Pastor, community organizer pens new memoir on breaking cycle of family trauma

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In his debut memoir, “Born Into Crisis” (Burning Soul Press, May 2, 2023), pastor and community organizer Kenneth Nixon Jr. discusses the necessary steps to healing and breaking free from the cycles of family traumas. Drawing from his own experience with dysfunctional family dynamics, Kenneth uses his story to call attention to the need for systemic change in our mental health system.

The American mental health system is in crisis, and those affected by its shortcomings are drowning without the tools and resources they deserve and need to thrive. In “Born Into Crisis,” Kenneth shares his story of growing up with a mother with severe mental illness and a family stuck in an enduring cycle of trauma. He knows firsthand the impact trauma can have on a person’s life. Kenneth not only takes you on a powerful journey through his stories, he provides cogent and practical strategies for creating lasting change in our mental health system. “Born Into Crisis” is more than just a story of resiliency. It’s also a call to action.

“This is a breathtaking, heartfelt, honest account…The author uses his experiences as a jumping-off point to discuss systemic problems that fail people like his mother, to empower readers to take stock of their own mental health.” – BookLife

“The title of Nixon’s memoir is perfectly apt—the moment of his birth was a genuine crisis…” – Kirkus Reviews


Kenneth Nixon Jr. is a pastor, community organizer, and mental health advocate. He knows firsthand what it means to navigate personal mental health challenges while also navigating a broken system on behalf of a loved one. Kenneth speaks out about the need for reform in the mental health system, and works to improve the lives of those affected by mental illness. He also is the founder of the non-profit justice organization called Justice Now. Find out more about him at

Follow Kenneth Nixon Jr. on Instagram: @kenneth_nixonjr

“…A remarkable memoir about mental health and breaking cycles of trauma and crisis…This powerful, compassionate, and inspiring book contains actionable information…a must-read for everyone…” – Readers’ Favorite

The strategies in Born Into Crisis will serve as a boon to any who are suffering the vicious pains of mental illness.” – Indies Today

“An inspiring story of personal resilience and an urgent call to action. This is a must-read book!” – Dawn Raffel, author of “The Strange Case of Dr. Coney”

“A beautiful story about resilience…Its relatability inspires us to personal and collective action without using clinical language or easy answers.” – Dan Campbell, licensed clinical social worker

“Born Into Crisis provides an outlook on mental health from the front lines. Kenneth Nixon shares his experiences so vividly, you read the words feeling his pain as he experienced each moment. Born Into Crisis is not just a memoir, it’s a call to action which leaves the reader asking themselves what they can do to help those in need.” – Alonda Alloway, PhD, licensed clinical social worker

In an interview, Kenneth Nixon Jr. can discuss:

  • How his personal experiences as a child of a mentally ill parent speaks to larger issues in the mental health care system
  • Understanding forgiveness and how it’s necessary for healing 
  • How meeting others with similar family backgrounds have brought him closer to his faith and inspired him to persevere in his mission to advocate for those living with mental illness and their families
  • The importance of building intentional relationships – creating foundations of trust and respect – to help inform and support systemic change
  • Support systems and resources for people who have family members with mental health issues
  • Understanding generational and inherited trauma
  • Decriminalization of mental illness
  • His calls to action and advocacy
  • His work as a pastor and community organizer in northern Virginia
  • Writing about past traumas as a path to healing

An Interview with

Kenneth Nixon Jr.

Before we dive into everything else, please tell us a little about “Born Into Crisis” and the experiences you share in your new book.

In my book, I try to showcase a diverse perspective by touching on my mother’s mental illness, my family’s inherited traumas / generational traumas, and the direct effect it has on entire families in crisis. My book attempts to reflect on how families can pass down an inherited trauma that can become an invisible barrier for generations of people to break through. It is about making sense of our history, understanding its impact on who we are today, and using it to find healing and transformation. Through sharing my experiences, I hope to create awareness about this issue so that more people can begin their journey toward healing from their familial traumas or mental health issues. 

How do you think your personal story speaks to larger issues in the mental health system? 

My personal story speaks to more significant issues in the mental health system in many ways. First, it highlights how difficult it can be for people to get treatment due to a lack of access or difficulty affording care. This is especially true in rural and underserved areas, where resources are scarce and often strained. It also emphasizes how vital support systems are in providing adequate care—from family members to professionals such as therapists and counselors. Additionally, my story demonstrates that even when someone does manage to receive treatment, there can still be challenges that make a recovery an ongoing process instead of a one-time event. Mental health is not a “one size fits all” approach—individualized care plans are often the most effective way forward. By telling my story and sharing my experience, I hope to raise awareness of these issues and help create a more effective mental health system for everyone.

