
Bianca Holgate, Australia
Just over three years ago, Bianca Holgate's dear friend was taken from her. Despite her best efforts, she could not shake the feelings of sadness associated with the loss. According to Holgate, it was WRAP that gave her back her freedom and the ability to recover.
In search of help, Holgate initially decided to visit some doctors. All were quick to prescribe medication and after the third recommendation, Holgate decided to give it a try.
Unfortunately, the effects were not as she had hoped. She became disoriented, wearing the same clothes for days and lacking an ability to care for herself. Within two weeks of taking medication, Holgate had a "full-blown psychotic episode" that involved police, seclusion, and chemical restraints.
"It was awful, everyone knew about it," said Holgate. "I was also abused in the system. I was absolutely bitten by this cause, and from then on, decided I couldn't ignore it."
The following year Holgate began working as a consumer advocate and consultant in the same facility to which she was admitted. She then came across WRAP when working in a community clinic. While WRAP had been around for 15 years, it was not yet well-known in Australia.
Holgate was initially drawn to WRAP for personal reasons, but after being immersed, she flew to San Diego to complete her facilitator training in what she calls a "life-changing experience."
After completing her training, Holgate had an opportunity last year to run an 8-week pilot WRAP group for 7-10 people through the community clinic. The success, Holgate says, is already astounding.
"Clinicians in the hospital are starting to change how they are doing things," Holgate said. "We are doing our best to guide clinicians in the work they do to support us on focusing on giving things to aid us in recovery, not just medication management."
While Holgate is still experiencing some resistance to change on the part of medical professionals, she is confident that more education around the evidence-based training will lead to acceptance of WRAP by professionals.
Her goal for the future is to build bridges with communities and share the message of hope by establishing a strong Australian WRAP network, providing support to more localized WRAP initiatives, and starting a WRAP pilot program in forensic prisons.
"The journey of the past 12 months has been incredible and we are seeing a lot of lives change as a result," Holgate said.
Sania Yau, Hong Kong
A social worker by training, Yau began her career in an outpatient psychiatric clinic in Hong Kong for six years. She then moved to Toronto, where she came across the consumer movement in the 1990s and worked with the community to establish consumer-run organizations. She returned to Hong Kong in 1996 and brought back the vision for Hong Kong to join the movement and establish recovery-oriented practices.
In 2009, Yau became CEO of New Life, one of 12 NGOs in Hong Kong that provide psychosocial rehabilitation services including vocational training and mental health prevention. Upon her appointment, Yau decided to bring a change to New Life — one that integrates recovery-oriented practices into the organization’s work to promote community wellness. And that is how her WRAP journey began.
The first-ever WRAP facilitator training in Hong Kong took place in September 2010. Just two short years later, New Life runs 41 groups for peers, single mothers, and high school and university students. Additionally, she helped launch a WRAP facilitator support group as well a WRAP staff wellness group that Yao says has been a culture change agent for the organization.
And just this past September, the organization saw two of its staff earn their advanced level facilitator certifications.
Yau and New Life are currently working with a local university to research the application of WRAP and recovery in Hong Kong. While the final report will be available in a couple months, Yau is already optimistic about the results.
"The initial data analysis tells us not only do peers benefit from major areas of WRAP, but there is also a significant increase in perceived peer support and stigma resistance," Yau said.
In addition to publishing the WRAP manual in Chinese, Yau will continue to advocate to the government that WRAP needs to be funded and included in the system of care.
"WRAP is still in its infancy [in Hong Kong], but it is our conviction that all stakeholders — peers, peer support workers, family, staff, and those involved in efforts to create supportive wellness-based environments — should be using WRAP to recover and achieve wellness," Yau said.
Wali Mutazammil, Ghana
At the first WRAP Around the World Conference in Philadelphia in 2011, Wali Mutazammil declared that WRAP would be in Ghana within one year.
And he made it happen.
Mutazammil can't help but smile when discussing his work with youth and WRAP in Ghana. In partnership with Accra Technical Training Center, a high school in the capital of Ghana, Mutzammil has already brought WRAP to 30 students and cannot wait to influence more.
"This is a pioneering effort in the sense that this is the first time Ghana has been introduced to WRAP," Mutazammil said. "The students and participants are excited and see themselves as ambassadors. They are committed to becoming WRAP facilitators with their colleagues in Canada."
