The Intergalactic Federation of Crazy Folk
Honoring Those Who Came Before Us. I remember when the comet Hale-Bopp passed close to Earth, and theories abounded that there was an intergalactic spaceship at its core. I remember Howie Vogel creator of DTR (Double Trouble in Recovery) and a major player in establishing the Howie the Harp Peer Specialist Training Program, saying to me, “If there is, you can bet Howie [the Harp] is at the helm.”
Howie the Harp always told us that when he died he intended to establish an “Intergalactic Federation of Crazy Folk.” I find myself thinking about all the “crazy folk” who were part of our movement back then, and who have since left our physical world.
They helped me to become who I am today, through their friendship and peer support. They were the pioneers of peer support and advocacy in New York City. And while there are many figures who are widely recognized as national leaders, those who lived and worked here in NYC and strove to develop a voice and a “seat at the table” for our human rights movement are largely forgotten.
They broke through barriers to our participation on agency boards and mental health planning bodies and paved the way for peer support and peer specialist positions. They were rebels who challenged and changed the status quo of the system.
Dick Gelman taught me a lot about the structure of the mental health system in New York and got me a spot on one of the first outpatient task forces to include recipients of services. (My psychiatrist at the time thought I was delusional when I told her about it.) Dick had the initial idea for “Incube” which was intended to be an “incubator” of sorts for peer entrepreneurs and consumer run projects.
Mimi Kravitz passed the bar exam and got her law degree while homeless and living in her car. She became director of Incube. Mimi was also a talented singer who led a group she named “The Screaming Mimis.” She was close friends with Howie the Harp, and they often “jammed” together.
Quincy Boykin was the first peer to head the Office of Consumer Affairs for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). He was a formidable presence, and seldom took “no” for an answer. He obtained funding through his office for a variety of projects like the annual Picnic for Parity and city-wide consumer conferences.
Louise Wahl, a member of Project Release, and insulin shock survivor, Louise’s apartment on the Upper East Side was the New York City site for the bi-monthly Chamberlin Teleconferences out of Boston University.
Ken Steele was very special to me. We drove together to the Office of Mental Health (OMH) research conferences in Albany, where he was the only “consumer” allowed to present. Ken was an activist for the causes he believed in, like the Voter Empowerment Project, the Picnic for Parity, and peer support Awakenings groups.
Ken started City Voices, and was its first Editor-in-Chief. He loved Star Trek, Barbra Streisand and lighthouses. He passed on while working on the acknowledgements for his book, “The Day the Voices Stopped.”
Brendan Nugent was the first director of the Institute for Community Living’s attempt at a consumer-run clubhouse based upon the Fountain House model. It was not until Brendan passed away that it was found that his psychiatric symptoms were actually the result of a physical ailment.He helped organize various marches and protests on behalf of our movement.
Marvin Spieler was a longtime columnist and board member for City Voices. He also ran the Speaker’s Bureau for the Mental Health Association in NYC which paid peers to tell their stories to students, providers and peer groups.
Richard Greenberg belonged to many advisory boards and support groups. He was a driving force behind an unsuccessful attempt to keep the NYC Recipient’s Coalition going after Howie the Harp passed away.
Robert Teller was active in the Mental Health Council in his borough and an active member of the NYC Federation of Mental Health Council’s Consumer Committee.
Esperanza Isaac started Casa Esperanza, the first clubhouse model program for the Hispanic population of New York City. She was an active force on many mental health advisory groups for both OMH and DOHMH.
Ed Knight: While not from NYC, Ed was the first director of the Mental Health Empowerment Project under the Mental Health Association in NY State. He organized some of the earliest consumer conferences at Bronx State Hospital with national leaders in our movement as speakers.
He earned the nickname “Johnny Appleseed of self-help groups,” offering technical assistance to start-up groups from Buffalo to Long Island.
I knew many others—friends, allies and activists—from all five boroughs who strove to give their perspectives and input on how we could make the system better. They all, living and dead, contributed to the history of our movement. I hope those who have gone before us have found their way to Howie’s Federation.
Angela Cerio, CPRP, found hope for recovery after repeated hospitalizations at the 1988 Alternatives conference in Salt Lake City where she met and established ongoing friendships with Howie the Harp, Judi Chamberlin and other leaders in our movement.
She was a founding member of the Sky Light Center Clubhouse on Staten Island. She directed the first funded peer advocacy program in NYC: PALS (Peer Advocates Linking Services). She was site director for the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance in Utica, NY and a member of Mind Freedom International, and a former editor-in-chief of City Voices.
Currently, she is a trainer at the Howie the Harp Center, and a participant in the Columbia University Public Psychiatry Fellowship Program as a peer advisor. She is an active member of the Staten Island Mental Health Council, and serves as treasurer on the board of directors of Baltic Street AEH, Inc.
Pullout: “…friends, allies and activists…They all, living and dead, contributed to the history of our movement…I hope those who have gone before us have found their way to Howie’s Federation.”