Tony Cornelius, son of legendary television personality and creator of the hit dance show Soul Train, Don Cornelius, was recently appointed to the National Board of Directors of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, beginning a three-year-term in the position this month. Cornelius said he is excited about his new appointment. And, that excitement he said, is tempered by a focus filled with passion for the subject.
“My focus is really from the heart,” Cornelius told the Sentinel in a recent interview.
“Unfortunately, when my dad committed suicide, I never thought I would be in a position to talk to people or even that I would want to talk to people. I always thought suicide was for people who couldn’t handle life and who were weak. And, I’m now a believer that it has nothing to do with that …”
Cornelius said one of his priorities would be the African American community; his mission, to lead people in the direction of adequate help.
“The Black community leans on church and family for mental health needs,” Cornelius explained.
“But there are places you can go to receive help. The mission is to lead people in that direction.”
Cornelius began his work in mental health and suicide prevention with the Don Cornelius Foundation shortly after his father’s tragedy on February 1, 2012.
“I had made a promise to speak up after this happened to my family,” Cornelius explained.
“Most of my work has been going around talking about suicide prevention and mental health. And, along the way, the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention … I had participated in a walk in Santa Monica. I happened to meet the CEO Robert Gebbia. They thought it would be a good idea to partner with me in some way as a person who had experience in that area.
“We got together and talked about it and they thought it would be a good idea to add me to the board.”
[This year], the AFSP is starting Project 2025.
“It’s a high impact collaborative initiative to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025,” he said.
“With that, the Board gets together to talk about things they can do to help reduce those numbers. Each board member comes up with ideas and solutions.”
Established in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is a voluntary health organization that gives those affected by suicide a nationwide community empowered by research, education and advocacy to take action against this leading cause of death.
“AFSP is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide,” said officials via their website.
“AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health by engaging in the following core strategies:
Funding scientific research
Educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention
Advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention
Supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide in our mission.”
Cornelius is among four new members added to the Board. The others are, celebrity chef Melissa d’Arabian, New Jersey resident, Jonathon Kellerman, executive vice president and global chief compliance officer for Allergan plc and New Jersey based pharma executive, Ed Stelmakh. The new members are also joining 12 others: Steve Siple – Chair of the Board, Jerry Rosenbaum, M.D. – Board President, Gretchen Haas, Ph.D. – Board Vice President and Treasurer, James Compton – Secretary, Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D.– Chair, Scientific Council, Dennis Tackett – Chair, Loss and Healing Council, Nancy Farrell, MPA – Chair, Policy Council, Ray Paul, Jr. – Chair, Development, Marco Taglietti, M.D. – Chair Governance / Nominating Committee, Christopher Epperson – Chair, Chapter Leadership Council, Robert Gebbia – Chief Executive Officer and Christine Moutier, M.D. – Chief Medical Officer.
“Suicide is one of our nation’s leading, yet preventable causes of death,” said Gebbia.
“We would like to congratulate our new National Board members for volunteering their time and passion to helping us fight suicide. As we strive to reduce the national suicide rate 20 percent by the year 2025, the board leaders’ work is imperative to helping us reach this bold goal.”