The Community Emergency Services and Support Act (CESSA) is a landmark bill made possible by the leadership of Access Living in partnership with racial justice advocates. As CESSA demonstrates, when we approach systemic oppressions collaboratively, we stand to make a change. It’s why we launched the Collab, and our goal is to forge lasting and strong partnership across social justice issues to bring forward true liberation for all. Candace Coleman, State Senator Robert Peters, Cheryl Miller, and Renee Watts discussed CESSA, cross social justice partnerships, and where we go from here.
Following the horrific shooting of Stephon Watts by a police officer, the Watts Family, Access Living, and many partner organizations, including STOP, wanted to create an alternative to police responding to mental health crises. Police response had previously resulted in disproportionate arrest, violence, and killings of Black and brown people with disabilities. Because of their collaboration and seven years’ worth of work, this new law—which must be implemented by July 2022—mandates that Illinoisans will receive services from mental health professionals instead of police. Imagine a world in which this type of partnership is sustained, prioritized, and valued. The Collab will be a space for these partnerships to begin and to grow.
Renee Watts is an Information Technology professional, the sister of Stephon Watts, and social justice advocate. On Feb 1, 2012 Stephon Watts an autistic teen was senselessly murdered by Calumet City Police. At the time of the crime Stepson’s father called for assistance to transport him to Streamwood Hospital. Since Stephon’s murder, Renee has made it her mission to share Stephon’s story. She has been advocating for families to have a mobile crisis response unit option, which promotes receiving help from professionals trained to address those crises rather than police. She has been an integral part of numerous panels discussing autism, race and criminal justice reform, including testifying at the Illinois House and Senate Behavioral and Mental Health committees. For 6 years she worked with Access Living and successfully signed the Community Emergency Services and Support Act (CESSA) - the Stephon Watts Act into law.
Candace Coleman is a black disabled woman from the South Side of Chicago. She works closely with disabled people affected by the justice system to organize around racial justice and disability. This work includes anti-bullying, the school-to-prison pipeline, restorative justice, police brutality, and deinstitutionalization. She is dedicated to teaching disabled people of color to take pride in all aspects of their identities so they can become leaders themselves.
Coleman has spoken around the country, and her pioneering work has been featured in news stories by the BBC, WBEZ, Newsy, and The Chicago Defender. She was named the ADAPT Woman of the Year in 2018, 35 Under 35 by Chicago Scholars in 2017, and also received the Van Hecke award for outstanding leadership and service in the disability community. In 2019 Candace was appointed to the Illinois Council on Women and Girls. In 2020 she was appointed to the City of Chicago’s Racial Equity Advisory Committee.
Coleman’s most notable work involves organizing around mental and behavioral health emergency response. She played an integral in passing the Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA) in 2021. She continues to work diligently to implement non-police alternatives to emergency response in these situations.
Cheryl Miller joined Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) a year ago as the Public Health Organizer and is also the co-lead for the Collaborative for Community Wellness coalition. Her primary campaign is Treatment not Trauma which advocates for reestablishment and expansion of the city public mental health centers and also advocates for a city-wide non-police crisis response for mental and behavioral health crises calls. Cheryl is a lifelong Chicagoan who has lived on the Southside most of her life. She believes people sharing stories of their lived experiences is powerful and can engender dramatic societal change. Throughout her life she has been active in social justice causes ranging from antiwar and peace movements, anti-domestic violence, and queer activism. A former cabdriver, she helped lead the successful fight to organize a union for cabdrivers. She is excited to be a part of the CESSA coalition.
State Senator Robert Peters has a deep passion for public service cultivated by numerous events throughout his life that left a profound impact on him and the people he cares about.
He was born in 1985 deaf and with a massive speech impediment. His biological mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and his adopted mother and father were a social worker and a civil rights lawyer, respectively. He is a proud South Sider and an even prouder Chicagoan.
Peters’ struggles with health and environment in early childhood led to difficulties, but he credits teachers and administrators at his public school for checking in on him and guiding him. He gained full hearing ability by the time he was 8 and full speech capability by the time he was 12.
