Logan Square Park echoed with chants like “Mental health is a human right” and “Jesus is coming, pave the way with branches” in English and Spanish on March 25, bringing a crowd of more than 100 people out to support mental health clinics in the neighborhood and the city.
The Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA), a coalition of local churches, The Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), and the Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers joined together for LSEA’s 7th Annual Occupy Palm Sunday: Pave the Way for Wellness rally.
“Each year we have some theme. Last few years it was [raising the minimum wage to] $15 an hour, some years it was immigration, last year it was sanctuary city,” said Pastor Eardley Mendez from First Lutheran Church of Logan Square. “This year it’s mental health because the city has closed clinics in the city so we don’t have a place to go now.”
Sunday’s rally acted as a soft launch in announcing their main goal: To get a binding referendum on the November general election ballot to have a community funded mental health center that would serve Logan Square, Hermosa and Avondale.
According to the Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers, Chicago once had 19 mental health centers in the city but by 2012, only six remained. Five of these centers are located on the South Side. The only center on the North Side is in River North. There used to be a clinic on Milwaukee Avenue close to California Avenue, but it also closed down.
“In some ways it’s a good there are more resources for the South Side, but for us as churches that believe in mental health, we don’t want people to just be like, ‘We’re going to pray for you.’ We know that if folks are struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, they’re going to need mental health services,” said Rev. Paula Cripps-Vallejo from Humboldt Park United Methodist Church. “The city has waiting lists that are as long as six months to a year to see a mental health councilor.”
Speakers at the rally shared their messages in Spanish and English, stressing the importance of mental health support for people of all races, economic status and genders. The crowd was engaged and clapped in support, many waving palm branches and signs.
LSEA is made up of five local congregations and is part of LSNA and the Alliance of Local Service Organizations. The group said this is the beginning of bringing back the mental health conversation to the community.
“After this, we’ll be getting information out. We’ll be doing some canvassing, maybe some letter writing, things like that in the community… trying to keep the momentum going around this referendum,” said Luke Allgeyer, an intern at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church.
Throughout the rally pamphlets were passed out inviting participants to become part of the campaign by collecting signatures and informing their neighbors leading up to the November election.
“The churches active in the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance all have a social justice bend to them,” Cripps-Vallejo said. “We’re all involved in other social justice issues anyway, so for us it’s not just about bringing people to Jesus. We do this because we feel like we are working on social justice issues to bring changes the way we interpret Jesus bringing changes.”
According to one of the testimonials at the rally, “Mental illness is not a sign of weakness but the lack of services available for people in need—that is a sign of our weakness. Lack of ability for all of God’s children to access mental health services is wrong. And we are here because we can and will do something about it. Why?”
“Because mental health is a human right!,” the crowd cheered back.
If you would like to become part of the campaign in getting a binding referendum on the November general election ballot to have a community funded mental health center, follow Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance on Facebook, email [email protected] or contact Rev. Bruce Ray from United Church of Christ at (773) 278-1990.