Mutazammil has been pleasantly surprised by the community response to WRAP. Both he and the principal of Accra Technical Training Center were recently interviewed about WRAP on a live early morning talk show. One viewer was so moved that he waited for the pair at the high school to meet them after the interview.
The man informed both Mutazammil and the principal that his wife, who had been working as successful civilian engineer, had been at home for the last three years due to mental health challenges.
"This man said he had to meet us and tell us how touched he was by the five key concepts [of recovery]," Mutazammil said. "And after seeing the interview, he thought I could be of some help. I was stunned. I would say the interview was effective!"
While Mutazammil is a resident of Canada, he anticipates returning to Ghana and moving forward to meet ministries focusing on youth, employment, and education. He also envisions youth WRAP facilitators eventually leading WRAP groups in all high schools throughout Ghana.
In light of a major mental health bill that passed in Ghana in March 2012 — a bill touted by the World Health Organization as the benchmark mental health bill in the world — Mutazammil sees great opportunity for WRAP in the legislation's implementation.
Mutazammil's next goal is to have 90 certified WRAP facilitators in Ghana by August 2013, with 30 being high school students.
Shoki Sasaki, Japan
Fifteen years ago, Shoki Sasaki was injured in an occupational accident as a semi-truck driver delivering promotional pieces for newspapers. He experienced traumatic subarachnoid bleeding and bruising, ultimately being diagnosed with cranial brain injury.
Despite his efforts at rehabilitation, his symptoms kept recurring. At one point, his IQ decreased to 78. He is still in the process of treating his right side as he experiences symptoms similar to those that appear after being shot in the spine.
Sasaki first discovered WRAP in 2009 when a group of facilitators came to a health fair in his prefecture of Miyagi. He then decided to attend a recovery conference in Tokyo later that year to learn more about WRAP. It was at that conference that Sasaki became a believer.
"WRAP has opened my eyes," Sasaki said. "Through WRAP, I learned that I have options for methods of recovery and I can choose one that works for me."
Sasaki was drawn to WRAP because of the respect and voice given to the individual in forming their own recovery plans. He also learned that both he and his supporters should share the same understandings and agreement and if it doesn't work out, it is ok to find a better match for one another.
"During my doctor's office visit, I noticed that a 15-minute appointment is not enough time to find the real cause of my mental health challenge," Sasaki said. "They prescribed the same medication over and over and because my lack of facial expressions — which looked the same to them every time — they had no idea there was more to be seen or more to be heard underneath."
Sasaki says his family is his biggest support system.
"Practicing WRAP makes my mood lighter, and when I do WRAP, I enjoy my life without worry," Sasaki said. "But when I don't feel good, I ask my family to check my facial expressions. Sometimes they notice something before I know that I don't feel good. Then I think about my early warning signs and triggers. WRAP has given me the chance to look into myself deeply."
Sasaki is now a proud WRAP facilitator who wants to keep on helping.
"Now I'm at this conference eager to discover and learn something new in mental health and wellness and WRAP from all over the world," Sasaki said. "And I want to bring it back to Japan to shine and support our younger generation."
Rozlyn Anderson, Scotland
Rozlyn Anderson was adopted into a family who adored her. With two parents and two big brothers, Anderson felt blessed as a kid.
However, when she turned 12, the carefree child she had experienced started to change. Her brothers had left for university and her dad began drinking heavily. Anderson found herself having to put her father to bed as her mother struggled with coping. At the age of 19, her mother left and Anderson was left to care for her father on her own. Shortly thereafter, she used drinking as a coping tool herself.
After a couple years of soul-searching, Anderson found herself working at The Richmond Fellowship Scotland, a nonprofit organization that supports more than 3000 people across Scotland. Through her work, she learned about WRAP and was trained as a facilitator in 2009.
With a deep belief in the positive powers of WRAP, she was instrumental in developing team WRAP for her organization.
"I no longer felt like a square peg in a round hole; I fit in my own hole," Anderson said. "I enjoy helping the collective wellness of everyone involved by giving people on our teams a voice as to what works for them and what they need for each other."
Anderson says since the implementation of team WRAP, communication between staff has improved and the quality of support among staff members is excellent.
"I've found that WRAP is a way to connect with others on a human level," Anderson said. "A lot of people back home are on board for expanding its presence. I am very hopeful for the future."
