Honoring the Forgotten

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“I do not want a Black history month, because Black history is American history,” Morgan Freeman.

After all the events that transpired last year due to racism and failed leadership, I was not excited for Black history month. Until real change occurs on the policy level with meticulous oversight, the highlights are superficial at best. Keeping that ideology and framework, I decided to speak on people often forgotten in the recovery context. In my journey of twenty plus treatment facilities and fifteen psychiatric units, I have witnessed severe racial disparities among hiring practices. Even though many people of color were not given powerful opportunities, they still uplifted countless souls and remained a foundational part of my recovery. Allow my testimony to be a dedicated piece of thank you for so many that are often forgotten. People of color may not be the face of treatment, but I promise they are the light for many lost souls. 

Until my friend, mentor, and storyteller Gregg Williams of Third Horizon Strategies asked me, I had never realized the trauma endured during my treatment stays. Mr. Williams reached out amid all the protests last year with the hope of sharing my story. I was given the platform to divulge my journey and the racial inadequacies I endured while saving my life. The Alliance for Addiction Payment Reform comprises change agents in powerful positions devoting time, money, and effort to incentivizing recovery. I was offered a keynote speaking position with a blessed honorarium for my time. They not only listened but asked in-depth questions that will help them enact policy changes. Furthermore, they offered me to stay in the meeting and listen in on the changes being made. They have given me direct access, a seat at the table, and connected with me on social media. I am currently working with some of them on other projects as we speak. I am forever grateful for this event in awakening me to the realities of treatment and how racism runs rampant in this field. 

The first day I entered treatment, I found myself in the basement searching for clothes in the donation bins. My last run with alcohol and drugs led me to pick out underwear from a basement facility. At first, I was picking out clothing and gathering all I need for the duration of my stay. However, the staff tech assisting me, named Harold, kindly asked me if I would pick out underwear? Each day I look back, realizing that was the moment I hit rock bottom. Please understand how he guided me through that and treated me, truly began the process of saving my life. Immediately following this encounter, I was sent to the Pastor’s office, who was again a person of color. His spirit, care, and wisdom resonated within my soul that I felt extremely comfortable sharing deep secrets with him. He gave me the assignment to repeat three positive things a day in the mirror every morning. At first, I thought there was no way it could work; however, I was egregiously incorrect. Not only did it work, I still often practice it today with almost five blessed years of sobriety. After our visit, I met with the staff in the kitchen. I was greeted by a beautiful soul and person of color who helped in constructing my diet. As a side note, I grew up an only child with extreme allergies to many foods. Not to mention, I have been told by everyone who profoundly loves me that I have the pickiest palate for food. The cafeteria worker, who was also a female of color, sat with me and helped me go over my diet restrictions. She was kind, smart, and made me feel that I was important. I felt as if I was sitting at the table with my aunt, trying to get better. These experiences were all on my first day of treatment and set in motion a new beautiful life in recovery. 

The statistical data on people of color working as psychiatrists in treatment facilities is alarming. Hiring practices, educational opportunities, and the lack of power held by people of color in this field are some of the worst atrocities in American history. Due to America’s downtrodden behavior towards people of color, this particular field should be brimming with equality. Instead, my journey taught me that treatment is a microcosm of America. Where people of color are more likely to be seen and not heard in rooms of policymaking. I say not heard because not one person of color held positions of a board member, counselor, or psychiatrist position. Do they not realize the damage and message that it sends to a person of color trying to get sober wanting a better life? Where are the people that look like me? Why is everyone who holds a position of power the same race? Are we not qualified? Do we not count? Are the experiences we face as people of color every day not enough? Even in treatment facilities, we are underrepresented? Picture sitting in a circle as the only person of color, and everyone, including the counselor, is Caucasian. As a new person in recovery days after a deplorable run with drugs/alcohol, would you feel comfortable sharing your pain in that setting? Even if everyone in the room is holy, the optics are failed leadership at the highest levels. I often asked myself in treatment why are we only good enough for the cafeteria, staff tech, or Pastor?

Almost five years have gone by since my last inpatient stays in treatment. However, I visit now as a motivational speaker, and nothing much has changed. I am doing all I can as the Founder/CEO of The Message LLC by using my voice to enact change. Even though Harod, the Pastor, and the cafeteria worker never held a position of power, they unlocked the key to greatness for many souls. Each day they came to work with grace, wisdom, and a hunger to save lives. Their efforts are a fundamental reason for my success today. Their stories’ are shared with countless others nationwide who will never get their day in the sun. Thank you to all the underrepresented people of color in treatment that daily give their all to save lives. As a nation, we have failed you, but today you are not forgotten. Sleep well, knowing you have made your mark and deserve your rightful place in Black history month as we celebrate our heritage. You are the definition of excellence and the very essence of what Black history month truly means!

Frederick Shegog is the Founder/CEO The Message LLC, a motivational speaking organization, and is a person in recovery. He is a high honors graduate of Delaware County Community College with an Associate of Arts (AA) in Communication and Media Studies, he can be reached for services at www.themessagellc.com.

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