Ruby Rogers Center in Danger of Being Defunded by Massachusetts

Posted by on February 28, 2017 in Activism, Disability, Fundraising, Mental Health, Peer Support | 7 comments

Ruby Rogers Center in Danger of Being Defunded by Massachusetts

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: dmhinfo@massmail.state.ma.us

 

7 Comments

  1. david: The activities at the Ruby Rogers Center listed on the link that you included were heavy on recreation and parties but I didn’t see any activities having to do with community organizing. I tried to find the list of board of directors, apparently, even though they receive ‘system’ funding through the Department of Human Services they maintain a separate board of directors and are independent but usually before making a donation to an organization that is in a death spiral, I check to see what the leadership is doing. Do the directors have a plan? Are they all contributing financially? Even if they cannot afford a lot, they should at least be contributing SOMETHING. Are the directors helping with fundraising tasks? Also, I couldn’t find the mission statement of the Ruby Rogers center anywhere or their tax returns, which were not published on guidestar

    • Thanks much Sarah! Good points! Back in the early 1980s, I left the Boston area and ended up here in Oregon. So thousands of miles away and several decades later, I really do not know about the governance of Ruby Rogers Center. When I was there, this was an activist project by Mental Patient Liberation Front, one of the early activist groups. In fact, the author Marge Piercy in her fictional book “Woman On the Edge of Time” gave MPLF some credit. But I do not know if MPLF is still around or if they are sponsors of Ruby Rogers.

      As I mentioned, the source of funding is very important. I am glad you are a talented fundraiser, your expertise is crucial. This is one reason that funding MindFreedom is more important than ever. As I argue in a blog a few weeks ago,

      Is there someone who could post about what Sarah asks regarding the Ruby Rogers center?

      Thanks for everybody who comments, shows me there is an audience out there, and the last few years have been pretty isolating for me because of my need to dive down deep into extreme rehab. One benefit, I have lived many of our social change movement’s ideas, and these are not just theory. One realizes these things when death brushes up close a few times!

      Speaking of which, I realize I never have read the blogs from Judi Chamberlin the last few months of her life, when she was in hospice. I have only viewed an entry or two. Have any folks read these? Her thinking was very important to us in forming our Ruby Rogers Center, she was in MPLF at the time.

      A center in western Mass. has named a room after her. And her archive is in a university. But changing this MPLF legacy around during these difficult times would be a great tribute to her. Again, many years and many miles separate me, so maybe Ruby Rogers Center is beyond fixing now, I do not know. Does anyone? Maybe ask the folks at National Empowerment Center, they are in the same geographic region. Dan Fisher? Oryx: Cohen?

  2. Hi David, I attended, and joined the Ruby Rogers Center around 2012, mostly during that fall. At the time I noted very little “activism” happening there. I wasn’t sure why the Center seemed to have lost its focus.

    A typical day at the RR center, for a person who came, was to arrive mid-morning and watch TV all day. Lunch was free and probably the high point of the day. They did have organizational meetings but this was not for purpose of activism, but to plan the next “field trip,” usually to an amusement park.

    The idea of passively watching TV all day, or going to the movies or other entertainment did not seem particularly fruitful to me, so I stopped going. Very few of those who attended seemed interested in organizing for social change, or at all interested in patient liberation. When I asked the director she told me she had a hard time motivating people, and it seemed like she, and anyone else who had tried had given up.

    My only suggestion, in hindsight, would be to get rid of that huge TV, sell if for good money, stop the cable TV subscription, and then use that money a bit more wisely.

    Julie Greene

    • Thanks Julie, for your comment! Very few folks have left comments over the last few years on my blog, so any comments shows me that people are viewing this, which feels good. Also, you have used the Ruby Rogers Center!

      My suggestion, if I had a time machine! The RR Center could have looked into independent funding. Even part of its budget could have come from independent sources, such as member donations, grassroots fundraising, small grants. Resist is directly across the street from RR, but I bet no one has thought of walking across the street to Resist?

      It is not too late to raise part of the budget independently, but that time is running out.

      On the big video screen, I would suggest playing any of the hundreds of documentaries available in our field. Playing the Jones/Wineberg videos alone would take many, many hours. Whatever happened to those videos by the way? This pro film maker took hundreds of hours of video at our movement events, perhaps not RR. Unfortunately, the video has disappeared. It ought to be digitized, placed on Youtube or Vimeo, with a creative commons disclaimer allowing open-source editing.

      Then places like RR could view good video, help the movement, and re-capture some of the independent spirit that first drew me to work on the roots of RR back in the late 1970’s.

      By the way, even before I got there, in about 1976, MPLF was doing a bunch of courageous activity. I opened up one of the weekly papers back then, and read about an actual escape. Never did get a name, and the statute of limitations is long past. But you get the idea?

