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OP-ED: The Mental Health Project

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By James Lockett

 

This is the start of a series of articles discussing the intentional deception and misappropriation of funds that are designated for those living among us with a severe and persistent mental illness.

 

 

 

It is my assertion that these funds never really get into the hands of the people for whom they are intended. If we look at our social issues in our local and national communities, we would see and hear our mental health community–asking for help.

 

President Baraka Obama has created a new source of support for low-income citizens, called the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau. This organization is a new light at the end of a here to fore hidden tunnel in our society–ethical organizational service credibility and veracity.

 

This writer characterizes some of the previous service organizations charged to protect the mental health community and provide a system of care as the old bait and switch game. This is because of the large gaps in the areas of personal protection and service.

 

One such organizations is the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commissions (MHSOAC). It is their responsibility to ensure that the Prop 63 or Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds are appropriately distributed in an effective manner.

 

This commission is supposed to consist of 16 individuals including aides from the governor. There has yet to be a person living with mental illness on this commission.

 

Further, there is no African American representation on the commission. African Americans are a sizable population within the mental health community in California.

 

This writer asks: “Why is this highly funded organization with a budget upwards of $800,000 plus making decisions about a cultural community in which it really have no understanding of African Americans wants, needs, fears and desires. This is what I mean by “bait and switch.”

 

How does this sound to you?

 

The MHSOAC has a variety of purposes and one of their primary mission is to ensure that the severely “mentally ill” (their word, I prefer mentally challenged) get the proper services so that they won’t have to eat out of garbage cans, sleep in doorways downtown (urinating and defecating) and walking up and down our streets talking to themselves and in a lot of cases become a threat to others and themselves.

 

At one time Oakland had a place called Oakland Independent Support Center (OISC) where individuals living with a mental health challenge could go during business hours to eat breakfast, shower, have lockers, get a haircut, get donated clothing, get computer skills, get food referrals, housing referrals, medical and psychiatric help as well as access to Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and Narcotic Anonymous (NA) meetings.

OISC was the best mental health program in the entire Bay Area.

 

What made it so special is that it was completely run by peers and clients. OISC was a program supervised by Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services.

 

This writer was on the Board of Directors and worked there as an employee. OISC was closed and needs to be reopened but this time with the kinds of expanded services only available at a cultural center for people living with a mental health life and living challenge.

Activism

IN MEMORIAM: Robert Farris Thompson, Renowned Professor of African American Studies

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993).

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Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.
Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.

TRIBUTE

By John Santos

We’ve lost a Rosetta Stone.

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson passed in his sleep Monday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and having been weakened by a bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. He would’ve completed his 89th year on December 30.

Born on Dec. 30, 1932, Thompson was a White Texan who spectacularly disproved the fallacy of White supremacy through his pioneering and tireless elevation and clarification of African art, philosophy and culture. He removed the blinders and changed the way that generations of international students see African art.

A U.S. Army veteran, he went to Yale on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in 1955. He joined the faculty in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He remained on the faculty until 2015.

‘Master T,’ as his students and friends often referred to him, was the Col. John Trumbull professor of the History of Art and professor of African American Studies at Yale University.

Thompson was also an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He curated game-changing national exhibitions such as “African Art in Motion,” “The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds,” and “Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas.” The latter had a run at U.C. Berkeley in 1995 when local practitioners of African spirituality and musicians — including myself – demonstrated the powerful knowledge of tradition.

Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993). If he did not coin, he certainly standardized the term ‘Black Atlantic.’ He was a brilliant presenter, writer and teacher. But unlike many if not most academicians, he was also loved, revered and respected by the musicians, artists and communities about whom he wrote.

Initiated in Africa to Erinle, the deity of deep, still water, Thompson was hip, quirky and totally immersed in African and African-based music, dance, language, art and history. His lifetime of research, immersion and visionary work formed a bridge between Black America and her African roots.

