Empowerment by Design: CCC Celebrates Black History Month & the Imani Center

Feb 23, 2017

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern!

We are thankful for occasions like Black History Month to intentionally set aside time to celebrate and reflect on the richness and depth of Black history and culture.

As an agency, we also aim to daily honor the strength, resilience, creativity, and joy that are core to the African American experience. A primary way we do that is through CCC’s Imani Center program, which offers culturally specific and responsive outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services, peer support, and case management.

Based out of the historic Golden West Hotel building—itself a significant part of Portland’s Black history—the Imani Center is a prime example of a community using knowledge of its members’ histories and needs to help its own.

According to Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services, Black clients of mainstream mental health and addiction treatment programs often face unique barriers to their recovery success. “When African American clients come in with different experiences and different perspectives and they try to fit the client into that [mainstream treatment] curriculum, there’s often some tension there.”

But at the Imani Center, we provide Afrocentric services. All mental health and addiction counselors, as well as the peer support specialists, identify as African American; several have longstanding ties to the Portland area. Clients can feel like they are in a safe place. Here, they can talk about the impact of racism and discrimination knowing the staff understand firsthand what they’re talking about because of the staff’s collective experience.

“We know how it goes and we know how it feels,” Linda says. “We the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are. We can share with clients how they might be able to navigate [their recovery] and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.” There is an understanding that the Imani Center's services explore the meaning of being Black in America and how it impacts one’s recovery. There is also an understanding that the Black self is deeply entrenched with the collective experience. (Bassey, 2007)

During the listening and planning process that preceded the Imani Center, CCC heard the African American community say that they valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Today, between Imani Center’s eight-person staff, there are three Masters of Social Work degrees, three Certified Alcohol and Drug Counseling credentials, three Certified Recovery Mentor credentials, and three Qualified Mental Health Professional designations. While those qualifications are impressive, Linda says that they send a message. “We need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving.”

So while innovative counseling approaches and a full slate of group sessions drive much of the change that Imani Center clients see in themselves, much of their success comes from seeing themselves reflected in the make-up of the staff. This empowerment is by design. Addiction and mental health recovery, as well as educational and professional achievements, seem so much more possible when one can readily picture themselves in the shoes of an Imani staff member who has walked that path ahead of them.

Each day, the Imani staff reaches back to pull other members of the Portland African American community up with them. They understand what their clients are experiencing; now, they’re committed to helping their clients experience the empowering freedom that comes along with recovery.

• • •

The Imani Center is accepting new clients. If you know someone who may benefit from talking with a counselor who will listen on a regular basis and offer compassionate support, please pass on this information about the Imani Center.

Anyone can schedule an eligibility screening by contacting the Imani Center at 503-226-4060 or Imanicenter@ccconcern.org.

Black History Month: What Do Imani Center Clients Say?

Feb 24, 2016

Over the course of Black History Month, we’ve heard from a number of exceptional people involved with the Imani Center, Central City Concern’s new Afrocentric mental health and addictions treatment program. In our final installment of our Black History Month blog series, we hear firsthand from Imani Center clients who have been impacted by the program’s culturally relevant services.

• • •

“It’s been great to be at Imani Center. Every other treatment program I’ve been in, I’ve had to wear a mask to get through. This is the first place I can come, be honest, and not get locked up.” –Eric C.

“I like when I can release how I’m feeling with my peers. I like the different groups. It helps me and is a positive influence on me. This has provided a positive atmosphere for me.” –Michael C.

“I was pointed in the right direction by an Imani Center Peer Specialist and it’s turning out to be all they said it would be.” –Jeff G.

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste and without Imani, I would be doing the same thing… going down the wrong path. This is a different place and I really appreciate y’all. When you mess up you don’t feel like you got caught; I can just focus on what I need to work on.” –Olty S.

“To work with people who have had the same struggle as me is very powerful.” –Anonymous

“At first I was reluctant, but I’ve been so impressed by the staff. Seeing our people come together in unity makes me feel so comfortable. I have seen genuine concern for my welfare, which speaks volumes to me.” –Anthony S.

“The Imani experience has been priceless due to me being able to access services without being enrolled, which gave me a foundation. It is clear to me they want me to succeed and I carry it on a daily basis.” –Robert L.