By Khatera Aslami
To my PEERS family,
Thank you for a being part of my life for close to a decade! I remember when I began my journey with you in my early 20's. I was working at a mental health rehabilitation center when I learned about your groups in the community. I attended your WRAP orientations as a participant. I shared my story of overcoming mental health challenges for the first time and began my journey in consumer- system transformation with you by first serving on PEERS board of directors and then as executive director since 2007.
Over the last five years we have accomplished so much! Our team has grown from 3 employees to now 20 full time employees. We’ve seen financial growth from a budget of $300,000 in 2007 to now over $2.1 million. In 2009, we organized Alameda County’s diverse stakeholders together for a dialogue about ending mental health stigma and discrimination lead by researcher Pat Corrigan, Ph.D.
The next year, we moved from our San Pablo office that was 800 sq. ft. to our 333 Hegenberger office with close to 4000 sq. ft. We began planning the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign, which aims to end mental health stigma and discrimination throughout the county.
We kicked off the Alameda County Transitional Age Youth Initiative in collaboration with Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services. We held our first Mental Health and Wellness Walk in 2010, implemented our Stigma Stops With Me Pledge program, co-founded the California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations, partnered with the Pool of Consumer Champions and California State University East Bay organizations to present the first WRAP for Health Conference in 2012. And we became the first Copeland Center International Center of Excellence, a recognition that shows we had demonstrated programs based on WRAP Facilitation, its core values and ethics and have robust, sustainable and integrated WRAP programs.
Thanks to your support, energy and partnership, we have made a difference in our community and touched many lives. Today PEERS serves more people in Alameda County than ever before, providing peer support services and trainings to hundreds of consumers, bearing our experience and the message of hope for wellness and recovery to the world at large.
I feel honored to have met my PEERS family, the wonderful people who are part of my life and have made it more meaningful and joyous. PEERS is in the hands of an amazing team, and a passionate and dedicated Interim Executive Director, Lisa Smusz. I have full confidence that PEERS will continue to achieve great things and fulfill its mission to instill hope, resiliency and well being for mental health consumers in our community and across the world.
You are a part of my heart.
Khatera Aslami Tamplen
Wow, what a year 2012 has been for me. I lost two dear relatives, won my first journalism award, got to do some traveling around the country (New Orleans, Napa, Vegas, Portland, Los Angeles), was deeply saddened over the passing of mental health activist and Black Men Speak Founder DeWitt Buckingham, and celebrated my sorority's 90th year in Los Angeles. With all that has happened in 2012, I'm going into the holidays with some woes, but prepared with wellness tools.
• I truly understand the Boyz II Men song, "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." My grandfather and great aunt passed away this year and Christmas won't be the same without them. I'll miss seeing my grandfather in the kitchen. Or hearing him talking about sports while he's watching the basketball game with other male relatives. While the men are watching the game, the women gossip and giggle in the dining room. Every so often my great aunt would say something very colorful or edgy that made us laugh or gasp.
• Going shopping for Christmas dinner without picking up a few diet sodas for my great aunt will be odd. She was a diabetic and lived to be 90.
• I'll miss DeWitt coming around the office with Holiday hugs, doughnuts, followed by some straight talk.
• Christmas shopping! It's time consuming.
• Holiday traffic. Again, it's time consuming.
• Tears—I figure if I need to shed a few tears for missed loved ones then I'll allow myself to just do it.
• Charity—Instead of focusing on the soda for my aunt, I'll just buy extra cans of food and donate them. She was very giving and would want me to do that.
• Internet –- I'm reducing a lot of time in the stores by shopping online. I still need to get a few things in the store, but that'll just take one shopping trip. Everything else will have to come to me by delivery.
• BART and Music -- To avoid Holiday traffic, I'll only go near stores if I absolutely have to. I'll keep my car stocked with my favorite songs, if I do encounter some bumper to bumper moments on the road. If I have to go out, taking the BART will be an option high on my list.
• Cartoons – When I had cable, I watched the Cartoon Network on Christmas Eve and Christmas. They air 24-hour Christmas cartoon marathons. The cartoons were old and new. I don't have cable, but I've been able to catch "The Grinch" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
• My favorite holiday albums: Boy II Men Christmas, Temptations Christmas and all of Kenny G's holiday CDs.
• Holiday teas from Celestial Seasonings
• My favorite Holiday wellness tool of all—REST. When the shopping is done and Christmas dinner is over, I look forward to chilling on my sofa and catching up with shows I missed over the year, then take a few long winter naps.
