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Bill Duke helps recognize leader in mental health services

The long term, indelible presence in Hollywood also enjoys release of new book

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ

Last week, actor and director Bill Duke and filmmaker William “Michael” Barbee attended the 23rd Annual “Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards” at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

Bill Duke, who starred in Barbee’s film “Beyond the Silence,” presented Barbee with the “Erasing the Stigma Leadership Award” for all he has done to erase the stigma of mental illness.

Barbee is an entrepreneur, mental health advocate and producer/writer/director of “Beyond the Silence,” a movie about how people are often incarcerated instead of treated for mental illness. Barbee, who credits treatment for his recovery from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a suicide attempt at age 20, is passionate about helping others with mental illness. He makes a point of hiring employees who live with mental illness and created a non-profit arm of his transportation company to help people with mental illness get to their counseling appointments. He has written two books with mental health themes, serves on the Mental Health Association of Essex County Board of Directors and was honored at the 2013 Governor’s Council on Mental Health. Barbee’s film is set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2019.

The “Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards” is an annual fundraiser for Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services is one of the nation’s leading providers of community mental health, substance use and suicide prevention services. Dedicated to serving communities where stigma or poverty limits access, the agency has been transforming lives for more than 75 years through its innovative and comprehensive approach to care. Today, Didi Hirsch helps more than 120,000 adults and children annually from 10 locations and nearly 100 schools in Southern California.

Didi Hirsch’s 60-year-old Suicide Prevention Center—the first and most comprehensive in the United States—celebrated the grand opening of its new home in Century City in February. The stand-alone building nearly doubles the number of people answering its  24/7 multilingual Crisis Line, a key member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and offers individual and family therapy for those who need more help than support groups can provide. Each year, the Center trains more than 10,000 students, teachers, faith-based groups, business people, and first responders on how to recognize and respond to warning signs. It is also developing certified training for mental health professionals to build a larger network of therapists who know how to aid people in a suicidal crisis. Learn more at

Duke, who is a prolific actor, also has a book out that chronicles his stage and screen careers. Dating back to the 1970s, Duke has appeared in a number of popular films, including “Car Wash,” “American Gigolo,” “Commando,” “Predator,” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” He is also an entrepreneur and humanitarian.

image1His book, “Bill Duke: My 40-Year Career on Screen and behind the Camera,” is the memoir of a Hollywood original. In an industry that rarely embraces artists of color, Duke first achieved success as an actor then turned to directing. After helming episodes of ratings giants “Dallas,” “Falcon Crest,” “Hill Street Blues,” and “Miami Vice,” Duke progressed to feature films like “A Rage in Harlem,” “Deep Cover,” “Hoodlum,” and “Sister Act 2.” In this candid autobiography, Duke recalls the loving but stern presence of his mother and father, acting mentors like Olympia Dukakis, and the pitfalls that nearly derailed his career, notably an addiction to drugs. Along the way, readers will encounter familiar names like Danny Glover, Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Whoopi  Goldberg.

From his Broadway debut in 1971 to the establishment of the Duke Media Foundation, which trains and mentors young filmmakers, Duke has been breaking the rules of what it means to triumph in the entertainment industry. Recalling pivotal moments in his life, “Bill Duke: My 40-Year Career on Screen and behind the Camera” is the story only Bill Duke could tell.

Bill Duke and Michael Colyar
BILL DUKE (left) and Chicago native, comedian Michael Colyar, enjoy a moment at a recent book signing for Duke’s book “Bill Duke: My 40-Year Career on Screen and Behind the Camera.”

The Crusader reached out to Duke, and he shared some thoughts on his career, which I’m sure he also covers in his book. “I experienced several challenges as a Black actor in Hollywood. I remember how happy I was to report to work as a director on the TV show Dallas,” Duke said. “I pulled up to the gate of the studio where the show was being shot, wearing a suit and tie, with my briefcase in tow and driving a nice car. So, when I pulled up to the guard at the front gate, I rolled the window down. And the security guard says to me: ‘Who are you delivering for?’ I looked at his face, and as I say in my book, I wanted to say: ‘I want to deliver a can of whip ass to you because of what you just said to me,’ but I didn’t say that.” Duke continued about how he really delivered a sermon to the guard on that day. “So, I took a moment and then I looked at him and said: There must be some misunderstanding. I am the first Black director on ‘Dallas,’ and I am delivering my talent to the show, and they hired me to do so.  So, open the gate!”

And although this encounter may have started off as a challenge for Duke, it ended up all in his favor—and can be noted in a flush career that has spanned decades. “The most rewarding thing was the gasp from the guard as I drove through the gate,” Duke said.

For more information about Bill Duke and his book, which is available on Amazon books and as an audible book, visit

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.” For book info, [email protected]

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