Accidental advocates: Speak out to find your voice

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

Laurie Landgraf wasn’t always an advocate.

But in the summer of 2011, shortly before the former teacher was to start enjoying retirement in the small-town Wisconsin “dream cabin” she’d purchased with her husband Dave, he was killed by a distracted driver while riding his bike. Although evidence showed the driver was talking and texting at the time of the crash, no felony charges were filed and she instead received mere traffic citations.

Today, Laurie makes her voice heard by standing up for cell-free driving.

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Advocates come from many paths to care for the rights of others.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Like many advocates, Laurie received her call to service by happenstance, not through honed intention. And it hasn’t been easy to take on this new identity, especially in the face of so much anger and grief. In 2013, Laurie spoke with the storytellers at Living Proof about her journey. Here are some excerpts:

I’m feeling more comfortable calling myself an “advocate.” I’m working towards that. And it’s definitely been a process. When I spoke at [my first] event to about 50-60 people, I was not very prepared; I just spoke from the heart. But I did find my voice there, and that was the beginning of feeling like this is the direction I should go in.

It surprised me to find my voice; I had been quiet for so long. I couldn’t physically and emotionally wrap my head around the whole thing because I was just in such a grief state. But I started realizing that I’ve got this experience I could turn from a tragedy into something positive. What I’m hoping to do is to tell the truth behind the tragedy.

It isn’t easy to speak out. It will always bring me back to that day and what I experienced. So that takes courage and it also takes practice. But I do think the long-term is—and I have heard this from other advocates—that if you can make a difference in one person’s life, or make one person think before acting, that really is what it’s all about.

Read more on the Living Proof blog.

How did you find your voice as a new advocate?

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Comments (2)


  1. Michele Veenker writes:
    January 27, 2014 at 11:48 am

    My daughter has bipolar disorder. As a young mother I had thought of many devastating things that could befall my children, but mental illness was me of one of them.

    After a roller coaster of ups and downs, hospital stays ,suicide attempts and long periods of normality, stigma and lack of insight kept my daughter from accepting her illness.

    But in 2005 when she started getting ill again she reached out for help. By this time she was on Medicare, so I was certain that with insurance we could get her on the medication she needed to stop the inevitable free fall.

    How wrong I was! There was absolutely no one in the Portland metro area of Oregon that we could find who would take her Medicare insurance. To make things worse, no one would take my cash payments either!

    I watched myy beautiful daughter become a stereotypical mentally ill person, unkempt, wandering the streets talking to herself. Because she was not homicidal or suicidal even the hospitals would not take her in.

    That is when I decided to become an advocate. If I could not help my daughter, I could at least fight to make sure others did not go through the same hell we were going through.

    I became involved with NAMI, took nonprofit management classes at PSU and eventually changed careers to become the first executive director of NAMI Clackamas County. Now advocacy is in my veins and where I want to spend the rest of my career.


  2. Kathy writes:
    January 27, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Its really unfortunate. what has happen to mental health in this country.
    I saw 60 minutes on Sunday evening. The cuts of several billion dollars was
    hard to believe. These are human beings. Now we have got to hit the
    ground running. I am also apart of NAMI. I’m coming from a situation
    where my family member doesn’t want help (depression). The unavailability
    of seeking it and being turned away is unbelievable.


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