After Peters’ parents’ marriage dissolved when he was a teenager, he moved in with his father and became interested in public service. He admired the work his father did as a civil rights and criminal defense attorney, championing justice and even arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of individuals whose personal property was unlawfully seized by police. His father’s work, along with his biological mother’s struggles with addiction, inspired him to fight for criminal justice reform.
Like many who left college in the midst of the Great Recession, Peters struggled to find work. He started as a community and political organizer back home in Chicago, but both of his parents died within a year and a half of each other, leaving him unemployed and grieving. Difficulty paying his bills and the inability to obtain health insurance because of his pre-existing conditions only furthered his drive to work on behalf of others dealing with the same issues.
As a political organizer, Peters successfully fought to require Cook County judges to set affordable bail amounts for all defendants, leading to a substantial reduction in the Cook County Jail population since it took effect in July 2017.
As a state senator, Peters plans to continue advocating for the people in his community and district to ensure they get the investment they need. He is also committed to passing a balanced budget, continuing his focus on criminal justice reform, creating clean energy jobs and fighting for quality public education. He is passionate about his work and his community and intends to be the best public servant he can be.
In the 102nd General Assembly, Senator Peters will serve as the Chair of the Public Safety Committee. He will also serve as member of the Criminal Law, Environment and Conservation, Health, Human Rights, Labor, and Revenue Committees.
[the transcript for this video was provided by the Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) captioner of this live event]
We will get started, welcome and thank you for joining us for our event this afternoon that we are calling CESSA, Collaborating for Racial Equity and Disability Justice. This is Emily Blum speaking and I am the executive Disability Lead director. My pronouns are she's leisure, I am a white woman with brown wavy hair, wearing tortoiseshell glasses, a cream top and animal print sweater. In my virtual background there is a Disability Lead logo, which is a one line typeface of text that reads Disability Lead, the T is a + made up with our three distinct colors, orange, fuchsia, and purple all coming together. The + symbolizes the positive impact that people with this abilities have in leadership roles, and the importance of intersectional perspectives coming together as one.
Also included in the virtual background is a pattern of disruption which symbolizes our amazing networks of positive disruptors. All people with disabilities who are using our power to create inequitable and inclusive society. To learn more about our work, who we are, what we believe and what we do, please visit Disability Lead.org. We are so excited to share our work and our stories with you. We sent out a guide on accessing key accessibility features in Zoom, we have cart and ASL Interpreter's. And I think we are close to having Spanish translation available today, our translator is just a bit late. If you have any challenges accessing these futures please connect with us in the chat box. My colleagues will be monitoring and responding. Finally, thank you everyone for in joining us -- joining us this afternoon. Including those who donated to support the accessibility of this program. Onto the program! The community emergency services and support act, otherwise known as CESSA, is a landmark bill made positive -- positive by the leadership of Access Living, and partnership with many organizations and individuals, including racial justice advocates. Following the horrific shooting of Stephon Watts by a police officer, the Watson family, Access Living, and many partner organizations wanted to create an alternative to police responding to mental health crises. As we all know, police response to often results in disproportionate arrest, violence, and killings of Black and brown people with disabilities. Because of this collaboration and several years worth of work, this new law which must be implanted by July 2022, now mandates that Illinois residents will receive services from mental health professionals instead of police. As the law demonstrates, when we approach things collaboratively, we stand to make a change. It is why Disability Lead launched our newest initiative that we are calling the collab. Our goal through this community is to forge a lasting and strong partnerships across social justice issues. We invite you to visit Disability Lead.org\collab to learn more. Joining us today is the Honorable Robert Peters, Candace Coleman from Access Living, and Cheryl Miller from STOP, Southside Together Organizing for Power. Who will discuss CESSA across social justice partnerships and where we go from here. We begin with Stephon's sister, Renee Watts, who will talk about her brother and why this new law is so needed. Welcome, Renee.
