Bending Towards Justice Through Love

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

David Axelrod, Amy Kennedy, and Michael Phelps during the Invocation.

Mid-January is a sacred time in our nation as we pause to recognize the greatest Civil Rights leader of our time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year in Chicago on the day following this important national holiday, radical change and hope were afoot for human rights at The Kennedy Forum’s Annual Meeting. The event title “Bending Towards Justice: A Summit for Mental Health Equity” was inspired by one of Dr. King’s quotes, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

This gathering would have made Dr. King proud. There was such diversity in the participants ranging from members of the clergy, to politicians, celebrities, law enforcement officers, family members, educators, and advocates––all coming together to unite on moving towards mental health justice through love and light. We honored Dr. King’s call for equality, dignity, and compassion throughout the day, as the theme of human connection was present in every session and for every speaker. Many mentioned Dr. King and posed answers to his question from fifty years ago, “Where do we go from here?”

The number one answer to this question in pursuit of mental health justice was love in all forms. Self-love, empathy, and compassion towards others. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, spoke openly about his mental health challenges and demonstrated a self-acceptance and confidence that should be the rule, not the exception. He reminded us all that “it’s ok not to be ok,” and shared that his mental health advocacy work is even more rewarding than winning so many Olympic medals. On telling his story, Phelps said, “Those moments and those feelings and those emotions, for me, are light years better than ever winning an Olympic gold medal. You have a chance to save a life, and that’s way more powerful.”

Bursts of Love for Mental Health Justice


“The most important thing we can do right now is identify – especially with people who may seem least like ourselves.”
-Recording Artist, Actor, and Advocate – Common


“I’m telling you, the world is a beautiful place but it does not work without empathy and inclusion.”
-Chairman of Special Olympics Tim Shriver, quoting Pharrell


“Justice first and foremost is treating others with love and compassion and humanity.”
-Scott Budnick, President of Anti Recidivism Coalition & Charles Anderson, Member of Anti Recidivism Coalition


“Until we value these young men and their children and grandchildren as much as we value our own kids, we are going to have these massive inequities whether it’s in education or in healthcare or in public safety. My ask would be that all of us redouble our efforts to take care of everybody’s kids. It’s the only way we are going to cut through some of these tragedies we have now.”
-Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,with Chicago CRED participants


“To me the universal expression of compassionate empathy is a simple hug.”
-Shaka Senghor, Author of “Writing My Wrongs”


“You only have to love once. Just once. And it will have an impact forever.”
-Former Dallas Chief of Police David Brown


“Progress is not inevitable. It only happens when we’re willing to stand up and demand it.”
-Patrick Kennedy, Founder of The Kennedy Forum

For more inspiration, watch Michael Phelps discuss his mental health journey in conversation with David Axelrod at The Kennedy Forum’s Annual Meeting on CNN.

Photo Credit: The Flawless Foundation, The Kennedy Forum, and Jeff Schear of Getty Images.

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