Everything You Need to Know About 988

Movement Strategy Center Chats with Tansy Hall McNulty, Founder and CEO of One Million Madly Motivated Moms (1M4), About the Launch of 988

On July 16, 2022, 988 is finally going live — a sort of sister service to 911, 988 will replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255, which will remain in service after July 16) as a nationwide number for individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts, mental health or substance abuse emergencies, or emotional distress. A first step in reimagining crisis support in the United States, this easy to remember, three-digit number (call, text, or chat) is confidential, free, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers will be connected to trained English and Spanish language crisis counselors with interpretation services in over 150 languages.

We (virtually) sat down with Tansy Hall McNulty, Founder and CEO of One Million Madly Motivated Moms (1M4), to discuss the launch of 988. As founder of 1M4, Tansy leads an ongoing effort to compile and share a comprehensive guide of local and regional Mobile Crisis Units all over the country — an often safer alternative to calling the police for Black families in need of mental health support. When 988 legislation was passed, in 2020, Tansy, 1M4, and their resource were in demand — this collection of crisis units and co-responders would be a jumping off point for 988’s network of operator-counselors and the mobile crisis units we all hope will follow, as 988 secures funding and expands.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MSC: What is 988? 

THM: 988 is a federal mandate that was created back in December of 2020, that we would have a short, easy to remember, three digit number for suicidal thoughts, mental health emergencies, and behavioral health emergencies. Effective July 16th of this year, 2022, 988 will go live nationally. 

MSC: When should we call 988 instead of 911? 

THM: 911 is for criminal behavior or medical and physical emergencies … 988 is for those who are having suicidal ideations and those who are experiencing mental health emergencies, or emotional distress. So these are times that you need a counselor, someone to talk to, someone to de-escalate … The hope and the intention is for it to be a national dispatching center for mental health emergencies. That infrastructure is still being built, however … It will not be ready on July 16th in all places — so I want people to be aware that when you call 988 in these situations, depending on where you live, you may still have an interaction with a law enforcement officer.

MSC: How is 988 funded?

THM: 998 will be funded much like 911, in some states … Look at your cell phone bill, and look at the breakdown. On your bill you’ll see something that says 911. Everybody who has a cell phone is paying … 12 cents a month or 15 cents a month for 911. And that’s so it’s a fully funded organization and entity and that means it doesn’t run out of money. Well 988, ideally, would be funded the same way, but some states are running into issues with this additional fee, because it’s become politicized. So, some states are actually leaning towards a one-time grant opportunity to fund 988 and to fund the call-takers, those who will be servicing the 988 systems. The issue with having a one-time grant is it’s one time. And this is something that needs to be sustainable, so that it can continue, stay funded, stay helpful.

 "The issue can be that sometimes the states take over and they don’t want communities to drive solutions, when we know communities keep communities safe."

MSC: What are some gaps that 988 does not address? 


THM: The hope is for 988 to one day be fully fleshed out, to be able to release mobile crisis response teams, or mobile crisis units as well call it on our website — it’s just not there yet, they’re still building the infrastructure for that. And a big portion of that, too, is the need for funding — you have to be able to fund things for them to work, you have to be able to pay people … When you’re this close to someone going through rough times you need to be compensated well for that. So the funding is needed; and consistent, sustainable funding — not these one time things.

We also need community involvement — we have some community response teams on our website but there are so many others out there … I’m hoping they’re able to be funded through 988 too. The issue can be that sometimes the states take over and they don’t want communities to drive solutions, when we know communities keep communities safe.


MSC: How can we help make 988 better?


THM: Our involvement is needed, because a system that you are not a part of, you’re not considered. It’s very important to be a voice at the table; or just a voice on the other side of the phone. The opportunities to become a call-taker, to become someone who is the voice … Listening to what they need, what they’re saying, providing them the best outlet for help — and the outlet could just be you, listening. It’s amazing to me what happens when people just listen; when people actually feel heard. 