Thank you for that wonderful intro. My name is Renee Watts. My pronouns are she and her. I am a Black woman with black hair. I have a gold shirt with black stripes and I'm wearing glasses. In my background I have some purple led lights that I like to have on. And let's begin. So I am the sister of Stephan Edward Watts. Stephan was a loving computer nerd. He loved talking to anyone who would listen about computer games, philosophy, he loved having discussions about the bible. When Stephan was a toddler, he began to miss milestones, like he physically looked normal but wouldn't look you in the eye, had trouble communicating verbally, and he was very sensitive to noise. Around the age of eight he was diagnosed with having autism. We were told by his doctors, social workers at schools during IEP meetings to have him transported to Streamwood Hospital when Stephan was in crisis. We were not allowed to bring him on our own per the Illinois All Kids Insurance. At the time, he had to be brought by ambulance. The ambulance would not come without the police. February 1st, 2012, my father called calumet city police non-emergency number he said he needed help bringing his son to Streamwood Hospital. Instead of getting officers with compassion, life experience or patience, my father was met with two overworked hostile police officers who were tired of dealing with Stephan. In the aftermath of the shooting, they said that Stephan had made poor decisions. In the first step of creating change, understanding the problem is a major component. Three reasons why I thought he was shot is because of race, class and disability. Our society is hardwired to classify people... When our parents were looking for resources to help Stephan, they were met with resistance because he didn't look he had a disability. The school was treating him as a child behaviour issues instead of as a child with autism.
The training was inadequate in addressing the social communicative behavioural manifestation that came with this disability. The data showed at the time that autism spectrum disorders were on the rise affecting one in 88 children and the likelihood of a first responder of encountering a person with a disability increases as the number of people affected increases. The dead governor, and the then Mayor plan to close 10 mental health facilities nationwide. There's no strength in numbers. I volunteer since I was in high school and I understood that the abscess benefits other minority majority groups. I also find this to be true with the disability community. When they make noise and successful in change, it benefits everyone. In the days and the months of Stephan smoother, we were approached by several individuals and organizations. Some were helpful and some are trying to attach themselves to us for their own agenda but I was grateful to connect with Access Living years after. During the meetings, I learned many things about the disability community that I didn't know before. And I will talk about the times we had to call the police for help, I will describe incorrectly like saying he was acting out or having absent -- episode instead of having a crisis.
Because I was in a safe space with people with various disabilities, they were able to share their stories, ideas, emotions and beliefs and I was educated. I was there as a respectful ally that made me even more invested in the we were doing. And was created and led from the people in the disability community. I believe this is why the bill was so successful because it truly came from the community it was meant to serve. We as a family for the week can't trust them with Stephan story in the way that will honour him and help others. Our family experience a very traumatic event. We knew the community will rise and demand change, we thought what was lacking in our public service and delivered CESSA. This is what happens when we collaborate and many thanks. To you Candace.
Thank you, Ren?. As a community organizer I often think that we are the gatherer of people. Who have the power to make change but also to gather people who have lived experience to speak to the things we want to change. My name is Candace Coleman, my description is ammo black woman with short hair, I have a long face and a purple top. I'm usually smiling big and my backyard I actually have a photo of the artwork that contributed to the CESSA campaign. In the photo you will see the words community emergency supports act in pink. And in the background there is a water colours in blue and green and a little bit of tan.
Imagining what crisis response would actually look like. When people are met where they are at instead of being forced into a setting they don't want to be in. That being said I am excited to be here with Disability Lead. As a member also of 2020 and I want to give honour to (unknown name), any of this wouldn't happen without their push to keep moving forward and to keep believing that we could see it the world we want to live in and make change. That being said, the CESSA act or law does three things.
One of the things that it does that it mandates that 911988 actually collaborate. And in the near future there's an extension of the suicide hotline known as 988 that will be facilitated in Illinois. They will be able to offer mobile crisis units in various areas. There will also be able to... In Illinois under one umbrella. It mandates that they coordinate with 911 because we don't want anyone to fall into the cracks who need that support. Second thing that the CESSA law does, it extensive definition of mental health category of people to other categories of disability types because we know that folks who are in your divergent, behavioural health, folks who may have substance abuse, we want to make sure that that data is collected accurately to the services and supports can get that right funding and be pinpointed across the state of Illinois. And we can expand our services and support.
