C4 Innovations

Leading with Respect & Acknowledging Barriers: Supporting Recovery Journeys of People of Color

An episode of “Changing the Conversation” podcast

Daryl McGraw and Ashley Stewart discuss ways recovery support services can respond to Black, Brown, and Indigenous People of Color in ways that acknowledge the compounding effects of racism with host Livia Davis.

October 25, 2021


Livia Davis, Host [00:05]: Hello and welcome to Changing the Conversation. I’m your host, Livia Davis. Our topic today is the role and value of respect for Black and Brown people seeking recovery in a white dominant culture. My guests today are Mr. Daryl McGraw, Associate Director of C4 innovations. Hi Daryl.

Daryl McGraw, Guest [00:27]: Hey Livia. How are you? I’m excited for today. I’m excited for the conversation.

Livia [00:31]: Thank you. And calling in from New Jersey is Dr. Ashley Stewart, a Racial Equity Training Specialist at C4 Innovations.

Ashley Stewart, Guest [00:39]: Hi everyone. So excited to talk with you all today.

Livia [00:42]: Thank you so much for joining us today for a really important conversation. We are taping this broadcast in October of 2021. And earlier this month, the Faces and Voices of Recovery celebrated their 20th anniversary. And the founding of Faces and Voices of Recovery in 2001 was part of the modern recovery advocacy movement, that took shape after more than 130 recovery advocates gathered in Minnesota in 2001 to organize and mobilize people in recovery. So at the conference that the Face and Voices had earlier this month, recovery historian and long time activist, Bill White spoke about the recovery achievement since 2001. And importantly for our conversation today, he also mentioned the long overdue need to acknowledge the incredible contributions from Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

Livia [01:40]: And I mention this because it’s important since the modern recovery movement primarily evolved within White dominant structures, systems and beliefs that perpetuate racial inequities within the recovery continuum—despite Black and Indigenous community members and Black led recovery organizations attempting to hold recovery organizations and recovery advocacy community leaders accountable by pointing out the lack of inclusivity and representation and overt acts that promoted marginalization. Now that’s a lot of context and background, but I just wanted to make sure we set the stage. And as a static question, Daryl, could you talk about what marginalization looks like in recovery spaces?

Daryl [02:25]: Sure Livia. Oh man, you start right with the hardball questions right off the top. So I appreciate the question. Being a person in long term recovery, which means I haven’t used a substance since May 7, 2007. And for me, that’s a significant, that’s a big deal. But then I came into this whole lifestyle of what we call recovery. And the marginalization was pretty easy to see pretty quickly, right? A lot was going on recovery. It was really inclusive.

Daryl [02:59]: A lot of people were included in Black and Brown people. But when I started to like wanting to work in the field, I’m a by trade, an addictions counselor. And I started to look around when I started to see the leadership, the leadership wasn’t Black and Brown. So it was like, I saw people in recovery that looked like me. But then when I started to look into leadership roles, I didn’t see people that look like me and the people that were making the ideas and the changes, weren’t Black and Brown people. So when you start talking about marginalization and representation, I didn’t see people that look like me, even though I know people like me exist in the recovery movement, but just not in leadership roles.

Livia [03:44]: Well I think that’s a very concrete example of marginalization. So thank you for that. And I also think you and I have talked many times about how some recovery spaces are pathways, and not be in support of what recovery of Black and Brown people as they could be. And I’m wondering if you could take a few minutes to help our listeners understand how those recovery spaces are not supportive?

Daryl [04:12]: Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Man, Livia, you’re taking me some place, now we’re getting started. So when we talk about recovery, especially for Black and Brown people, and I’ll just say for my White counterparts, recovery looks a lot different, right? I’ll just use myself as an example. I’m a Black person, Black man in recovery. I also have a criminal background, right? Due to my drug substance use. I found myself involved with the criminal justice system. So when I got into recovery, they taught me how to not use, but they didn’t tell me how to live in a lifestyle of recovery. So what did that mean? I had to get a job. Just like anyone else, you had to get a job. Had to find housing and all these things, but no one told me the challenges that I was going to have, being a Black person and some of the systems, some of the discrimination that I was going to experience, not only as a person in recovery, a person with a criminal record, but all these barriers that I was going to start to face.

