JCK News vol. 2

Writer: Mike Esposito
Editor: Mike Esposito
Reader: John Tessitore
Producer: Mike Esposito

This week we announced our newest initiative — "Kelly's Heroes." A series of community events aimed at spreading John Kelly's values of companionship and acceptance to new areas of the country. Most of you have been to an event of ours like the Legends Softball Tournament or the Big A Tournament in Queens. You know how empowering a day focused on John's values can be, but these events are also our main source of fundraising. And a majority of those resources will go to piloting "The Legends Program" — our vision of mental illness prevention programming in the high school to college pipeline. The Legends ProgramMental illness prevention programming? I know what you’re thinking, some people don’t even use the term mental illness anymore. Mental health disorder is one of many suitable synonyms. But let’s be clear — neither is the same as a mental stressor or a mental crisis. So when we talk about prevention, we mean providing programs to a spectrum of students — from those not suffering from any perceived stressor to the 50-70% (depending on data source) of high school and college students reporting elevated levels of stress, anxiety or depression. Inevitably we come across those who’ve already been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, have been through a mental crises and are possibly well into treatment and recovery. The bottom line? When we say “you’re not alone” we mean it for all students who can benefit from prevention programming. Which just happens to be all students.

“You’re not alone” is the starting point for any project we take on. When we started thinking through how to turn what John’s been doing for 6 years — giving vulnerable, empowering talks using the documentary he made and his own lived experience — into The Legends Program, we started by listening to students. In fact, John’s had thousands of conversations with students — from those not struggling, to those experiencing mental stressors, crises and illnesses — the entire spectrum. Student’s will always be our main focus and I’ve literally watched John pull someone close to him and physically tell them they’re not alone. The mechanics of the program we built is designed to use that passion and commitment to healing to approach a challenge that we just haven’t found the right answer to — how do we build a healthy culture around mental health to make sure students are intelligently consuming resources from prevention through recovery? Or much more frankly, when is suicide not going to be the 2nd leading cause of death in the high school to college pipeline? To crystallize the student perspective, we also had to understand the teacher, administrator and parent perspective. When a student looks up, do they see an authority figure? Do they see someone they can open up to? Do they see someone who would dismiss their thoughts because of how society has shaped these relationships? So when we say “you’re not alone” we also think of the teacher who is terrified to have a conversation about mental health with their student for fear of having anyone build their identity on that conversation. We think of the administrator who can feel the problem bubbling in their bones but doesn’t have the range of resources needed to address it. The parent perspective was the toughest to grasp. Our relationship with our parents and caregivers are complex and each one is as unique as the next. But ultimately, I think parents want to open this conversation with their children and a lot are starting to, but we lack a shared vocabulary and backbone of concepts that seriously stunts that conversation. Alright, so what are we doing about it? This spring we step onto high school, college (and corporate) campuses to introduce our 1-day Legends Program, in the Fall we’ll be executing our vision for a 1-week program and by early 2020, our goal is to be able to provide a full layer of mental health prevention programming that combines my passion for research and social justice and John’s penchant for impactful storytelling and connection. We’re targeting juniors and seniors in high school and freshmen and sophomores in college — we feel this unique life transition is fraught with a low level of resource awareness and retention. Let’s dig in. What does a 1-day program look and feel like from a student’s perspective? (We’ll get to 1-week and the full Legends programs in subsequent newsletters.) Before we step foot on any campus we identify and reach out to prospective advocates on that campus, collect any second hand data we can use to inform our program and have conversations with resource providers already working with students. Armed with that information we build the audience for a morning presentation that brings together campus advocates, administration and the Foundation to lay the groundwork for a great day on campus. Our main presentation is given to a broader audience in the early afternoon then break out groups commence. Alright, I'm Muhammad now. Not only the most popular name on the face of this planet but also a senior at Fictional High School in Westchester. I honestly don't know much about mental health nor am I overly-concerned with its impact, I just haven't had any experience with it and I know that's ok. But last week, John from the JCK Foundation reached out asking me to come to a morning presentation about the Mental Health Movement. My role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace club on campus was his reason for reaching out. During that presentation they explained what the Mental Health Literacy Project ("MHLP") was and why that helped them reframe their approach to the Mental Health Movement as a product of social justice, ensuring that sufferers and non-sufferers have a role