On Wednesday, May 10, the San Bernardino County of Behavioral Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (N.A.M.I.) hosted the 1st Annual Peer Support Summit at the Double Tree Hotel in Ontario from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The keynote speaker was Mental Health Advocate and former Los Angeles Lakers small forward Metta World Peace. A continental breakfast and lunch was provided to the attendees. The summit was free and open to individuals diagnosed with a mental illness or have lived experience, having a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, as well as mental health direct service providers.
The summit featured theme was “Engage, Collaborate, Empower”. Assistant Director-San Bernardino County Behavioral Health, Sarah Eberhardt-Rios, welcomed the attendees and provided the opening remarks to the summit to help kick off May Mental Health Awareness Month in the department. The audience was the serenaded with an inspirational and interactive rendition of, “Lean on Me” by a Department of Behavioral Health staff member, who engaged and invited audience participation. The President of the San Bernardino Chapter of N.A.M.I. May Farr was also in attendance for the augural event.
The goals of the event was to enhance peer support and positive relations by identifying key barriers. By removing as many barriers as possible, that keeps individuals from seeking help and understanding, individuals are more likely to access resources and assist in their own recovery. This event was an opportunity for peer-run program leaders and participants to share ideas, challenges and best practices. It also encouraged connecting with one another to increase the overall network of peers. Studies show individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are more likely to seek help from others that they feel can identify with them on a personal level.
The highlight of the summit was keynote speaker Mental Health Advocate and former Los Angeles Lakers small forward Metta World Peace. His topic of discussion was, “Living Your Truth.” He was introduced by Edwin Henderson, Mental Health Education Consultant with San Bernardino County Behavioral Health, who gave a brief summary about how the summit was conceived and the importance of eradicating stigma associated with mental illness. He gave a brief synapses of World Peace’s turbulent early years in the NBA, acknowledging and seeking treatment to maintain his mental health, as well as his effortless work as an advocate for Mental Health Awareness.
“I’m very happy to participate in this mental health awareness event. Events like this one help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health,” World Peace said in a statement. “It is vital that we educate our communities and let people know there is nothing wrong with seeking out help when you need it.”
Not only did he give a noteworthy account of his long family background with mental health issues, his struggles with mental illness on and off the court, and how he continues to look toward the future in a positive manner and how he continues to better himself on a daily basis. He admitted to the captivated group that when was younger he did not value education. He did not place it as a high priority in his life. However, four years ago that ideology all changed. He proudly disclosed that he is now a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). That news initiated an impromptu roaring applaud from the mesmerized audience. His story resonated with everyone in the room on one level or another.
“Metta World Peace’s testimony was so amazing. I have been a Los Angeles Lakers fan for years, but his testimony was amazing. It brought tears to my eyes. The fact that he preserved through his own personal storm, refusing to give up,” said Sara Rourke, Department of Behavioral Health employee. “Having a giving heart towards others in need, with no expectations in return. I was so touched. I asked for a hug, and a hug is what he gave. I was blessed and grateful to hear an amazing testimony of encouragement.”
After his hour long testimony of resilience, recovery and wellness, Metta entertained a few questions from the audience. Many thanked him for coming to share his story and while others posed questions to the NBA champion. The last question asked was probably the most profound, “What would the current Metta World Peace tell the past Ron Artest?”
“I was very, very self-destructive. There was no talking to me. I just would not listen. Not as far as suicide but somewhere in that same family. I didn’t care where my career went. I didn’t care if I threw it all away,” admits World Peace. “I think the only that I could say to him (Ron Artest) is ‘you’re making and you’re going to ruin it for yourself. You need to change but, understand, that it’s not going to happen overnight.”
He indicated that he could have grown and developed to the person he is today a lot sooner if he had taken advice from people who attempted to guide him in a positive direction. Two of those people were Mitch Kupchak, former general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Reggie Miller, retired NBA shooting guard who played his entire 18 year career with the Indiana Pacers and current NBA commentator for TNT.
He concluded the question and answer segment by encouraging people to be true to themselves, “It’s important to be yourself because it’s hard to be someone else. Being someone else requires you to act all the time. It’s not worth it.”
His last piece of advice for Ron Artest was to “Be yourself. Acting out and getting in trouble can’t be you. Take your time. You’ll make mistakes along the way. Keep going, eventually you’ll become the person you want to be.”