The third thing that it does it mandates emergency response committees that include everyone who is part of the emergency response teams. To actually have a mapped out plan when people have mental and behavioural crisis. That includes with folks with lived experience, folks were part of the emergency support teams as well as those organizations and supports that provide that services because we learned in the seven years that information related to an folks are in crisis such as fragmented ellipses they don't know where to go, we want to provide well-rounded resources so it's not a guessing game so we don't have to rely solely on police response to be responsible for when folks are in crisis. That being said... A few things that we did is that we have a series of listing sessions across town. Both in the south and west side as well as Renee said, and Access Living. To hear from people who have had experience going to crisis, what led them to the crisis and what actually happened. And allow them to talk about what type of service with a rather have instead of police showing up. The other things that require to really dig deep, is when we first decided that we wanted to do this law, what connected us to the Stephon Watts family was actually a member of our group, Chris Watts.
He was a member of our group, and he told us that his cousin had this experience, and that his family really wanted to do some things. So, he was able to connect us during that time. It was around the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, so we were noticing that a lot of victims of violence were people with disabilities, but the disability stories were not told in those situations. And as Ren?e mentioned, the closures of the mental health clinics around the City of Chicago. So, AYOP decided that they did not want to continue to count statistics, or count? Folks who were dying. But we wanted to help people who can live, and to get what they needed. And still be able to be in the community.
So, what that required was for us to reach out to various entities, and people to create a law. And that is how we actually met up with Senator Peters. And then, in order to pass legislation of this caliber, or to move anything in social justice work, you have to be able to collaborate and coalition with other people. And so, the intersectionality of race, disability, mental health, led us to people like Cheryl and STOP. She will talk a little bit about her organization as well. So I am going to yield the floor to Senator Peters and to Cheryl, and I will start with Senator Peters. Can you talk a little bit about how we met, and what actually made you get involved with this legislation?
Yes, so I am Senator Robert Peters, I am a black man, in a maroon or burgundy shirt. I mean, jacket with a white shirt. And a background that has some picture frames and a nice new haircut, I should add that.
So, yes, I met Candace and Access Living a few years ago. We had a I think it was a briefing, sort of a get to know each other conversation to talk about the disability justice empowered movement. And it led to a conversation, and I might be melding the two meetings together but? It led to a conversation about what was originally the Stephon Watts act. And it became CESSA.
I remember hearing about it, and you know, often times we hear folks, especially in the mental health space, they use that as a talking point not an action. And it felt like, something that was perfect to take off as an action. And listening to everyone in that space, in AYOP, and hearing that this is going to be in operation that is going to really be about both the inside and outside again in an authentic manner drove me to say I would like to sponsor it in the Senate.
But very clear, my role is an organizer, but this is in a collective coalition organizing that happens, in a variety of spaces. And it was just a clear partnership, and I was very honored and appreciated being thought of. As a relatively then, I guess still now, new state Senator to carry this piece of legislation.
Thank you Senator Peters. Cheryl, do you want to talk about how we met as a coalition partner?
Yes. Thank you. Hi, my name is Cheryl Miller, my pronouns are she/her. And I am from STOP, and I am a Black woman with Marine glasses, -- maroon glasses and a spiky, natural hair. Two tops, a pink top underneath, and over top with black background, and pink and green flowers.
And I actually met because in addition to being a part of STOP, and also part of the collaborative for community wellness, and the purpose of the collaborative for community wellness is a coalition of 70 organizations that have been allocating -- advocating for the reopening of the mental health clinics. And the expansion of the public sector clinics. And also, for a citywide nonpolice crisis response. And people and I joined STOP one year ago. This cause of reopening the clinics is really in on my heart for a while.
Many years ago, I knew someone who was a clinician in one of the clinics, and he kept getting moved because as this clinic got closed? And the next clinic got closed? Also, I knew from talking to him, just how much it mattered. That the public clinics mattered. And he said that one of the things is that people did not understand that in addition, questions were also in addition to therapy, helping people manage their lives. Because often people did not have other types of support. So, closing the clinics is really, really a problem. So I was very grateful, when I got the job at STOP. That I could actually have as my primary campaign, as the public health organizer, the treatment not trauma is the opening of the clinics, expansion of the clinics citywide, and the creation of a citywide nonpolice crisis response for mental and behavioral health.
And I had been urged to go to a meeting at Access Living, and I am not sure how I finally ended up going to one. I do not know if you sent me, and invite or if Arturo sent me an invite. Dr. Arturo is the, he and I are co-leads for the collaborative for community wellness. And I was like CESSA? What is that? And then I realized, oh my goodness, this is everything! And I have to say, my favorite meetings that I go to are the CESSA meetings. Because, everybody? It is just very enjoyable. So, there is a little party at every meeting. With laughter.
