Underlying Avel Gordly’s many years of professional advocacy for culturally-specific mental health treatment are her personal and familial experiences with mental illness.
While Gordly was serving in Oregon’s state legislature, her son Tyrone was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He had served in the first Gulf War, and his illness began following his return.
As she struggled to help Tyrone find treatment and support, she discovered that his diagnosis and treatment were repeatedly biased by racial stereotypes.
Gordly was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1991. She was elected to the Oregon Senate in 1996, where she served until this year. During her tenure in state government she was actively engaged in mental health policy.
She is a founder of the African American Mental Health Commission, and her advocacy work is celebrated with the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, a multicultural, adult outpatient treatment clinic at Oregon Health & Science University that opened in 2008.
Gordly is now associate professor in the Department of Black Studies at Portland State University, and she is writing a book on her own experiences with depression.