Our community partnership celebrations have always been joyous occasions, opportunities to honor those who exemplify our four core values and to celebrate the previous year and all the good things that happened with all of you. This year, however, our joy was bittersweet as we continued to reflect on the passing away of Tessie Brunini Schweitzer in October.
Tessie founded Families as Allies and was its executive director for many years, and she had a tremendous impact on mental health policy and legislation in Mississippi. She worked tirelessly to ensure that those policies and the laws she advocated for and helped enact were followed. Her work culminated in Mississippi having some of the strongest system of care statutory language in the country. Our organization is fully committed to those laws being followed as written and in keeping with the values of family-driven practice.
As we planned this year’s virtual event, we, along with Tessie’s family, decided that to honor Tessie it would only be fitting to name our Accountability Award after her, to continue her legacy and to recognize those who, as she did, hold systems accountable.
On Monday night we presented, for the first time, the Tessie Brunini Schweitzer Memorial Award For Accountability to Scott Bryant-Comstock, president and CEO of the Children’s Mental Health Network. Tessie had a great impact on Scott’s career, and influenced his journey as a mental health advocate. Scott has led the Network’s efforts to grow a national online forum for the exchange of ideas on how to continually improve children’s mental health research, policy and practice. He has also been a tremendous supporter of Families as Allies. He has regularly advised us on reform efforts and has shared our work in Mississippi in the Children’s Mental Health Network’s Friday Update.
This tribute video, which we showed during the Community Partnership Celebration, is our way of honoring Tessie’s memory. We thank all of you who shared your time, thoughts and emotions with us and with the online audience.
None of us will ever be able to fill Tessie’s shoes, but we hope that the video will inspire all of us to follow in her footsteps and hold ourselves and all of Mississippi’s systems accountable for making sure that Mississippi’s system of care for children is truly family-driven. Tessie would have expected no less of us.