Black History Month: Hear from the Peers at Imani

Feb 18, 2016

In last week’s two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1, Part 2), CCC’s Director of African American Services, emphasized the importance of Imani’s three peer support specialists and the special relationship they foster with clients in need of guidance in their recovery from addiction and behavioral health challenges. In today’s Black History Month blog post, we hear directly from the three Imani Center peer support specialists—Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson—about how they view their work.

• • •

Walter: For me, being a Peer Service Specialist at Imani means that I have an opportunity to help my people rebuild their lives from the ground up, and give them hope and encouragement to achieve a better life.

I think that I have a plethora of things I bring to this position, but mainly my experience of once being a hopeless dope fiend. Thankfully, over time I realized I was lost and broken and I finally asked for help. Since I surrendered to getting help, I’ve been recreated into a dope-less hope fiend!

I joined Imani because I wanted a challenge to bring my skill set to a new program that I know can be an impact in the Portland community. I love seeing people change lives and find success. We meet clients where they’re at in life. We won’t give up on people and our team at the Imani Center takes great pride in providing the best care, services and support networks that we can to help clients realize they can feel safe, and they can feel supported and cared for.

Bonnie: Being a peer Support Specialist at Imani means so much to me. Being in recovery now for 25 years myself, I feel that I have so much life experience when it come to this kind of work. I totally understand the many challenges clients struggle with even when they get clean.

I have spent many years working in and around recovery; I started doing this work in 1992! I'm a certified alcohol and drug addiction counselor and I always knew I wanted to do this work.

But I really wanted to come from behind the desk as a counselor and be on the front line helping people, meeting people where they were at. I was a Family Involvement Team (FIT) Case Manager for six years and remember how rewarding the work was watching people and families heal. So I recently got certified as Peer Mentor, and here I am.

I think Imani is special because we are a culturally specific program and we understand our clients’ many struggles as it relates to being misunderstood for so long. A recent client told me, “I’ve never seen a program like this. This is what we needed: someone to listen and to support us." Since the word has been out about Imani, we’ve been swamped with clients trying to get in. Imani means faith, and they sure have faith in us.

Richie: I feel fortunate and blessed with this opportunity to be a peer service specialist at the Imani Center and to serve people doing something that I love. We work together with a common goal and with our clients in mind.

I’m in the second term of my drug and alcohol addiction counseling certification cohort and will be starting my practicum soon. I’ve got my Certified Recovery Mentor certification and firsthand experience in the field. All that while also being in recovery myself gives me a unique perspective to support our clients’ needs and help them learn new tools for their own recovery.

I wanted to be a part of Imani because it has a great foundation in Central City Concern and the great work CCC does in the community. Between the clinicians and the peer service specialists, and with [Director of African American Services] Linda Hudson leading us, Imani has extraordinary staff with great credentials. I feel confident Imani will be provide successful outpatient services.


Black History Month: Q&A With Linda Hudson (Part 2)

Feb 11, 2016

Today we share Part 2 of our Q&A session with Linda Hudson, Director of African American Services. The conversation touches on the paramount important of peer services, her personal connection to the word “imani,” and the feeling of history in the Golden West Hotel where the Imani Center is based. You can read Part 1 here. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ÿ• • •

What services are offered at the Imani Center to African American clients?
The Imani Center offers outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services through both group and individual counseling. We do facilitated groups for cultural healing and criminality, or relapse prevention, groups just for women, and so on. We provide case management and help people develop life skills. We engage with patients at Hooper Detox and bring them into the fold of services.

We also have peer services, which I believe is one of the most important aspects of our program.

Why are peer services so important? What do peer services at the Imani Center look like?
Traditionally in treatment you come in, you go to group or you do an individual session with your counselor, and that’s pretty much it. After that, you go out in the world and you’re pretty much on your own to navigate and find resources. Trying to come out of a life of addiction and drugs and crime and all those things, and perhaps living with behavioral health issues on top of that, and just trying to figure out how to do this clean and sober life and all you’re expected to do along with it—that’s incredibly hard.

But with a peer attached to you when you walk out the door of the Imani Center, the client has someone saying things to them like “I’ll meet you at the meeting” or “I’ll come and get you to help you move” or “I’ll take you to the clothes closet.” That’s what our peers do.

The work of our three Peer Service Specialists is largely done outside the clinic setting. They wrap around the client in both mental health matters and addictions and support them in navigating the scary world of trying to stay in recovery and trying to change their lives. When a client walks daily with someone who they can call when they’re in a crisis or can meet them at a meeting or they can take you to the grocery store in the afternoon, it just makes all the difference. Our clients really benefit from it.