in healing our society's view of mental health. (The MHLP was one of the most diverse, in-depth studies of mental health literacy and help-seeking orientation.) From there they laid out the argument for a broader definition of mental health that includes mental illness but also mental wellness — the latter being an art we all practice in some form, in which the output shapes what I believe to be the soul. Or your general emotional disposition if that makes you feel more comfortable. Lastly, John and Mike encouraged us to expand our idea of resources, of which lived experience are a part. I thought deeply about how my brothers and sisters in Palestine faced insurmountable despair and how that geopolitical issue could exacerbate or encourage a mental health disorder. I mentioned the morning to a few friends as I went to my first couple periods of class after the JCK Presentation. After lunch, we all gathered in the auditorium — most of my friends were now going to be exposed to the JCK Foundation for the first time. John's jokes kicked off a viewing of the documentary "Heroes Get Remembered but Legends Never Die." A few of us were in tears but all of us thought about Jolie, our classmate who succumbed to her mental health disorder last year — her story sounded a lot like John Kelly's, I just never made the connection between that and mental health. John weaved the documentary into his own story and drove home the idea that while social stigma is helping us open up, self stigma is still trapping many of us in an idea that we're not worthy of mental health care — not matter which celebrity opens up. Either way, as that social stigma melts, more of my friends hopefully start to open up, creating an opportunity for a new culture to build underneath that layer of openness. Later on in the break out group I signed up for, we started with a simple prompt — what's the difference between social stigma and self stigma? John weaved the concept into a story about Jolie, the woman I mentioned before. It opened an hour of conversation where most in the room shared some story connected to mental health. Ultimately, the day provided a ton of food for thought — what does seeking help for a mental crisis look like? How can we expand our definition of mental health to include both mental illness and mental wellness but inevitably tie it into suicide prevention, co-occurring disorders and self-care? Most importantly, and the piece I connected with most, how do we build the confidence as a group to address changes to our mental health culture on campus? VolunteersWe’re looking for some help on the legal front. If you have pro bono hours to kill or have legal experience, email [email protected] to see how you can help out. We added Heather Lennon (@heatherlennon) to the team as volunteer social media manager — she’ll be taking over our Instagram (@JCKFoundation) in the coming weeks. Extended thanks to Steph Olivieri, Allison Hartnett, Kev Farrington, Tommy Murphy and Emily Meeks for holding us down as always. Kelly's HeroesOur first official Kelly’s Heroes event was Kari Murphy’s CycleBar event in February. The whole room brought the energy and we even got to see John last a few seconds on a mechanical bull at the gathering after…want to see the video? Next up is the one and only Steph Olivieri hosting a collaboration with Orange Theory Fitness! There’s still spots open for the 3/31 class, follow this link for more information. And last but not least for this edition of Kelly’s Heroes — come out on 4/20 to see Gyasi Barber and Chris Baier run the Prospect Park 10k! We got to know Gyasi through Tommy Murphy (Indeed strong!) just a few weeks ago but he’s been gung-ho for the cause since. Chris Baier produced the documentary UNSTUCK: an OCD Kids Movie and couldn’t help joining when he heard Gyasi was running right next to his house! We couldn’t be happier to have these two legends in our corner. Thank you both. You can check out the full list of events on our website at JCKFoundation.org/events! JCK ClinicJohn Kelly’s college buddy from Colgate, Chris Grillo, is making his second trip to the Clinic this April. Chris spent the better part of a year there back in 2014 and is going back to see how we can expand our mission in Kabale. If you’re looking for a good read, check out Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. It weaves the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. I love fiction so when I wanted to start learning more about the region, I picked this up first. Collected LayersWe’ll let the people speak! Here are the top 5 episodes ranked by number of downloads. One small plug, listen to our latest episode that’s all about people hosting Kelly’s Heroes events this year! You can find all our episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 
  1. Self Mutilators Anonymous
  2. JCK News vol. 1 (woohoo!)
  3. Liana Rosenman and Eating Disorder Awareness Week
  4. Tom Berry and Optimism vs. Realism
  5. Mental Health and Dating with B+L
 An Ending NoteOne little thing, one big thing. Dr. Kelly sends me awesome articles all the time but one of my favorites led me to this — The Podcast Listener’s Guide to Alexa. I don’t have a smart speaker in my house but my Dad, who operates without ~85% of his eyesight loves Collected Layers and is sometimes pretty frustrated with their (or his) fickleness. Articles like this help a lot. The big thing — Jay Varney. Jay’s been a friend since high school but ever since I told him about the Foundation, he’s used every opportunity to help us out using a huge passion of his — art. Jay drew every Season 1 and 2 guest from the podcast — you can see the full collection at JCKFoundation.org/collectedlayers but here are my 3 favorites. Find us on…InterwebsInstagramFacebookEmailSpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle Play