Writing this book required you to come face-to-face with past traumas. What was the hardest thing for you to write about? How did you navigate this?

The hardest thing about writing this book was communicating the far-reaching effects that severe mental illness can have on those, yes who suffer, but also their family. When I began writing this book, I was confronted with many difficult memories from my past that I hadn’t thought about in years. It was cathartic and heartbreaking to relive those moments and face the reality of how much my mother’s mental illness and family dynamics had shaped me. To bring this story to life, I had to partly, but holistically, share my truth. Writing honestly about the good and bad, the pain and the beauty of my story, has been a journey that has brought me closer to understanding not only myself but also how mental illness affects many families around the world and the systems that claim to support those in need.

In your role as a pastor and community organizer, have you encountered others with similar family backgrounds? How did that impact your perspective?

As a pastor and community organizer, I have encountered many individuals with similar family backgrounds who have experienced the suffering of a loved one due to severe mental illness. This has had a profound impact on my perspective. Seeing how these families are affected has brought me closer to my faith, deepening my understanding of humanity’s need to proactively breakdown unconscious bias around mental illness. It also inspires me to work harder to advocate for those struggling with mental illness and their families to receive the treatment and support they need. 

Can you tell us about your work in conflict resolution as a court certified mediator in Virginia?

The pandemic has led to a significant increase in conflict resolution for couples, families, and businesses. This usually involves helping them identify the issues causing or contributing to their conflict. This process aims to help them find solutions that will address the underlying emotions and needs, as well as the practical aspects of resolving the issue. The mental health component of conflict resolution involves exploring the feelings and emotions that have been triggered, allowing for a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. By understanding the source of conflict, individuals can develop new ways to express their needs to resolve or manage the conflict. People from all walks of life come into the process with their own traumas, anxiety, and fears. A skilled conflict resolution practitioner can help identify these issues and help parties address them in a manner that respects everyone’s rights and needs. Conflict resolution is a valuable tool to create better communication skills, increased empathy, respect for differences, and understanding of the other person’s point of view. 

Your book isn’t just a memoir recounting your experiences growing up amid your mother’s severe mental illness — you say it’s a call to action. Can you elaborate on this? How does your book provide a platform for advocacy and understanding?

My book provides a platform for understanding and advocacy by sharing my story honestly and transparently. The call to action is for readers to take the time to learn more about mental illness and how it affects individuals and families, as well as provide resources, strategies, and a model of care that can be implemented on a local and national scale. I am tired of the continual hamster-wheel conversations about mental health and its impact on society while so few people take transformational, systemic action. I hope my book can contribute to real change in some small way. We all want the same thing: to help those struggling with mental illness feel better and access quality care that considers their individual needs.

What is your stance on decriminalizing mental illness?

The decriminalization debate will rage across the United States for some time. The final answer is likely not a simple binary choice: it isn’t so much an “either/or” as an “if/when.” However, suppose the only question about handling an individual with serious mental illness is whether or not to jail them. In that case, we are already experiencing a community and public policy failure. The question should not be whether or not we jail individuals with serious mental illnesses. It should be how we prevent someone from reaching that point. The answer is deceptively simple: we must ensure that a person is treated comprehensively during a crisis. This is where the Crisis Now model comes into play. By treating someone at their worst moment — a moment of crisis — society can get that person through a devastatingly painful moment, get them the help they need, and prevent a mental health situation from deteriorating. This can ultimately lead to that person recovering.

What can readers who don’t have severe mental health issues in their families gain from reading this book? 

This book is not just for people with family members dealing with severe mental health issues. The stories of these families can be a source of comfort and strength to anyone who has faced difficult times in life. It provides readers with an insight into the struggles that those dealing with mental illness can face, giving them a better understanding of the emotions at play. Additionally, it offers a chance to reflect on our own experiences and how we can support others going through similar difficulties. Even if we don’t have any immediate family members experiencing severe mental health problems, this book is an important reminder that everyone should take care of their mental well-being and look out for those around us. Ultimately, by reading this book, readers will gain a greater appreciation of the resilience and strength it takes to overcome mental health struggles and develop a more compassionate understanding toward those dealing with them. 

Can you tell us what Crisis Receiving Centers are and their purpose? 