Thanks, Cheryl. So, Senator Peters and Cheryl, we all have been organizers and trainers, CESSA looked different for different people because of audience. Senator Peters in the legislature, what are some ways you think you were able to raise awareness about elements of CESSA? As you said, under the dome?
Yes, thank you. So, I think first there has to be a lot of credit to you, Candace, and Cheryl, and to the folks who actually organized in what has been you know? At least in the relative short term I am saying this, in a broad manner, a decade of really powerful organizing. Around mental health, justice. And so, in terms of you know, when we think about the conversation around almost anything, we hear mental health brought up. So when you hear about violence you hear about mental health. When we talk about the stresses that currently exist in this economic environment, we hear about mental health. That happened because of organizing, that it became actually part of a broader conversation. And I think that sort of opened the door, in Springfield.
And actually let me back up, it opened the door for the federal government to push and create 988, and once that happened because of the organizing, because it happened at the federal government, for me as? I am an organizer through and through, I believe in the value of a road call which is 3060 and one, 30 in the Senate, and 60 in the house. It is very much an organizing thing, you have to build the base to get it done.
But we were able to have those opportunities because of the work that led there. And then, when you are doing the roll call, it is knowing that you have conversations, they are conversations I can have, but those conversations that the coalition can have. You know like you all at Access Living, with folks that find out where they are at, what are their hot and cold points? And where you can have that conversation. And then, it is also taking advantage of a moment. And I have to be honest about that. We had a combination of things, the federal government opening up that opportunity for 988. That means that there is going to be funding in a system in place. That we can build off of. The painful tragedies that came out of 20/20, countless murders of Black lives at the hands of police, opened up a conversation and opportunity to fundamentally change our public health system. And I think that for a good period of time, we had a chance to transform pieces of work. I think the other part of this is to make it clear that we are talking about public safety. This is always about public safety.
When we think about Stephon, and we think about you know here in my backyard, Charles Thomas, the student who got shot when people are going through trauma, when they are going through crisis, they should be treated and lifted up in that crisis. At the end of the day, if the argument is, what is going to give them the safest experience connect what is going to lead to safety? Well, the people who are trained, people who have done the work in terms of mental and behavioral health, should be the people who treat it. And I think people understood that. And if you combine all of that, and you combine the conversations of people we are able to create a bill that if two years ago if you told me this bill had been partisan I would be like? That is going to be a loss, loss, lot of work. It would have been a huge, steep hill. But we actually passed a bipartisan bill in both the Senate and the house, and because of the combination of the organizing, the moment, and the role calling Illinois became this year, the first state in the country to do so.
And honestly, I will say, for some people I think that was something that they know? People who are generally, we should go into this, because I think Candace we talked about this before. Before we did this, the framing on health. Reframing the conversation from, it is not just "criminal justice reform", but it is about healthcare. I think that is an important part, and I think maybe a conversation for another Town Hall, about how I fundamentally do not believe that I am doing work that is criminal justice reform. I am doing work that is about broader public safety policy. And reframing this conversation about what it means to have safety in this world.
Thank you, Senator Peters. First I want to say, in addition to the public safety conversation, we have to imagine what community looks like. And often times, when we are talking about public safety, we are not imagining that in community there are people with disabilities. Various types of disabilities. Who are people of color, who need services and supports that public safety can create. And I want to say that, when you mentioned all of the things that we experienced in 2020, I believe that what allowed us to actually reach the legislators was accessed through Zoom. It allowed us to be in more rooms. To actually talk to legislators, to meet with their constituents, and to have those conversations.
So that we could, convince them and this was something that they can get behind. And so, one of the tools that we use prior to COVID was that we would take a bunch of people down to Springfield, and do in office visits, and try to meet you at the rail. But with COVID what afforded us was the opportunity to meet one-on-one with folks. In their homes, or offices. To actually have some very candid conversations. Because a lot of times, as we as people, we get really nervous about talking to people like you. (Laughs) Because we usually do not see that y'all are people too. In the pandemic we were able to relate and connect to people and await the we won't be able to if you weren't in the pandemic. And you mentioned the murders of various people by police, taking action literally meant, looked different virtually and so we did a lot of virtual actions while also people had to take to the streets as a way to showcase of what we were dealing with. That we are not taking any more. So Cheryl, if you could talk a little bit about in your experience what activities did you have to organize so that people understand not only about CESSA but in our city, what people are going through?
