Townhall discussion held on Black mental health in honor of Irvo Otieno

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the family of Otieno held the discussion.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 11:10 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Almost three months since the death of Irvo Otieno, dozens gathered at Virginia Union University for a town hall discussion on Black mental health in the community.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the family of Otieno held the discussion.

In March, Irvo Otieno was treated for a mental health crisis when he was eventually taken to Central State Hospital and died in police custody.

While Thursday marks three years since the death of George Floyd, Irvo’s mom said not enough progress had been made even to save her son.

”You asked about progress, for me what progress looks like. Progress to me personally has been rolled back 300 years ago,” Caroline Ouko said.

Knowing her son is gone, Ouko says every day is still hard to get through.

“What happened to my son was modern-day lynching,” Ouko said.

She said that as things continue to play out in court, the support from the community and loved ones is the only thing getting her through this tragedy.

“The support is diverse, and that gives me a little hope,” Ouko said.

The support showed out at Wednesday night’s town hall discussion.

Members of different chapters of the NAACP and health advocates discussed what they believe should have been in place to help Otieno before he was taken to Central State Hospital.

”The purpose of this town hall is to create awareness on the injustice against mental health on how Black men and women are treated when we are suffering from mental health,” Leon Ochieng, Otieno’s brother, said.

Some mental health advocates gave advice on what to do if your loved one is going through a mental health crisis and needs help.

”We’ve empowered you with the tools to make sure when you call that it is a person with mental health training coming in,” said Joanne Oport with Africans for Mental Health. “You tell the 911 dispatcher please don’t come if you don’t have a mental health provider.”

Otieno’s family hopes these conversations will ensure that no other family’s American dream will be taken away like theirs.

”That dream got us backed up. We gave up everything we had, and everything we knew, and this is what I got,” said Okuo. “Something has to change.”

Ochieng says they plan to continue to have more of these town halls around Virginia in memory of his brother.