An Interview with Clarence Jordan

  • I'm honored to have interviewed Clarence Jordan, a NAMI board member who serves on their membership and diversity committee.  Clarence is the manager of consumer recovery services for Magellan Health Services.


    CB: Tell us a little about the work you do with NAMI.

    CJ: In regards to my role as a board member, it's a wonderful opportunity to look at our organization and make decisions not only important to our own financial well-being as an organization but also with regards to our mission: first and foremost improving the lives of individuals affected with these illnesses.  It's our uppermost reason for being.  As a board member, I have, we all have, a real opportunity to affect the kinds of policy positions that our organization works on, as well as provide meaningful feedback to state agencies who engage in providing direct services to members.  In terms of being a board member, I've told someone I have the best of both worlds-where my vocation is my avocation.  I certainly mean that.  I'm vested in the notion of recovery and consumer rights and that's where I feel my purpose in life to be.

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    CB: You're a member of the planning committee which focuses on membership and diversity.  What are some of NAMI's goals in the coming years?

    CJ: One important goal we're looking at and strategizing in terms of how to reach it is to make NAMI a household word, and in so doing become the nation's largest consumer organization.  That is attainable through our very mission: we stand for and promote consumer rights, wellness and well-being.  The foundation is there.  We just have to find strategies that will get us there.  That's the job I see of the membership committee: to diversify our membership and in so doing reach populations and demographic groups that have not been served.  And there are multiple ways of going about that, numerous strategies of outreach to various groups and organizations of individuals in various demographic groups.  The most important effort of all that we're involved in is the notion of cultural competency.  It's not enough just to increase numbers of a particular demographic group.  The goal is to have NAMI as a place where individuals of those demographic groups are able to contribute and feel comfortable and receive the same benefits as any members in our organization.


    CB:  Could you talk about cultural competency and what that encompasses?

    CJ: I think you and I understand there is a culture of illness that exists.  This culture of illness for example is one that permeates our thinking and our being, the way we see the world.  It's the way we have internalized and interpreted the things in our environment around us.  When we understand and recognize the oftentimes internalized negative images of who we are as individuals affected by mental illness, we can move beyond that.  A much clearer application of cultural competency and I suspect one we'll get into later is the military.  It is a culture of its own and if you understand its beliefs, values and principles, then being able to provide services to individuals and families who are part of that particular group would certainly be more possible by understanding that culture.


    CB: That makes sense.

    CJ: So cultural competency as a concept then is the ability to work effectively in understanding and appreciation and respect for a particular culture-and for all cultures.  The importance of cultural competency or cultural fluency is that it gives us an opportunity to examine the world through examining our own lenses and examining who we are as individuals and how we got the way we are.  By so doing we can have a better appreciation of people who are different than we are.


    CB: One topic you suggested in your candidate's bio last year was that you want to promote the peer movement to recovery through person-centered and strength-based interventions.  Tell us about this.  Do you think providers have gotten better at it?

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    CJ: Let me take the latter question first.  I think there is a lot of work to be done on a number of levels and the president's New Freedom Commission speaks to that directly in how it describes our mental health system as one that is broken and not necessarily addressing the needs of the individual from the individual's perspective.  Person-centered interventions are no more than interventions that are directed by the person himself.  Now in regards to the other component of strength-based let us understand that we all have personal strengths, both tangible and intangible, and these strengths might be a loving family, a community that supports us, a faith-based belief where we're connected and the membership of that faith-based effort is one that embraces us and supports a recovery effort.  Those are all things that are tangible and able to be identified. 


    CB: Please continue.

    CJ: Some intangible things that we oftentimes do not think about are the values and beliefs we as individuals hold that have helped us in times of crisis or have helped us to cope more effectively and productively.  I recently gave an interview to a reporter who was reporting on veterans issues and my comment to this person was that in terms of my military service there were certain things I took away from that experience.  There's a concept called honor and integrity-personal integrity.  Those are values I embraced while in the service.  When leaving the military I brought those things with me so they have become part of who I am, and a part of my life.  In speaking to other veterans I find similar experiences and values with regards to the take-aways that they have regarding their service.  So these strengths-these tangible and intangible things-help us to positively cope with stressors in our lives.


    CB: So are providers catching on?

    CJ: There are a lot of providers who understand what person-centered planning is.  I can say that person-centered planning is not something that is easy to do, it certainly involves a great deal of time, consideration and respect, and a fair amount of cultural fluency on behalf of that individual sitting across from the member who identifies what those recovery goals are.  It is a very involved process.  When you're doing strength-based recovery planning, you're allowing those individual strengths to guide you to your ultimate goal or to support you and sustain you to your goal, whatever that recovery goal might be.  It could be anything from achieving one's personal health and well-being to regaining custody of one's child or children, to engaging in some type of vocational employment, whatever.


    CB: That's good.  In the long-term it's cost-effective, because rather than going in a hospital every year if you have recovery goals and are working on them and drawing on your strengths, it's better than not being treated and going in and out of hospitals.

    CJ: You're absolutely right.  We talked a minute ago about culture and the idea of the culture of illness.  Having goals and a person-centered plan that enables one to reach beyond the frustration and the things that hold us captive or chained to this culture of illness is very much needed.


    CB:  Talk some more about your work on veterans issues.

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    CJ: Recently-and this is nothing new, I think for a long time our organization certainly at the local level and maybe even more recently at the state level and now at the national level-we realize that the lives of our veterans and the experiences that they've had while serving our country necessitate not only they receive the necessary services they need to get well but also with regards to their families and addressing those needs, too.  I'm talking about the things NAMI does best as an organization, that is advocating for and educating the individual's family members, something we very easily do.  And we take that recognition of what we can do with regard to engaging family members in our educational programs, and then expand upon that and what you have of late is a memo of understanding between the Veterans Administration and NAMI to provide that very service for veteran's families.  One program in particular, Family-to-Family, is designed to meet the needs of family members who have questions relative to what their loved one-the veteran-is experiencing, not only from the standpoint of what the illness is, but treatment protocol, the various medications and prognosis, what they can expect in supporting their loved one in the ultimate goal of recovery.


    CB: One thing you also helped out on was NAMI's proposal to designate July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month.

    CJ: I've advocated for this for a few years now, actually the tragic death of Bebe Moore Campbell had a ripple effect throughout the mental health community.  So honoring her memory and the work she's done on behalf of individuals like myself and others who live with these illnesses I think is the right thing to do.  It's another calling, an inspirational moment for individuals in the African-American community to rally around the work of Bebe Moore Campbell and have that be a source of strength and resolve to move forward with the mission of NAMI and of personal recovery.


    CB: Do you have some final words of encouragement for peers?

    CJ: My word of encouragement to peers is one of engagement: engagement in the recovery process, engagement in relationships that are necessary and meaningful to us all.  I would encourage individuals to take charge of their recovery efforts and by that I mean learn about what the illness is, identify for yourself what goals in life you really do have and begin to think about strategies and ways to get there.  And to be open to support and meaningful contributions from others.


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    CB: Thank you.

    CJ: You're welcome.


Published On: July 03, 2008