Vicky Coffee-Fletcher welcomes attendees to the conference.

Vicky Coffee-Fletcher welcomes attendees to the conference.

On May 15-16, nearly 350 key mental health stakeholders from around the state met in Fort Worth, Texas for the 17th biennial Robert Lee Sutherland Seminar, “Spiritual Crossroads: Faith, Mental Health and the African American Community.”

The conference was electric. The event kicked off with a dynamic keynote presentation by Dr. Matthew Stanford and Rev. Dr. Robert M. Gilmore, Sr. Both presenters set the tone for the two days, addressing the importance of mental health awareness in faith-based African American communities.

Dr. Stanford talked about the mental health challenges affecting the African American community, noting that African American individuals are overrepresented in the homeless and incarcerated populations. He further explained that stigma in the community and lack of culturally competent services create a very negative situation. He pointed out that individuals in mental distress are much more likely to go to faith-based leaders instead of mental health professionals and that this creates an important opportunity for the faith community. This opportunity was the key theme addressed throughout the two-day conference.

Rev. Dr. Gilmore then followed up with his personal recovery story. He shared that recovery is a journey, telling the audience about his childhood, his time in the military in Vietnam and his experience in the church. It was a passionate presentation that brought the crowd to its feet.

Barbara Fountain leads her breakout session.

The remainder of the conference continued with the same enthusiasm and energy. Over 30 speakers presented in 18 different sessions, addressing health disparities, children’s mental health, resources for pastors and faith leaders, the importance of culturally competent services, grant writing and the recovery movement. Between the breakout sessions and keynote presentations, people chatted excitedly about the knowledge they gained and exchanged information with new contacts.

The conference concluded with a regional planning lunch. Attendees convened with other stakeholders from their area to discuss current mental health resources and barriers and brainstorm the next steps. This was a critical opportunity for regional stakeholders to use the information they gained over the two days to identify future goals for their community.

The Hogg Foundation is grateful to the many participants that traveled from around the state to join the seminar. The conference planning committee wants to thank the speakers and contributors that provided their subject-matter expertise.

Download the conference program to view the full agenda along with the speaker bios. You can also view the presentations on the post-conference webpage. Check out the photos from the conference on our Facebook page.