A therapist who sparked a nationwide conversation about patient dumping after capturing on video a distraught woman who was put out of a Baltimore hospital in just a flimsy hospital gown has died.
Imamu Baraka, 47, died Thursday after a long bout with cancer, his mother said Tuesday.
The Baltimore psychotherapist caused an internet flurry when he found the woman outside of the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown campus in January. He recorded the woman in a video posted to Facebook and called for help in an effort to bring attention to what he called the mistreatment of the mentally ill.
The woman, whose family later identified her only as Rebecca, had a history of mental illness.
Baraka’s mother, Glenda Smith, said she wasn’t surprised when she started getting calls at the time about the video. Smith said her son was compassionate and liked to help people. He wanted to dispel the stigma that surrounds mental illness and get more African-Americans to seek treatment, Smith said.
“He cared about people,” Smith said from her home in Annapolis, the city where Baraka grew up. “That’s just who he was from the heart.”
His nephew, Cortez Washington, said Baraka took him under his wing and taught him life skills, including how to manage his money.
“He really taught me how to be a man,” said the 24-year-old who lives in Glen Burnie.
As a child, Baraka was unlike the other kids — more serious and always reading a book, his mother said. The other kids wore backpacks and jeans. Baraka carried a briefcase and wore Italian-style sweaters.
“I always felt he was going to be somebody one day,” she said.
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Baraka became well known after posting the video, but Smith said he didn’t do it for attention for himself.
“He said, ‘Mommy. I just couldn’t walk away. They treated her as if she wasn’t human,’” Smith said.
Rebecca was taken back to the hospital that night Baraka called 911. Because of the incident, University of Maryland, whose leadership apologized for what happened, was cited by federal regulators. The hospital replaced its CEO and other leadership and made changes to discharge protocols after the incident.
On Tuesday, Smith dug through a stack of framed certificates her son, always trying to better himself, had earned over the years. There were certificates for HIV counseling and even event planning. Her son was a private person and she hadn’t realized all that he had mastered over the years.
Before he died, Baraka had plans to start a magazine and expand his counseling practice, Smith said.
“I just hope people continue what he started in bringing attention to mental illness,” she said.
There will be a memorial service for Baraka at 6 p.m. Friday at First Christian Community Church in Annapolis.