Kennedy Forum

Posted on December 22, 2016 by Karen Pratt

 The Kennedy Forum

December 6, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

Leadership for Change (corporate leadership breakfast)

On December 6th, Jeff Aron and Karen Pratt participated in The Kennedy Forum’s Corporate Leadership breakfast: “Leadership for Change,” held in Chicago.  Over 100 business executives; healthcare leaders; advocates; and people with lived experience from across the nation gathered to discuss the important role corporate leaders can have in transforming how mental health is viewed and approached in the workplace; how healthcare is purchased; and how to ensure that providers offer equal benefits for individuals’ physical and mental health needs.  Six corporate leaders were recognized, including Michael Thompson, a former Board member of NAMI-NYC Metro; and Harry Leider, Chief Medical Officer of Walgreens.  Notably, Bill Duane of Google received recognition as the “Superintendent of Well Being and Sustainable Performance Learning.”   Just as Bill brings mindfulness to Google, wellbeing is an important part of the Fountain House community as we build a health-conscious culture that helps members live longer, healthier lives.

Keynote Luncheon (Elizabeth Vargas with panel Allison, Michelle and others)

Moving stories about struggles with addiction and mental health challenges were shared: Elizabeth Vargas, Co-Anchor of ABC’s 20/20, spoke about her life-long struggle with anxiety and addiction; Allison Schmitt; eight-time Olympic medal swimmer became depressed following her cousin’s suicide and now works to end stigma; and Michelle Williams, Grammy-award winning member of Destiny’s Child spoke of her own struggle with depression. 


Afternoon Forum (Young Minds: Building Resilience and Well Being for the Next Generation)

Hundreds of high school students joined Forum attendees for presentations and workshops based on the theme:Young Minds: Building Resilience and Well Being for the Next Generation.”   Students shared deeply moving personal stories about their own paths to recovery from addiction or mental health challenges.  While the media often focuses on those who are in trouble, there are many more youth – with or without these challenges, who “are fighting against the stigma, speaking up and making a difference...and (working) to help others and change the system.”  Academics and researchers, psychologists and psychiatrists joined athletes, musicians and activists to explore how youth can achieve and maintain mental wellness at each stage of life, from birth to 24 years – the age by which over 75% of youth develop mental illness. 

Black and Hispanic youth struggling with mental illness and addiction are often affected by stigma in their cultures and are half as likely to receive mental health services than their white counterparts.  Challenging this stigma, rap group Run-DMC’s co-founder, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels used his muscial mastery to describe how confronting his depression and addiction saved him from suicide; he called on people to “feel what you feel so you can deal.”

The afternoon ended with a beautiful performance by Me2/, the world’s only classical music organization where people with and without mental illnesses work together in an environment where acceptance is an expectation; patience is encouraged; and supporting one another is a priority.



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