I’m cheering the culture shift in this year’s NAMI Fresno yearly fundraiser gala. It felt so much more inclusive of people from all areas of our community – including peers, family and professionals.
The event was held in a more appropriate and neutral location than in previous years. Christina Roup, NAMI Fresno’s Executive Director, did an incredible job of being the host and included speeches by peers (myself included), families and professionals, and the keynote speaker was Jerry Dyer.
The focus this year was on Crisis Intervention Training and many of those who spoke shared profound testimonies of how that training has already created better outcomes for peers, first responders and law enforcement in our community. It’s really astounding to see the positive difference when working with officers who’ve had the training. Their interactions with peers during mental health crises speak volumes.
One of the best messages I heard by peers repeatedly: The crisis incidents needing law enforcement assistance could have caused more trauma, and with officers who had Crisis Intervention Training, it didn’t. Instead something else remarkable happened. In many cases, friendships developed.
Hearing peers and officers speak about their experiences during the same incidents made me realize the positive impact wasn’t just for us peers. These folks who help us in crisis, it seems, are finding good too.
When Jerry Dyer took the stage to speak, I was even more floored. Dyer is (as of today) a retired Police Chief of 18 years, and a member of Fresno Police Department for over 40 years.
Now, I’ve had the experience of being close to this man … and I have to tell you, he’s a BIG guy. There’s no tiny about him. Not a nothin’. He speaks to the room about how important the program is to him, and how it’s a highlight of his career and his biggest regret was not implementing it sooner.
He’s also reached out to other law enforcement agencies and offered their facilities and trainers to provide CIT at no-cost. Because of Dyer’s outreach, many surrounding counties have participated in training and now those communities are benefiting as well.
That was impressive enough, but then Dyer went on and spoke about his own personal challenges in front of his peers and colleagues. He spoke of an experience that had affected him, and he spoke very honestly about it as well.
Overall, my experience with the crisis intervention training program has been incredible. I have shared my story, learned about others in this community, and connected with law enforcement, first responders and professionals. It has made me feel, as a peer living with severe PTSD, that my experience has value and it means something going forward to help others … whether they are my peers, or they are people trying to support my peers when we are at our most ill.
The inclusive feeling at this year’s gala is a stark difference from last year. Truth be told, I’ve not participated much since then in NAMI Fresno events, programs and more because of the stigma, ableism and culture of inequality between family and peers created by some of organization’s board members.
And frankly, NAMI Fresno is no longer a ‘safe space’ for me to participate in their programs and groups. I’ve received great support from Christina Roup, many peers, friends, NAMI California and NAMI National. However, that support doesn’t mitigate the harm caused by the way some members of the NAMI Fresno Board, including the current president, have treated peers.
Let’s keep the inclusive culture shift I felt at this years’ Gala and cultivate it to be the status quo for NAMI Fresno Board members too. I’ve recently submitted my membership votes, with a few decided no boxes checked.
It’s time for that culture shift to be embraced by NAMI Fresno Board members too. My peers come from all walks of life, every community, every culture, every minority, every majority, every ability and disability, every gender (including non-binary), and every perspective that exists.
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. NAMI Fresno shouldn’t either.
I propose to my peers, friends, loved ones, allies and others who want to support better outcomes for those living with mental illness, and the people who help them, to join NAMI Fresno. The membership is only as good as the people who are participating. It is only as diversified as it’s membership. NAMI Fresno is too important to let a few affect the many.
NAMI Fresno outreach and programs are already incredible. The people who volunteer, mentor, teach and work there are also incredible. They deserve the support of the greater community. Individuals there are saving lives out here in the ugly every day. No credit requested and mostly none ever attributed. Our community would suffer without Christina Roup and others’ work there. And, with Jerry Dyer’s expansion of CIT to surrounding counties, other communities would suffer as well. This won’t do.
Frankly, it’s time for a huge change of guard and attitude. The sustained disappointment I have with the board is overwhelming and I’m asking for community help. Please become a NAMI Fresno member and help us sustain the positive culture shift and inclusivity felt at this years’ gala.
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Below are some exchanges over the past couple of years that have led to my sustained disappointment of the NAMI Fresno Board.
Dear … Eve,
As a peer and friend, I totally support your neurodiversity initiative and I support your efforts to advocate for your concerns with Blue Sky Wellness Center.
As NAMI Fresno president I have to ask you to take the NAMI Walks link off the website. I think you know that NAMI Fresno’s advocacy approach is one of coalition buliding. Coalition building involves building and leveraging relationships for change. Public dialogue can also be a part of coalition building.But a lot of coalition building work involves behind the scenes dialogue.
NAMI Fresno has a very strong and positive relationship with Blue Sky and their parent organization Kings View. We have been in dialogue with them about the issues you described in your post at the badass advocates website. We are advocating for peers as they struggle with very difficult challenges associated with many factors beyond their control.