Countless trips to Africa, the Southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America informed his passionate work. He wrote about sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, music, language, poetry, food, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, African history, stolen antiquities, African spirituality, African retention, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Black Argentina, New York, México, mambo, tango, jazz, spirit possession and so much more. He recorded African drumming. He befriended giants of African diaspora music such as Julito Collazo, Babatunde Olatunji and Mongo Santamaría.

I first saw his writing around 1970 on the back of the classic red vinyl 1961 Mongo Santamaria LP, Arriba! La Pachanga (Fantasy 3324). They are inarguably among the deepest liner notes ever written.

He told me that he used our 1984 recording, Bárbara Milagrosa, by the Orquesta Batachanga, to demonstrate danzón-mambo to his students. I nearly burst into tears when he invited me and Omar Sosa to address and perform for his students at Yale, his alma mater, where he was a rock star. It was an unforgettable occasion for me.

He wrote wonderful liner notes on our 2002 Grammy-nominated production SF Bay, by the Machete Ensemble. He went out of his way to support and encourage countless students and followers like me. I was highly honored to count him as a friend as well as mentor.

He will be missed.

John Santos is a seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and former director of Orquesta Batachanga and Machete Ensemble and current director of the John Santos Sextet.

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Activism

Facebook’s “We the Culture” Panel Discusses Black Portrayals in Mainstream News

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American. In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

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A 2019 Pew Research Center analysis revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

By McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

When Erica Cobb, co-host of the Daily Blast Live, first stepped into the world of mainstream news over two decades ago, she overheard a conversation in which an industry person considered Cobb the perfect minority for a particular role because, although she is Black, to them she “didn’t come across like a Black person” based on stereotypes in their head.

“Those convos now are few and far between because we have more seats at the table,” said Cobb, who is also a podcaster with a background in radio. She was referring to the growing numbers of Black faces appearing regularly in the news media. “The pipeline has opened for more people of color.”

However, Cobb said, the news industry still needs more African Americans.

Independent journalist Georgia Fort, the founder of BLCK Press, said the lack of Black professionals in newsrooms across the U.S. contributes to African Americans being portrayed in a negative way.

“The media industry since its inception has capitalized on exploiting our stories and disproportionately portraying us in a negative light,” said Cobb, who identifies as biracial.

“You can go back to blackface; even modern-day newscasts are saturated with Black mug shots,” she said.

The current state of Black representation in the mainstream media was the subject of a recent online discussion hosted by Facebook’s “We The Culture,” a content initiative created and managed by a team of Black Facebook employees focused on amplifying content from Black creators.

The social networking giant launched the platform in February with an inaugural class of over 120 creators specializing in news and social media content.

Cobb and Fort were panelists on We The Culture’s video chat on how Blacks are depicted in mainstream media.

The third panelist was Zyahna Bryant, a student activist, community organizer, and online content creator who is known for spearheading the movement to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in in Charlottesville, Va.

The 53-minute discussion was moderated by Rushadd Hayard, a freelance web producer.

The quartet’s webcast happened a year after the murder of George Floyd, an African American man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Video of Floyd’s death shined a light on the aggressive tactics law enforcement officers sometimes employ when engaging Black Americans. The horror of his violent murder sparked national conversations on racial inequity, motivating many businesses and organizations in the U.S. to support African American causes and take steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American.

In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

“A privileged woman like Nichols,” Fort said, “refusing to support — or even accept — the advancement of a person from a disenfranchised community like Taylor is a problem.”

“You have people like Rachel, she wants something to be done as long as it doesn’t require her to make a sacrifice,” Fort continued. “In order for our nation to be more equitable, it is going to require all the Rachels to step aside and make space. Performative ally-ship is the best way I can describe her.”

Cobb noted that Nichols, who has since been pulled from appearing on the sporting network but continues to be paid, put herself in the forefront of a perception in the industry that ESPN had a diversity issue.

Bryant said media groups’ desires to increase the number of Blacks as employees are empty gestures if they don’t come with institutional change.