The three Imani peer specialists also have similar life experiences. They’ve earned the right to say, “I get it. I understand. I know what you’re saying.” Because of that, the clients almost listen to them more compared to a counselor may not have that firsthand experience of addictions or mental health difficulties.

Aside from the peer mentors, what other ways does the Imani Center emphasize relationships?
African Americans are relational people. We have family that isn’t blood. We’ve grown up taking other people into our homes. What makes family is acceptance and respect. Sitting around, breaking bread together…

If you sat here [in our lobby] for an hour, you’d see clients come in and the peers interact with them like family. It comes down to I see you, I hear you, I honor you. That’s how it is.

And we speak to them with respect. Looking them in the face and shaking their hand and hugging when we can. We strive to create an atmosphere like a family but with boundaries, of course. And because of that relationship, we can often say things to them that others can’t, and they hear it. Because of the cultural connection that we have, we have an understanding, and we can hear each other better.

What does it mean to you to be based in the historic Golden West Hotel ?
It wasn’t the plan originally! When we were looking for a place to put Imani, I knew we couldn’t be in a place where we couldn’t be ourselves. So off-handedly I suggested the Golden West and that idea gained support quickly!

The building itself makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. It means a lot for people to know that this is where African Americans stayed in the 20s and 30s. People who worked on the railroads stayed here, this was the only place they had. There was a thriving Black community here. There were businesses and barbershops here.

Right in this hotel, right down there, that was the gambling area, it was one of the largest gambling halls around. And they had music recitals here. I love the history.

It still needs some work, but thankfully renovations are coming soon. 

I heard that you really pushed for this program to be named the “Imani Center.” Why?
It’s personal. When we were trying to figure out a name for this program, I had several ideas. But I wanted the name to, numbers one, mean something. Two, I didn’t want an acronym. [laughs] But I wanted it to mean something to not just me, but also the clients—something they could relate to.

So you know that “imani” means “faith” in Swahili. Without faith, our people would not still be around… striving, thriving, trying to get better, and holding on. Faith was a thing that was ingrained in us as children growing up. We saw our parents and grandparents worshipping in the church and such, always talking about having faith. “Have faith in God. Have faith in this, have faith in that.”

It’s one of those words that feels like a foundation for me. Faith is the foundation of all things we hope for and wish for. So when we had about two or three options, the staff—they helped me choose— they all liked the word “Imani” because it was about faith.

I want the clients to have something to remind them to have faith in themselves first. We speak a lot about higher powers in here, in a power greater than yourself. Having faith that things are going to turn out right. So if they have faith in themselves, and faith in us as clinicians and as people who care about them, that means there’s faith in Central City Concern, too. So that’s why Imani came about.

And I wanted it to be Imani Center instead of Program because I want our people to have access to the same things other people do within all of CCC. The center can be a hub for a lot more of those services for African Americans and people of color in the future. If it’s the center, that means we’re a hub, and we want to be on the hook for doing a lot more.

Black History Month: Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1)

Feb 09, 2016

We continue our Black History Month series introducing the Central City Concern Imani Center with a two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services. Last week’s post introduced the roots of the Imani Center. In part one of our interview, Linda shares more about the unique experiences many African Americans encounter in mainstream treatment programs, how the Imani Center breaks through them to enhance their clients’ chances of recovery success, and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ÿ• • •

Part of the purpose of the Imani Center was to provide services that address barriers “uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream [treatment] programs.” Can you talk a little bit more about those barriers are?
One of the main things we see is the effect of treatment curriculum taught in many traditional programs, which has been created and maintained from the viewpoint of the dominant culture. So when an African American patient comes in with different experiences and different perspectives, and they try to fit the client into that curriculum, there’s often some tension there. If it doesn’t relate to the individual, or if they have a difficult time understanding it, they get labeled as “resistant” or “not a good fit.”

Or if an African American person enters treatment with a background of trauma—and so many African Americans carry the trauma of discrimination and racism—it’s easy to get triggered. A lot of those curricula and even treatment staff don’t have that cultural lens to understand that the client has had some horrible history that they may continue to carry every single day. So a person with consistent trauma can get triggered very easily.

