“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”—George Bernard Shaw.
I don’t know the year Shaw first made that statement, but it is nonetheless thought-provoking and seems to be timeless. Robert F. Kennedy repeated the phrase during one of his speeches, and his older brother, John F. Kennedy, used the phrase first in a speech given June 28, 1963. It must have been a favorite among the Kennedy clan because brother Edward concluded his eulogy with it during Robert’s funeral, June 8, 1968.
Never out of style, Don Pebbles began his tribute to the New York City Mission Society, referring to their steadfast stance in improving the lives of New Yorkers during his address at the Mission Society’s gala. You read about the gala here in last week’s column. It was so impactful that I had to mention it again, as we all need a little inspiration, now and then.
Steadfast, committed and undeterred doesn’t begin to describe the work of Community Access, the organization dedicated to addressing the needs of the homeless and mentally ill. The 44th anniversary Good Neighbor Gala was held at the elegant, yet understated, 583 Park Ave. venue where more than $1.2 million was raised to support services. Statistics show there are more than 60,000 New Yorkers who are homeless and many more who suffer with some form of mental illness. Community Access strives to provide housing and respite from the challenges of daily living for those who need nothing more than a community that supports and lends a helping hand.
Receiving this year’s Champion Award was Gabourey Sidibe, for Mental Health Advocate of the Year. Sidibe was born and bred in Brooklyn, N.Y. She battled depression for most of her adolescent and young adult life. Turning 35 years old May 6, she stated, “I grew up during the Biggie Smalls, Spike Lee, crack cocaine Brooklyn, where I was telling everybody what they were not going to do: ‘You are not going to kick my ass.’”
I was very excited to have the opportunity to speak briefly one-on-one with Sidibe because I am a longtime fan. My first question was to ask what inspires her most. Her reply was, “Me! Nothing inspires me more than my own happiness and well-being.”
That was by no means said or meant to be an egotistical statement. What she was saying is that she values who she is. She recognizes herself as a worthy human being, deserving and willing to serve with compassion and commitment. For her, that is all the inspiration she needs.
My second question had to do with the hit Fox series, “Empire,” in which she plays the role of Becky. I posed my inquiry this way: “In the most recent episode, you decided to have an abortion.”
Sidibe stopped me, stating, “That wasn’t recent. That was four episodes ago.”
I explained that with the new time slot of 8 p.m., it is too early for me to settle down in front of the television, so I record the show and binge watch when I can to catch up. However, I continued, “I thought the topic of having an abortion was a little controversial for prime time TV, and I really wanted you to have the baby.”
She replied, “Abortions are no longer a controversial topic, and the message was a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body.”
After that, we posed for a picture.
Call me out of the loop, but to me abortion is always a controversial topic. Like George Bernard Shaw’s quote, it is never out of style, it is thought-provoking and it affects everyone differently. Personally, I am anti-abortion because I think women have to be responsible for their bodies. Too many women will irresponsibly lie down with a man thinking, “Oh well, if I get pregnant, I’ll just get an abortion.”
Romantic that I am, I support being in the heat of passion. But when the creation of life becomes a consequence, then stop, hold up, wait a minute. If you can’t afford to bring a life into this world, financially, emotionally, and/or psychologically, then there is a thing called birth control and women are free to choose whichever method they want. Otherwise, once a life is created, that’s it. I’m just saying.
Turning our attention back to Community Access, which has nothing to do with “Empire” or abortions, they do provide myriad services that have proved to change lives. There are access centers, crisis interventions centers and a broad coalition of agencies that support Community Access in their efforts to change the mindset and perception of those suffering from mental illness. Currently, efforts are underway to train the NYPD on response to calls involving the mentally ill. Along with that initiative is another to eliminate labels such as schizophrenic used by 911 radio dispatchers, which heightens police perception of danger and the determines the level of response to calls for assistance involving the mentally ill.
Community Access advocates believe that when you have community, you are not alone and that is what makes the difference in recovery. Over the years, Community Access has sponsored a film festival each October with films about and by those diagnosed with some form of mental illness, spreading awareness so that no one is alone. This year, the film festival will feature a teenage segment with the focus on teen issues, such as obesity, peer pressure, gender identity and depression, which leads to an alarming rate of suicides. The films will then be distributed among high schools for students to view.
Funds gathered from the gala will support ongoing initiatives such as Howie the Harp job training programs and Unlock the Power of the Arts, a changing minds storytelling initiative that helps young people better understand mental health. The art collective offers free instruction, art supplies, studio space, workshops and field trips to museums and galleries. The Pet Access program enables tenants to enjoy the love and companionship of pets by providing pet insurance, and vaccinations, and the tenant advisory group runs a scholarship program in support of academic and professional goals of Community Access tenants.
Every dollar counts, and while we’re remembering quotes remember this one from a mental illness survivor: “You are not a failure. You fall down, you keep getting back up until you get it right.”
Until next week … kisses.