Hrant Jamgochian

Position: The new executive director of Dialysis Patient Citizens, a membership organization for dialysis and pre-dialysis patients based in the District.

With grandparents who survived the Armenian genocide, Hrant Jamgochian was inspired to speak out against wrongdoing at an early age. He dove heavily into advocacy, whether concerning the environment, human rights or mental health. He discovered a passion for health while at the American Psychological Association and is now advocating for dialysis patients.

What makes you a skilled advocate?

Taking the facts and putting a human face on the issue to show the human cost and impact while at the same time having the actuarial analysis. This was often through mobilizing members to share their personal stories. When I was at the American Psychological Association, the members shared their personal stories about how they were denied access. It really resonated with policymakers and built momentum in the long run.

What is the biggest challenge about being an advocate?

Patience. Unfortunately it takes a long time to make the kind of changes that have that broad impact on people’s lives. By no means does that mean for any advocate to give up. It should only encourage one to continue. I’ve heard people say that advocacy is cumulative. You must keep pushing ahead with persistence and perseverance

Can you give an example of this?

At APA, we really helped move the bar on federal mental health parity legislation, getting almost 70 cosponsors in the Senate, but we weren’t able to pass it. I helped to generate dozens upon dozens of letters to the editor, wrote editorials, sent tens of thousands of letters to congressional offices, worked with state affiliates to pass mental health parity legislation in numerous states. The whole journey took more than 10 years until there was victory. There was definitely frustration. But look how long it took to pass the Civil Rights Act. Often the right things are not easy but you have to keep pushing ahead.

Which advocate has been most inspirational to your career?

Senator Ted Kennedy because he fought tirelessly, working in a bipartisan matter, to improve the quality of life for all Americans. He inspired me to never give up and to keep pushing. If I could do a fraction of what he was able to accomplish, I would consider myself a lucky individual.

— Interview with Vanessa Small