Most Saturdays, Baltimore clinical and counseling psychologist Grady Dale Jr., EdD, and his wife, Helen, can be found caring for an elderly neighbor or preparing to host one of their famous Sunday dinners where friends, colleagues and community advocates discuss ways to address local needs—be it HIV/AIDS, health disparities or community violence.
One dinner discussion, for example, led to the creation of a seminar aimed at helping caregivers cope with the stress of caring for an aging loved one. Based on that success, six months later, the Dales organized a five-day Bermuda cruise for 27 caregivers, which included morning workshops and discussion groups with gerontology experts.
These caregiver events are just two of more than a dozen Baltimore community forums Dale has hosted through the American Institute for Urban Psychological Services, a nonprofit education, research and community group he co-founded in 1992. By partnering with local media and churches, and neighborhood, city and state organizations, he is raising awareness of the psychological and substance abuse issues among Baltimore's underserved people and has made mental health treatment more accessible and acceptable among the city's black population.
"Psychologists aren't just here to be shrinks. They're here to become an integral part of the community," Dale says.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in New Jersey, Dale has spent most of his life in urban areas. As the eldest of eight children of a Pentecostal minister, he learned early on the importance of service. This background served him well when he moved to Baltimore in 1981, a time when many of the city's once-bustling neighborhoods faced urban decay and myriad social problems, including a high incidence of teen pregnancy, substance dependence and homicide.
"The city was in the throes of ne'er-do-well," Dale recalls. "Driving through streets of abandoned homes and deteriorated public housing, you could just see the difficulties."
Dale felt called to do more about the city's urban blight. So he set about building relationships with local religious organizations and city agencies to get a better sense of the area's deepest needs.
"There's this notion instilled in Grady from Scripture that 'to whom much is given, much is expected,' and he always takes that to heart," says Rodney Taylor, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and an AIUPS board member. "He understands that you don't necessarily need someone to come in and put together a city or county program to make progress on an issue."
In an effort to figure out where his skills and enthusiasm might be put to the best use, Dale went on a listening campaign. He attended neighborhood events and festivals, visited churches, bought air time on Baltimore-area black radio stations to encourage community members to call in and discuss their concerns and invited local leaders out for coffee to discuss solutions.
"I felt compelled to lend my ear to whoever would partner with me," Dale recalls. That's when he realized he couldn't address the city's challenges as a stand-alone psychologist: True change would require an ongoing community dialogue around the issues facing the black community. In 1984, the Dales sponsored the first of many community gatherings to do just that. Their first seminar focused on emotional wellness among black Christians.
"We've always approached our work as, 'Well, we don't know how many of these problems we can solve, but we can certainly bring them to the table and get people talking to one another,'" Dale says.
The forums—which are mainly funded through AIUPS with money from the Dales' own pockets—have gone on to attract nearly 200 participants each, spanning issues such as reducing child abuse and neglect in foster care, improving the physical and mental health of minority children and coping with violence-related grief and loss.
The events have helped citizens connect to needed health and social service agencies and humanized psychology. Grady Dale has also worked hard to educate the community about the importance of mental health by distributing literature to Baltimore area churches and libraries on topics such as the relationship between stress and hypertension. Dale says.
"A psychologist is no longer viewed as a person sitting in their office they go see for a problem," Dale says. "I'm a person who walks and talks in the community itself. They see me as a part of them rather than separate from them." In the same way he brought people together around caring for caregivers, in April, Dale—with support from Baltimore radio station WOLB—will host an "action conference" for community leaders, law enforcement officers and young people to discuss ways to reduce youth violence in the city. The Dales were prompted to begin pulling the event together after a series of violent juvenile homicides in November and December. Grady Dale says the enthusiasm he's already seen around building solutions to this issue demonstrates the city's strength and the resiliency of its neighborhoods.
"I'm just proud to be of service to the many wonderful people I've been blessed to work with over the years," he says.
Setting an example
Just as Dale has become a role model for his humanitarian efforts among the black community in Baltimore, he's also made a name for himself among psychologists, says Judy DeVito, executive director of the Maryland Psychological Association, who worked closely with Dale when he served as the organization's 2007–08 president.
His collaborative work garnered him a 2004 Outstanding Contributions to Psychology in Service to the Public award from the Maryland Psychological Association, as well as a 2008 APA Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Independent or Institutional Practice in the Private Sector. He also served as president of the Baltimore Psychological Association from 2000 to 2002.
"He's opened up our world a little bit by serving as an example," DeVito says. "There's just this element he brings of there's more to your life as a psychologist than worrying about the clinical aspects all the time. As important as clinical expertise is, there's a larger, societal purpose and good that you can do as a person with your skills."