      • Yes! In 1976 things were quite different. I was then just 18 years old, off at college. I had not ever heard of the Mental Health System, nor would I have dreamed of going to an office to pour out my soul to anyone I paid! I know that prior to my discovery of the RR Center, they had been quite active. I couldn’t quite figure out the reason for why the place had become so complacent. I knew that I found it preferable to the various other so-called alternatives around Boston, such as the one stationed at Boston Medical Center, which looked and smelled like a day treatment center, and the bipolar thingy stationed at McLean, which confirmed and bipolarized attendees’ bipolarity! I figured if I showed up there, it would be only a hop, skip, and jump through the tunnels to McLean inpatient. RR didn’t look like a hospital, nor had “groups,” nor in any way resembled a day program, which was much to its credit. The problem was that watching TV all day was not to my liking. Your idea of bringing activist films there is an excellent one. I don’t live anywhere near there anymore, though. But what a great way to motivate people!

        • Thanks, Julie Greene! Even though you live far from the Ruby Rogers Center, and even though this was years ago, your comments have helped in several ways.

          First, readers must read comments show me that someone is out there listening, and I think a lot of social media is folks talking to themselves. Nothing wrong with that, but it is nice to hear that a human is reading.

          Second, I went to your blog, you post a lot, way to go! I read with interest your post about African American singing and social change. As you probably know, I made a comment. I would encourage people reading this to post on my blog, your blog, or a facebook page, their suggestions to watch something like a movie or documentary that helps social change.

          There are many many films that promote social change. I guess I have watched a few too many over the last few years, but I think this can be very helpful. Today with the internet and various streaming services, we are each of us the media. Please remember that!

          Julie’s post that I commented about is here, she has many other posts you can read:

          http://juliemadblogger.com/wp/2017/03/12/african-american-expression-history-slavery-and-the-psychiatric-survivor-writing-of-memoir/

          Back when I worked at MPFL many decades ago we were frustrated by the way the corporate media silenced things. For example, one of the worst impacts of the main psychiatric drugs we were forced to have, is still tardive dyskinesia, a permanent twitching that can be slight or extreme.

          Today, you just have to go on to YouTube and search for the phrase: tardive dyskinesia

          You will find many YouTube videos about TD, many of which are made by people who have been coerced to take these drugs, without being warned.

          Strange that decades ago, we yearned to get that visible. The corporate elite were so oppressive on this that, I swear this is true, they interrupted the documentary on ABC TV “Madness and Medicine” with a promo piece ad about Barbara Walters interviewing Fidel, right at the moment that this documentary was supposed to show TD. The interruption aired both on the East Coast and the West Coast. I knew then that the corporate elite were really out for blood.

          Found out later that McLean was involved with censoring and covering up crimes that this documentary had tried to expose.

          Julie, it sounds like you also are a McLean survivor? There is a little network over the years of us survivors of this Harvard teaching hospital. I was abused in Bowditch, at McLean, twice, the longer one for a few weeks. Forced drug injections, solitary confinement. This was my room recruitment for our movement.

          Again, I hope people list great movies, fiction or non-fiction. My admin will be sending out some certificates, we have addresses for celebrities via their agents and lawyers. Please list movies, and this dialogue helps in many ways. Thanks again!

          • Ah, David, Bowditch, yeah, I was in the other one, your neighbor in fact. Both floors of North Belknap, not both at once, though. Later, I was a Clozaril Guinea Pig. I think that was the early 1990’s. They actually told me that I was being recruited due to my shining star talent in “compliance.” Perhaps they needed someone who was not at all psychotic yet was willing to undergo torture to use as “control subject.” I still don’t really know! Then, I guess they had enough data. They took me off. No explanation. Then, Risperdal. Missed a lot of periods, ended up losing so much bone density I fractured my femur. Then Seroquel put 110 pounds on me. Please tell me these doctors know what they are doing.

            These days, I laugh. I had to take a step back and realize the day I walked into their offices, I only wanted help with an eating disorder. I had a dieting problem, and nothing else. They overlooked that for three decades. Leaving MH far behind was the best thing I could ever have done for myself. I ditched every myth, every stereotype I ever learned in therapy. And telling my story publicly over and over now, as much as I need to. More and more folks are hearing my story and realizing that they, too, were misunderstood, misheard, overlooked completely. It is my hope that this never happens again to anyone.

            My beloved boyfriend, whom I met in a nut ward in 1986, was also a McLean grad, also North Belknap. He happened to be a wheelchair user. He passed away in 2003. We were among the many couples over the course of McLean unwritten history who were proud members of the McLean Mile Under Club. I keep wondering what the hell they were thinking when they built those tunnels…..

            Julie

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *