An Open Letter to Dr. Ashwin Vasan, CEO of Fountain House and Joel Corcoran, Executive Director of Clubhouse International
By Chiquita S. Williams, Fountain House New York Member
My name is Chiquita Williams and I am a member of the education unit. For the last 26 years, I have led social justice initiatives at a variety of organizations. Currently, I lead African American cultural programming at Fountain House. I have used my position to advocate for racial justice within the Clubhouse on multiple occasions. Today, I still have more to say.
I am deeply encouraged by both of your recent solidarity statements on racial injustice. Our world needs great moral leaders like you, who are willing to break ranks, silence, and with the traditions of our respective institutions. I sincerely thank you. And I am also calling you in to do much more. Racism is a pervasive physical and mental health threat that leads people of color to early death. Recent events can tempt us to think the problem is external while ignoring the racism that Clubhouse members frequently experience behind our doors. We are past the moment of sentiment. We need strategic, specific action to promote equity and justice within the Clubhouse movement.
These are my recommendations:
- Expand the current Clubhouse standards to include a non-discrimination statement and encourage Clubhouses to be proactive in addressing matters of social injustice.
- Align all international Clubhouse/social practice with UN declarations and conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD).
- Ensure all Clubhouses strive to have boards and senior management that reflect the diversity of its membership.
- Form a collaboration between Clubhouse International and the Fountain House Center for Leadership Education to develop racial justice training for all clubhouse staff and members; and to develop healing circles for members affected by racial trauma. These initiatives should be implemented regularly throughout the year.
- Assist every Clubhouse to form a non-discrimination committee, charged with proactively addressing incidents of discrimination and fostering accountability for those who do harm. We ought to commit to restorative measures that allow our community to learn and heal.
- Deploy our research units to measure current outcomes in housing, employment, education, hospitalization, and general health for members of color. The data should be used to inform new programming that reduces any disparities in positive life outcomes.
- Create opportunities for education units to teach the history of racial injustice, as well as the history of multiracial groups who organized for social change.
On a related note, the most recent protests began as a criminal justice matter. Indeed, so many mentally ill people of color are unfairly pushed into the carceral system instead of receiving comprehensive healthcare. However, most African Americans are not justice involved. Yet, the impact of systemic racism is present in all facets of our lives. As an organization, we have to commit to holistic engagement with African American members to support us to achieve optimal mental health.
Again, I sincerely thank you for all that you have said and done so far. Racism is a global pandemic. Yet, there are concrete actions we can take at a hyper-local level to produce sustainable change. I hope that as a global community, we do the work that is necessary to make the world better for us all.