To go back a little bit in the history of stocks, of mental because we realize that STOP has already been fighting this where clinics are being closed. One of the residence where his billing have been successfully, the displacement of his building, he still needed to move. STOP realized that this placement looks like a lot of things. When you disinvest in neighbourhoods and in communities of colour. And working-class and poor communities. That's what this placement also looks like.
So one of the, there was a number of actions that STOP members took. First they were able to keep some clinics open. And went to the streets and went to City Hall. And with Robert (unknown name) who did not have any allegiance to communities and close mental health centres and schools regardless of what communities said they wanted. After the Woodlawn clinic was closed, there were a number of people who included clinicians and clients and people with lived experience, who literally occupied the Woodlawn clinic.
They said, it was very clever how they were able to do it and take it in to barricade themselves. Inside the clinic and remain and after doing that occupation, when people were finally moved out of the clinic itself, people occupied the space in the streets and the lot across the street for months. And so, in that time since those closures, there have been a number of street action and a number of different types of direct action, let's say.
Since I have been there, we've done, we've taken to the streets. We did a very successful rally, we meaning STOP for community wellness and allies and partnerships. We went back to the Woodlawn clinic in the spring, and the Avner verse three of the closures -- anniversary of the closures to say that this isn't right. That they are still closed, although there is, the public centres are still closed and they are very important. And we've had a number of rallies where recently we had a vigil that many, many coalition partners came including Access Living. And partners who have been fighting around to make sure the city budget looks like what it needs to for community people. And not for corporations and excessive policing.
That I answer the question? (Laughs)
Yeah, I just want you to touch a little bit on based on the actions that we've collaborated on, and the communities, what would you say is the greatest need that can align with why such an act like CESSA exists for?
And the reasons for that actions are so that people can see that there is still a fight happening. And so that they are not, because there's a lot of disparagement around this because it has been so long and people have been suffering for many years. I think the greatest need is to have in terms of the public health sector, that we need to have a public mental health centre in every single ward.
And part of that, because we also feel that we want as CESSA is implemented. We want those clinics to come out of the public sector so that people can then and dad are free... ? It showed that in the wealthiest communities in Chicago, there was an average of 4.2 or 4.3 clinicians per 1000 people.
But, for the majority of Chicago, and especially for Black and brown communities, and economically divested communities, there was 2/10 of a clinician, and average. Per thousand people. So? That is clearly inequitable. And that is why we need to have these centers.
Thank you, Cheryl. I want to say a few things. That CESSA wanted to accomplish, we know that CESSA is not the be-all and end-all, we know there are a lot of steps required to make this happen.
One of the things I want to make sure that we end with his some key things that we have learned from each other. And then, how can people, or I can talk about how people can actually support this effort. Because there are a lot of questions with key things like, how can we train mental health professionals outside of these institutions? And, I know the question that we wanted to answer with CESSA, is how can emergency responders, people with Lived experience, any service providers can actually coordinate. And so, I want to talk about that a little bit. But before we get to that, in your all opinions, what are some lessons you have learned in this process, in the last seven years?
I will let Cheryl go first.
And the lessons that I've learned in this process since I have been involved is absolutely the necessity for coalition and reaching out and I think really sent during the conversation. And helping people realize that we are talking about health. And there's a lot of mythology with people around mental illness. They are crazy, there violent and they are dangerous. Those are the worst calls to go on because you don't know what's going to happen. And so on. And in fact, there is overwhelming research that shows that the vast majority of mental health and behavioural health calls are people in crises and who are not committing crimes and who are not violent.
But because they are in crises they may not be able to contain themselves the sickly. Where as -- physically. And when the police are involved, they want them to be contained and to follow orders. And one of the reasons for escalating police violence or the use of force and the police call's noncompliance. And I've been using the example, imagine if you had to call the police just as Renee was saying, you have to call the police to get a transport to the hospital. If your child was having an asthma attack or a family member is having an asthma attack. Then the police got there and said, start breathing right, stop acting like that and of course they can't. So they end up in jail or worse because they are not being compliant with a farcical and unreasonable command.
