Monday, April 2 at 7pm
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
at The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Using the framing of David Rabe’s Good for Otto, the NEW GROUP NOW discussion series continues this season with a panel on Building Community Around Mental Health. The panel consists of artists, cultural workers, mental health advocates and policy makers who will discuss how we destigmatize the conversations around mental health in ways that build avenues for understanding, community and support.
Mental illness affects many people within our society, yet many stigmas still exist that hinder open conversation on the issue. Using the themes and events of David Rabe’s Good for Otto and the work presented in Dr. Richard O’Connor’s Undoing Depression, this discussion asks what does the conversation look like when we break down barriers and openly collaborate to become advocates for mental wellness? This discussion will explore what it looks like when we, as activists, artists, and policy-makers, intentionally join together to form a community around mental health.
Over the last 15 years, Nancy Giles’ work as a contributor to the Peabody Award-winning CBS News Sunday Morning earned her 3 Emmy Awards for a unique blend of common sense wisdom, laugh-out-loud humor, and social and political commentary. A graduate of Chicago’s esteemed Second City improv troupe and a Theatre World Award winner, Giles appeared for three seasons on the acclaimed TV drama China Beach. Her one-woman shows include The Further Adventures of the Accidental Pundette, Notes of a Negro Neurotic, and Black Comedy: The Wacky Side of Racism, which the Village Voice called “smart and unforgiving.” She’s offered her perspectives as a frequent guest on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, The Beat with Ari Melber, and AM Joy. An accomplished voiceover and radio artist, Giles won back-to-back Gracies from the Alliance for Women in Media for Giles & Moriarty (with CBS News correspondent Erin Moriarty) on WPHT-AM in Philadelphia. Her podcast, The Giles Files, takes a lively spin on trending topics with interviews, commentaries, song parodies and more. For more than 25 years she’s been a proud volunteer with The 52nd Street Project, helping at-risk kids take part in acting, playwriting, and arts workshops, classes, and performances.
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Founder and Executive Director of Life in My Days, a Global Non-Profit paving the way for starting difficult conversations around Mental Health and Disabilities, Abuse and Trauma, and Social Justice worldwide. Life in My Days connects individuals from over 150 countries and has operations in the United States, Turkey, Malaysia, and Jordan. Life in My Days specializes in starting these difficult conversations, empowering community members, and creating spaces of Belonging.
He is also a Social Justice and Mental Health advocate, sharing his personal experiences about Mental Illness and Oppression worldwide, and supporting organizations in creating more accessible and safe spaces. He has worked with dozens of communities worldwide, working on the individual, community, organizational, and policy levels. His work has been featured on Healthline, The Mighty, This is My Brave, Communications Rebel, Muslimgirl, and many local publications in the communities he works in.
He is also a Peer Support Specialist, supporting individuals from around the world, specializing in working with individuals displaced by war, torture and complex childhood trauma, living with Mental Illness and/or Disability, and individuals living with Suicidality.
In his free time, Ahmad is also a novelist writing YA Fantasy, and the occasional Non-fiction. Currently, he’s writing a memoir about his own complex childhood trauma. He has a Bachelors in Engineering from WPI, and a Graduate Certificate in Traumatic Stress. When he’s not on the road he lives in Northfield, NH.
T-Kea Blackman is a mental health advocate, speaker and writer who lives by the Toni Payne quote, “I rather be living my truth happily than living a lie miserably.” She is the creator and host of the Fireflies Unite Podcast, a weekly podcast dedicated to bringing light into darkness (just like the fireflies) by sharing the stories of individuals thriving with mental illness within communities of color despite the disadvantages and racism that negatively impact their mental health. T-Kea’s articles have been published on The Mighty, Urban Faith, Blavity, and 21 Ninety. Making a digital footprint, her articles have garnered over 45,000 views and encouraged individuals to seek treatment.
Described as an inspiration, her heartfelt and powerful story is a testament that you can thrive despite having a mental illness. T-Kea was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders and is a suicide survivor. She previously worked in the television industry as a publicist and production/talent coordinator. Within her career, she provided support to TV One’s signature award-winning shows Unsung and Unsung Hollywood, BET’s Black Girls Rock!, The Soul Train Awards and BET X Youth Experience. Her diagnosis led her to use her entertainment background and communications skills to raise awareness for mental illness within communities of color.
She earned a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from Georgetown University, and a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and film production from Howard University.
Richard O’Connor, MSW, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist with offices in Lakeville, CT, and Manhattan. For 15 years he was director of the Northwest Center for Family Services and Mental Health. He received his MSW and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and extended his education through the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and the Family Institute.
Dr. O’Connor is the author of five books: Undoing Depression has been a perennial best-seller among self-help books; it earned high praise from professionals as well as from William Styron, Andrew Solomon, and Larry McMurtry. Active Treatment of Depression was hailed as “one of the decade’s great psychotherapy texts on depression.” Undoing Perpetual Stress received the Books for a Better Life Award as the best wellness book of 2005. Happy at Last is the “thinking person’s guide to joy.” His most recent book, Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, and Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior, was published in August 2014 by Hudson Street Press/Penguin.
Dior Vargas is a Latina Feminist Mental Health Activist. She lives with depression and anxiety and is a suicide attempt survivor. Dior is the creator of the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project, a response to the invisibility of people of color in the media representation of mental illness. She goes around the country giving keynotes, hosting workshops, and speaking on panels. Her work and insight have been covered in media outlets such as Forbes, Newsweek, NBC News Latino, and The Guardian. Dior is the recipient of numerous awards including, The White House Champion of Change for Disability Advocacy Across Generations, 2015 Alternatives Conference Cookie Gant and Bill Compton LGBTQI Leadership Award and a Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame Inductee. She has a B.A. in the Study of Women and Gender from Smith College and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. She is working towards a Master of Public Health at NYU’s College of Global Public Health. She is a native New Yorker and currently lives in New York City.