Celebrating an Extraordinary Life: Mark A. Davis (a/k/a MAD)

Mark A. Davis, M.A., an award-winning mental health, LGBTQ, and human rights advocate who was also known for his warmth, kindness, humor, and his larger-than-life personality, died on September 14, 2020, in Philadelphia. He was 64.

An Ohio native who spent more than half of his life in Philadelphia, Mark was hired in 1985 to work at Project SHARE, the new self-help and mental health advocacy project Joseph Rogers had founded under the auspices of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “Mark helped build the efforts…to be a large part of the national movement for social justice in mental health,” Rogers says.

Mark was the founding president of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (PMHCA). According to his bio on the NARPA website, he inspired over 75 consumer-run groups across the country; and he has been a speaker, consultant, and trainer in 43 states for a variety of consumer, family, community, and professional associations. In 2003, Davis founded the Pink & Blues, an ongoing support group for individuals from sexual and gender minority communities who also have lived experience with a mental health diagnosis.

With Gayle Bluebird, Howie the Harp, and others, Mark was a key organizer of Altered States of the Arts, celebrating the creativity of people with lived experience. “To the arts people, he was our role model,” says Bluebird.

Until recently, Mark often performed at conferences and in parades in what he called “drag with a tag.” In his debut performance in this role, at Alternatives ’92 in Philadelphia, Bluebird recalls, “the audience watched him as he was escorted on stage, where he disrobed from a fur coat, then to a ballroom gown, finally to the pink bathing suit. People in the audience were shocked, and laughed until they nearly fell out of their chairs.”

Miss Altered StatesAs Miss Altered States, Mark won Best Performance in the 2004 Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade.

As Mark’s NARPA bio noted, “As a person who is gay, living with mental illness, in recovery from addiction, dealing with hearing loss and living with an HIV-positive diagnosis (1988), he has consistently used his experiences and skills to combat stigma, inspire others in similar circumstances and [e]ffect change,” particularly in developing culturally competent services for the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Having attempted suicide and lost his sister to suicide, Mark served on a committee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In his LinkedIn profile, Mark highlighted his interest in “building movements of people seeking personal life enrichment and system change to eliminate stigmas, ignorance, and biases.”

Mark believed that Recovery Happens. He urged those with co-occurring conditions and many identities to “NAME IT, CLAIM IT, TAME IT, FRAME IT, LIVE IT!” He also believed that

SILENCE=DEATH,

TALK=LIFE, KNOWLEDGE=POWER, and that VOTING IS VITAL.

Addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, Mark wrote on his Facebook page that “We already have experience from Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, with social and physical distancing, unlike those experiencing this for the first time.”

In 2009, Mark received a prestigious Voice Award, presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for his achievements as a mental health consumer/survivor advocate.

Mark Davis will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues all over the country; many have left loving messages of loss and remembrance on Facebook and the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery e-list. One such memory is from acclaimed human rights activist Hikmah Gardiner, who said, “Mark was my supervisor years ago. His sense of humor was phenomenal: He joked about my being a woman of color and I joked about his being gay.” Dr. Mark Salzer, director of the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion, called Davis “a colossal spirit and force in our mental health, HIV, and LGBTQ+ communities.”

Mark earned a B.A. and M.A. in Speech Education and Higher Education Administration from Bowling Green State University (1974-1981), where he participated in student government and the National Forensic League Team. In his LinkedIn profile, Mark reported that he was a varsity cheerleader, Sigma Nu Housemother (sic), and “the first ‘Male’ (sic) BGSU Homecoming King.” He was also director/producer of Miss Bowling Green State University, and was an “IFC Beer Chugging Champion.”

“The whole world is crazy; I just got caught,” Mark Davis once said. “We know that humor is the best medicine because there is no co-pay.” Memorial donations may be made to the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association and/or the Pennsylvania Peer Support Coalition.

Written by (alphabetically): Bluebird, Susan Rogers, Bonnie Schell, and Dr. Phyllis Solomon

If you have a memory of Mark, please feel free to share it with the community!

What if Daniel Prude had Peer Support?

CCIT-NYC

In a recent statement about the brutal death of Daniel Prude at the hands of police in Rochester, CCIT-NYC (Correct Crisis Intervention Today) points out that a “peer with lived mental health experience, trained in de-escalation techniques and paired with an EMT, would have responded more humanely and effectively to Mr. Prude’s health and emotional needs, rather than violently escalate the crisis as occurred. Mr. Prude should be alive today.”  (Read More)

It occurred to me that stories about working with people, like Daniel Prude, written by peer specialists who are doing the work could change hearts and minds about “people like us”.  Our stories of hope can help to reinforce the idea that recovery is possible. In fact, recovery should be the expectation.

Howard Diamond’s previous blog on Stigma and Discrimination is a narrative that can be changed if we collectively tell a different story. One in which we simply offer snippets about changes we’ve witnessed in people we support. Maybe we write down things people say when they thank us for the difference it made to have a peer to peer relationship. Maybe it is about having someone who believed in them. Or simply how they no longer felt alone. Our collective stories by and about the people we support can educate and inspire others (possibly policy makers). By writing a simple quote said by someone we support, an example of a life changed, we may be able to change — maybe save — someone’s life in the future.

Let’s tell our short stories about recovery, resilience, and the difference peer supporters make, one person at a time.

If you are not aware of the circumstances around Daniel Prude’s homicide, I invite you first to read the CCIT-NYC statement (Read here), and then respond using the comment section below to the question, “What if Daniel Prude *had* peer support at the time of the incident? How might his life have been different?”

Stigma and Discrimination – Abused by Media by Howard Diamond

HEADLINE!!  HEADLINE!!  – READ ALL ABOUT IT     

MENTALLY ILL MAN PUSHES AND KILLS ELDERLY WOMAN BY USING TRAIN TRACKS 

 WE INTERRUPT  THIS BROADCAST…      

A DISHEVELED LADY WHO WAS HEARING VOICES HAS BEEN FOUND AND ARRESTED

Crazy news
Does this look and or and sound familiar? Did it grab our attention? It is in gold print in our local newspaper or perhaps it is the news personality that breaks into our favorite programming. Of course it does, at least to most of us at some point in our life. Utterly deplorable and a very sad day when this occurs. Wow, media strikes!

Mass Media often reports on people with Mental Illness. Whether it be on radio or television or even in newspapers or magazine, my feeling is that the folks suffering are not even close to being portrayed in a correct manner. More often than not, media depicts mankind with mental illness in a extremely negative way, which often causes others to perceive each guy and gal dealing with this differently. In addition, inaccuracies stated by media causes judgmental and stereotypical thinking that many times leads to STIGMA and DISCRIMINATION. 

Worse of all, media shows people with mental illness as incompetent, dangerous and undeserving which serves to distance everyone from each other. What a life! Realistically, what is needed is a more on the mark capturing of what someone dealing with these issues are like. This way and only in this way, one can discern between what is true or false, stereotype or reality and characterization versus real life story telling. Studies do inform us that people suffering from a form of mental illness are less likely to commit a violent crime, however, they are more likely to be victimized themselves. How does one like them apples?

People continue to STIGMATIZE and DISCRIMINATE others with mental health  problems that look different from everyone else. Boy, is this false! Maybe it is their dirty hair or is it torn and tattered clothing being worn. Perhaps it is the wild eyes or the way one is meandering down the street. So, now we are lumping categories altogether. Think about these possibilities. Ultimately, is it because there are signs of mental health difficulties present? Once again, STIGMA and DISCRIMINATION rear their ugly heads.

Do people really appear that different? Of course not. These attributes tell us when casting for characters who look evil, threatening or at least are unkempt, interviewers need to check prospective candidates thoroughly before hiring. Out there are the homeless who lack funds or possessions to maintain the ability for an adequate appearance. These folks who have a right to perform and can and do possess any assortment of mental health issues. Also, there are huge numbers who get up every day, shower, go to work and lead productive lives.

