May is National Mental Awareness month. The drug and mental-health issues that have plagued the Bedford-Stuyvesant community have also caused an escalation of violence in some cases. Through many new initiatives, the staff of the Paul J. Cooper Center for Human Services has renewed their commitment to community healing by encouraging Brooklyn constituents to openly embrace that healing process and participate in the first annual Walk-A-Thon Saturday May 2.

Concerned community activist founded PJC in 1971 as the Brownsville–Ocean-Hill Mental Health Clinic, in an effort to make the community stronger. It was renamed in 1983 in honor of the commissioner of health, with a mission to provide assistance to people who suffer from substance addiction and mental health problems, along with providing residential services for the developmentally disabled.

Chief Executive Officer William F. Green said that his “vision is to raise the knowledge base regarding mental health and encourage people to come forward if they have a problem.” To achieve this goal, PJC has enlisted the help of the community, churches and professionals. The center has an experienced and qualified staff to provide substance-abuse education, relapse prevention, individual and group therapy, behavior modification, anger management, medical assistance, a NYS DWI program and vocational and educational classes.

Phil Garett, chief operating officer, has 35 years in the field of addiction and worked for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation for more than 24 years. With his wealth of knowledge, he passionately explained, “This walk is to let people know that they can choose healing instead of jails, to show the community that we are walking for healing, walking for peace. It’s Blacks healing Blacks” Mary Joyner, chair of the Board of Trustees and a mental health RN, stated that she “has always had a passion for people, to comfort and ease their pain.” She added, “No one should have to suffer in pain because of neglect. Substance abuse clients turn to drugs due to the lack jobs and social concerns. They abuse substances to ease the pain. Male or female, they are focused on the next fix.”

The faith-based initiative is led by the Rev. Dr. Frank Mason of the Christ Temple United Baptist Church in Coney Island, who said his role is “to work with churches and ministries to get them to partner in the mental-health area.” He elaborated by saying, “The kickoff is this Walk-A-Thon. Some issues in mental health, churches cannot deal with unless we equip the pastors to address them. We will enhance the pastor’s knowledge of mental health through symposiums throughout the community.”

The community responded well. All ages came out with suitable attire and water bottles to face the challenges of the walk, which began at the PJC administrative office, 510 Gates Ave., and ended with a public celebratory program in which free T-shirts were given to the participants.

Joyce Robertson brought her nephews Romeo Joseph, 5, and Christian Joseph, 6, because she wants them to know that “good habits practiced now will be instilled for life.” Even the weather cooperated for this event, allowing PJC to encourage the community to take care of one another for the common good. Building a community of quality, healthy individuals will allow it to move and grow and change.