We need people on the other end of the phone who sound like the community that’s calling them. So if you’re someone who is empathetic to other people, who has a will to listen … Look up opportunities for employment, to be the voice someone hears when they’re upset … If you are someone who cares about people, who cares about solutions, who cares about public safety, the safety of individuals going through rough times, consider being a call-taker, consider going through the training to become one of those counselors … who are trained to de-escalate, to provide a soothing voice to hear you out in your darkest hour. 

"We need people on the other end of the phone who sound like the community that’s calling them."

MSC: What can we do until 988 launches and while it’s being developed?


THM: Right now you can go to our website and look up our mobile crisis units. Look at your state, look at your area, find who’s in your area who can respond to your needs. Particularly if you’re someone who has had or knows of someone who’s had suicidal ideations, or someone who has manic episodes — become familiar now with the guide and the people in your area, before you need them. It’s always best to build familiarity before you need that help. So you can know what their processes are and you know the group that’s going to answer the phone … I encourage you to call [their administrative phone numbers and] just talk — say, what can I expect? I have a family member or a friend who has these things that happen every now and then, what would happen? I don’t want to engage the police — will they be encountered? 

On our site it will tell you. We interview the people to ask them — will you include law enforcement? Some said yes, every time; some said only if a weapon is involved — ask them those questions, talk to them. [Save their] numbers now, so if … something happens with [a] loved one, or [you] see someone going through some distress, and it seems like they need help, [you] can call this number and know they have a better chance of surviving that interaction.        

You can all help us build out our guide. If you look at our list and you know there’s a mobile crisis response team that’s local to you [that isn’t listed] … Please share with us: go to our website or email [email protected], and send us the name of the organization. We will call them [and ask] them the same questions … just to make sure we understand how they respond.       


MSC: How do I know 988 is something safe that I can trust?


THM: We want … to [hear] what’s actually happening in the community. So, after you call 988 we would like to know what happened — so we can document it, we can keep up with it, we can actually report back to the implementation team.

Even for our mobile crisis guide: when you contact these different units, we would like to know what happened, did they get you the help they needed? 

I was in contact with a woman in New York … Her nephew was having back to back manic episodes, and when they happen back to back they increase in intensity. They put him on a list — it was a six month wait to get in with a psychiatrist. The family did not want to engage law enforcement, it’s a Black family. So they went to our guide, and they called their local mobile crisis unit, who put them in contact with resources. They ended up actually taking him to the ER, because at some ERs – it should be all but it’s some – there are psychiatrists on staff that you can get in with. So he was able to avoid having to interact with law enforcement by referencing our guide. 

And his aunt, the one who contacted me, was extremely grateful that she had that resource, that information. So we want to know from others: when you use our guide, what happens? We want to hear your stories, hear your experiences, we don’t want to share your name … We just want to know your experience so we can get better. We can let individuals know, who are in positions of power — you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, or you did, you did an excellent job, tell your colleagues [and share your knowledge in] keeping people safe and truly caring for people when they need us.  

The MSC Storytelling Series: Jacqui Patterson

In this installment we get to know researcher, advocate, and activist Jacqueline “Jacqui” Patterson founder and executive director of the Chisholm Legacy Project former director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program; co-founder of Women of Color United; and proud board member of MSC.

“It wasn’t a coincidence, it wasn’t happenstance.” So says Jacqui Patterson — activist, founder of the Chisholm Legacy Project, and MSC board member — on how she made her way to Movement Strategy Center. 

She was introduced to MSC through Movement Generation but if it wasn’t that it would’ve been something else: “the universe … draws like-mission and like-spirited people together.” She knew from the beginning there was alignment in work and in mission and it became clearer as Patterson participated in MSC’s movement support work — the Transitions Labs, the facilitation of conversations and meetings, and the cultivation of projects. “There are so many points of resonance and alignment in everything that MSC does … Whether it is the heart of the people … Or the way that they facilitate conversations about collective organizing toward the world that we want, MSC has been an inspiration, a catalyst, and a facilitator of radical imagination and a radical love in action.”

Patterson hails from the southside of Chicago — a very urban place not far from the other, more suburban side of the tracks. Her neighborhood offered many of the great touchstones of city life — ice cream trucks, block parties, and community. But also some of the worst: there were gangs, the sound of gunshots weren’t uncommon, and concerns about her brother simply existing as a Black boy in America were pervasive. 