“I noticed we needed more Black voices after the George Floyd incident,” she said. “After the entire summer of organizing and moving into the election cycle, I felt that there was a disconnect. Not just with white people talking about Black issues, but the media altogether not having their ear to the ground.”

Hayard cited a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis that revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

Cobb said she first realized more Black representation was needed in the media when former President Barack Obama, began his initial run for the country’s highest office and a controversy ignited around him attending the church of controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

“I was the only one speaking out in defense of Obama,” she said. “I remember my co-host turning off my mic and people calling in saying I was racist. I left in the middle of the show. A Black reporter from the Chicago Tribune called me and first asked if I was OK and secondly, what happened and how it went down, and if I thought it was racist.”

The same realization came to Fort when she was assigned to cover the shooting of a Black man by a police officer for a news station. She was directed to pull up the criminal history of the man, but Fort also investigated the officer and found he had a litany of complaints against him, including racial-profiling ones.

“This was omitted from the five o’clock news because my white superiors didn’t feel it was relevant to the story,” she said. “I found myself being characterized in the newsroom as the angry Black woman.”

Cobb said for more African Americans to be present in front of news cameras, more Blacks need to be in positions of power behind the camera, beyond just the editor and producer roles.

Fort said a change in culture could also be helpful.

“The industry standard is AP-Style English and a certain image,” she said. “Not all Black people or people of color use AP English as their natural dialect, and we need to stop expecting people to conform to that. Allow people to be their authentic selves. Why are we saying we want diversity, but we want people to conform? To me that’s not diversity.”

When Bryant began her drive to get the Confederate statue removed, a Black reporter interviewed her. She said talking with a person from the same race, from possibly a similar background, and who was empathetic helped the interview go smoother

“I’m looking forward to seeing more journalists with their Blackness on display,” Bryant said.

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Advice

Culturally Deprived or Entitled

We all are contributors to the greater being, through exercising our God-like characteristics. God doesn’t create the issues — God shows up with the solution to issues. So, as we practice His characteristics, we then will demand and experience all of what we are asking for today.

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Our solutions to our current plights can be simple actions of kindness, forgiveness and empathy.
Our solutions to our current plights can be simple actions of kindness, forgiveness and empathy.

These are questions that we must ask ourselves as a country, city, state and community. We all have become victims of one or the other’s perspective. As a people, the current social climate, has stripped away our core values and sensitivities to properly acknowledge life’s differences. Life itself would have no spice, if it was all constructed with the same images, narratives, hopes, challenges, geography or gender. God’s presence would lose it purpose, behind our definition of social-cultural equalities. Everything can not be the same, but the differences can be a significant part of the whole.

Maybe our real issues are living inside of ourselves, as we look outside of ourselves to find our social and emotional purpose. Culturally, we often credit those voices that have large constituencies or media profiles, instead of those that have a fearless passion for the truth. Let’s not look to judge these efforts, but to hold ourselves accountable to our own truth that is aligned with God’s truth. Within this effort , I think we will emotionally land in a place, that we can start to heal.

Once we can embrace our cultural truths without jealousy, embarrassment, insecurities , bias and most important without fear. We can start to transform our social-emotional challenges. The solutions to our current plights , can be simple actions of kindness, love , empathy, forgiveness without judgement and acknowledging the love for humanity. These are God like social practices.

Let’s remember our greatest competition is our attempt to reach our own potential. It’s not looking to the left and the right, or seeing black and white, but looking comfortably within. This allows for a great collective outcome, because its our unique gifts, that contributes to life’s whole. We all are contributors to the greater being.. God doesn’t create the issues, man’s fears and bruises do. So, as we practice God’s characteristics, we will see a social emotional transformation occur. A culture of spiritual inclusion.

The real intention to deploy emotional equality is beyond the “Color Code” , gender biases, social -economic redlining or the constitutional governance of humanity. It’s simplifying the re-engineering of the processes that blocks the social transparencies of truth.to be realized.

Now which side do we sit on is the question to ask ourselves, are we culturally deprived or are we entitled? The acknowledgement of truth starts with you.

 

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