National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Image Nancy Carter

Nancy Carter was nominated by NAMI California.  View the nomination letter from NAMI California. (pdf, opens in new window)

Each board candidate was asked to answer several questions relating to NAMI and the experience they bring to the board.  Each candidate was limited to 300 words for each answer.  Read Nancy's answers below:

NAMI Self-Identification Statement

The shadow of mental illness haunted me. My mother died at age 39. Plagued with debilitating depressions and euphoric highs, her "crazy making" behavior transferred to me. I lacked a connection with middle earth. My son’s breakdown in 1994 brought the shadows into daylight. The family disease is bi-polar disorder.

Why do you want to serve on the NAMI National board of directors? 

No Family Stands Alone! is the motto of NAMI Urban Los Angeles. It is also my personal mantra, the reason I want to serve on the National Board. We are all family in NAMI, united by the common bond of mental illness. We share the same joys and pain, expectations and disappointments, triumphs and sorrows. It is this unique relationship that serves as our catalyst for action, advocacy and change in a system that  too often fails us and those we love.

During the past six years of my association with NAMI I have increased my "family" by hundreds. I have the opportunity to work and walk with folks of like mind toward a common goal of change. This "family" has supported me, lifted me up, educated me and given me a new purpose for the third act of my life. I want to pay forward the gifts that have been given to me with service on the board. God has blessed me with a Voice, one that can reach far and wide with our message. My background as an actress and years in the entertainment industry will be invaluable to my fundraising activities and outreach campaign.

As an African American woman, I bring the wisdom born from a segregated America. I have experienced discrimination first hand. I know only too well the depth of suffering felt when those of us with mental illness and our families encounter the stigma associated  with mental illness. I want to use my passion and my voice to help eradicate stigma in our lifetimes. I want to take the message of our all inclusive NAMI family. The  family that shares together and cares together. The family that knows "Together We Can and Together We Will"!

What financial management or fund raising expertise would you bring to the Board?

Fundraising and financial management are key components of any successful business, especially a non-profit. Since 1975 I have owned and operated a series of successful business ventures in the entertainment industry, including a talent agency and audience company. I will bring my skills as a grass roots, hands on entrepreneur to the NAMI board. My business philosophy mirrors Nike, “Just Do It”! I am prepared to roll up my sleeves and apply my "show me the money" style of fundraising to help NAMI achieve a solid fiscal foundation.

On January 1, 2005 I took a leap of faith and closed my last business, Applause! The Audience Company to work full time for my NAMI chapter. Applause! started on my kitchen table and eventually grossed in the six figures. I supplied audiences for hit shows like "Seinfeld", Moesha, Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer. These entertainment contacts will further my ability to successfully fund raise for NAMI.

Three years ago I turned my business skills toward the formation of a NAMI chapter, NAMI-Inglewood now NAMI Urban Los Angeles. NULA started as a support group with six members in March of 2000. We incorporated in April of 2003 with twelve members. Today we have seventy  five members and are steadily growing. Our first year income was less than two thousand dollars. Last year we grossed almost fifty thousand dollars. In the first quarter of this year we’ve already raised almost thirty thousand through county contracts, grants and donations. We’ve also opened our first housing project with six male consumers in residence.

I bring over thirty years of experience in managing successful business ventures as well a solid reputation for fundraising to the NAMI board. I know how to find money and manage what I find!

What is the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today?  What course of action do you suggest?

A wise man once said "None of us can be free until all of us are free"! The criminalization of the mentally is a blight on our society and by far the most pressing public policy issue facing NAMI members today. My NAMI chapter has a membership of almost seventy five. Approximately ten percent of that membership has a loved one with a mental illness diagnosis in jail or prison. I ask two questions at the start of all my Family to Family classes: Has your mentally ill loved one ever been arrested? Have they had any involvement with substance abuse? The answers are always the same, YES! YES! In record numbers our families are experiencing encounters with the criminal justice system and the cost in human sufffering cannot be measured.

If we are to remain an organization in the forefront of public policy we must tackle this issue head on at local, state and the national level. It is necessary to pool our membership resources from around the country to compile data that can be used in our lobbying efforts. NAMI needs its own think tank and conferences on these issues. Many of us are doing innovative programs in juvenile justice, jail diversion, the courts and elsewhere. This information should be shared at with National with the necessary monies to support the effort.

As a national organization we have the power to effect change. As long as there is one person incarcerated in a jail or prison with a mental illness we have work to do. California recently held a state conference on criminal justice. My suggestion is to encourage all our states to replicate the process so that we can come together and develop an effective plan of action to tackle this heinous problem.

What brought you to NAMI -- and what is most valuable to you about your participation in the NAMI movement?

If you ask any of the founding members of NAMI Urban Los Angeles, including myself, how we came to NAMI the answer would be a resounding Sharon Dunas of West Los Angeles and the Family to Family class. Our chapter began as a mother’s prayer group started by Bebe Moore Campbell and myself. We met twice a month for two years until someone discovered NAMI on the internet. Bebe enrolled in the class and came back to us raving about the incredible information and support she had found in NAMI.

Soon we would all not only take the Family to Family class but we would become teachers as well. The class became the catalyst for my involvement in NAMI and quickly lead to the formation of our affiliate chapter which is dedicated to outreach in communities of color. I’ve taught six Family to Family classes, conducted regular support groups and am now trained to teach the Provider education course. I have attended all the conventions both state and local since joining NAMI and served for two years on the California state board of directors. I’m honored to be a part of an organization that echoes my dreams of a better world for those suffering from mental illness.

The NAMI movement has taken an activist from the sixties and turned her into an advocate in the new milenium. Thanks to NAMI I am able to assist families and consumers in disenfranchised populations with the tools they need for successful paths to recovery and wellness. NAMI stirs my passion to help create a better, safer and more humane society for those who suffer from mental illness and their families.

What is the most pressing internal or organizational issue facing NAMI today?  What course of action do you suggest?

During the course of my recent involvement with NAMI there have been significant changes in management at all levels. We lost and gained executive directors. We experienced layoffs of major proportions. We suffered significant losses in revenue. While the tide appears to be changing in recent months it is necessary to insure that the broken levee is permanently fixed. Without doubt the most pressing issues for NAMI today are the maintenance of a healthy fiscal organization and the continuing growth of membership. If NAMI is to continue to survive and thrive we must plan for a solid future.

I believe from my recent participation at the strategic planning meeting in February that the NAMI national organization is moving in the right direction. Development and marketing are key areas that lead to growth. The recent hires of Darcy Taylor and Katrina Gay bring a level of experience and expertise to the table that heretofore had been missing. These departments should be expanded and further staffed. With their help we can develop innovative plans for fundraising and outreach to membership. I look forward to working with them and bringing my experience in these areas to the Board.

Membership increase at the grassroots level is also a key component to continuing growth. A concerted effort to outreach to younger families with children will close the existing gap in a membership that is "aging". The work of Darcy Gruttadaro at the Child and Adolescent Action Center should also be supported and encouraged. The final key element to continued organizational growth lies in the expansion of efforts to reach the heretofore  untapped ethnic communities. Majose Carasco also needs our support and our dollars to insure success. The tools are in place to keep NAMI on sound footing. We simply need the will to Just Do It!