WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – United States Congressman Alcee Hastings, Riviera Beach Councilman Douglas Lawson, and Navy Lieutenant Travon Adderly are all in a bitter battle championing the cause of mental illness. And the three South Florida stalwarts are pulling out all the stops to address mental health —an issue that comes up every time there’s a mass shooting in the United States.
But these three men –who have vowed to help dissolve the stigma of mental illness, aren’t just dabbling in the subject when the matter is convenient to talk about. They want this to be an ongoing conversation tackling an issue very real to families, and in some cases, more poignant in families of color. But all three have made it clear they want to help these families, and all who need it.
Travon Adderly, 28, just recently buried his beloved grandmother, who was hurt by a mentally ill family member on July 5. After her other grandson stabbed her with an unknown object, he set the house on fire.
She died of her wounds on August 23. And while Travon Adderly is heartbroken over his grandmother’s situation, he also doesn’t want to see his brother, Travonte (who committed the crime), thrown out with the trash. Adderly says his brother’s mental state went awry after he and his two brothers saw their father murder their mother in front of them when they were toddlers back in 1997. Trevonte Adderly never recouped from the trauma and his mental state led to the horriﬁc crime against his grandmother. Navy ofﬁcer Adderly, who somehow overcame their childhood tragedy, now wants to address the problem of mental illness and has set up a campaign called, “Say Yes to Mental Success.” He says he’s committed to getting people the help they need. “The campaign is important to me because quite frankly, my life has been negatively impacted by it. My younger brother’s mental state went awry and he hurt my grandmother, which caused her death. This is a very traumatic and sad occurrence. As such, I am on a mission to change the dynamic of the associated stigma and discover unique solutions for those affected,” Adderly stated. He’s planning a star-studded night focusing on the issue in February. He is currently working out the details but expects there will be politicians on all levels, celebrities, mental health experts, victims, and other stakeholders. Hastings and Councilman Lawson said they share in Adderly’s grief and are willing to help him with his efforts on mental health.
But both Lawson and Hastings have already held major events addressing the issue. Lawson, who owned a mental health facility for ﬁve years, is currently hosting a series of symposiums and town halls addressing mental illnesses of all kinds. He’s already held two highly successful series and the next one is Tuesday, September 17 at 7pm at Riviera Beach City Hall Chambers, 600 W. Blue Heron Blvd, Riviera Beach. Lawson said he wanted to bring real help and real answers to those families afflicted –particularly his constituents. And that is why he is hosting the series at City Hall. He wants these families to feel at home in familiar surroundings. “Mental health is very real in our community. And I wanted to provide a safe zone for people to get answers and to get real help. At our next one on September 17 we’re focusing on schizophrenia and suicide. This series is something our community needs desperately,” said Lawson, who brings in experts and others who are engaged in the subject. They share testimonials and outlets for getting help. The ﬁrst two series were riveting with powerful testimonies from NFL and NBA players who suffered from various forms of mental illness, to others who grew up without parents and found themselves in a depressive state. Their stories ran the gamut of the mental illness spectrum, and that’s the goal of Lawson and his team: to make others aware that mental illness can affect any and everyone. Lawson’s facilitator, for the series, Mrs. Ezsa Allen, MS, a mental health expert for 13 years says mental health affects everyone, but some will cross over into mental illness. But there’s such a stigma attached to anything “mental” that few will actually seek help. “This is such a big issue for everyone,” says Allen.
And it’s mental illness in young people that’s concerning to Hastings. The Congressman recently held a forum at Keiser University in West Palm Beach which drew a plethora of political colleagues, including Congresswoman Lois Frankel and experts and various stakeholders in the ﬁght against mental illness. Top ofﬁcials in Behavioral Health from school districts of Palm Beach and Broward were on the panel as well.
“I started this out with a round table on black suicide. Black boys ages ﬁve to 11 around the nation are committing suicide at an alarming rate. That astounded me. The resources are available to assist these children. We have to do something about this,” said Hastings, whose team had assembled nearly 20 panelists to address the issue. “I thought we would emphasize the fact that there are so many young people affected,” he said. ” One in ﬁve children in the U.S. has a diagnosed mental illness but only 15% get treatment. In Florida, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. It’s imperative for young people to get help for themselves and for others,” Hastings pointed out.
And indeed two young panelists shared amazing stories of their rise from victims of mental illness to now helping other young people cope with their ills. One of the youth had attempted suicide multiple times and the other young person on the panel spent years dealing with bullying from being transgender. The students are part of an organization called National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment (NVEEE). Jowharah Sanders is the founder and executive director of NVEEE, and was a panelist as well.