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Mental health focus of SC NAACP's King Day rally

King Day at the Dome (Source: Russ Congdon) King Day at the Dome (Source: Russ Congdon)
King Day at the Dome (Source: Russ Congdon) King Day at the Dome (Source: Russ Congdon)

By JEFFREY COLLINS
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina civil rights leaders paused their celebration of Martin Luther King Day to watch President Barack Obama take the oath of office for his second term.

Organizers of the annual rally put up a big screen for the first time Monday so the crowd of several hundred could watch the inauguration.

Organizers say improving mental health was the focus of Monday's King Day at the Dome event.

Among those who attended the event Monday was Lloyd Hale, who 20 years ago struggled with drugs. He ended up in DJJ, the county jail, and a state hospital before being diagnosed with schizophrenia and getting help.

Hale hopes his story becomes an each one, teach one moment prompting neighbors to talk.

"These are some of the issues I struggle with," he said. "These are some of the resources I have. These are some of the things I'm strong at.

From probate court judges to educators, each called mental illness a civil rights issue, affecting all ages, all communities. One in four adults suffers from mental illness, and the resources are few.

"Treatment works if you can get it," said NAMI South Carolina Executive Director Bill Lindsey. "But we've lost so much in funding that it's difficult to get back to where we were."

South Carolina has lost $90 million for mental health treatment in the last four years. That's where Dr. King's challenge comes in, "Injustice to anyone, is Injustice to everyone."

A point Alvina Harrison hope her children take home.

"The one message I would love for my kids to get is to treat everybody the same," said Harrison. "It doesn't matter about their skin color. If you're in a position to help somebody, help."

Signs in the crowd reminded everyone "Mental Health Matters", but Reverend Brenda Kneece pointed out it won't matter unless something is done, which is why Hale encourages more discussion.

"Regardless of what you're going through, or what you're neighbor is going through communicate, speak to each other, ask each other how you're doing, share your resources," said Hale. "Be a little more kind and more gentle and loving with each other."

Hale, with others, believe it's a conversation that is well overdue, and one more are now willing to talk about since the tragedy in Newtown.

Another issue from Monday's rally was encouraging everyone to exercise their right to vote. There were several groups passing out information on the new voter I-D law trying to make sure the crowd understand they now need an approved picture ID to vote.

The South Carolina NAACP started the rally with a church service, then marched several blocks through downtown Columbia to the Statehouse for speeches and music.

The NAACP started the annual rally in 2000 to protest the flying of the Confederate flag atop the Statehouse dome. They continue to protest after the flag was moved to a pole beside a monument honoring Confederate soldiers on the capitol lawn.

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