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Mental-health advocate talks ONE Northside, upcoming convention
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-04-30

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Sam Wickham has been advocating for mental health justice for many years and is slated to speak at this year's Organization Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside's ( ONE Northside ) free convention, "Community Power, Community Solutions," May 6 at the American Islamic College.

ONE Northside is a community organization of mixed-income, multi-ethnic, intergenerational people from more than 100 institutions as well as community members from Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown, Ravenswood, North Center, Lake View and Lincoln Park whose mission is to eliminate injustice across a variety of issues.

Wickham ( who is a board member, convention co-chair and also on ONE Northside's Mental Health Justice Team ) will be talking about the campaigns her team is working on and call on legislators in attendance to commit to providing community solutions to these issues. She is one of many speakers from each of ONE Northside's issues teams—in the areas of economic justice, mental-health justice, police accountability, education and affordable housing—who will be onstage that day.

In terms of her work on the Mental Health Justice Team, Wickham and the rest of the 30-person team come together each month to discuss ways to move the campaign forward. Wickham explained that she came to ONE Northside through the organization's mental health justice organizer Ellen Glover whom she met at the mental health center where she receives services.

When the center was about to close, Wickham said she contacted Glover to see what she could do to prevent its closure. Through organizing, Wickham noted that she was able to move 30 people to come to a meeting to stop the center from closing; from ther, "I was hooked."

Wickham has worked on a number of campaigns with the Mental Health Justice Team, including fighting to raise the Personal Needs Allowance ( PNA ) for people living in mental health nursing homes. She, along with the rest of the team, wrote a bill and got state legislators to sponsor it and the bill passed both houses. Although Gov. Rauner vetoed the bill, the language ended up in the budget implementation bill so the PNA was raised from $30 to $60 a month.

Currently, the Mental Health Justice Team is working on getting SB353, co-sponsored by state Sen. Heather Steans, passed. This development would permanently raise the Medicaid reimbursement rates for community health providers to 95 percent of the Medicare rates. Wickham said her role is to garner community support, have meetings with elected officials and go to Springfield to lobby other elected officials. She noted this bill will help her personally since her doctor and therapist moved to agencies that do not accept Medicaid and she cannot afford the costs without this bill being made law in Illinois. Wickham credits Heartland Alliance for the assist they gave her so she could see a new doctor and therapist.

"Recently, I was able to testify in front of a Senate committee about SB353 and tell my personal story of the impact these low reimbursement raises has had on my level of medical care," said Wickham.

As one of the board members, Wickham said she helps "review and pass budgets, building a strategic plan for the organization that aligns with our vision and making sure the executive director has the support and tools they needs to do their job well."

Wickham's community work is a direct result of the obstacles she faces as a person with severe depression and PTSD as well as her time growing up in South Carolina in the '70s and '80s. She explained that even at an early age she could not hid the fact that she was, as she describes herself, "a butch dyke." Wickham said she knew she was queer at five years old and since there was "no closet phase for me that led to a lot of bullying and fighting" before she entered high school. She said that many family members had a hard time accepting her sexual orientation except for her maternal grandparents.

When Wickham turned 18 her friends took her to the only gay bar in Charleston, South Carolina and that night sent her down the path of alcoholism, which runs in her family. Wickham noted that it was not until she moved to Chicago that she found "huge, wonderful 12-step communities" and just last year she celebrated 10 years of sobriety.

Wickham is also living with mental illness and receives Social Security disability assistance. In addition to this financial assistance, Wickham also works part-time as a deli clerk at Jewel. Prior to working at Jewel, Wickham was a short-order cook, line cook and chef at various restaurants as well as a Starbucks barista/shift manager.

In her free time, Wickham likes to hang out with friends, read science fiction, go to the dog beach to watch the puppies, watch movies and listen to music.

"I am proud of all the work that we have accomplished as a community," said Wickham. "Yet, as we have unfortunately seen and felt in this last year, we still have a long way to go. Our community advocates, leaders and allies have done amazing, hard work during these unsteady times to help make the world a safer place for every minority group.

"We will be celebrating our victories since our last convention in 2016, debuting our new campaigns, holding our local elected officials accountable to our values and worldview and reveling in the joy of having a thousand like-minded politically progressive people in one room," said Wickham. "Folks should expect stirring and thought-provoking personal stories of why our campaigns matter in the world we live in, given the opportunity to take actions to help create change in our world and invite our elected officials to support community driven solutions to the problems we face and finally, at the end of the convention, to march as one to demand government that works for our communities."

The American Islamic College is at 640. W. Irving Park Rd. Doors open at 2 p.m., with the convention running 2:30-5 p.m.

See onenorthside.org/convention-2018/; to register for this free convention, visit bit.ly/ONSCONVENTION18 .


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