On Thursday October 25, 2012, the PEERS staff attended a conference titled, “The ISMS Collaborative,” with the intention of better understanding the African-American experience. This is so we could be even more culturally responsive as that is the target population we are presently reaching out to under the Social Inclusion campaign.
This conference was part two of the series “Building hope and change in our health organizations.” The series hopes to look at how we live in a distinguished society that has unequal relationships whether it is age, gender, class, sexual orientation, able-bodyness/disability and other isms. There were two featured speakers that hosted the conference. They were Prof. Ken Hardy of Drexel University and Nancy Kahn, a nonviolent communications and “Transforming Oppression” trainer.
For the most part, the conference as a whole provided me with a wealth of information. The forum in which this very important and knowledgeable discussion transpired allowed my level of consciousness to be heightened and my broadened view of choices to be confirmed. Moreover, the importance of stopping the silence was confirmed, as well as the significant power, transformation, and liberation that comes from speaking from the heart.
As a collective, there were challenging conversations about internalized oppression and privilege. In small groups, we participated in interactive dialogues about increasing our awareness and understanding about these complicated issues. The main objective that I got from the conference was that in order to increase one’s capacity to recognize, understand and address internalized privilege and oppression, whether it’s in personal relationships or in our work, there has to be some willingness from ALL parties involved to look at dynamics of power, as it is part of our relationships. Also, until those essential dynamics are recognized about power, it will be difficult for change to occur. Once there is an acknowledgement of the significance in addressing issues of power, the distinctions between those who are privileged and those who are not as fortunate can change, and then manifest.
I think that while both parties have responsibilities in relation to healing relationships, the tasks are not equal. Reason being, there are those individuals who are in privileged positions and others who are in less fortunate positions. Of course, I don’t think these categories of privilege and less fortunate are complete. However, I do believe that it is important to communicate what the different responsibilities might be for those in privileged positions and those in less fortunate positions so healing can authentically transpire.
With that said, I firmly believe that the first responsibilities for the privileged are to overcome mistaken notions about equality and inequality. Traditionally, I believe it’s been “normal” for the privileged to just assume that everyone and everything is equal. One of the privileges of the privileged is to be oblivious to the life experiences of oppressed populations. Not only must the privileged acknowledge the existence of marginalization, they must find some way to appreciate the inequality and the suffering of the less fortunate.
In turn, people of privilege cannot turn away at their first experience of rejection or hostility when reaching out to those who are less fortunate. If we, as members of marginalized groups, gave up when we experienced hostility, we would get nowhere in life. Again if relationships across difference are to be healed, then open honest communication is needed. Like the ideology taken from Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) we should adhere to the principles and ethics of holding each person with the utmost high as human beings first who all have beating, pulsating hearts on the same side of their chest.
Moreover, each person knowing that the most important part of this process is that we recognize everyone's voices are important and valuable. Regardless of one’s background or experience, their speaking up and speaking out can break down barriers, eliminate stigma and discrimination of age, gender, class, sexual orientation, and mental health issues. Speaking up and speaking out embraces the idea that we are all one race, the human race.
At the same time, there are many ethnic groups in society that have experienced unjustifiable forms of racism and stigma. In particular, the ethnic group that I can identify with that has experienced serious subjugation against their will is the African American community. A group of people who unwillingly experienced brutal doings and heinous acts done onto them during the slave trade, as well as approximately 465 years of the atrocious and animalistic actions of slavery in the U.S. In turn, the result being tremendous on the psyche for African American people, especially being that Civil Rights is 48 years young.
Therefore, many African American people continue to have feelings and experiences of subjugation due to the occurrences of these colossal events in this country’s history. Nonetheless, it is often times seen by many in society that feelings of rage that do exist in the African American community are not justifiable. For me, rage is not anger which can be an immediate response to a particular situation. Rage is historical and it’s tied to our experiences of control and oppression. There is nothing episodic about the rage that is felt; it’s long term. But as African-Americans, we need to try to understand our rage and find ways to use it in ways that are constructive for us as individuals and for our communities.
I also believe that if we can find ways to move through the feelings of rage and issues of oppression, we can continue to excel. Otherwise, we will only remain scared or be victims who are destructive to their own plight.
During the conference, Ken Hardy offered a framework to bring this into context by suggesting that we apply what he calls the “VCR” concept to our interactions with one another as people first. VCR stands for Validate, Challenge and Request. The “VCR” concept basically encourages that we each be the expert of our own experience, NOT anyone else’s. And we each create the space for the telling of one’s story by actively listening, not reacting quickly. Lastly the "VCR "concept suggests we make space for both thoughts and feelings to be expressed. The “VCR” concept was not presented as something easy to do, but basically something that we each must consciously make an effort to do in order for this process to take place.
