Wake Up, America: I am African-American and in Recovery
Being black in America and recovery should not be a double edge sword. For years, mental health and substance use disorder funding have disproportionately affected people of color.
Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Ahmaud Arbery all share a common bond: unaddressed systemic racial inequality in our society. These are all people of color whose lives were taken by the very people sworn to protect and serve. I am a citizen in this system but also a person in recovery. For years the healthcare system and, in particular, mental health/substance use disorder funding disproportionately affected people of color. Being both African-American and in recovery, I now understand what Langston Hughes meant in his poem “Beaumont to Detroit: 1943.” Hughes stated, “How long I got to fight both HITLER-AND JIM CROW.”
By default, I am a very optimistic person. In large part, because of Christian upbringing, it leads me to focus on soul and character rather than pigment of skin. My circle of friends is full of a cast of characters who feel society has cast out as odd. They are all from different backgrounds and carry different perspectives on life. Growing up, I always wanted to believe in everyone and felt we all have gifts. As I have gotten older, I truly believe in the methodology of two brains being better than one.
However, my beliefs and lifestyle are not a symbol of what America has allowed for generations. I continue to hear that racial injustices are just a few bad apples left. Regularly I hear, “Freddy, you see that Obama was elected. See, this country has truly changed. We are not racist like we used to be.” I wanted to believe that myself; however, I find myself typing this while watching buildings burn from racial pain. I see peaceful protesters being tear-gassed in front of the White House. I see another African-American family crying out to America for help because they now must bury their loved one. I see another African-American daughter who will be without her father. I stopped pondering the ideals of a few bad apples left and realized the reality. Think of it in this sense. If you have a freshly picked basket of fruit, you will check to make sure they are all good. How many rotten fruits until you throw the whole bushel away? America, it is time to wake up and address racial inequality so no one shall live in fear.
I am black before I am a human being in America. My degree and talent is only a credit card to get in the door. Being allowed through the door and being accepted are two different things. Even though I travel the country uplifting student bodies and teaching about substance use disorder, being black is overrides any accolade.
I knew my life had changed when the racist vernacular became different. Before education, the words of “nigger” or “coon” were the majority of racial slurs thrown in my direction. I once asked a guy what I did wrong, and he said, “You were born black.” I now travel the country as a motivational speaker providing speaking services to different institutions. At these events, it is commonplace to be told “You are one of the good ones,” or asked, “How long did you smoke crack?” I realized that I was no longer a “nigger” in their eyes; I was one of the good boys. Quickly I had to learn how to navigate these waters and hold my emotions in check. Upon checking, I realized my Caucasian colleagues experienced nothing like this. It reminded me that I am black before I am a human being in America. My degree and talent is only a credit card to get in the door. Being allowed through the door and being accepted are two different things. Even though I travel the country uplifting student bodies and teaching about substance use disorder, being black is overrides any accolade. America now that you hear my problem, let me offer you a solution!
I currently have a post on LinkedIn that has over 84,000 views. This post was my immediate thought upon graduation of my Associate’s Degree. It reads:
After 15 rehabs, 20 psych units, countless shelters, recovery houses, homelessness, and eating out of a dumpster…By Gods Grace and mercy today, I graduated from Delaware County Community College! To everyone who believed and supported me, I am forever grateful and thankful for your prayers. I leave as a national scholar, multiple scholarships, published writer, owner of an LLC motivational speaking company, and graduate with 3.71 high honors. My whole life, I thought I was stupid, unworthy, and overall just settling in life. However, God raised me, and sobriety changed my life. There is a stigma in this world about addiction and mental illness. Let today be hope for someone struggling. It is not how you start; it is how you finish. My mother told me if she died tomorrow, she can finally go to her grave and sleep well. This graduation is the content for the student bodies I address. Every time I speak, the blessings are for them! These youth need to hear how they can be anything they want if they are willing to work hard. Today is not just a win for me; it is a win for anyone who needs hope! The Message LLC is built on three fundamental principles: Inspire, Educate, and Create Healthy lifestyles for all!
I believe my post went viral because my story is the change we need to see. America, my life offers the solution to the problems we currently face. I am the story of hope mixed with love. I was able to achieve all those great things with a village full of color. That color starts with a Caucasian fiancee who believed in me before I believe in myself. A team of Caucasian women who love me as their son, knowing my past is full of homelessness and dumpster diving. They never judged me on my past but rather uplifted me for my future. They pray for my mother and genuinely ask about her well-being without even meeting her. I am blessed to have found a group of people opposite my color who love me as a black man. What is taking America so long? When I visited the Holocaust museum and the African-American museum, the country was in turmoil. I realized we honestly had not learned enough. We need to have these uncomfortable conversations and put systems in place to achieve togetherness. Legislation must be passed along with an overhaul of the educational system. There must be a cohesiveness from all races with oversight to garner correct results.
I do not want my village to be the exception of the black experience in America. Being black in America and recovery should not be a double edge sword.
Unfortunately, I realize my life is not the typical village for most African-American males, especially those in long-term recovery. I want America to wake up and focus on the solution. For decade upon decade, we continue to have this conversation, and yet progress is minimal. I do not want my village to be the exception of the black experience in America. I want my story and life to be the norm. I want the youth to learn from my mistakes and also see that color is not the soul. Being black in America and recovery should not be a double edge sword. Instead, it should be a symbol of hope. America, please wake up and accept all people of color because the next generation is watching!