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Biden named renowned lawyer Corey Minor Smith talks about the importance of mental health

Corey Minor Smith, a renowned lawyer, author and mental health advocate, was named a senior adviser to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earlier this year.

Minor Smith has been an attorney for more than 20 years, honing her skills and experience at places like the Stark County District Attorney’s Office and the Summit County Court of Common Pleas.

“She brings a wealth of experience and a remarkable record of social justice advocacy, particularly for those dealing with mental health issues,” Reverend Al Sharpton said of Minor Smith’s appointment.

Throughout her life, Minor Smith struggled to understand and find ways to help her mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, with her mental health, which ultimately led Corey to move house 21 times before going at University. Currently, she and her mother share a supportive and loving relationship due to Corey’s unwavering commitment to helping those experiencing mental health issues and the families that support them. Additionally, Minor Smith has used her life experience to channel empathy and passion for people through her experience as a former resident of public and subsidized housing and as a tester for fair housing cases at the law school and now in his current role at HUD.

Minor Smith sat down with to discuss the importance of mental health, his advocacy, housing and solutions to the growing mental health crisis. This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

For Culture: How can people learn more about mental illness and what resources are available to them?

Corey Minor Smith: I would say don’t be afraid or ashamed, ask questions, ask for help to look at the different sources of resources available. There are so many things available online these days. We need to know that mental illness and mental health issues are not a person acting out because they want attention. It is essential for us to take a step and recognize mental health issues and then go further to help. Ultimately, this led me to my advocacy, helping people understand and know that mental illness is real. And that there are resources available. I have a blog that I created. There are podcasts, books, organizations and international organizations, all focused on providing resources and treatment services related to mental health issues, from mild to severe. I’ve put together what I call my “help guide” and have it available on my Instagram page. But I started thinking about our culture and how it impacted my growth and development and learning more and more about mental health issues.

Forbes Culture: How do you approach mental health with your children?

Corey Minor Smith: Growing each day, inviting them to be open with what they feel and what they think. You have to be receptive, even if you disagree with what they say, even if you disagree with how they feel. I am a mother of two young black men who must navigate the world as young black men and all the terror they expressed as children. So to answer your question, be open and receptive to what they are willing to share even if you disagree.

For(bes)Culture: What is the crucial information the black community should know about mental health treatment?

Corey Minor Smith: As a community, we are often unaware of the importance of mental health. Such as the different factors that cause mental illness, like if it’s hereditary, etc. There are so many things we don’t know. The black community relies heavily on the church for guidance, unity and spirituality. It is important to know that it is okay to go beyond the altar and beyond the prayer and

use other tools to cope with mental illness, such as medication, yoga, or anything that helps you deal with your symptoms. Doing these things does not make you less of a Christian or a believer in the denomination you choose. Beyond statistics, mental health is a fact of life and does not discriminate. We must be prepared to address this in our homes and help members of this community by using our voice as a means to ensure that funding is brought to our community to help.

For Culture: Is there a way to be preventative when it comes to mental health?

Corey Minor Smith: I am thinking first of Charlemagne Le Dieu, and of the movement of physical and mental wealth. Being preventative is about the decisions we make, whether it’s about food, breaking generational curses, etc. We must resolve to stop any social abuse that may have plagued our families for generations. There’s a lot of research on being descendants of slaves, all the trauma that took place during slavery, and how it affects our mental health today. It’s not going away just because there’s no more slavery. There were generations after the end of slavery trying to rebuild during the rebuilding period, just trying to build our lives and build a culture because we were estranged from our culture. So I think that’s important as we move forward and try to have healthier lives for our children and their children. We must stay in touch with history to make better decisions for our future.

For Culture: How important is housing stability to mental health?

Corey Minor Smith: Housing stability is so important. And we cannot fully understand unless we have been in this situation. Like I said, I’ve moved at least 21 times. Once I asked my mother to write down all our old addresses. It was important because I had to show everywhere I had lived for the past fourteen years as part of the bar application. This had an impact on my career because I had to explain all this in front of a committee to serve at the bar. Thus, stable housing does not only affect an adult with mental illness; it also takes a toll on the children involved.

Housing is an essential aspect of our lives in general. We need to support organizations that help those coming in and out of shelters. Having stable housing is essential. Because we are sometimes what I call a “first generation whole,” not just first generation college students, you could be the first in your family to have stable housing and provide for your children. Many people are eliminated due to housing insecurity or live in a food desert. It also has an impact on the quality of your accommodation by being reasonably far from a grocery store. For some people, it doesn’t matter. For others, it is devastating. Housing insecurity has become a huge talking point due to rising rent and house prices. This country is too rich in many respects to allow some of our fellow citizens to live in these conditions.

For Culture: How has your passion for mental health advocacy catapulted you to your current position as Senior Counsel for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development?

Corey Minor Smith: My experience has come full circle. My life started in an HLM. For most of my career I was general counsel for a public housing authority, and not just any public housing authority, but public health, which provided housing for my mother and me. I also worked as a tester as a law student for Fair Housing, which I now know is a Fair Housing organization. There were so many things I did that were housing related that I didn’t understand at the time. But I really believe in all my work, trying to help people with mental illness have high quality housing opportunities.

For Culture: In many black communities, some members referred to as “unc and aunt” show signs of mental illness. They can usually be seen outside food markets and local businesses. These men and women are generally well received by the community. Can we do anything to help them get proper care and housing?

Corey Minor Smith: In the community, yes, we see these people every day in our cities. But the fact is that a person has rights. And unless you meet a certain threshold in terms of the law, you can’t be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility just because they stay on the streets. The unfortunate thing is that often their refuge becomes prison because they are arrested for vagrancy or something while lying in the park. Specific local laws prohibit a person from being on the park bench for any length of time or just sleeping outside, and they are arrested and taken to jail rather than undergo mental health treatment. So this is a serious problem in our country where people are incarcerated instead of receiving mental health care and treatment.

In terms of what we can do to help them, there’s not much you can do other than learn more about mental health issues and how you might be able to help them if they’re going through a mental health crisis. For example, many advocacy has focused on having a three-digit number 988, specifically designated for a mental health crisis. So instead of calling 911, which we know led to the deaths of black people suffering from a mental health crisis at the time. In 2020, the FCC approved 988, a two-year period that we are now approaching. July 16 is the deadline for carriers to provide a number people can call that will direct them directly to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. So if that person, your beloved member of the community, may not be having such a good day, you may be able to call 988 to get them the appropriate help.

For Culture: What changes have been implemented with law enforcement to address deaths while responding to mental health crisis calls?

Corey Minor Smith: Effective teams and law enforcement engagement are part of health and human health crises. It is just unfortunate that many departments do not have the formation of a CIT crisis response team. Through my own experience and the need to reach out to law enforcement to help with different things that have happened over the years with my mom, I have high praise for law enforcement to be part of of the aid process. However, I know that many black people have not had the same experience. I would like all law enforcement to have crisis intervention training to be able to defuse these situations, because it is very important. Everyone wants to live at the end of the day. We want our law enforcement officials to live at the end of the day and feel safe when we call on them for help. So we want someone who will be able to defuse the situation. And I speak from experience because I experienced violent behavior from my mother. There are many different communities that create these types of models to help solve community problems through crisis response teams.