Both STIGMA and DISCRIMINATION causes media to portray others dealing with any mental illness in a dismissive way. Applause, applause. Really it does seem like everyone looks and acts similarly, not like what the media often shows.

Mass Media glorifies Mental Health concerns. While many people are beginning to try talking about these issues and gains, recovery isn’t often displayed. Characters portrayed in media formats are rarely shown with any progress or recover from any of their maladies. If indeed humans do eventually improve and get better, it will only last for a short duration and is only a temporary situation. Ultimately, this creates a belief that there is little or no hope for someone who develops any type of Mental Health problem. Okay, I know, this is another way for media to justify that the words, STIGMA and DISCRIMINATION do exist.

In reality, people do recover! With an adequate combination of medications, therapy, social interactions with family and friends plus using the right mindset, many of these individuals can and do recover. Maybe in the future everyone can coexist and live in both peace and harmony.

Added to this, STIGMA and DISCRIMINATION will be removed from our collective vocabularies. Yes, earlier I said recovery is not only possible, it is probable. What do all the readers out there think? Let me know with some comments.

Next time, the article will be about how self stigma effects us and how we can develop other mental health issues. See you in the Blog.

Howard Diamond is a New York State Certified Peer Specialist from Long Island 

Wounded Healer Discovers Her Limitations

By Zisa Aziza, Peer Specialist

There are certain truths that we can only discover for ourselves. Since writing my article in the Fall 2019 edition of City Voices, much has been elucidated. Between August and November of 2019, I had met my aspirations and still felt unsatisfied. As I had intended, I applied to Yeshiva University for their Wurzweiler School of Social Work Program. I applied on August 20th, the deadline, and by the 22nd, I had a student identification number. At work, I desired the role of Case Manager, which at the time exclusively required an MSW or Master’s degree. Due to the bail reform and expansions within the Supervised Release Program for pretrial services with justice-involved individuals, bachelor’s level case management was available. I didn’t immediately apply because it was adult-specific and I had a desire to work with young adults, ages 16-24. I was encouraged to apply for the position by my colleagues. It took about two weeks to receive the job offer, with a salary in the mid-50s. I was convinced that I was on my path—The Path—to the perceived greatness I wished to embody.

During my short time at Yeshiva University, an excellent institution, I was introduced to tremendous knowledge and a plethora of theories on human behavior. As a Jew, I was elated to attend Yeshiva, enthusiastic, and enthralled with the newness of it all. I held my professors in high esteem and was very respectful and appreciative of my classmates. I submitted some online assignments and wrote two papers, one a midterm, before withdrawing on November 8th, 2019. Although the papers received A’s, I found the process of learning about trauma and healing in an academic institution to be inexplicably triggering and retraumatizing. There was this approach of objective distancing that felt disconnected from the very statistics on the trauma that we studied. I took three classes at Yeshiva. In two of those classes, the professors distributed the Adverse Childhood Experience survey. I have a score of 9. The highest is 10. Of the questions in the survey, domestic violence between my caregivers was never witnessed, but intimate partner violence was very present.

I began to feel too wounded to facilitate the healing of others. Although I had withdrawn from Yeshiva University, I was promoted to Adolescent Case Manager as of November 18th, 2019, ten days after withdrawing from graduate school. I felt confident that if I focused on work and remained committed to my mental health treatment process, along with self-care practices, that I could maintain my work/life balance. This was upheaved when I performed an intake for two young men who were both charged with crimes of sexual violence against young girls. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who is currently naming and owning experiences of abuse that were normalized, I simply could not hold my seat at the table. After much deliberation, I applied for the Family Medical Leave Act and Short-term Disability as of January 6th, 2020. I write these words in late February, from a ranch in New Mexico, completely uncertain of my future.

Even so, I deeply believe that wounded healers can be exceptional in their ability to encourage and support the personal transformation of their peers. My pride instructed me that I required an MSW and a higher salary to execute such an intention. Humility is a wise teacher. It is not a matter of what you do, but why and how you do it. The creative impact is my intention. I thoroughly enjoy listening and processing and empowering people. My definitive dream is to live off the land, with a farm, in an adobe home, in a sustainable manner, and with the community. Whatever path that is aligned with my values and ethics that can actualize said dream, shall be explored. I intend on being content and graceful. I have faith in the process. This is my journey.