So I think the lesson learned is that we really have to make sure that people understand that this is how. We are talking about healthcare. And people, I've recently started saying to people, when they say that mental health versus physical health. And I say that there is no mental health without physical health. They are not floating someplace else. Everything that comes out of our mind is a product of our physical self.
And so these are conversations, changing the conversation is really important and with the work that Senator Peters is doing, really expanding what people think of as public safety is extremely important. And the other thing of lessons learned is that it really has to, like the Senator was saying, understanding the roll call. That's something that I've been learning that I did not understand as much when I first started my job.
Thank you, Cheryl. Senator Peters?
Yes, Cheryl covered really good amount. I will add that this is a landmark and historic accomplishment built on years of organizing. Built on, transitioning from not just movement or community organizing and power to governing power.
But, there are a lot of historical accomplishments in the state, including CESSA. And in response to that, I think for many of us who do this organizing, we need to be prepared that the reactionary response back, in 2022, is going to be something I don't think we have actually ever seen. Since the 90s.
They are going to want to undo the work that we have done. And so? It is important that we think about our tactics as always evolving. As we head into 2022. I cannot stress enough, how similar the response to Black Lives Matter has been. To the point where, it reminds me of the 90s. Of that tough on crime, crime bill of the 90s.
And I think that, particularly if you are a city focused person you may not see it as much. But if you see the suburbs, and downstate, you can see it very strongly. So, I think if the last seven years have shown me anything, it is that we can build an immense amount of power to take advantage of an opportunity. Out of that struggle and trauma that happened in 2020, the way I describe it is that it was a new hope. But 2021, and may be 2022 can maybe be described as the Empire strikes back.
So yes, we hit a period of crisis, a whole host of trauma, and because of the work that we did it helps us be able to accomplish something truly transformative. But all of that can be undone by reaction. And so, I think that it is now incumbent on us to take our organizing to another level. Because, we have barely scratched the surface of transformative change. There is so much more that needs to happen. But even that is considered too much for so many people. And because of that, we need to understand that we need to keep creating the space to build and organize, and create change. And we need to be ready to take our work to that next level. Take implementation to the next level. To understand that the bases that we build need to be larger. They need to be more diverse, on a regional level.
We are entering a new phase of what I would say is a post 2020 movement. Experience. So I think there are valuable lessons in the work we have done, and I think there is about to be some very valuable lessons in the work that is coming.
This is Emily Blum speaking, I took myself off of mute because I will be facilitating the audience Q&A. Senator Peters, that is an amazing message to impart on this audience because, this is exactly these are exactly the kinds of folks who want to take up that challenge. So, question one, and I think this could be for any of you, and Candace, I saw you took yourself off camera, but you are certainly included in these questions.
But when we talk about mental health justice, that requires mental health practitioners. So, what can we do about the shortage of practitioners and the lack of cultural competency of mental health practitioners in Black and brown communities?
I go ahead.
Actually, I can answer this here. This is Senator Peters. So, in the Black caucus pillars, we did Institute in terms of the healthcare field, a direct goal, for in law around equity. And around making sure that in conclusion, and particularly those who are in the workforce development space. So that you are getting? So that there is proper training, there is relationship building that is happening. Now, there is a whole bunch of stuff, I always say there is an inflammation -- implementation side to this, and that takes time. I just got an email about it actually, we create an antiracism commission to specifically look at healthcare broadly. When it comes to racism, and prejudice.
So, my hope is that with those very intentional pieces of law, especially in the areas of Medicaid, because we have a bit more power when it comes to Medicaid, that we are able to start training folks to build a relationship with folks in the workforce. In the mental health workforce space. When it comes to race, and gender.
That is on that front. In terms of having to expand in the workforce side of things, you know, we are constantly trying to put investment in there. I think that, I will say Illinois is relatively competitive compared to neighboring states. And it lends itself to being I am not going to speak for Chicago specifically, that is sometimes its own complication? But Illinois is a relatively competitive state in terms of recruitment.
