MAKING IT PERSONAL
By Paula L. Woods,
Los Angeles Times,
July 3, 2005
You don't have to go any further than the publicity
materials for Bebe Moore Campbell's latest novel or her
website (www.bebemoorecampbell.com) to understand that "72
Hour Hold" has its origins in the author's experiences with
a loved one's mental illness, or that she believes such
brain disorders particularly stigmatize blacks who suffer
from them, in part because of the community's reluctance to
confront them. "I feel that it's my job as a writer to
create a community dialogue when silence is killing us," she
writes in a Q&A on her publisher's website.
Campbell's commitment has gone far beyond her
writing, transforming her into a mental health advocate for
African Americans. It started five years ago, when
Campbell visited Nancy Carter, 59, at her home in
to talk about the illness of her relative.
"We ended up
sitting on the living room floor, talking for hours about
what we were going through," recalls Carter, who has a
relative with bipolar disorder. "We talked, we cried
together, and later we went to church together." The two
agreed that there had to be others going through similar
experiences, so they sought others out and soon there were
six women meeting at Carter's home.
It was important for all the women to know they were not
alone, something Benita "Bunny" Council, a 50-ish pharmacist
who lives in Inglewood, appreciated when she joined in 2001.
"My loved one has schizophrenia," she says, "so I really
benefited from the wealth of knowledge in the group, their
support and their knowledge of the justice system. I also
can't emphasize enough how comforting it was being with
women of color going through the same thing."
Carter concurs. "Sometimes, people are self-conscious or too
ashamed to reveal what they're going through, but when you
have a loved one walking down the middle of the road with no
clothes on, you have to get over yourself!"
down-to-earth attitude has buoyed the group's spirits
through the ups and downs of coping with mental illness in
their families. Searching the Internet led them to the
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Inspired by what
they saw, they established the NAMI-Inglewood Chapter in
The chapter offers a variety of free services including
support groups and a 12-week education course for family
members and those who provide services to individuals with
brain disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder
(manic depression), clinical depression, panic disorder and
The course is taught by people trained and certified by NAMI,
including Campbell and Carter. "After we were trained, we
were asked if we would teach the classes on the Westside,"
Carter recalls. "But we felt it was important to teach in
Keeping the focus on African Americans and other people of
color was also paramount to
"My work with the mentally ill is partly community work and
partly my personal mission," she explains. She has also
written a play, "Even With the Madness," and a 2003
children's book about bipolar disorder, "Sometimes My Mommy
Gets Angry," which
has read to children at bookstores, churches and housing
Nowadays her attention is on "72 Hour Hold," which she read
from at NAMI's recent national convention in Austin, Texas,
and discusses on her current 18-city tour.
new book will help increase awareness and acceptance of
brain disorders in the black community. "Mental illness is
the last taboo," Carter asserts. "And even though I broke
down and cried at times while reading the book, I think it's
a great thing Bebe has done. The book shows that you've got
to find the joy in life, no matter the pain."