I would only add that as we each boldly and courageously speak our own truth, we also take personal responsibility for the way we think, feel, and act.
As we at P.E.E.R.S. continue to focus on the African American community, I look forward to the next steps after our participation in this conference, which set the foundation for us understanding the “isms” that do exist. That being, learning more about the impact slavery has had, continues to hold, and is reflected in the thought processes and behaviors of the African American culture today. All of this information we are continuing to learn is so our intent as an organization, who cares about being all inclusive, can have meaning and value to the work we do.
"You can never lose a thing, if it belongs to you," sings Branice McKenize.
I let the words linger and try to really hear them. It's Friday night and I'm waiting for Iyanla Vanzant, the incomparable inspirational speaker to take the stage. Iyanla is a frequent guest teacher for the OWN show (Oprah Winfrey Network) Oprah's Life Class. Sitting in the Scottish Rite auditorium in the company of hundreds of women and three guys, I try to soak up her words for my starving soul.
The theme for the night, "Breaking Through to Boldness," means empowering yourself to be the strongest version of you possible. It is not for the faint of heart, because when you break through to boldness you are accountable for your life and the choices you have made.
When Iyanla steps on stage, her words are so powerful I feel like she is speaking directly to me.
Impromptu Fake One-on-One with Iyanla Vanzant:
K: Things have just been really difficult lately. I’m so tired, there should be a new word for it. I feel like there are so many things I want to do, like grad school, and I don’t know if I have the resources, time, and patience.
Iyanla: Start looking back at what you’ve learned and what you've mastered. Match where you've been with the skills you have acquired and wear them well. Just because you haven’t done it, doesn’t mean you won't.
K: Sometimes, I just want to give up! I mean if you only knew my story. I have been through so much. I just want to know why bad things always happen to me?
Iyanla: Breaking through to boldness means the elimination of all whining! No whining. Breathe, when you feel the whine coming on. Breaking through to boldness means that you take absolute, total, and complete responsibility for every condition in your life.
K: I feel like I keep losing really close friends to me. We just don't see eye to eye anymore. Honestly, the healthier I get the more people I lose. Why does this keep happening? These are people I thought would be in my life forever.
Iyanla: I think our parents did us a disservice when they said play with everyone. You don’t have to play with everyone. Just because you shift doesn’t mean they gonna shift.
K: I'm trying to work hard on my wellness, but I get busy sometimes. There isn't always time to do breathing exercises, yoga, or go to support groups. Sometimes, I just feel so busy taking care of other people, but I will get to myself eventually. I just don't understand why when I am doing those things it isn't enough.
Iyanla: We keep thinking we will get full time awards for part-time devotion. You can't break through to boldness being nice. You wanna break through to boldness? You better get a growl. How often to we crawl on all fours because we are trying to be nice?
K: Sometimes I want to be positive, but my thoughts can be so negative. My thoughts are a like skipping CD telling me a bad phrase over and over again. I don’t know how to shut it off.
Iyanla: Don't stay in your head alone without adult supervision!
K: Wait, say what?
Iyanla: Overthinking can be hazardous to your health. Learn to trust your heart and gut. Don't stay in your head alone without adult supervision!
K: I want to connect with the right people in the right way, but I often find my kindness being taken advantage of. I don't know how to find a balance, because I honestly don’t want to be alone.
Iyanla: Allowing people to show up and behave badly is a misappropriation of power. You are the one who gets to say what goes on in your life.
*These quotes were taken directly from Iyanla Vanzant’s Breakthrough to Boldness presentation at the Heart and Soul Center of Light on September 21, 2012.
This year at Alternatives 2012, the Alameda County TAYi (Transitional Age You Initiative) co-hosted the Young At Heart Creativity Zone (formerly known as the Arts/Drop-In Room) and co-led the Youth Rising plenary session. The TAYi team was honored to reunite with the nation’s leading youth groups and youth advocates: MY LIFE, YOUTH POWER, YOUTH IN ACTION, YOUTH MOVE, and YOUTH VOICE. The groups focused on creating and sharing what activities and actions have been helpful to build system change and stigma reduction in youth communities. These groups began coming together at Alternatives 2009. Although this is the first year these groups have collaborated in co-hosting a creativity zone, our first big youth plenary session was at Alternatives 2011.
