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FREDLA Celebrates Family Leaders in Honor of Black History Month

February 27, 2021

In honor of Black History Month, FREDLA celebrates family members who led the way for families in the early days of the family movement in children’s mental health from the 1980s–1990s.

Verlyn (Vee) Boyd attended a support group at the Louisiana Federation of Families and ended up joining the Board of Directors in 1994. She then started the Shreveport chapter of the Federation in 1995 and eventually became co-director of the Louisiana Federation in 1997. Vee always made sure families were at the table for any programs and considered herself a “thorn in everyone’s side.” Vee trained parents to go to the capital to speak to legislators, and, when issues came up, they would go out behind the rose bushes to discuss what they should say. Vee was Executive Director of the Louisiana Federation for 20 years.

Gail Daniels became President of the Family Advocacy Support Association (FASA) in Washington D.C. in 1996 and joined the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Board of Directors in 1994, serving as President of the Board from 1998 – 2001. Gail was later recognized for being the Federation’s first Board President of color, advocating for issues of diversity and cultural competency. Gail went on to become the Coordinator of Affiliate Relations at the Federation and, in 1999, also served on the SAMHSA Planning Board for the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health.

Margaret Jefferson’s advocacy and community work began at the young age of fourteen when she raised money for children placed out of home. Her passion for children and families later led her to start Families United of Milwaukee in 1997 and over 23 years she provided advocacy and supportive services for thousands of families that were enrolled in Wraparound Milwaukee. She has provided consultation and presentations on youth and family advocacy in numerous states and presented at the John F Kennedy School of Government as an instrumental partner in Wraparound Milwaukee receiving the Harvard Innovation Award in 2009.

Pam Marshall led the family movement in Arkansas for many years and supported the system of care and family engagement efforts at both the state and national levels. She conducted leadership training for parents and providers across the state, usually with her son, Chris, by her side.

Velva Taylor Spriggs co-founded Family Advocacy and Support Association, Inc. (FASA) in Washington DC in 1987. FASA offered support, education, advocacy, and respite care services to parents and other family members seeking support and access to services for their children who were diagnosed with serious emotional disturbance. She assisted in the early stages of development of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health and represented the family-member perspective in the seminal discussions of cultural competence at Georgetown University’s National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health. Velva went on to work at SAMHSA where she was able to gain agency support for launching the agency’s first children’s mental health initiative for Native American children and families. She is very proud of her work as Director of Children’s Mental Health in the District where she helped guide the development of a SAMHSA-funded children’s mental health program – DC Children Inspired Now Gain Strength (DC CINGS). Most importantly, her son who provided the impetus for her journey in working with families is now thriving at the age of 42 and has his own son who is 14 years old. Her husband, Ray, now deceased, was a source of continuous inspiration throughout her journey.

Mary Telesford was hired by the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health in 1992 to take the lead on the Federation’s work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Urban Children’s Mental Health Initiative. Her role was to empower families who lived in five urban neighborhoods to have a voice in changing the way services were delivered in their communities. Mary later worked with families in the Federation’s partnership with Starting Early Starting Smart initiative, a grant opportunity with Casey Family Programs.

We know that these are just a few of the remarkable, diverse family leaders. Throughout the year FREDLA will be featuring more stories of diverse family leaders from the past, as well as family leaders who are currently working to improve the lives of children and families their communities and states. If there are diverse family leaders you would like to celebrate in the coming months, please send their names and contact information to us at info@fredla.org.

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