Her family blended two cultures — her mother came up to Chicago during the Great Migration from Dublin, Mississippi; her dad immigrated there from Jamaica. The result was an upbringing steeped in both Deep South and Jamaican influences: a culture of food (collard greens plus curried chicken) and music (rhythm and blues plus reggae). Patterson’s ancestry is in sub-Saharan Africa; her common history involves those ancestors being stolen from their homelands and brought to unceded territories in both the United States and Jamaica to become the enslaved labor behind the economy and the infrastructure of those respective lands. 

She says, “I am who I am out of that history and that story. And, I am who I am in celebration of the rich cultural heritage and in resistance to and in reparations from how the heritage and ties to nation and community were interrupted by colonialism. I do what I do to both celebrate and treasure that cultural heritage.”

There are so many points of resonance and alignment in everything that MSC does … Whether it is the heart of the people … Or the way that they facilitate conversations about collective organizing toward the world that we want, MSC has been an inspiration, a catalyst, and a facilitator of radical imagination and a radical love in action.

Her work reflects this. She is working to restore “linkages in some ways to the motherland,” and “address, redress, and correct the carnage and the aftermath of colonialism and where it has left our communities as a result of the systemic exploitation, extraction, and oppression.” The work centers on Black and BIPOC communities all over the world; and is in partnership with all “the aligned and the allied — anyone who is allied and aligned with the mission of Black liberation.”

For her, liberation ensures “that all people have self determination and have what they need to be whole and thriving.” And it starts with accountability — “my purpose is to be in service to the quest for self determination and liberation of Black frontline communities.” 

So much of that begins with being very “intentional about who is not even being thought of by those sitting at the table — much less are they even at the table.” In terms of climate justice, Patterson wants everyone to have a seat. Thus, a focus on chronically ignored Freedman’s Settlements — communities, many unincorporated, established by those “just emancipated from enslavement.” 

One, a community of only about 100 people outside Dallas, is Sandbranch, Texas. Stunningly, this unincorporated village adjacent to one of our country’s wealthiest cities has never had running water. Their well water was contaminated in the 1980s, and today, residents rely mainly on donated bottled water — not just for drinking, but for cooking and bathing. Stories like these are at the center of the Patterson-founded Chisholm Legacy Project — an organization that connects Black communities on the frontlines with the resources necessary to implement transformation. 

It isn’t easy work. And that’s why Patterson so valued the aforementioned Transitions Labs — these safe spaces offered community and reflection. A way to, at least metaphorically, refill your cup. These gatherings also made it clear that “all the work around social justice and systems change is intersectional.” A priceless opportunity “to explicitly be engaged with folks who are doing work from gender justice to education justice to general economic justice and so forth, and to really come together and talk about this notion of Just Transition and this ideal that we want as a society.” She acknowledges the concept “might sound utopian,” but for the frontliners in attendance that discussion and that space is “a necessity in order to survive and thrive as people.”

All the work around social justice and systems change is intersectional.

It can be hard for outsiders to understand what these retreats and workshops were like. Patterson describes them as a chance to step “away from the day to day, the list of deliverables … The nonprofit industrial complex.” Crucially, they offered an opportunity to discuss the roles and purpose of both the individuals and the organizations across various movements in “a space of ideating … Set up to accommodate all learning and being styles.” 

Attendees showed up with “a selfless sense of mission, so there was a level of trust and safety there.” And the work — deep conversation and reflection, “the practices: tai chi, somatics, embodiment … Various exercises that got you out of your head and into the culture” — fostered intimate connection. “We can go whole days, weeks, or months without thinking about that larger arc,” so the safe space to simply “think and be” was invaluable and unlike so many other gatherings and workshops.  

It was at one of these Transitions Labs in the Redwood Forest — “a generative environment” — that Patterson felt everything sort of gel: her work, her goals, her collaborations with MSC. The activity at hand involved focusing on “developing a seed of an idea and being with people who were like-minded, like-focused, and like-spirited who were also growing their own seeds.” The seed that “began to truly blossom” for Patterson that day — while laying on the floor with her peers and remembering the iconic book the Bridge Called My Back, a collection of radical writings by Black women — involved “work specifically focused on supporting the wellbeing of Black femmes.”

