Get ready to be moved and inspired as we shine a spotlight on the personal, sometimes challenging journeys of four remarkable members of our community: Roger Capote, Kelvin Foster, Sydney Koffman, and Linda Larsen. Their stories are powerful, relatable, and filled with resilience. Curious to hear their full stories? Click the names below to dive into their inspiring narratives. You won’t want to miss this!
As a child of Cuban immigrants, mental health, feelings , emotions was not something we spoke about in the family, or even around the dinner table, to be honest…the conversation of how was your day was never really asked. And this is no ill will towards my parents, my parents are beautiful individuals and human beings, it’s just the culture we were raised in.
It wasn’t until recently — about three years ago — when I tried to take my own life. While I was at a conference in Orlando, I purchased a pistol, went back to my hotel room, put the pistol to my head … and a housekeeper walked through the door.
To this day, that woman has no idea what she did or the impact that she made on one person….The conversation on mental health is a global issue that we all must take action. Regardless of your race, creed, color or sexual orientation, we must be able to have the conversation about mental health in the room.
If I can be one person to help one individual to have that conversation, I ‘d be honored to be part of their story.
My name is Roger Capote …
As a child, I grew up in a two -parent household, along with my two brothers. Even though both parents were in the home, my father was emotionally absent. He was also a mean, functioning alcoholic. We never knew what to expect from him. And my mother was very limited in what she could do to intervene on our behalf.
One memory from my childhood was particularly traumatic: I was around 11 or 12, the oldest of my siblings. My father had been gone since Friday and this was Sunday evening. He came into the house, swung the back door open and yelled profanities, asking why there were dirty dishes in the sink. He demanded I get in there and clean up the kitchen; I walked past him as he shoved me forward. I began running water in the sink but apparently I wasn’t moving fast enough for him – he unbuckled his belt, ripped it off and began hitting me.
As far as I can remember, I never received another physical beating but the verbal and mental abuse hurt just as much, if not more than, the belt did.
The first time I went to talk to a psychologist about depression, he asked me what it was like growing up and I told him I couldn’t remember. However, I had a younger brother who was writing his story, and he could remember things in detail.
And so that began my journey of becoming trauma informed. As a result of learning more about trauma, I learned more about my own adverse childhood experiences.
You see, there’s a family creed or unwritten law in African American homes that says what happens in this house stays in this house or there could be some serious consequences.
But I believe that my story – and the stories of others here tonight – might help someone listening to realize that they’re not alone and that there’s nothing wrong with them. Thus, the correct question becomes, “What happened to you?”
My name is Kelvin Foster. I am a survivor of childhood trauma. What you’re looking at on this stage now is a picture of post -traumatic growth. I’ve learned from those things. I realized that it wasn’t something wrong with me.
It’s what happened to me that caused those things. So now, armed with the right tools, with the right education, we can thrive in spite of …
All of my childhood memories have a cloudy kind of grayness to them. I was feeling a range of happy and sad emotions but there was always just kind of a dullness or a numbness to every feeling so I just thought, “Oh, this must be normal.” I didn’t really think anything of it.
I knew that this was going to be a hard topic to broach with my parents but I was kind of desperate because I wanted to be able to feel and act like everyone else did. I wanted to be a part of the world, instead of just kind of floating through it.
It was my inner scientist that convinced me to do the research and bring all of the facts and all of the knowledge to my parents because I couldn’t imagine how scary it must be that their small child is asking to be put on some pretty intense medication.
They brought me to see someone and I started on a low dose of medication. After a few years, I finally felt like I was seeing the world in color and feeling more things. I felt like I was more of was more of a – even though I hate to use the word “normal” – but a normal “person” with regard to my emotions.
I think that it’s important for me to share my light because I want to help the parents of children who might not just be going through a phase, they might have something actually going on that needs to be addressed.
I am Sydney Koffman…
I’m here. I am alive and I’m happy to be able to share my story.
I was a single mom, with a two-year-old baby, making $55 a week as a front desk receptionist at a law office. I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, clinical depression, and had too many times when I deeply believed that I wanted to die. I just couldn’t go on any longer
Such was the case on December 7, 1969. In spite of debilitating panic, I got up, got dressed, got my son dressed and fed and drove him to daycare. And then my car just seemed to drive me to work. I was on autopilot.
And that’s the morning that, at about 11:15 a.m., in through the front door burst a man in a prison uniform, brandishing a .357 Magnum. He grabbed me by the arm and said to the two attorneys who were standing there, “Give me your car keys and your money. I’m leaving and I’m taking her with me. Don’t call the cops or I will kill her.”
He forced me to drive the attorney’s car and directed me to an abandoned house of a friend of his. At one point after we got there, he allowed me to sit in a chair in front of him and out of nowhere he suddenly raised the gun, pointed it directly between my eyes, and his exact words were, “Are you ready to die?”
How ironic, right? I was just thinking about that like, what, seven hours earlier? But in that moment I remember thinking, “No. I’m not ready to die.” And after six hours of absolutely surreal anxiety, I found a way to escape.
When I spoke to my therapist, she said, “Trauma is unrelenting helplessness, it’s feeling helpless with no way out … And that was your state all growing up.”
But you had this one life-altering experience where you stepped up, you took care of you, you managed the situation. You said, “Helpless? No, not now. No, watch me.”
In order to break the cycle of trauma, of abuse, we have to raise awareness. And one of the best ways to do that is to start talking about it, and one of the greatest avenues for conversation is a night just like tonight.
I am Linda Larsen and this is my story…