Sylvester Williams is walking his talk — literally — from California to Florida to raise awareness about the importance of mental wellness.

Williams shared his story Saturday with the crowd at Juneteenth ICT. He is especially interested in reaching out to people of color — particularly the Black community.

It’s OK to not be OK,” Williams told Juneteenth participants who’d gathered shortly after the festival parade on 13thStreet.

Mental health is real. Everybody deals with mental health.”

On stage at McAdams Park, Williams shared that he made a “bad decision” when he was younger.

Williams, an Alabama native, spent 10 years in prisons in Alabama and Georgia for an armed robbery he committed at age 17.

One of his closest friends killed herself in February 2021. When he got out of prison on June 16, 2021, he wanted to do something to honor her and shine a light on mental wellness. He has struggled with depression and anxiety.

Too often, he said, people of color tell family members and friends to keep mental wellness challenges “in the house” and elect to not seek help.

Too many people think that “Others will say ‘You’re crazy,’ “ Williams said.

You don’t have to be worried about people judging you,” he stressed. “I’m finding happy in my life.”

His stops in Kansas marked the half-way point of his roughly 2,500-mile journey.

He tries to walk 20 to 30 miles a day. How far he gets on any given day depends on where he is and how far the next city or hotel is.

On Tuesday, Williams left Wichita walking to Wellington. He’d made it Belle Plaine just after noon.

He’s amassed a following on social media with the hashtag #walkingwithsylvester.

The Wichita Police Department tweeted about and shared a photo with him during his time in Kansas.

It was an honor to meet you, sir!” the department said in its June 16 tweet.

Mental health has long been a hot-button issue in Wichita, particularly since the September death of C.J.Lofton, who was taken to the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake Center by Wichita Police when his foster-parent became concerned about the 17-year-old’s mental state.  Instead of being evaluated for a mental issue, he ended up dead at the hands of JIAC officers.  

Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse, who pushed for an independent review of what went wrong in the Lofton case, is a staunch supporter of mental wellness resources..

Williams said it’s beyond time to break the stigma of mental illness, which Cruse has reframed as “mental wellness.”

Seeking help, Williams said, “doesn’t make you weak. It means you’re strong.” 

Follow along on Williams’ journey on his social media channels:

Instagram: Therealsylvester1

Tiktok: therealsylvester

Facebook: Walkingwith Sylvester

Deb Gruver

An Iowa native, Deb Gruver knew in third grade she wanted to be a newspaper reporter. She studied at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas and...