With more than 20 years as a political reporter and a career that boasts several firsts, there wasn’t a story too intimidating for NY1’s “Inside City Hall” host Dominic Carter. Among those firsts are exclusive interviews with former South African president Nelson Mandela, and Caroline Kennedy revealing her interest in running for New York state’s Senate seat. But it is only recently that the veteran journalist was able to share his most difficult story: As a child, he was sexually and physically abused by his mother. His mistreatment is chronicled in his 2007 book No Momma’s Boy (iUniverse, Inc., $19.95)

Growing up in a Bronx, New York housing project, Carter was aware that his mother, Laverne Carter, was absent from his life for months—sometimes more than a year at a time. His grandmother, Anna Pearl Carter (known as “Ma”), stepped in to raise him. One night when Carter was 7, under his mother’s care, he was called to her room. Laverne asked him to touch her breasts, thighs and between her legs, while she fondled his penis. Other than telling his wife, prior to their marriage, what happened, and his grandmother and a judge during a custody trial, Carter kept the one incident of sexual abuse to himself.

“The impact it had on me was one of tremendous shame. You know instinctively the moment you’ve been sexually abused that something terrible and bad has happened and not to tell a soul,” Carter tells Real Health.

While some victims of abuse lead isolated lives filled with violence, promiscuity and drugs, Carter chose a different path. He earned a B.A. in journalism from the State University of New York at Cortland and attended graduate school at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. He hoped to become one of the country’s top political anchors.

Eventually, Carter married his college sweetheart, Marilyn, and had two children. (The couple has been together for 30 years.). Outwardly, Carter was a success, despite harboring the traumatic secrets of his childhood. Inside, however, he was in pain. Carter refused to allow his mother into his life and rejected several attempts by his wife and mother-in-law to effect a reconciliation. “My mom never got to be a part of my success and that’s the way I wanted it, “ says Carter.

Then, in 2001, Carter’s mother died. Two years later, he requested her medical records from Mount Sinai hospital and learned that she too carried a deep dark secret. The 620-page record revealed that doctors had diagnosed Laverne Carter as a paranoid schizophrenic. Since the age of 15, her mental illness had caused her to be hospitalized, wrapped in straight jackets and endure electric shock therapy.

“It was when I received those records that I forgave her in my heart,” says Carter. “I didn’t realize the power of forgiveness because, once I forgave her, I started feeling better about myself.”

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 2 million American adults suffer from schizophrenia, a challenging medical illness that can hinder a person’s ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, manage emotions, make decisions and think clearly. While the illness is manageable and treatable through peer support groups, hospitalization and antipsychotic medication, statistics indicate that, due to fear and misconceptions, African Americans often wait until the illness is fully advanced before seeking help.

“The stigma comes from several places, including television and newspapers,” explains MaJose Carrasco, NAMI’s Director of Multicultural Action Center. “[The media] highlights situations where people with mental illness have committed some type of crime or violent act when, in reality, most are often the victims rather than the victimizers.”

Understanding that African-Americans tend to rely on faith-based communities for guidance and support, NAMI developed Sharing Hope: Understanding Mental Health, an outreach initiative for African-American congregations, to help decrease stigma and increase awareness about mental health recovery. As another resource for African-American families, the organization offers a booklet titled A Family Guide To Mental Health: What You Need to Know that includes real-life stories and a glossary defining psychological illnesses, symptoms, and treatment options.

To begin his healing process, Carter sought counseling and decided to share the truth about his mother’s mental illness and his abusive past. In 2007, he released his critically-acclaimed memoir No Momma’s Boy and served as the grand marshal for NAMI-NYC Metro’s first annual walkathon. The event assists the organization in to provide their programs free of charge. With firsthand knowledge of how deep the stigma of mental illness and sexual abuse is within the black community, Carter now travels the country as a mental health advocate. His goal is to encourage others to break free of denial and seek help.

“It’s only after I came forward with this publicly that I started to feel that I could breathe; it’s like 800 pounds have been lifted from my soul,” says Carter.

 A Family Guide To Mental Health: What You Need to Know can be downloaded or ordered here. To request a copy of the Sharing Hope: Understanding Mental Health outreach and education toolkit, send an e-mail request to SharingHope@nami.org.