She was a state champion, an All-American athlete, and an Olympic gold medalist, but women's basketball star Chamique Holdsclaw also described her battle with depression and her journey from being a mental health patient to an advocate for others.
"I prayed in the hospital, 'If you get me out of this, I'm gonna make a difference for those who suffer in silence,'" she told a rapt audience of mental health professionals and legislators at Mayfair Farms in West Orange.
Holdsclaw - a first-round women's draft pick for the WNBA - is now an author and advocate who speaks around the country, encouraging others to get help and reducing the stigma of mental illness.
"Since 2006 I've used my voice and I share my testimony to give people hope and courage," she said. "I encourage all of us to keep fighting, fighting, fighting."
Holdsclaw was one of the guest speakers at a legislative breakfast hosted on Friday that featured mental health advocates from throughout Essex County and local elected officials. The breakfast was sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Essex County, whose executive director is Robert Davison.
Among the guests were: Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-Essex), John McKeon (D-Essex), Mila Jasey (D-Essex), Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), Shavonda Sumpter (D-Passaic) and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin along with the Montclair and West Caldwell mayors and councilmen from Nutley and West Caldwell.
The other guest speakers were Kevin Ryan and Tina Kelley from Covenant House, a non-profit organization that helps homeless children get off the streets. Ryan and Kelley have authored a book called "Almost Home" that profiles the stories of homeless teenagers across the United States, their success stories and their lives.
The authors and children's advocates encouraged those in the audience to take a second look at homeless youth - to treat them like they would any other child, and to consider mentoring, helping, volunteering or advocating for them.
Ann Donovan, the Seton Hall women's basketball coach, also attended, introduced Holdsclaw and brought her team with her to attend the event. It was the 12th annual breakfast held by the mental health association, which is located in Montclair.
Co-sponsors of the event included agencies and hospitals from throughout Essex County, including: Mountainside Hospital, Family Service Bureaus of Nutley and Newark, East Orange General Hospital, Jewish Family Services of MetroWest, Main Street Counseling Center, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, and The Bridge.
West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta recounted the wariness he encountered in his town as group homes came into his community, "I knew it was the right thing to welcome them in our town. When someone is down we need to pick them up. Please help someone. That's what we're here for."