An African American client might enter a treatment program, perhaps loud and boisterous with a lot of PTSD and trauma, and they’ll probably make people in the group uncomfortable. They’ll get labeled as aggressive, so they don’t do well in treatment. Black people in treatment get kicked out of programs more often and they don’t graduate as often. Many African Americans encounter this in traditional, predominantly white, treatment programs.

How does the Imani Center avoid those barriers?
A lot of our clients have never been able to sit in a treatment program and really be themselves: say the things that they would love to say the way they want to express it. At the Imani Center, clients don’t have to feel like they need to use the perfect vernacular, to choose their words. Here, they can say things the way they want to, and we can understand it and work with them. And of course, we can work on refining some things to get their needs met if they want that.

At the Imani Center, clients are allowed to be who they are in a safe place. They get to talk about racism and discrimination, and they’re talking with staff who understand what they’re talking about. We’ve been there ourselves. We know how it goes and we know how it feels. And we the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are; we can share with clients how they might be able to navigate it and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.

And I want to be clear that traditional programs are in no way bad. They are absolutely necessary. But some of our people just haven’t been set up for success in those environments, and we’re hoping to change some of that and help them heal in ways that they can start getting their needs met in an appropriate manner and understand how to navigate through the system.

Who are the faces behind the Imani Center?
I’m the director of African American services. Joanna Smith is our lead mental health counselor. JoAnna and I are the only Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP) at this time. We have recently hired another QMHP who will be on board soon. Yvette Davis is an Addiction and Mental Health Counselor, and Jammie Trimble is a Mental Health Counselor. Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson are our three peer support specialists. Karen Fahie, the Imani Center Office Manager, keeps everything organized and running smoothly.

We heard from Sonja Ervin in last week’s post that during the planning process, the African American community voiced that they greatly valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Aside from the lived experiences, there is a high level of education under the Imani Center roof. What message does that send? How does that aid in what the Imani Center hopes to be?
Yeah, people sure do want those credentials behind your name! [laughs]

Joanna, Yvette, and I all have Master of Social Work degrees. Joanna and I are Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP), which means we can do mental health assessments and diagnose. Yvette is also a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor which means she is credentialed to perform alcohol and drug assessments. I’m dually credentialed, which means I can do both mental health and addiction assessments. Jammie and Yvette both are Qualified Mental Health Associates, which means they can work with mental health clients, but not diagnose. Jammie will be taking the Oregon Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) test shortly.

The three peers support specialists have gone through the extensive Certified Recovery Mentor training. Walter and Bonnie are former counselors. Walter is also a Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) and Bonnie, a CADC l. Richie is currently enrolled in an A&D counseling program. And they all have firsthand experience to varying extents with addictions and mental health struggles.

My goal is to get everyone dually credentialed. Nowadays you don’t find many people struggling with just one disorder. They’re so often co-occurring: mental health and addictions. Most mental health clients use drugs to self-medicate; most people who use drugs develop mental health disorders. We have to be able to work with both at the same time. You can’t work with one and then the other. It’s called integrated treatment. And along with our CCC primary care clinic, most of our clients are getting the best of the best care.

As treatment program staff, we need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving. I encourage our staff to take care of themselves. Stay home if you’re sick. Take time off when you need it. Working with our clients is challenging. The disease of addiction and mental health disorders are so complex and we need to be at our best.

That’s why I’m so grateful that we were able to create the Imani Center. It’s not a traditional program. We do individualized treatment. We do it according to what the client needs. What does he need? Oh, he needs to be in the MH group and the criminality group. What does she need? She needs to be in the women’s group and the relapse prevention group. All based on their needs and history.

Aside from not having had success in traditional treatment programs, is there a “typical” profile of a person coming to Imani? What makes someone a good fit for Imani?
I don’t know how to answer that… there are so many types of people who come here!

The big thing is if they are willing and able to show up and do the work. We don’t sugarcoat anything here. We’re going to do work here. This is an alcohol and drug addiction and mental health clinic. Someone who is tired of doing things the way they’ve normally done because it’s not working for them. Let us show you a different way of getting your needs met. You also need to be able to get along with others. We have a complex group of people. We empower and encourage people to monitor themselves.

Many years ago when I started in this field, the word “manipulation” would be thrown around so much about clients. “They’re manipulative. They’re manipulating.” But if I needed to get my needs met, I need to get my needs met! Addiction is a very selfish disease and in many ways, mental health issues are not far from that. And if you constantly label people manipulative, you can’t empower them to be better.