* * * * * * *

Flash forward to Corona times, Rosh Hashanah is upon us. Between February and September, my life has been full of abundance. I was in London to experience an art exhibit by Genesis Tramaine at the Almine Rech Gallery when the travel restrictions were declared. I recall being seated at a dinner reception after the opening of the art exhibit with Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, who after scrolling through my Instagram post suggested I explore the medium of music. The flight from London to Norway, and finally, back to New York was surreal. I returned to my employer at the end of March. I have been working remotely since that time. I currently have about 30 clients on my caseload and find it very manageable. I have also immersed myself into a community with JFREJ (Jews for Racial and Economic Justice) and Ammud: Jews of Color Torah Academy. I am currently enrolled in the Certification in Jewish Ethics and Social Justice at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Additionally, through a membership funded by my employer with SWEET (Supporting Wellbeing through Empowerment, Education, and Training), I am enrolled in two certificate programs: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Psychotherapy.

Every day I challenge myself to surrender to the present. To do my best and to be most forgiving when I do not meet my own expectations. I have chosen to love myself as though I were my own child and my own mother; the abundance in such a task is life-giving. HaShem loves me, Spirit loves me, and I love me. How could I ever be lost? My path is of my own divining.

Editor: Zisa is an author and artist who writes poetry, prose, essays, and also does photography and strives to create documentaries. Her websites document her journey of self-love and striving for transcendence. She offers this as an open-copyright creator because she deeply yearns for community. For more of Zisa's creative works visit: truths89.com or zisaaziza.com

 

Racism: A Public Mental Health Crisis

[Editor Note: On August 26, the Office of Mental Health broadcast the first in a six part webinar series on Racism as a Public Mental Health Crisis moderated by Matthew Canuteson, MA, Diversity & Inclusion Office, Director of the Bureau of Cultural Competence, NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH).]

The recording of the first webinar in the series is now available, and information about how to register for the rest of the series follows. Of particular interest is access to Project Implicit, a self-assessment tool to better understand our own level of implicit bias.

Webinar
Racism: A Public Mental Health Crisis with Matt Canuteson
New York State Office of Mental Health
Broadcast on August 26, 2020
For the Recording
Take the Implicit Bias Test

During the webinar, viewers were invited to take a self-assessment called Project Implicit. The site provides a number of different categories for self-assessment. Race is one category and the self-assessment takes about 15 minutes to complete.

There are more webinars in this series. The next one will be broadcast on September 30. Learn More. 

Built That Way: Implicit Bias by James Clarke

[Editor Note: This week we welcome a new Guest Blogger, James Clarke, from the Syracuse Peer Network (SyrPeer). He shares with us an article on Implicit Bias, which is an important topic for peer specialists to consider.]

I find myself, like most, thinking I’m a rational person and base all of my actions on facts and decision making. At the same time, most decisions are automatic responses we have developed. Part of being human is to have logic and reasoning, making it almost taboo to speak of having biases or auto-judgments. This also sets us up to be hardwired to make mistakes within our judgment without ever being aware of it. It is now to be considered that these auto-responses are what lead us to the biases found within our society.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman from Princeton University, who with Amos Tversky, worked toward undoing this century-long false view of how the human mind works showing how judgment is fallible and how we are hardwired to make mistakes.

When these two went into the study they believed that all people come to decision making logically and wondered how this could be used to influence the economy. Instead, they found the majority of our decisions were based on habits, intuitions, our personal history, and at times our emotional state.

This isn’t to say we are not rational beings, this is our fast mind at work-which occurs without active thinking. When we are logical we process things more slowly. This logical process is based on conscious reasoning, it is energy-draining and time-consuming. (Read More)

A day of remembrance: September 11

911

On September 11, 2001 the world changed in fundamental ways. Today’s anniversary is a time to reflect on the trauma and loss. It is also a time for hope. We survived. We are resilient. We will forevermore face the future as survivors of a crisis unlike anything our country had ever faced before.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you learned the news of the attack and fall of the twin towers. In what ways did the news change your life?

