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Fonda Bryant, mental health advocate with voice legacy

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Tell us about your family:

I grew up in Gastonia, NC and was the oldest of five children. My mother, Peggye Bryant Edwards, now lives in Savannah and has been married for almost 30 years. My father was musician Johnnie Taylor.

Are you a mom?

Yes! I am a proud mom to my son Wesley, who is my only child and father of my only grandchild. Wesley is a 2005 graduate of Wake Forest, where he played football.

Fourteen years ago, I started the Wake Forest Parent's Association to help our football players receive support from their extended family. I was kind of the team mom while Wes was there.

Where did you go to school?

I am a graduate of Gastonia’s Hunter Huss High School, where I graduated with Donald Lawrence (and the Tri City Singers) and Maria Howell (from The Color Purple). I went on to complete a year at Western Carolina, came back home to work and then had my son. I also went to CPCC and am a few classes short of having my Associate Degree in Paralegal Technology.

What moves you?

Music! I love music and concerts. I have even met some famous musicians whom I have become friends with, like the members of Living Colour. I reached out to them over Twitter, letting them know who my dad was, and I was then invited to meet them when they came to Greensboro. And if anyone knows me, they clearly know I am a huge advocate for mental health. I joined NAMI Charlotte in 2014.

Your dad was famous?

My dad was legendary blues singer and “the Philosopher of Soul,” Johnnie Taylor, whose hits included "Disco Lady" and "Who's Making Love.”

He died at age 62 of a heart attack and without a will. I ended up in a two-year court battle with two of my half siblings to prove that I was in fact his daughter via DNA testing. While he acknowledged six of his children when he was alive, sadly I was one of the three who he never declared as his child. I feel like I was robbed of a little bit of my childhood because he wouldn't do what was right.

The documentary about my fight to be declared my father's daughter can be viewed here.

I am now fighting on my dad’s behalf to get him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was number 1 on the Billboard charts in 1976 with "Disco Lady," which became the music industry's first platinum record. He should be recognized for that accomplishment.

TV One’s UnSung did a documentary on my dad’s life here. My dad worked with musician Sam Cooke and many other musicians, while living a colorful life.

What has been a blessing in 2016?

I was laid off this past March, which gave me the opportunity to shift the direction of my career towards being an advocate for what I am passionate about: mental health. I am now working with Kevin Hines. He is one of thirty-four people to survive jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and wrote about his journey in his book “Cracked Not Broken.” I am really excited to join forces with he and his wife, Margaret, to help deliver compelling messages surrounding the importance of mental health. We are going to Washington D.C. this month. My son even recognized that I was given the opportunity to help people, to make a difference, saying, “You can help people and that’s what you need to do.”

You clearly are passionate about mental health. Where does that passion originate from?

I do volunteer work with the Charlotte chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and organize events to call attention to mental health issues. “People should not suffer in silence.” I have suffered from depression and have tried to take my life twice in the past and want to help others out there. I am fighting to erase the stigma around mental health issues. I am a huge advocate for therapy, support groups, and exercise, all of which have saved me, as well as being able to openly share my experience. I share whenever I have the opportunity to: on the radio, in person, during events, and online.

You are also a contributor to the Charlotte Observer?

I write for the “Moms” section of the Observer. My most recent article is titled, "Kids, Parents, and Mental Health: It’s time to talk." The article can be read here and provides many national and local resources for suicide help and prevention.

Can you share the PSA that you wrote for James Brown of CBS & CBS Sports, recorded for our World Mental Health Day?

Stigma is the number one reason people don’t seek help for a mental illness. No one wants to be labeled “crazy, insane, nuts, or violent.” More people die by suicide than by homicide in the United States and according to the Institute on Mental Health more people are dying from suicide than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Over 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

Mental health affects us all, no one is immune to it. 1 out of 4 adults and 1 out of 5 children have a mental illness. It’s going to take all of us the famous and not so famous to STOMP out the negative stigma and to bring awareness to mental health. There is always HOPE but there is HELP and most of all, there is RECOVERY! It’s time to Take a Stand for Mental Health!

Can you give us some mental health stats?

- 1 in 4 adults−approximately 61.5 million Americans−experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17−about 13.6 million−live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.

- Over 41,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States. More than twice as many people die by suicide each year than by homicide. Suicide is tragic, but it is often preventable. Knowing the risk factors for suicide and who is at risk can help reduce the suicide rate.

- On average, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that an American takes his or her own life every 12.5 minutes, with some 40,000 dying at their own hand every year. Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in this country and the second leading cause of death for our 10- to 24-year-olds. What’s more, suicide rates continue to climb and now, for the first time ever, account for more deaths than car crashes.

- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in college in this country.

- More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from all medical illnesses combined.

- The suicide rate peaks among young adults (ages 20-24).

- One in 12 U.S. college students makes a suicide plan.

What are some of your accomlishments in the mental health field?

I received an award for being an outstanding mental health advocate with NAMI Charlotte. I also am certified in Mental Health First Aid for Adults, Youth and QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer) Suicide Prevention. Here are some additional events I have put together to bring awareness to mental health:

- Scoring for Mental Health w/ Keith O'Neil @ the Duke Mansion

- Got Partnership formed with the AKA Sorority

- Get to Know NAMI Charlotte Event

- Green Ribbon Motorcycle Ride for Mental Health

- Sanity Not Vanity Workout I

- Wrote A PSA about Mental Health that James Brown of CBS recorded

- Stomp Out the Stigma Night with the Charlotte Checker (Annual)

- World Mental Health Day Event with Dwight Hollier of the NFL

- Appeared in a National Mental Health Publication (Esperanza) for my mental health work in Charlotte

- Got the Duke Energy Building to “Go Green” and went uptown as an advocate to ask people, "Why is the building GREEN?"

- UNC Charlotte to go Green on the University City Blvd side.

You have quite the list of famous friends and famous people who you have met. Can you name a few?

I treat all people the same, with the same respect. I think that’s what has allowed me to interact and be friends with so many interesting people like Jerry Richardson (owner of the Carolina Panthers), Jon Robinson (former voice of Panthers and attended high school with him), James Brown of CBS Sports, Big Daddy Kane, the rapper- follows me on Twitter along with MC Hammer because of my father, the late R&B singer Bobby Womack, Dwight Hollier (VP of the NFL Player Engagement), Mushin Mohammad (former Carolina Panthers), and numerous past and present Wake Forest and Florida players who have played or who are still in the NFL, Coaches Jim Grobe and Steve Spurrier, and I have known Paul Cameron and Delano Little for over 30 years (Paul carried Wesley when he was 2).



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