Black folks love to congregate and break bread, and the Coalition of Mental Health Professional’s (CMHP) 25th Anniversary Celebration satisfied these primal urges as well as highlighting the timely issue of mental hygiene in metropolitan Los Angeles this past Sunday, June 11. Originally slated for Inglewood’s landmark “Proud Bird” restaurant (currently undergoing renovations), the gala was moved to the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near LAX.
In addition to observing the CMHP commemoration, the event was also a nod to the founding of Los Angeles Southwest Community College, which opened in 1967. The 300-person Gateway Ballroom was filled to capacity as guests dined and grooved to the Upward Mobility Band.
Master of Ceremonies Halford H. Fairchild augmented his mandated task of introducing the event honorees, Google software engineer Anthony D. Mays, museum curator and professor Tyree Boyd-Pates, and actor Ken Sagoes, with entertaining the crowd with his facility with the spoken word idiom.
Like so much of recent South Los Angeles history, the nucleus for CMHP was planted amid the embers of the April/May 1992 insurrection. For founder Sandra E. Cox, Ph.D., the pivotal shooting of Latasha Harlins at Empire Market in March of 1991 was especially poignant, due to its close proximity to her family business, Utopia Cleaners at 91st and Figueroa streets. The domino effect of the child’s death and the reduced sentencing of the shopkeeper who killed her, the vehicle chase and beating of Rodney King, and the acquittal of the police officers responsible for assaulting him, culminated in the imposition of martial law on her community, as its inhabitants deafened the city with what Martin Luther King called “…the language of the unheard.”
Forcibly sequestered in their homes by this dust-to-dawn curfew, Dr. Cox, a school psychologist, and her colleague, social worker Nancy Jefferson Mance, engaged in a brainstorming session via telephone, resulting in the electronic conception of CMHP.
Its initial growth was marked by the unsteady progress made by 60 volunteers, armed with piecemeal donations, including a Department of Mental Health grant, ironically from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the institution that suffered criticism for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina decades later.
From these humble beginnings, Cox and her “troops” made their first successes as they hit the pavement through the tactic of “street corner counseling.”
Fairchild, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Africana Studies at Pitzer College, lauded the work of Dr. Cox and CMHP, while lamenting it is still “a drop in the bucket,” in terms of addressing the ills that plague the community and the nation.
“The physical condition of African people—sequestered into segregated communities that lack equal opportunities in health, education and general welfare—produces the psychological strains that challenge our well being from Johannesburg to South Central L.A.,” he said.
Cox and Fairchild maintain the need for “divine intervention” to solve the plethora of mental health issues that continue to plague the Black community. The issues of Black on Black violence, and low overall self esteem remain embedded locally, nationally, and internationally, as we approach the end of the second decade of this new millennium.
Those wishing to follow the advancement and contribute to CMPH are encouraged to visit the website at http://mentalhealthprofessionals.org.