One of the very first community centers run by and for psychiatric survivors is at risk of losing its funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I know about the roots of this user-run space, because as a senior at Harvard College back in the 1970’s, I was placed at Mental Patients Liberation Front as an intern by Phillips Brooks House, Harvard’s social service group.
MPLF, with the leadership of the late Judi Chamberlin, author of a book on empowered mental health centers, created the community gathering locations that eventually became the Ruby Rogers Center in Somerville, Massachusetts. Here are some of the highlights as we created the center:
- In the mid-1970’s a handful of us in MPLF came together for weekly mutual support. We were gratified to see that Judi’s book, On Our Own, was published. We often met at the storefront of an early activist space, Vocations for Social Change, near Central Square, Cambridge.
- For a while we created a center at Stone Soup Art and Poetry storefront in Boston, thanks to the generosity of Jack Powers, proprietor. I recall briefly meeting poet Allen Ginsberg when he visited Jack. Activist Ted Chabasinski, survivor of forced electroshock, also visited.
- Thanks to a grant from Haymarket Fund, we established an office and community center across the street from Boston Common.
- As a group we met with state-employees at Department of Mental Health headquarters to explain our deep concerns about human rights violations and the need for humane alternatives.
- About at that time, 1981, I left Boston, but the MPLF members won an agreement from Massachusetts to create a community center that was eventually named after Ruby Rogers, one of the early psychiatric survivor plaintiffs in a key lawsuit against forced psychiatric drugging. I saw Ruby, a charismatic African American psychiatric survivor, who I heard spoke up while locked up in a psychiatric ward, supported by MPLF organizing and a petition by other folks who were locked up.
- During the three decades since then I have been very delighted to hear that the Ruby Rogers Center, keeping alive the name of MPLF, has continued to do great work. You can read about the details here.
Now the center is in danger of being eliminated by DMH, even though there is a need more than ever for independent living centers run by and for people diagnosed with mental health issues. Not only are such alternatives cost effective for taxpayers, anyone may someday need to have such a welcoming place for their own well being. If not you, then perhaps a loved one may benefit.
I remember a few years ago when I was chatting with a employee of the small, activist-friendly foundation, Resist. They were unfamiliar with our movement, but I knew they were located in Somerville. I asked them if they were familiar with the Ruby Rogers Center, and it turns out that was right across the street. Perfect to illustrate how our movement was widespread but little known! We got the small grant for MindFreedom International, and I recommend other grassroots groups in our movement apply for a Resist grant.
You can read about the Ruby Rogers Center on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/rubyrogercenter/
Thanks to a Facebook post from Harry Agritha, shared by Karen Langley, that alerted me about this. Charlie Carr commented and this brought my attention to the danger, here.
I encourage all those who support the disability and prison justice movements to speak up about the importance of the Ruby Rogers Center, now! I especially call out for support from disability activists in the hundreds of independent living centers, which form the backbone of the funded disability movement in the USA today.
You are invited to join me in emailing a civil but strong message to DMH of Massachusetts via this address: firstname.lastname@example.org