President Obama included mental health parity in his constantly under fire Affordable Care Act and has suggested “Change doesn’t happen top down, but bottom up.”  On January 15th the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a motion to integrate the departments of mental health, public health, and health services into a single agency.  My initial response is the title of this article.   Integration of the three multi-billion dollar systems will strengthen the non-existent safety-net of social services in low income communities of color.

As President/CEO of South LA based Inner City Industry established in 1999 and co-chair of LA County Department of Mental Health Cultural Competency Committee, without doubt integration will begin the much needed paradigm shift mentioned countless times in visits to local beauty and barbershops over the past decade.  It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that envisioned “The nettlesome task of Black America is to bear the burden of redeeming the soul of America.”  We as Black people have slaved for others, walked for freedom, voted for hope and democracy, and now bear witness to our young men being callously murdered by individuals assigned to protect and serve our community.  Leading the integration of social services is our moment in history to transform the system and gain the respect well deserved.

The opportunity ahead rest in collective our ability to re-brand mental health services while trauma is being described as the issue of our time.  Underground Railroad conductor, Harriett Tubman said “I could have freed more slaves had they only known they we enslaved.”  The word mental health is paralyzing to Black people.  Near mention often triggers an “I ain’t crazy” verbal response.  Due to negative portrayal among the mentally ill and institutional bias, racism and discrimination, Black people have become hopeless having to cope with a “crazy system” that lacks equality, access and cultural and linguistic competency for Black Americans.  Therefore, a fully integrated system of care is essential to the soul of Black America.

Ours resilience is both our strength and weakness.  Fifteen years into the twenty-first century, Black Americans by population are disproportionately represented in nearly every adverse quality of life indicator.  When the race for equality began, Black people had just returned from building the track.  Matthew 19:20 proclaims “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” Our resilience has led Black people to defy odds, often turning water into wine or making a dollar out of fifteen cent when our backs were pressed firmly against a wall.

The County of Los Angeles is as populated as forty-three states.  What we as Black Americans accomplish locally may have nationwide impact.  On March 30, 2015 the Board of Supervisors will receive their initial report from the County’s Chief Executives Office, Office of Health Care Integration including consolidated responses from stakeholders with intimate knowledge and involvement in each of the county departments.   Following review, the board will issues a 30-Day public hearing and comment period on the submitted draft beginning April 13. It is to our advantage to comment as a people to wait no longer for social justice. Don’t let it take so long for you to get involved.

If you’re like me and have at any time in your lifetime said, “The system doesn’t work for me” or “You’ve got to be the system to get ahead” of quiet simply “Phuck the system.” They you, like me, need to have input in how services are implemented into our community to begin a new conversation about how we changed the system.  Maya Angelou perfectly articulated our journey ahead with “And still I rise.”

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