The youth voice has defiantly been growing within the Alternatives conference. It was refreshing to see all of the youth supporters get up and dance to the flash mob opening, which I am sure helped capture everyone’s attention. It also helped me relax for my big three-minute moment of Alternatives fame. No matter how much I practiced, I was still nervous. I was scared to forget a part of my speech or talk so fast that no one would understand me. But one thing I was sure of, no one was going to judge me. I have always felt safe to be myself at all of the Alternatives conferences. It was from my first Alternatives in 2008 that I was inspired by a youth leader form YOUTH POWER to continue advocating for youth inclusion within my community. I had my first advocacy meeting that same night with Jay Mahler and expressed my concerns. Not knowing exactly how fast Jay works his advocacy magic, on our airplane ride home he talked to legendary advocate Sally Zinman and PEERS Executive Director Khatera Aslami about how things were going to change for youth the following year. That year things changed for TAY in Alameda County.
That is why going up and closing the youth plenary session was big for me. I wanted everyone to know what great work the TAYi has been doing; talk about the importance of peer support, education and training; show love for those OG’s who have paved the way for the youth and passed down the torch. Most importantly, I kindly asked the audience to take immediate action in supporting our youth. I have hope that everyone was able to commit to sharing their story with a youth and listen to a youth's story without judgment. I have hope that the adults will get youth involved in all aspects of their programs, for example, planning process, decision-making, and development planning. “Nothing about us without us” includes us, the youth, because although we are youth we share the same passion for systems change. So why not unite, and continue to grow the youth involvement within Alternatives.
This year Peerlink National Technical Assistance Center hosted Alternatives 2012 in Portland Oregon, The theme of the conference was "Honoring Our History, Building Our Future." As a returning participant of such an innovative peer-nun system of change for mental health recovery, my involvement was different this year in comparison to last year’s Alternatives Conference. Last Year, I was a presenter of a workshop. Whereas this year, I volunteered as an onsite worker who ensured that the daily workshops ran smoothly. Each morning, all of the volunteers met to receive their assignment. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to work workshops I was interested in.
However, there was one group in particular that was the highlight of my Alternatives 2012 experience. The workshop that I am referring to was entitled, "Mindfulness, Trauma and Mental Health Recovery" by Jim Probert.
Jim Probert, the facilitator of this workshop is presently a psychologist. In addition to him being a licensed professional who clinical psychology received special training to work with individuals that have mental health issues in a variety of settings such as private practices, county mental health, community mental health, or hospitals, he is a person who identifies as experiencing mental health challenges.
As far back as 1982, Jim Probert is someone who has been hospitalized and prescribed psychotropic medications. He has traumatic experiences and continues on his healing journey of recovery every day.
Specifically in this workshop, "Mindfulness, Trauma and Mental Health Recovery," Jim put aside some of his professional training and offered more of his personal experiences of dealing with terrifying experiences and his spiritual trek of their being a common ground for all of us as human beings. Jim offered each participant a different way of looking at painful, distressing, and hurtful happenings. First, he encouraged everyone in the training not to see trauma as random experiences of something that happened to us, or as events that we cannot recover from. He suggested that we allow trauma to be metaphoric situations and/or circumstances that we learn from, "stand up to" with our emotions, and push through so we can experience healing.
The way in which Jim offered this was by implementing a very useful tool. The tool he provided was creating a mindfulness journal, and on each page of the journal each person would have two columns, (one entitled Emotion/Experience and the other column entitled Intention/Purpose), and in the notebook each side of the page would allow a person to acknowledge each category, not trying to make away with what happened but instead deal with the emotions in order to have healing and self-love occur. From there, each person could then start with developing positive statements of self-acceptance for him or her, in turn beginning to practicing valuing ourselves and believe in our own basic potentials.
Jim projected these tool offerings by openly and honestly sharing is journey, and how it's helped him. He also kind heartedly listened to others share, honoring their experience. While actively listening to each person express themselves, Jim held each person in high regard, no judgment, shame or blame. As a result of Jim being authentic, the room the workshop was held in felt like the safest place to be.
Overall, the order and process of the workshop was extremely empowering and healing for me. I am very thankful to the space he created and the transformative healing tools he provided.
I look forward to next year's Alternatives Conference, and I hope to attend more workshops facilitated by Jim Probert.