Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream to bring people together in harmony and peace, regardless of race, color or creed. On Jan. 21, members of the Archer Memorial AME Zion Church, First Church of Windsor and the Windsor Historical Society came together to commemorate King’s life while focusing on one of his concerns: this year’s theme was “Living Together…Understanding the Prevailing Issues of Mental Illness in Our Nation.”

“It is time for us to be mobile, time for us to move on many of the issues, especially as they relate to mental health,” said Jeffrey T. Hill, Archer Memorial pastor. “We must mobilize ourselves and be people of action. We’ve been talking about this for so long and we need do our part and do what we can do to help the process.” 

The program began at 5 p.m. in the Windsor Town Hall council chambers with the crowd signing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  After an invocation from First Church Assistant Pastor Char Corbett and a greeting from Mayor Donald Trinks, the audience delved into the issue of mental health.

The topic was chosen for the program by Archer Memorial AME Zion Church to help people try to understand the tragic incidents that led to dozens of deaths in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Hill spoke about understanding the issue, letting the audience know that even he had a difficult time comprehending the situation. He informed the audience that the incident was part of a larger plan that allowed the world to come a little bit closer together because of “26 angels.” He left the crowd with words from King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

After Hill’s encouragement to come together and unite the world during these tough times, the program carried on with the lighting of 28 candles to remember all of the Newtown victims. The program also featured musical selections from the Archer Memorial Choir and First Church of Windsor choir, as well as a dance by the Archer Children’s department. Ten-year-old Angel Well’s recited King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, leading the crowd to lock hands in a circle and sing before heading to the Historical Society.

At the Historical Society, Central Connecticut State University history professor Dr. Matthew Warshauer presented “Soldier’s heart: Post-traumatic stress disorder among Civil War soldiers.” Warshauer’s presentation painted a picture of battle scenes and events that were the bloodiest in American history, with 23,000 soldiers dying in one day at the battle of Antietam and another 53,000 dying in a three-day period at Gettysburg, which led many to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He carried on the mental illness theme and notified the audience that mental illness has been around for hundreds of years and was under-reported and under-medicated then, just like it is today.

More than 650,000 to 700,000 soldiers were killed during the war, about 2 percent of the population. Today’s equivalent would be six million people. Warshauer explained that mental illness during the time period was not prevalent, with very few institutions for mentally ill patients existing. With a better understanding of the brain, that number would increase, but most still believed mental illness stemmed from physical ailments. Warshauer noted that we will never truly know how many people were affected with PTSD from the Civil War. He contests that the number affected by PTSD would be particularly high due to prisoners of war, a lack of proper care and cleanliness for gruesome wounds, and photographs displaying dead soldiers littered through fields.

“We need to recognize that mental health problems and traumas related to mental health have always been around and are always going to be around,” Warshauer said. “We can’t turn a blind eye to it; we have to address them as a society. People who are having difficulty can’t feel shame and social stigma. They have to address it and hopefully get better.”