3 insights from the 2023 MHA Conference that gave me hope

MHA Admin

Mon, 06/26/2023 – 11:07

by Crystal Widado, 2022-2023 MHA Young Leaders Council member

As someone who’s been in the mental health advocacy space for the past six years, I’ve learned that having hope that things can become better is a lifelong marathon. With 2.5 million youth reporting severe depression and climbing suicide rates, things don’t seem good for the future of youth. Hope is difficult to sustain, but is arguably one of the most important tools for building a long-lasting movement for change.

In chronological order, here are impactful moments from the 2023 Mental Health America Conference that brought me hope for the future of mental health advocacy and leadership.

#1: Meals with the Young Leaders Council

From the very first night we shared Ethiopian food to the final pizza dinner, each meal shared with old and new friends from the Mental Health America Young Leaders Council brought so much meaning and joy into this work.

While a lot of professional advice was shared during these meals, I found this personal connection to be the most meaningful. Conversations about family and collective organizing while buying smoothies with fellow council members showed the amount of shared wisdom between people from diverse backgrounds. A true grandmaster of cultivating spaces for these types of connections is Anthony Sartori (YLC ‘22), who I shared breakfast with on the first morning of the conference. I’ll never forget Sartori asking me what I’d like “my story” to be as we chatted about our shared hopes and anxieties about the nonprofit space.

As one of the youngest members of the council and a young person in the field, it is easy to become intimidated by the truly brilliant work of my peers. Meals both inside and outside of the conference allowed me to humanize the people around me. I found “realness” (otherwise known as authenticity) in those around me and myself.

#2: Carmela Wallace, Mahmoud Kedhr, and the peer support breakout

Mahmoud Kedhr’s interview with Carmela Wallace was a masterpiece of great interviewing and a destigmatized conversation about grief and substances. Amidst the undying pride and love Wallace shared for her late son, JuiceWRLD, she showed the conference her dedication to continuing her son’s legacy in Live Free 999. Kedhr, a former Young Leaders Council member and current Mental Health America Board member, read out a lyric from JuiceWRLD’s song “Burn” about never being forgiven if narcotics ever killed him. I teared up when Wallace immediately said that she forgives her late son, who passed away in 2019.

In a similar vein, the breakout “Supporting Youth Substance Use and Addiction Recovery from a Peer Perspective,” led by Kelly Davis, Mental Health America’s vice president of peer and youth advocacy, and Young Leaders Council member Savannah Frye also revealed much-needed hope and resilience. Aside from sharing their living experience (which often is missed in these conversations), their destigmatizing attitudes and a deep disdain for criminalizing/punitive solutions were so refreshing to hear.

So much of the conversation around substances often revolves around individual shame, fear, and blame towards young people struggling with addiction, but these two moments in the conference illuminated a future of noncarceral solutions and support for youth.

#3: YLC young leaders panel

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the amount of joy and knowledge gained from being a part of this year’s Young Leaders Council young leaders panel. While others might have highlighted the fruitful live conversation, I found the real magic in the preparatory meeting the night before. As we gathered together to combine our interests in what we wanted to talk about, there was such a shared excitement for the platform we were about to have.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Kelly Davis did an amazing job moderating the conversation. But Davis didn’t just moderate – she pushed the conversation forward by asking questions that actively challenged our current approaches to the youth mental health crisis. All five of us brought such powerful and insightful remarks that left the room with hope for what we’re all fighting for.

If you missed this year’s conference, don’t miss the 2024 Annual Conference. Find more conference recaps here.

Crystal Widado is a member of the 2022-2023 Mental Health America Young Leaders Council. Learn more about the Young Leaders Council.


The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Code Red
Gunshot Victim
Life Threatening Wounds
Physical Assault Victim
Severely Injured Auto Accident Victim
Burn Victim
Choking & Breathing Obstructions
and more…


Child Sex Assault Victim
Domestic Violence Victim
Drug Overdose
Rape/Sex Crime Victim
Suicide Watch
Trafficking Victim
Nervous Breakdown
and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer/Graphics Training
  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
  • Hospitality Training
  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
  • Violence De-Escalation Training
  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
  • Meal Prep

Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: