Chacku is an Indian-American, born in Kuwait, who became involved in consumer/survivor/ex-patient advocacy when he was only 15 years old. Chacku’s personal experiences with racism and xenophobia related trauma, suicide, and disabling mental health and substance use challenges, including psychosis, as a youth and young adult launched Chacku and his family towards a number of efforts to advocate for alternative supports, equity, and inclusion in the community.
He has since accumulated over thirty five of experience in behavioral health systems in a wide variety of roles such as youth leadership and community organizing, executive and board management and behavioral health infrastructure development.
He currently works as the Director for the SAMHSA Healthy Transitions Initiative with the Center for Practice Innovations at Columbia University, supporting OnTrackNY, a Coordinated Specialty Care model for young people experiencing early psychosis in New York State. He volunteers his time in roles such as the President for Friends of Recovery – New York, a statewide coalition of people in recovery from addiction, as a board member for the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, and as co-founder of Healing through Hip Hop. He is a National Advisory Council member for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health in Texas and the National Center on Advancing Person-Centered Practices and Systems. Chacku serves on several advisory boards for key research initiatives at Boston, Columbia, Lesley and Rutgers universities. Chacku is also an appointed member of the New York State Integrated Block Grant Committee and the New York State Behavioral Health Services Advisory Council.
Chacku’s previous executive leadership roles with the Mental Health Association of Rochester, STAR Center, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services offer an unparalleled mix of experiences developing trauma-informed, person-centered, and culturally congruent infrastructure with local communities, community-based organizations, large healthcare systems, as well as multiple state, territory, and tribal governments across the country.
Chacku is regularly invited to train and consult across the United States on achieving racial health equity, undoing racism, social determinants of health, building collaborations across communities and systems, peer support, cultural congruence, employment and economic self-sufficiency, leadership, suicide prevention, crisis intervention, systems advocacy and implementing exemplary, integrated practices in supporting people to live, learn, work and play in the most integrated, meaningful, and self-directed roles. Chacku has received numerous awards for his work and advocacy and most recently awarded as 2020 Advocate of the Year by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
Although I was a bit tired after a one hour keynote presentation in Texas, in this brief episode of Into the Fold, I offer that peer support's ultimate purpose is systems transformation and social change. Drawing on lessons learned from our predecessors in the survivor movement, such as Shery Mead, creator of Intentional Peer Support and the indigenous wisdom of Lilla Watson from Australia, I reflect on the inherent challenges of integrating peer support and its role in creating consciousness about power throughout the health care delivery system.