Grace Under Pressure

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who run into the fire and those who run away. Lacy Kendrick Burk falls into that first category. Lacy Kendrick Burk will be honored this month by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) with a consumer/peer leadership award at Voice Awards in Hollywood, CA for her work as a national mental health advocate and her tireless pursuit to helping other individuals address their own mental health issues. The Voice Awards recognizes films and television programs that portray behavioral health problems accurately, and honors individuals who share their personal stories of recovery and work to reduce the discrimination and misperceptions associated with people with mental and/or substance use disorders.

Kendrick Burk’s desire to help those dealing with mental health issues comes from a life spent around those very struggles that face people afflicted with mental issues. You see, Lacy came up through the foster care system, finding a home and a voice along the way.

Lacy started life as the member of a large family. One of many siblings, Lacy found herself amidst trauma and neglect that is common among larger lower income families. At age 15 the whole lot of children entered the foster care system.

For Lacy, this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. Under the care of her new foster family, she flourished. Never before had she been able to participate in extracurricular activities, never before had she had the opportunity to be involved. She would take, and later teach, Independent Living classes. She began to find her voice and purpose.

That voice has yet to be silenced. That purpose has led her on a journey, touching thousands of lives in the process.

Kendrick Burk has led a full life that people twice her age would be proud to call their own. To this point she has become a national and international speaker and consultant, a published author, had founded her own consulting company, served as the Executive Director of two non-profit organizations, became an officer on the Board of Directors for an international organization, interned for US Senator John Kerry, obtained two masters degrees, and has testified in state and federal Congressional hearings about the needs of older youth in transition. Not too shabby for a young woman who didn’t find her voice until she was about to age out of care. FYI, her foster family adopted her at age 28. You read that right, 28!

At the beginning of this incredible journey Lacy began to address trauma incurred during her childhood. The first time she spoke about foster care, outside of those Independent Living courses, was in a college classroom. She recalls the flood of emotions that would follow. Yet she never turn down a chance to share her story, never wanting an opportunity to directly help youth pass by. Through sharing her story she found a way to help, a way to contribute.

But those traumas that drove her advocacy still needed to be sorted through. According to Kendrick Burk, “In part, all the accomplishments served as a distraction from my own issues.” These were issues she had yet to examine. She was given therapy while in care but it wasn’t the time and her traumas were misdiagnosed. This would drive her to work to ensure that mental health professionals would know about the mess misdiagnoses could create. Three years of therapy and soul searching resulted in a healthy mind for Kendrick Burk and a clear vision of her purpose. She says, “I knew I had the skillset but it’s about your purpose.”

The cornerstone of her advocacy is youth involvement. She works daily to “unite the youth voice, especially in the world of mental health”, says Kendrick Burk. As the Executive Director of Youth MOVE National (Motivating Others Through Voices of Experience), she works directly with the youth of this nation. And though the work isn’t exclusive to foster care, Kendrick Burk does find herself working with the foster care world on a constant basis.

When asked if this most recent accomplishment, the SAMSHA Voices Award, brings validation to her work, she reluctantly accepted that notion but noted it is the work that is important.

The work she does IS important. Keeping young people in the game and making sure they have a spot at the table is paramount to a mental health field looking for the best way to serve America’s youth. Voices like that of Lacy Kendrick Burk’s can only lead to positive improvements.

Impressive doesn’t do justice when describing this well-spoken, powerful leader in the field of mental health. Her place in the world of mental health is key. In part because of her past experiences and what that brings to a discussion on mental health and foster care, but because it takes a special type of person to run into the fire after having already been burned.