Crisis Receiving Centers (CRCs) are facilities staffed by mental health experts to which law enforcement or community members can take someone struggling with mental illness or addiction instead of to jail or the emergency room. These are simple facilities, and they are small. Typically, they are stand-alone centers that operate 24 hours/day, seven days/week, with around 16 beds and also shorter-stay reclining chairs. Officers who drop people off at CRCs usually spend less than 15 minutes doing a warm handoff with staff, as opposed to the hours they may spend waiting in an ER.

What does forgiveness mean to you? How do you understand it? And why is it necessary for healing? 

Forgiveness is a concept that can mean different things to different people. For some, it may be associated with letting go of resentment and feeling compassion toward those who have hurt you. It could also mean recognizing and accepting the wrongdoing without holding a grudge or seeking justice. Ultimately, forgiveness is an act of reconciliation and understanding that everyone makes mistakes. Forgiveness is necessary when it comes to healing from physical, mental, or emotional pain because it helps us move forward. When we forgive ourselves for our past wrongs or forgive someone else for hurting us, we take control of our emotions and no longer allow them to dictate our behavior. Forgiveness is ultimately an act of self-compassion, kindness, and courage that helps us heal from the inside out. We learn to accept our experiences as part of life and better understand who we are and why things happen the way they do.

How is the importance of fathers and fatherly figures explored in your book?

The importance of fathers and fatherly figures is a theme explored in my book. I explore this theme through the context of the lifelong impacts on children who have one or both parents absent from their lives, and in particular, I am focused on boys. I focus on how having a robust male role model or mentor in place to provide guidance and support can help counteract some of the emotional challenges faced by those. I also discuss how having a fatherly figure present in one’s life can make all the difference in providing emotional stability and helping positively shape a young boy’s character. I also discuss the need for both fathers and motherly figures to be present in a child’s life, as this can provide a balanced approach that helps foster emotional growth and stability. 

What support systems and resources exist for people who have family members with mental health issues?

There are many support systems and resources available to people with family members who have mental health issues. One such resource is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI offers many programs, including support groups, educational classes, and individualized assistance. Additionally, they provide information about services in the local area that can be beneficial for those struggling with mental health challenges. Another great resource is Mental Health America (MHA). MHA provides comprehensive information about mental illnesses and treatment options, helplines, and other programs designed to help those dealing with mental illness find support.

What does the name VOICE mean, and what’s your role with the organization?

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), is a nonpartisan coalition of 53-member faith communities and civic organizations in northern Virginia working together to build power in middle and low-income communities. We organize in the multicultural suburban localities of Prince William, Fairfax, and Arlington counties and Alexandria City, uniting people across lines of race, class, religion, political party, and geography to take action on key issues in our community. VOICE is the largest citizen’s led organization in the state, representing over 200,000 residents. I  have been involved with VOICE for over 10 years, eight of which as a clergy leader through the church I attend, First Baptist Manassas, one of the founding congregations of VOICE. I have served on VOICE’s Strategy Team (board of directors) and helped lead several statewide and local campaigns as a clergy leader and community organizer.

What is the Crisis Now model?

The Crisis Now model is innovative in addressing mental illness and addiction. Under this model, people with mental health issues or addiction are provided with proactive treatment instead of waiting until they reach a crisis point. This prevents the need for expensive emergency care and reduces the number of individuals in jails or emergency rooms due to their mental health issues or addiction. This model has been successfully implemented in Arizona, resulting in improved outcomes for those living with mental illness and addiction while reducing taxpayers’ costs. The success of the Crisis Now model is due to its emphasis on early intervention and providing access to comprehensive care that addresses physical and psychological needs. It also involves partnerships between healthcare providers, police departments, courts, housing authorities, mental health organizations, and other community stakeholders to ensure that those with mental illness or addiction can access the services they need. This model should be adopted nationwide to reduce the financial burden of caring for those facing mental health issues or addiction while providing more humane treatment options. The Crisis Now model offers a practical approach to treating these individuals holistically and can help improve their lives while reducing the strain on public resources.

What’s next for you?

In terms of mental health advocacy, I will continue fighting to  secure transformational investments from Virginia state government in transforming the Commonwealth into a community-based model of crisis care that can be replicated across the country. I plan to expand my efforts to bring more awareness to unconscious bias and other forms of stigma that surround mental illness and addiction. I am also already half way through writing my second book that will deal directly and frankly with unconscious bias and the compassion gap that needs to be addressed when dealing with mental health issues.