That “unformed dream” turned “into an action plan … That birthed the fourth element of focus of the Chisholm Legacy Project — the focus on Black femme support.” Patterson explained that she had observed the “level of weight on Black femmes in terms of holding so much, our families, our organizations, the movement, in the case of Alabama and Georgia — actual democracy. Yet so often you see our sisters in the struggle are so weighed down by that.” 

Sighting stress, premature deaths, and all the ways these weights can negatively manifest in the health of her peers inspired the project’s steadfast support of wellbeing. She believes this concept of “community care, organizational care, movement care — instead of just preaching self care to someone who is always going to put themselves last” is crucial to the future of the movement.   

Today, Patterson feels honored to continue to support MSC as a board member, calling the work “a blessing.” Likewise, she values “the opportunity to continue to be in relationship with the innovations team that is doing amazing work,” citing her participation as a founding member of the National Association of Climate Resilience Planners. She looks forward to “continuing to support Climate Innovation’s (soon to be renamed People’s Climate Innovation Center (PCIC)) team” and ensuring “that the communities that we work with — including the Black femme climate justice leaders — are able to connect with and be nurtured by the rich range of offerings that MSC has,” especially in terms of climate resilience planning and training and Black youth leadership development.

And, circling back to the Freedman’s Settlements and towns like Sandbranch, she looks forward to growing “the ways that MSC’s fiscal sponsorship and regranting programs can benefit some of the most marginalized Black communities in the United States.” She continued, “the hope is that MSC and the Chisholm Legacy Project can together support the self determination and liberation of these communities all over the nation.”

She also hopes that others — new friends of MSC, new members of the collective movement ecosystem — get the chance to experience something like MSC’s Transitions Labs. They so deeply and positively affected Patterson and she recalled — with a lot of laughter and a little bit of embarrassment — one opportunity where participants were invited to write letters of appreciation to each other. Other people maybe wrote one or two and I literally sat there and wrote super sappy love letters to everyone. I was just feeling literally just full of so much love for everyone who participated.” 

Women’s History Made Today

Movement Strategy Center Chats with Corrine Van Hook-Turner, Director at Climate Innovation (Soon to be People’s Climate Innovation Center)

“Consensus building is like arriving at a place that doesn’t compromise the guiding principles. It allows us to say — as long as it is not disrupting me, my work, who I am accountable to, and I can still see myself where we’ve arrived, even if it’s not how I would do something”

If we think about how capital flows across borders, no one bats an eye … But when we think about justice work and philanthropy, we have to beg for funds that belong to us. That is our money. Do not call us to tables without resourcing. We need to move toward that. We know it’s possible.

Essential Shifts in Funding Practices

Movement Strategy Center on How Philanthropy Must Evolve

To decolonize philanthropy, and support this crucial movement work, we must be open to the concept of Emergent Strategy policies and culture building. Emergent Strategy, a book and framework written by facilitator adrienne maree brown, suggests that western culture tends to work against the emergent strategies and processes that are realized over time as intended goals collide with the shifting realities at hand. The writer explains that “emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” By being cognizant of how needs and environments change — including a holistic focus on authentic relationships and the evolving needs of movement leaders — philanthropy can reshape their values and what they’re advocating for.

“When we are fueled with a scarcity mindset, as so many of our communities have been conditioned to be, organizations scramble to do as much as they can before the funds run out.”

Philanthropy for social movements must begin to level the playing field and move away from the current hierarchies that temporarily fund outcomes rather than sustainably funding relationships.

Reconsidering Regranting

Movement Strategy Center Re-imagines Equitable Regranting through Philanthropic Innovation

“We need to create spaces and resource opportunities for leaders to experiment and collaborate and also make mistakes, learn, and try again, which is difficult with limited resources and strict project specifications and requirements.”

Our flexibility and willingness to think outside the box allows those receiving funds to “work around challenges and limitations rather than expecting them to work within systems that don’t support their circumstances.”