Women’s Wisdom: Women in Action

September 14, 2019 luncheon with Janet King, Program Manager of Policy and Advocacy, Native American Health Center of the Bay Area

Under the direction of Dr. Nahid Angha, the Sufi Women’s Organization (SWO), a humanitarian, non-political organization, held its semi-annual speakers’ luncheon/presentation program, Women’s Wisdom: Women in Action, on September 14, 2019 in San Rafael, California. Founded by Dr. Angha, and established under the International Association of Sufism (IAS) in 1993, throughout its 25 year history, SWO has worked locally and internationally to promote the well-being, advancement, education, social awareness, and fundamental rights of women and girls. It is a forum for women of diverse backgrounds, and was established also as a nonprofit organization with the United Nations, as an NGO/DPI.

Through the Women’s Wisdom: Women in Action Program, SWO honors leaders, activists, and humanitarians who have provided exemplary services, and seeks to bring people together to learn, to build community, and to cultivate ways of living and working that are oriented toward dignity, health and service. On September 14, SWO hosted Janet King, who currently serves as Program Manager of Policy and Advocacy at the Native American Health Center for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Speaker Janet King

King is a longtime advocate of mental health transformation and a founding member of the Racial Ethnic Mental Health Disparities Coalition of California. She has spoken at many Mental Health Services Act Community Forums to explain why the current mental health system leaves many cultural groups unserved, underserved, or inappropriately served. In addition, King is on the eight-member team of the Native American Strategic Planning Workgroup that conducted research with Native American Communities in California to determine Native American mental health needs, and solutions to meeting those needs, as part of the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP).

Paying homage throughout her remarks, King began by speaking about her mother, grandmother and great grandmother, and her experience of “the continual influence of the ancestors,” as well as about her daughter, who was born on the birthday of King’s grandmother and became her grandmother’s namesake. King spoke about the early separation of her parents, and her mother’s life as a single mother, struggling with poverty and often stigmatized for raising children alone. King is a member of the Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina, relocating to the Bay Area for college.

King recalled that she felt lucky to attend college at the University of California Berkeley, and also reflected that her study of sociology helped her to recognize that “the first college I attended was my mother’s home.” She noted that as she began reading her sociology textbooks, she recognized that she had lived the life she was reading about, and that these books now provided theory, or “the why,” to help her understand more fully some of the social conditions that contributed to the poverty and other circumstances her family experienced, and what she might be able to do to make a difference.

At the Native American Health Center, where she has been for the last 24 years, after serving at other community-based Native American agencies, King is working to show that current approaches to mental health are not working well, and that more preventative care, early intervention, and inclusion of traditional healers and healing practices stand to decrease the cost of care, while increasing the use of services and likelihood of recovery.

King also acknowledged that the most difficult part of her work is often self-care, and that she has seen many women struggle to nourish and care for themselves while also tending to the needs of their families and communities. She spoke about the reverence for women and children in Native American traditions, and how valued caregivers are within the traditions of her tribe. She offered her appreciation to women like Sojourner Truth, as well as activists like those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement, and who worked for a more peaceful and just life for all.

At the close of her remarks, King shared a poem she has written in honor of her mother, who she described as “fierce,” who resisted any form of denigration, and from whom she learned that “I have a way of my own.” King encouraged all in attendance to pay attention to the way narratives are told, to feel empowered to tell their own story, and to practice respect for oneself and all people.


Janet King luncheon

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