By Reuben Greene,
Special to the AFRO

On the evening of Oct. 18, a captivating event unfolded at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Museum on Thames Street, Baltimore. The occasion was “BMHA Road to 40: Art of Unveiling with Larry ‘Poncho’ Brown,” a fundraiser commemorating the remarkable 40-year journey of the Baltimore Mental Health Alliance (BMHA). The venue, with its breathtaking architecture, inside and out, added a touch of grandeur to the evening.

BMHA, under the unwavering leadership of Executive Director Andrea Brown, has tirelessly pursued its mission to change the narrative, tell the truth, and provide optimal mental health and wellness services to marginalized Black communities. Baltimore City’s Health Department has reported alarming statistics related to mental health concerns, accentuating the urgency of BMHA’s mission and its invaluable role. 

At the anniversary fundraiser, the atmosphere in the room was electric with anticipation as attendees eagerly awaited the unveiling of Larry “Poncho” Brown’s artwork, which epitomized the transformative power of art in promoting mental health awareness.

During an interview moderated by Marsha Reeves Jews, the artist shared a powerful message. He described his artwork, with its intricate exaggerations, as a depiction of resilience amidst complex elements. His inspiration, a devastating fire that had consumed his studio in 1995, beautifully symbolized the strength required to address mental health challenges.

“Art is therapeutic. It’s been proven scientifically,” said Brown. “From children with disabilities to adults that have survived trauma, art is a universal language that we all can understand.” 

Brown also spoke about being a full-time artist, saying that his craft often provides him with more therapy in a day than most people experience in a lifetime. “I’m blessed to have found art as a place of reflection, a place of peace. It’s another space you can go to in order to release tension,” he added.

Dr. Jonathan Shepherd, president of BMHA’s board of directors, recognized the power of art in conveying the gravity of mental health issues within the Black community. 

“We reached out to Mr. Brown because we recognize his strength in being able to communicate with our community about different things that are occurring within our society, displaying the magnitude of mental health issues that Black people are experiencing and bringing that concept to life on canvas,” he said.

Attendees Sandra Davis and Jodie Friend were effusive in their praise for the event. They emphasized their support for BMHA’s mission of destigmatizing mental health. 

“We’re here to support BMHA, celebrating the Black community and how we need to no longer stigmatize mental health, rather embracing it and helping one another. It was a phenomenal event,” said Friend.

Towards the end of the evening, limited edition prints of the original artwork were sold to raise funds for the organization. Brown personally engaged with attendees, signing each piece. 

When asked about the unveiling, he expressed his pride and said, “I’m very proud to be the official artist for the BMHA poster this year. It’s an honor to be chosen to help them with their mission. It’s been an awesome evening celebrating the BMHA and all of their achievements. To see everyone out galvanizing each other and being open to dialogue about mental health awareness is a wonderful change, and hopefully, we will continue on that path.”

For more information about the Baltimore Mental Health Alliance, to donate, or to get involved, please visit their website here.

To explore the artwork and engage with the artist, visit his online presence here