15th Annual Remembrance Day Ceremonies

15th Annual California Memorial Project Remembrance Ceremonies: It was a moment for us to remember. On September 18th, 2017, the PSA program held its 15th annual California Memorial Project Remembrance Day Ceremonies to honor and acknowledge people with psychiatric or developmental disabilities who lived and died at state institutions without the dignity they deserved. Many were buried anonymously or in mass graves, forgotten over the years as weeds and debris encroached upon many of the burial sites. On what would otherwise be a somber occasion, over 300 people statewide respected and remembered their peers and celebrated their lives through songs, poems, personal stories and a moment of silence. There were 10 remembrance ceremonies at 9 sites throughout the state where many of the graves were located. These included Patton State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital, Parkview Cemetery in Manteca, Ukiah Cemetery, Stockton Rural Cemetery, Porterville Developmental Center, Agnews Historic Cemetery, Sonoma Developmental Center and two ceremonies at Napa State Hospital, including one in the secure treatment area for residents to participate. Peers from the local communities, including the Ukiah ABC Treatment Program, Peer Self-Advocacy Program groups in San Pedro, Rialto and Riverside and self-advocates from the Center for Advanced Personal Success and San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services and supporters from organizations like ARC, People First of California and Disability Rights California attended. Many ceremonies included a history of the California Memorial Project and speakers from local representatives’ offices, county mental health and state hospital directors and peers from the community. At the Patton ceremony, Mickey Turtle, the Native American chaplain, gathered people from the audience and burned sage to cleanse our spirits. This spirit and mood set the tone at many of the ceremonies. Following a statewide moment of silence, entertainment included poems and songs written by peers, a performance of Taiko drummers and songs from a local community group in Ukiah called “The Raging Grannies.” Many attendees gathered around in circles, holding hands, saying prayers and placing colorful flowers at the gravesites or memorial monuments, fostering hope that life will get better for our peers.