One thing that I remember is a dear friend who, in the days immediately following the attack in 2001, organized a letter writing campaign. She went on Good Morning America and asked people around the country to send letters to first responders and the families of those who had lost loved ones in New York City and Washington DC.  Thousands of letters poured in – and she redistributed those letters to families who had lost loved ones and to the fire fighters, police officers, and many other first responders who had lost friends and coworkers. People across the country shared their sense of grief and loss. Their sense of outrage. They shared their gratitude and appreciation for those who risked their lives – and for those who lost their lives. They let the people of NYC and DC know that the nation had them in their hearts and prayers.

I share that story because it feels like we are in another time of state and national trauma. And we are struggling with how to see our way through the pain and confusion. My friend’s simple act of going on Good Morning America and inviting people across the country to write letters and organizing them so that they brought comfort to many, just when they needed it the most, feels like just one way to help us to stay connected through the trauma of these days.

Do you have memories of September 11, 2001 and how you’ve found resilience in the years since? (Feel free to leave a comment.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The anti-racism experiment

In light of the tragic events surrounding the death of Daniel Prude at the hands of police officers in Rochester, New York (see the Center for Disability Rights statement) and the subsequent protests, I’ve been reminded of a video resource we used in The Historical Roots of Peer Support Services course when we revised it to include topics related to power, oppression, discrimination, institutional racism, Intersectionality, and the origins of Eugenics.

The Anti-Racism Experiment

In this 1992 Oprah Show episode, award-winning anti-racism activist and educator Jane Elliott taught the audience a tough lesson about racism by demonstrating just how easy it is to learn prejudice.

Watch as the audience, totally unaware that an exercise is underway, gets separated into two groups based on the color of their eyes. The blue-eyes group was discriminated against while the people with brown eyes were treated with respect.

Jane says she first started this exercise in her third grade class back in 1968, the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Edited Episode: [Video 3:48 min.]

Full Episode: [Video 32:52 min.]

A Recent (2020) Interview with Anti-Racist Educator Jane Elliot [Video 7:16 min.]

We stand with those who call for reform to the way in which people in a mental health and/or addiction crisis are treated. Including and involving peer support is one of many possible reforms that should be considered.

Sports is here, but will it last?

SPORTS IS HERE, BUT WILL IT LAST by Howard Diamond 
Sports is here, but will it last
No one knows when COVID19 is leaving
Enjoy sports like in the past
As this virus does its bobbing and weaving

 

Baseball, Basketball, Football and Hockey
Some sports are about to begin their season
While others are in playoffs to watch on TV
With COVID19 continuing to spread without a reason.

 

Baseball are using different ways that don’t make sense,
Basketball are playing their games inside a bubble
Football probably will start on time and will be intense
Hockey matches are getting on without any trouble.

 

Soccer around the world is basically the same
Golf tournaments are proceeding each week
Tennis courts are being used without much fame
Auto racing is around with sound reaching their peak.

 

Sports is here, but will it last
It is a good image for everyone to see
COVID19 is still running through countries very fast
Follow the rules, smart and responsible is the key.

 

A SPORTS POEM by HOWARD DIAMOND, A Certified Peer Specialist

Remember Moon Visit

REMEMBER MOON VISIT BY NOT RETURNING SOON by HOWARD DIAMOND

Fifty one years ago we walked the moon
Now there are plans to return there soon
As time flies by, we celebrate each day at noon
While singing and whistling to a happy tune

Do we need to go back to that place
Or take care of our own human race
Time to put down the weapons and the mace
Before there are no humans, not even a trace

One person at a time is the way to start
Beginning the process by doing our part
Using our brain and our heart
Wow, that really does sound smart

Traveling again to the moon is a bad plan
Use our resources to help woman and man
Help others and become a  fan
In every way possible that we can