As president, I have to say that while I agree with your concerns about stigma, lack of training for the officer, changes to shower/meal availability, I disagree with the tone of the post and the accusation that Blue Sky did not seek to involve peers in the process of change. I have no info about their intake process – I can’t comment on that.
As president, I want to emphasize that NAMI wants to work with badassadvocates as you do very important work on behalf of peers. So, while I’m asking for this public boundary, I am hopeful that there won’t be a breach in our relationship – we share the goals of stigma reduction, access to high quality services, and peer empowerment. We need each other.
remove our link. We don’t want to create the impression that NAMI agrees with your position. I will be sharing this request with our board on Monday and we will vote about whether the board will support this request. I believe they will. If they don’t I’ll let you know and you can put us back up.
I meant to start the last bubble with “so please”AS your friend, please let me know if I can support badassadvocates in any way. Thanks so much.
Thanks Eve for understanding NAMI’s sensitive position in all this – I know your group supports us as well. Also, I hope you know I support you all in advocating in whatever style you feel is best for you and the people your organization represetns.
October 8, 2017 | Email sent to NAMI California
I’m struggling greatly with being silenced by the board president at NAMI Fresno. My heart is sad and I don’t know what to do, so I’m turning here seeking help and support.
Below is an fbmessenger exchange with Christine Edmonson in regards to the NAMI Walk team button I had on the right rail of AmericanBadassActivists.org. She asked to do so as a friend.
The culture for diminishing peer voice and peers feeling stigmatized has been a cultural consistent at NAMI Fresno going back, in my experience, to at least 2012.
The board has done their all to silence me during #TheReal5150 campaign — saying I should change the name of my site, to asking me to ask the energy drink company I was going up against to ask for a donation.
My intent clearly not valued by that board member, who is now gone. The situation became so stressed and fraught, I stepped down from the board. I refused to have them silence me and that’s what was being demanded. …
… Last May, without notice, my support of their Facebook page was removed. This was never discussed with me or any issues noted. Chris Roup and I have an excellent working relationship and this was very out of character — May 17 2017.
I’m feeling hurt, diminished, demoralized, stigmatized and like I’ve done something wrong by (as the opinion editor of the Fresno Bee stated) speaking truth to power.
In all other areas I’m considered a good activist — I currently sit on the Resources for Independence Central Valley board and am incredibly supported — they understand civil rights movements and peer voice and the need to be a confrontational voice when other methods have failed.
We are at that failure point. I am that confrontational voice for positive change — and have been taught by Each Mind Matters, NAMI Fresno and the Community Leadership Academy how to share my story — now Christine Edmonson has quietly silenced me.
What do I do about that? We need peer voice and NAMI Fresno, under Christine’s directive, doesn’t have a peer advisory council. Not Important enough I suppose.
Please help me navigate this. My experiences with NAMI CA and NAMI National are utterly different. If this was my only experience was NAMI Fresno – I wouldn’t have stayed connected after being pushed off the board.
Included (above) is the message from Christine Edmonson, NAMI Fresno, Board President.
Thank you for your time and possible help or guidance in this situation.
I’ve been sick with how to approach this — and just dealing with my self-esteem being obliterated and having to have it rallied back again by my peer support network.
I won’t stay silenced. #weareworthy
Email & Message sent to NAMI Fresno & NAMI California
Februrary 14, 2019
I’m surprised at the last two experiences I’ve had at NAMI Fresno Events. The culture shift is rather shocking … and frankly, as a peer, felt exclusive, rather than inclusive, and at some points downright patronizing, as well as ableist and offensive.
NAMI Winter Gala was terrible for peer inclusion. The focus on religion, scripture and narrative was inappropriate at best. Then the President describing his son … that bordered on woo woo mysticism is unbelievable. As a peer living with mental illness and an activist to break the stigma …. this is EXACTLY the misinformation and stigma we fight … and to hear it from the Pulpit o NAMI Fresno … What is going on?
I’m a board member of Resources for Independence Central Valley since 2014. It’s apparent the disability model has not been implemented at NAMI and that peer voices are missing in it’s advocacy. I’m disabled and proud. To use terms like differently-abled is condescending and offensive.
I’m also Autistic and the founder of InternationalBadassActivists.org and the co-founder of The Autistic Cooperative. I’m an internationally recognized disability activist too.
My community of Autistic peers is 70% non-heterosexual. We are a population known for our high density of transgender, non-binary people. We are an incredibly harmed population and many of us have suffered at religious interpretation of our behaviors. Many of us are polyamourous, and have very different family social groups.
What we also have is our #1 early cause of death is suicide. We have median lifespans of 36 years – and this isn’t due to being born autistic, but born into a world that won’t accept difference.
I’ve had an incredible experience with NAMI Fresno and feeling included with my very diverse background. I’ve shared to the world autistic community NAMI is a place to find peers, take classes and learn how to live — autistic and … we ALL have comorbidities in mental illness.
Yet, now, after my last two experiences with NAMI Fresno, I can not tell Fresno-Area Autistics to seek mental illness and suicide support there.
Not with this current culture as it stands.
Eve Reiland (US)
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