So we do not use that word as it pertains to clients here. Instead, I encourage my staff to think of people trying to get their needs met the best way they know how until they learn how to do it differently! That means they have to unlearn all the things that they have learned on the streets and through criminality, and then learn a different way. And that takes a long time to do.

But if you’re willing and able and you and show up and get along with others, then we can work with you.

Ÿ• • •

Part two of the Q&A with Linda Hudson will be posted on Thursday.

Black History Month: The Roots of Imani

Feb 01, 2016

February is Black History Month, and Central City Concern is excited to celebrate this important and valuable observance. Last year on the blog, we featured several reflections on the equity and culturally specific work taking place at CCC. This year, we are thrilled to honor Black History Month by introducing you to the Imani Center, a new CCC program that offers African American-centered mental health and addictions services. Each week throughout the month we’ll share a different facet of the Imani Center’s story. Our first post comes from Sonja Ervin, our Director of Cultural Equity, who shares why and how the Imani Center came to be.

Ÿ• • •

We wanted to do more. We wanted to do better.

Central City Concern demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that everyone we serve through our addiction treatment, healthcare, housing, and employment services feels a part of the CCC community. We also recognize that we can and should strive to do better. That desire to do and be better resides at all levels of the CCC community; just as importantly, CCC recognizes that authentic change and improvement must be driven by those who “own the experience.”

People of color face stunning disparities in health and socioeconomic wellness in Multnomah County as reported upon last year in the Report Card on Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Central City Concern wants to play a role in addressing such disparities.

With the desire to do better, and the wisdom to understand that those who own the experience must drive the process, in fall 2014, CCC’s Executive Director asked a group of our African American staff and community members (many who have lived experience in poverty, homelessness, addictions and treatment) to come together to talk about how CCC can do more and do better for those we serve from the African American community.

We got together and talked about experiences, opportunities and challenges. We looked at what was offered—at CCC and in the community—and where the gaps were. What do we as the African American community need? How should it be provided?

What did we hear? Essentially, our community was seeking culturally specific leadership, treatment, and support services that address the barriers that are uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream programs.

One meeting led into months of work to develop recommendations, a plan and a proposal to combine current programs with expanded resources to create a comprehensive program for African Americans by African Americans.

Between the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of the African American community, the agency’s commitment to listening to and serving the community better, and the support of partners like Multnomah County, an idea—now fully realized as Central City Concern’s Imani Center—took root and began to grow.

In August 2015, Linda Hudson, a longtime CCC employee with deep experience in behavioral health service, as well as culturally specific programs serving the African-American community such as The Real Program, African American Health Coalition and the OHSU Avel Gordly Center for Healing, was selected as the Director of African American Services and hiring of staff began.

The Imani Center has been serving clients experiencing disproportionate barriers to reaching a higher potential since November 16, 2015. The Imani Center has already seen the culturally specific approach to addiction and behavioral health treatment make a difference in those being served.

The program name “Imani” means “faith” in Swahili. This name was chosen to provide participants and CCC with a foundation of faith—faith in our services and our agency, and for the participants’ faith in themselves. We look forward to continuing the work of empowering and supporting the needs of the African American community.


Black History Month Series: Addressing Housing Needs

Feb 27, 2015

On any given night, nearly 3,000 people in Multnomah County—including parents with children—are grappling with homelessness. They are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. They may be sleeping under bridges or in cars. They may be staying with friends or in emergency shelters.

The causes of homelessness are complex. Untreated mental illness, substance abuse, chronic illness, physical disability, domestic violence, and job loss usually play a role. Inadequate access to health care, cuts to social services, and an increasingly tight rental market make matters worse for people who can’t or won’t turn to friends and family for help.

The situation is especially dire for families and people of color who are newly in recovery from addiction and want to live in a housing environment that supports their recovery process. Currently, many families must wait a full year before receiving a referral for affordable housing that includes critically important on-site support services. Very few organizations provide culturally specific services for people of color, an historically underserved part of our community.

In July, Central City Concern and Miracles Club will break ground on new construction of a 47-unit apartment building for individuals and families. The building will be located in a Northeast Portland neighborhood that was home to many African Americans in the 1950s and 60s; services will include culturally-specific peer mentoring. Guardian Real Estate Services is overseeing project development and building completion is expected in Fall 2016.

The $12.7 million project has received strong support from the Portland Housing Bureau as well as private funders. Central City Concern continues to engage in fundraising efforts to fill a gap of roughly $350,000 on this project. The agency is also working to raise another $200,000 to build additional units of affordable family housing over the next two years.

