Zero Stigma—a group designed to break down mental health stigmas—was one of the vendors at the 2016 ESSENCE Festival held earlier this month in New Orleans. We chatted with Executive Director Darrin L. Harris about his organization’s mission.

Tell us about how your business started.

Ekhaya Youth Project, Inc. is the name of the non-profit organization we started in 2007. It was during a mission trip to Africa where I met a group of youth from the Ekhaya Multicultural Arts Center and conducted an impromptu focus group. After hearing the feedback from these young people, I was committed to coming to America and implementing some of the programs they spoke about. Ekhaya means “home,” and everyone is welcomed at the table. Everyone is encouraged to bring ideas to the table.

What quote or mantra do you live by?

We may not have it all, but we can have it all together.

What is the one piece of advice you received that inspired you to pursue community work and non-profit business?

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“Every day, value people and encourage others to value others.”—John Maxwell

How would you describe the community services provided by your organization? is a national movement to provide support in the following areas: awareness, access, advocacy and anti-stigma. In Louisiana and Mississippi, I get to lead an organization with over 600 employees that serve over 2,000 youth and their families by providing family support, youth occupational readiness and creative arts.

What makes your community work unique?

We are America’s first statewide family support organization offering peer support services to youth and their families living with mental and behavioral health challenges.We employ individuals with similar life experiences to help others. We use innovative 
interventions. We intentionally seek out broad-based partnerships from coast to coast.

What is your organization’s mission statement?

Our mission is to eradicate mental health stigma through awareness, access, advocacy and anti-stigma and to bring the message of help, hope and healing. Our motto: No Shame, No Blame.