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'Magical' Moments during coverage of, presentation at decriminalizing of mental illness conference

From left, YMG student Oyewumi Oyeniyi, CEO of NAMI Daniel Gillison, YMG co-founder Jayne O'Donnell, YMG student Shawna James and H. Jean Wright, deputy commissioner of the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

By Jayne O'Donnell

Youthcast Media Group®

There were several simply magical moments at the decriminalization of mental illness (DCMI) conference YMG attended this month in Philadelphia. Our students and staff covered several sessions and held a TikTok workshop of our own at the 2022 Sozosei Summit, sponsored by our foundation funder of the same name. (Sozosei means “creativity” in Japanese.)

Ok, so magical and mental illness and, especially its decriminalization (also known as DCMI), may not seem to go together. But they sure did at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where the three-day conference was held.

Scenes from the Summit:

  • Student reporter Oyewumi Oyenini, a junior at Philly’s Cristo Rey High School who hopes to become a psychiatrist, gets career advice from Dr. William Carson, the psychiatrist and chairman of the foundation, and asks psychologist H. Jean Wright, deputy commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services at a pre-dinner reception, about an internship. (He said he would help her find one and insisted she send him an email. She had completed it before the dinner was over.)

  • Workshop presenter Don McClain (they/them), a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, YMG social media content creator and youth advocate with a social media business, chats about the field with Dominic Reed, another Black social media creator who is managing director of Fostering Strategies. Don, who is trans and non-binary, is succeeding despite some serious mental health disorders that he comfortably rattled off to our TikTok workshop audience.

  • Student reporter Shawna James interviews former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-RI, who founded the Kennedy Forum, and mental health advocate Zak Williams, son of the late actor Robin Williams, who discuss stigma in their Irish and Italian families, respectively. She asks how Black youth can help convince skeptical family members about the importance of mental health treatment.

  • Oyewumi goes to the mic, asks a (tough) question and receives a long, thoughtful answer from Daniel Gillison, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To applause.

  • Workshop presenter Hermes Falcon (he/they), a sophomore at Peoria’s Bradley University who is ranked top in his class, teaches TikTok remotely to an audience which includes Dr. Carson. As he does in his frequent TikToks, the Cuban-American trans male discusses his own mental health struggles in his sample post for the audience.

After several decades in Washington, I have little patience for name-dropping, especially for the sake of name-dropping. And many of their new contacts are hardly the kind of names that make headlines. For example, Don, Oyewumi, Shawna and I dined the second night with the CEOs of Fountain House and the Camden Coalition, two top nonprofits in New York and New Jersey.

YMG student Oyewumi Oyeniyi and Dr. William H. Carson, Chairman of the Board of the Sozosei Foundation and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development & Commercialization, Inc.

So I’m making a larger point here: We’re giving our students life-changing experiences and providing them with professional contacts that could be life-long. We’re helping to level the playing field by exposing our students to professionals while they too are in a professional capacity — even if it’s only till the bell rings at school the next day! And we’re getting our name out while they promote themselves while helping to convince prospective funders of the value of our programming. I couldn’t be prouder of them — or us.

So as this Giving Season draws to a close and you finish up your year-end charitable contributions, please consider supporting YMG’s students — all of whom are paid to take our training — with a donation. Here’s the link.

Have the happiest of holidays and a fabulous New Year.


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