After the Q&A segment, World Peace was joined on stage by Angela M. Coggs, Mental Health Specialist with San Bernardino County Behavioral Health, and one of the Commissioners with San Bernardino County Behavioral Health. Together they presented him with an appreciation award that read in part, “We hereby presented to Metta World Peace for your ongoing commitment and dedicated service as an advocate for mental health and imparting your valuable insights and inspirations.”
“It was amazing to witness this event develop. It was astonishing to see how many consumers and San Bernardino County community members related to Metta World Peace’s story,” said Jessica Romo-Gutierrez, La Sierra University Social Work Intern with San Bernardino County of Behavioral Health. “It was an amazing feeling to be under the same roof with other programs and/individuals with the same passion to contribute to improving others quality of life.”
Ethan Mink with KVCR, the local PBS TV station out of San Bernardino, conducted a brief interview with the former Laker following his speech. He asked a few questions before World Peace was swept away for pictures. Later World Peace joined the other attendees for lunch in the dining hall. When he entered the room he received a resounding show of appreciation and a standing ovation. Although individuals approached him during lunch he did not turn anyone away. He signed basketballs, basketball cards, hats, and programs as well as posed for a few pictures.
In addition to Metta World Peace’s story of struggle and resilience, there were several other notable aspects of the summit including a presentation from the San Bernardino County Behavioral Health Office of Cultural Competency and Ethnic Services Justine Rangel and Victoria Hall, Table Discussion Questions breakout sessions and a Peer Programs Panel. The panel consisted of staff from the Department of Veteran Affairs Loma Linda VA Healthcare System, San Bernardino County Behavioral Health Transitional Ages Youth (TAY) Program, Victor Community Support Service Transitional Aged Youth (TAY) Program, San Bernardino County Behavioral Health Clubhouse Expansion Program and a Case Manager/Peer Support Specialist. The purpose of the panel was to share best practices with other departments and programs that would be shared and utilized. The importance of sharing what works and what does not work can assist in going forward in the ensuring that programs are focused and result in positive outcomes.
In addition interactive sharing sessions/workshops, there was a photo opportunity drawing that allowed twelve attendees to pose for a picture with the former Los Angeles Laker. The winners were randomly selected and given a special golden tickets to for the group photo.
One attendee, who is a client of the Department of Behavioral Health, really made an impact on World Peace. Although she was not selected for the group photo, she had painted a picture for him and wanted to give it to him. She asked one of the Program Managers if she could make sure he received it. The Program Manager not only made sure he received it, she made it possible for her to present to him herself. He expressed his gratitude and stated that he really loved it. He noticed it was not signed. He said that he would love it if she signed it because “you (she) an artist and that all artist should sign their work.” This made her very happy. She signed it, said thank you and began to walk away. He stopped and said ask if she would take a picture with him. She was elated. This was only one instance how World Peace interacted with the attendees on a personal level.
He took pictures and signed autographs for anyone who ask, even during lunch. He was described as genuine, honest, sincere and unpretentious by those who approached him. “Very inspirational speech given by Metta. He talked about mental health issues he struggled through and the positive things he’s doing to help others going through the same fight,” said attendee Jorge Brown. “Really down to earth guy I had the pleasure of meeting.”
During his speech, World Peace spoke about how his mental health issues stemmed from alcohol abuse, anger abuse and an unstable household. The former Ron Artest, who infamously drew an 86-game suspension for his role in the Palace Brawl in 2004. He has since cemented a stronger reputation based on his work with mental health advocacy.
Perhaps the most memorable part of his testimony was when the one time NBA Champion eloquently stated, “We accumulated mental debt. Years of building-up of fear, tension, anxiety, and other maladaptive behaviors. It takes time to pay back once you’re ready to free yourself from the debt,” recalled Matthew L. Talley, Clubhouse Specialist with Pacific Clinics, an organization that offers mental healthcare and behavioral therapy for children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and the homeless. “This statement had a huge impact on me because it informs/reminds me that RECOVERY takes time and that’s okay!”
In 2007, World Peace founded Xcel University, which raises funds for those same causes. He publicly thanked his psychologist following the 2010 NBA Finals and later auctioned off his championship ring for $650,000 to help various mental health charities.