Black History Month Series: Words of Wisdom

Feb 23, 2015

Throughout the month, we've heard from Central City Concern's Director of Cultural Equity, Over-Representation Program Case Manager, and Cultural Healing through Recovery Program Manager, all of whom happen to be women. For today's Black History Month series entry, we asked several male African American staff members for words of wisdom and inspiration based on their own journeys. 

• • 

“Be kind and fair to all; you never know what other people are going through.” - Leonard B.

“Because I have witnessed the Watts riots first hand, shoot outs between police and Black Panthers, school riots, gang riots, police harassment, the legal system, and personal setbacks, I have had to readjust my thinking about society and my place in it numerous times. I’ve found that you can continue to grow and make a new place for yourself, and by doing that you can continue to experience achievements and successes. Never give up on yourself. Remember that ‘It ain’t over until it’s over.’” - Kas C.

“A mistake is not an error until you refuse to correct it. And remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’” - Reginald S.

“Be more kind than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” – Tyrone R.

“Listening is a skill.  I’ve had to learn to listen so I can really hear the needs of others.” - Anthony B.

Every day is a great day. There is no such thing as a bad day. There may be days where things may not go your way, but all in all, it’s still a great day. And this quote from Michael Jordan has been inspirational to me: ‘I realized that if I was going to achieve anything in life I had to be aggressive. I had to get out there and go for it. I know fear is an obstacle for some people, but it's an illusion to me.’” – Fletcher N.

Black History Month Series: Reflections on Angela Davis

Feb 18, 2015

On Wednesday, January 21, noted author, educator, and activist, Angela Davis, delivered a keynote address at Portland State University during its MLK Tribute event. Several CCC staff members attended the event, so we sat down with Catharine Hunter to ask her some questions about what she learned.

• • •

Why were you interested in seeing Angela Davis?
I was interested because of everything that’s going on in the country right now. I just wanted to hear what her perspective would be.

Had you heard about Angela Davis before?
I had, but I didn’t know too much before I went and saw her. I just knew that she was a vocal social justice activist and that she had been doing her work for decades.

Was her talk more personal, academic, or both?
There was quite a bit of academic talk, but she also told stories about events that I wasn’t aware of that put things in perspective.

When you say that it put things in perspective, what do you mean by that?
She talked a lot about that we shouldn’t be shocked by the events that had been going on. She made a point of saying that when we heard [the shooting of Michael Brown] happened, we were all shocked. And when we heard that the white police officer was acquitted, we were all shocked. 

But she said that, really, we shouldn’t be shocked because it’s not shocking that either of those things happened. She gave many examples of lesser known stories about similar situations that, for a lot of us in the room, we ended up thinking, “You’re right. We shouldn’t be shocked. This is going on all the time.”

The title of her talk was Living the Legacy: The Meaning of Freedom. What did you expect, knowing that that was the title of her lecture?
When I think of freedom, I think of freedom from all oppressions. She brought things back to how we can’t talk about these events… We don’t talk about racism in an open way. We don’t talk about slavery in an open way. I felt like that’s an oppression on all of us – that we’re not talking as a society openly about these things. How can we move forward toward freedom if we’re not willing to talk about this stuff?

Based on what she said, is it more of an unwillingness to talk about these issues, or not having the tools to talk about them?
I think it’s a bit of both. I mean, people get really uncomfortable talking about those issues. I also think people get worried about saying the wrong thing, so I think that often stops people from having those discussions.

After hearing her talk about that – about the need to resist oppression by bringing those things to light by talking about them – have you found yourself thinking differently about things you’ve heard or seen since then?
Yeah. I try to remember not to be shocked. I think she said something to the effect of “we need to be radical, but we need to be patient.”

This kind of work takes a long time. I think I’ve thought about that quite a bit. What does that look like exactly? How for myself, how does that play out? How, for my community, does that play out? How can I be a part of that radicalism?

Portland’s pretty white. I didn’t realize the history of Portland until recently. It’s upsetting. So I’ve been thinking about that too and how that affects people of color even more than I had initially given thought to.

How does your acknowledgment of your race play into what you heard form Angela about what needs to happen and what needs to change? Did her talk make you think more about where you find yourself in this big picture of radicalism and resisting oppression?
I think I’ve thought more of, like, I need to learn some more and I need to expose my son to more. I need to get more information and become more aware.

