reporting pixel for marketing campaign

Campus News / News

A Look Back on the MLK State of the Mind Address

01/18/2024 12:26 pm

On January 13, 2024, community leaders and distinguished partners gathered together at Rockford University to discuss mental health and trauma at the first annual MLK State of the Mind Address. 

The event, a collaboration between Rockford University and State Representative Maurice West, was an open, honest, and safe discussion about what the Rockford area has done and can do to support all of its community members in their mental and physical health. 

Rockford University President Dr. Patricia Lynott welcomed panelists, partners, and guests alike to the event, emphasizing the importance of being able to openly discuss mental health in the community. 

The first panel brought together religious leaders from all walks of life. Reverend Copeland, Prophet Minister Muhammad, and First Lady Sharon Malone represented different religious organizations in the area. The panel was moderated by Dr. Kevin Thomas, and LCSW Ashton Lockhart also contributed. 

Prophet Minister Muhammad emphasized the dangers related to the phrase, “Man up,” and touched on the need to both pray and process. He also spoke on Safe in my Brother’s Arms (SIMBA), a program located in Rockford that, according to,  “offers African American young men (ages 8-17) a safe space to examine their lives, their choices, and their futures.”

Reverend Copeland discussed the importance of both prayer and therapy. “Prayer works,” he said, “But therapy does too. It’s not an either/or type of situation.” 

First Lady Sharon Malone explained the need for members of the church to be served in the church and the need for mental health professionals within the church. Dr. Kevin Thomas echoed this sentiment, agreeing that there should be a therapist in every house of worship. 

After hearing from these religious leaders, Ashton Lockhart urged the audience to begin reframing their thoughts around hopelessness, saying that “the hope is always there.” 

The second panel had community leaders outside of religious organizations come together and discuss what is happening and what has changed regarding mental health and trauma in the community. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, Rockford Fire Chief Michele Pankow, Rockford Police Chief Carla Redd, and Dr. Theresa Barnes sat on the panel moderated by Representative West.

In kicking off this next panel, Mayor Tom McNamara said, “Trauma is the most pressing issue our city faces.” He spoke on the importance of data-driven solutions and learning from people with lived experiences. McNamara also touched on several initiatives currently at work in Rockford, including the Barbershop Program, which provides barbers and stylists with information on community resources to share with their clients if needed. 

Fire Chief Michele Pankow said that “the goal is prevention.” She explained that all personnel have basic psychological first-aid skills, and they are working toward expanding these skills to be utilized on every call. 

Police Chief Carla Redd detailed something similar currently in effect within the police department. Their crisis response team–pairs of officers and clinicians–answered 416 calls in 2023, with more than 5,000 follow-ups. 

Dr. Barnes touched on the importance of prevention as well, discussing the need for trauma-informed schools and mentorship programs, especially for children of color. 

In closing, Representative West told audience and community members, “If you call, we’ll answer,” once again emphasizing the need to make space for mental health. 

Attendees also had the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists and meet with several vendors from within the Rockford community including A Nu-You, OSF Health, Covered Illinois, and the Citied Foundation. 

The MLK State of the Mind Address Committee is debriefing about the 2024 event and planning for next year!

To view photos from the event, click here!