And so, when we look at the investments coming in from 988, with investments that are going into mental health, with the governor making clear those investments, that we can make it somewhat competitive. And I believe, and Candace you should correct me if I am wrong, there is flex ability in CESSA around the mental health first responder. It is not a very strict definition in terms of being able to respond to a crisis. Right? I believe there is a delineation between behavioral health and other healthcare needs, right?
Yes, there is not a strict guideline. But I do want to say, for us to pinpoint very specific processes in the various states, that is why it is really important to get involved in the coalition, now. So that we can set those standards, because as you know, Senator Peters, we have to do those statewide. We want experts who understand how these operate and flow, so we can create those guidelines for people who want to use the service.
And I would like to add, one of the things is that we have to start thinking of these professionals in the same way that we think of any other public safety professionals. We do not outsource police, we do not outsource fire, you know, there are all of these things that we do not outsource. But we do outsource healthcare. And within the city, one of the reasons that we push for the public's space, one is because we absolutely believe that it is important to rebuild the public infrastructure. And that benefits all of us. And also, those are good paying jobs. Those are union jobs, those are jobs that you can sustain yourself and have a family on. Whereas, within the nonprofit sector, the pay scale is much lower. And it is not sustainable. So, people once they get enough of their hours and credentialing, then they do move into private practice.
So, I think that is another reason why we really have to start thinking about this as, how are we building up the public infrastructure? My focus, and thinking on it is in the city, but I think that statewide, that that is that is a very important question.
This is Emily Blum speaking again, we have got a number of questions around mental health practitioners. And so, this is definitely a conversation that we would like to continue. Join us at the collab, this is another plug for Disability Lead.org\collab, because this is a type of conversation that we definitely want to continue.
You know, I think CESSA is just this unbelievable example of ways in which people and groups get out of their specific silos, so that they can get something done. You know, we are so much more, this is a question that we received in advance. We are so much more effective in changing public policies and perceptions when we work in areas of shared interest together, how can we get more people to see that?
So, CESSA, the CESSA coalition actually needs Thursday's -- meets on Thursdays from 5 PM until 6:30 PM, in order to effect policy change and to continue to do the work that we want to see for this legislation to actually achieve, we need to sit down at the table with everyone who is involved in this system. For me, as an organizer, every time I go to a meeting with a stakeholder that represents certain parts of the system, I have to then meet with another set after that meeting, because there are just so many decisions that need to be made in this process. And every time we think we have a grasp on, is it the union? Is it the entity? Is it the people? Is it the vendor? There is levels to this, and so to get involved at the ground, without expertise because again this is led by the people. And we are looking at an institution that has been in place for many many years, so to change that, it requires many conversations. And that is how we are able to change policy. At Access Living we were fortunate to not only have AYOP, who represent folks with Lived experience, and were able to pull other folks in. But Access Living as an organization, we were able to collaborate with our top-level management and our lobbyist. And other stakeholders, and in community we are actually building a resource list of organizations who are doing services that the people actually like, and support.
Because again, our information is fragmented. So, who do we turn to for their expertise to do this work? And Senator Peters, being in Springfield, we are going to have to go back down to Springfield, to continue to push for this legislation to be implemented all the way through. So, we are going to need various skill sets to make sure that things like this, and other things. I really believe that CESSA is going to be a launching point for other legislation and other policy to be put in place as well. To make sure that, this infrastructure that we are building can work for everyone. So I just want to make sure I said that.
Unfortunately, this is all the time we have this afternoon. I feel like this conversation can go on for much longer and it can actually. So first and foremost, thank you Senator Peters, Cheryl, Candace and Renee for joining us this afternoon and for your incredible work. We thank you so much and if you found a value in this conversation, joined the collab. Towards racial equity and justice. I know this conversation will community. Join our network of positive disruptors. If you're interested in joining our community, visit Disability Lead.org/collab.
This recording will be published on our blog if you would like to revisit it. I think I mentioned that a Spanish translation will be available, we weren't able to connect to our translator on time. But those will be available in the recording, if you want to continue to see Disability Lead two do more events like these. Make sure to donate. Follow us on social media and to learn about our work and make sure you don't miss an event like today. That's it for us and have a wonderful evening.
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