I can start by finding events that we can go to and experience. In having conversations with people more about what’s going on in this city and other cities, and how to get involved to be an ally to people of color rather than sitting back. And learning these things with my son.

It’s having conversations. After hearing her speak and thinking about everything that’s going on – realizing that these aren’t isolated incidents - I guess I want to make it clear to myself and my child that not everything is okay. I guess my job as a parent, then, is to make my son aware that “Yeah, people of color are still struggling and deal with things that we will never experience as white people.” It’s my job as his mom to make sure he realizes that and is more understanding so we can become better allies.

When it comes to being an ally to communities of color, how do you think that plays out?
I feel like when you’re an ally, the people you are being an ally to are the ones who can tell what you can do to be an ally. I want to reach out to communities of color to ask what that looks like. I want to and need to listen. 

Catharine Hunter is Central City Concern’s Donor Services Manager.

Black History Month Series: Cultural Healing through Recovery

Feb 12, 2015

Our Black History Month blog series continues with a deeply personal piece from Yvette Davis, Program Manager for one of Central City Concern's culturally specific services. She reflects on what brought her to establish the Cultural Healing through Recovery program and be of service to the African American community.

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People ask, “Why culturally specific services?”

And I answer, “Why not?!”

There are many services within the community that all types of people can access in order to heal from addiction, trauma, unhealthy lifestyles, relationships, and more. My belief is that services, of any type, cannot use a “one size fits all” approach. There are many evidence-based practices that work for various types of people. My question is: what about practice-based evidence?

I am an African American woman in recovery and celebrated 16 years clean and serene January 20, 2015. I did not have the opportunity to find healing when I accessed treatment in January 1999. I had just lost my mother due to a fatal car accident. This was my bottom and then – and only then – was I willing to surrender.

I accessed services in order to learn how not to use alcohol and drugs, but I now realize that back then there was much more healing that needed to take place besides addressing my alcohol and drug issues. I was a lost little girl and needed to grieve, heal, address past trauma, and learn how to form loving relationships with my kids, family, and within my culture.

I appeared intimidating, angry, and had many other clients walking on egg shells (per their report). The stereotypes and stigmas that were put on me during treatment did not allow me the freedom to heal and find relief in treatment on an equal basis as others. I needed a place where I could process my cultural pain and someone who could identify that it was pain and not anger. I was kicked out of treatment and was told that I needed to take anger management classes. Nevertheless, I stayed clean.  

I believe my higher power has chosen me to be of service and provide the African American community with an environment where healing, laughter, joy, and freedom can take place without the stereotypes and stigmas that stem from misinterpreted behaviors during one’s healing process. This is what the Cultural Healing through Recovery Program provides.

This work is important to me, because I was not provided the same safety and opportunities during my episode of treatment. It’s important for individuals of my culture to know they do not have to deny, rationalize, minimize, or justify who they are or who they want to become in order to attain success.

Acknowledging cultural differences and having the ability to serve clients through a cultural lens gives me the ability not to minimize their pain or their healing process. African Americans have the right to have their own unique expression; my job is to have the ability to hear them and not fear them. It’s one of the ways I can best support their cultural needs.

Even as I serve and support, I still receive so much.

"Since accessing the CHtR program I’ve been able to dig deeper into my alcohol and drug issues by internalizing what I’ve learned here in treatment. I am now able to communicate my feelings, thoughts, and fears. I could not do this before I joined this program. Today I am able to relate to other black women fighting for their recovery.”

“You keep it real, you told no lies, I trusted your words, and you said it was ok to cry. You’ve been my strength, the rock on which I stand. I’ve gained so much wisdom, guided by your gentle hand. The kindness you have shown in every word and deed has been a blessing in my life in so many times of need”.

These words from clients reflect the value and the gift I’ve received since providing culturally specific services to the African American community. From my perspective, this is why I do the work I do! It’s a gift beyond what words can express when clients learn to trust, love, heal, feel, and grow. Treatment is not “one size fits all!"

And I want to acknowledge Central City Concern for recognizing that diversity is more than just having diverse employees because we have diverse clientele. Diversity is practiced through also being willing to provide a culturally specific service with a cultural lens, which allows us as an agency to meet the needs of the African American community and for that, I’m grateful!

Yvette Davis, MSW, CADC I, is the Program Manager for CCC’s Cultural Healing through Recovery Program.