Zakiya Johnson with the Lift Every Voice and Speak Speakers Bureau

By Members of LEVS

This month, we’re shining a light on a program that’s built on sharing one’s story in order to empower others. Read on to learn about this amazing group and their work.

What is Lift Every Voice and Speak?

The Lift Every Voice and Speak speakers bureau is a community of individuals empowered to share personal stories of mental health experiences and wellness journeys. LEVS members share their stories of hope through speaking engagements and panels to future mental health providers, students, and at various community-based organizations throughout Alameda County. 

LEVS members come from diverse backgrounds, interests, talents, and aspirations. They have lived mental health experiences as well as perspectives on how to build and maintain wellness in our lives. We offer members opportunities to live, love, grow, educate and heal through telling personal stories in a warm, engaging, and supportive environment.  We work together to support each other’s efforts to develop our confidence and to share personal stories that educate, enlighten, and inspire ourselves and our communities about mental health.

Why is it important to talk about your mental health?

Sharing your story makes you stronger. Studies have shown that sharing difficult experiences with others results in improved health and well-being. Sharing these experiences in story form helps establish supportive bonds with other people. It also re-affirms positive values and reinforces lessons learned from life experiences.

Mental health challenges affect one in four of us yet people are still afraid to talk about it. For people with mental health challenges, not being able to talk about it can be one of the worst parts of the illness. So by getting people talking about mental health we can break down stereotypes, improve relationships, aid recovery and take the stigma out of something that affects us all.

My Time with LEVS by Portia Lee

I was introduced to LEVS by my late husband, a long-time member, in 2013. At the time the group was being facilitated by Zakiya and one other person. I immediately became a member.  I liked the closeness and openness of the group and was eager to learn skills about becoming a better speaker.  

In 2017,  soon after my husband’s death, I applied for and was hired in the reception position with PEERS. The other person left and I stepped in as a temporary support/facilitator with Zakiya. When the other person did not return from leave, I was offered the position of program assistant in 2018 and here I am. My journey is an example of my lived experience and hopes of recovery.

Additional Testimonials from our Members

Stephen – [Has been a member for ?] 5 years – Like Toastmasters but cost-free – [you just need the?] natural ability of gab. Ultimately the game is back on track. [There is] Power in my story to help someone else. City council – possible? Mayoral candidate.

Walter Callen – I have been a part of LEVS for 3 years. The work I do at LEVS is important to me because I get to share my story to inspire others and remind myself of my growth. What I love about being a part of LEVS is we are a family of love!

Cindy Kaufamn – I personally love the perpetuation of energy that this group and all the others we show up for create! Once the energy has been created, it continues on forever.

Veronica Alder – I have been a part of LEVS for 3 years. The work I do for LEVS brings light/life to my health and wellness on a daily basis. The more I grow in health/wellness the more I can share my story to support others…. Peers support.


LEVS invites you to join their group! If you are interested or simply want to learn more, reach out to Zakiya Johnson at zjohnson@peersnet.org.

You can also support LEVS this month by donating to the Socks, Coats, and Blankets Drive. They’re asking for donations of new adult socks, gently used coats, clothing and blankets, and flashlights and batteries.

The deadline to donate is Monday, November 29 and you can coordinate a drop-off or pick-up with Zakiya Johnson at zjohnson@peersnet.org.