Daryl [05:17]: And now that I’m a person in recovery, I’m facing them without any substance, without numbing, without any of these things. I am facing them head on and really starting to see that okay, so now here I am practicing this lifestyle of recovery substance-free lifestyle, but yet I’m seeing that I can’t get a job still. I can’t get housing here. I can’t do… And all of these things now I’m facing sober, right? Now I’m facing them without a substance use. And those become challenging. So when you’re getting to this lifestyle of what’s called recovery, it’s more than just abstinence. It’s more than just not using. It’s how do I live? And not only how do I live, I need somebody to teach me how to live with all this systemic racism and barriers that also come with just everyday living as a Black man in this country. Let’s heat up. Let’s go Livia, let’s go man. You ask, let’s get it.

Livia [06:15]: I did it ask, and we are going to return to some specific discussion around pathways, right? And looking at what’s important to make sure that all pathways to recovery are available and accessible and equitable, and work for the Black and Brown and Indigenous communities. Right? So thank you, Daryl. And I’m going to turn to you now, Ashley, for a few minutes with a question. You have been very involved in providing technical assistance and training to recovery leaders and recovery stakeholders for more than a year now, on the topic of implementing anti-racist practices in recovery spaces. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the experience of recovery, coupled with history and the experience of racism, because it’s important for our listeners to understand both.

Ashley [07:05]: Yeah. For sure. Thank you. How can you not be energized and ready to gear up after when engaging in a conversation with Daryl? Right? So a few things come to mind. One is understanding the compounded multilayer of what trauma informed practices means. So we often will talk about the history of racism and recovery. And as that conversation’s ongoing, we recognize the history does matter. And it’s the history of racism within recovery spaces. It’s also the history of racism in the US. It’s also the history of racism more broadly as well. And so what does it mean to take a trauma informed approach? What does it mean to acknowledge insidious trauma? What does it mean to acknowledge historical trauma, race based traumatic stress in recovery spaces? And how might that perspective we’re taking that approach then really influence the trajectory of how we’re providing support for people’s compounded distress?

Ashley [08:05]: People’s compounded traumas that they’re experiencing as a part of their journey. And one of things I think is very understandable, that people would want to be seen, they want to be seen for all that they’ve been through to get where they are. And for folks of color, that includes the racism that they have experienced and endured throughout the trajectory of their lives. It’s multilayered, it’s involving all aspects of life. I mean, Daryl was just giving personal examples about how it’s work, and at school, and it’s the criminal justice system. And it’s deciding what to wear when you walk out the house every morning.

Ashley [08:39]: And then there’s the adaptation that occurs in recovery spaces. So when we are talking about anti-racist practices, we cannot omit history. We cannot look over the realities of what people are dealing with on a day to day basis and what people have been dealing with for generations. In fact, there’s quite a bit of really incredible research coming out as it relates to neurological and cognitive studies, as well as epigenetic studies that shows how stress is transmitted generation to generation, as this trauma, as is the messages people have received around racism. So that is absolutely going to be a major part of recovery, and something that has to be considered when we’re talking about what equity and what racial equity specifically would look like in recovery.

Livia [09:23]: Well, you shared a lot there. And I want to return to this notion, this idea around what does that look like? Where do we start if we are recovery providers? Or the listeners on our call kind of saying, “Okay, all right. I understand that this is important to address.” What is one or two ways that you can look to address that if you’re recovery support providers? So that’s what we will look at next. We’ll pivot a little bit and Daryl, I’m wondering if you could start us off by discussing the importance of respect for Black and Brown people seeking recovery, regardless of the pathway to recovery that they choose.

Daryl [10:06]: The piece that a lot of times people miss, and especially with Black and Brown, especially when they’re dealing with men. I’m going to speak for men because it’s the only thing I’ve been. So right. I’m going to talk about that. But my experience is that, to me in this country, regardless, let’s put substance use aside, respect is number one. I walk out of my house wherever I’m at, I want to be respected. Right? And having been a person who’s abused substances, not a lot of respect comes with that, right? There was a lot of disrespect, a lot of being disrespected, whether it be by drug dealers, by people or just that self disrespect. Right? So when you get in recovery, one of the things that as me, you want to gain back is that respect, right? And because traditionally in this country, the Black man has felt disrespected on so many levels, add substance use to it, then that’s the other layer, right?

Daryl [11:07]: So when I get into recovery, I’m almost demanding a level of respect, right? So one of the things is understanding culture, understanding the history and the importance of respect to Black and Brown people. If you’re going to work with individuals that are in recovery, you should understand that they lead with the, I want to be respected, because historically, we’ve been disrespected, dehumanized, right? So respect is this leading factor. A lot of times, I think we’ve had this conversation before, is in reference to how many times, this is missed, right?

Daryl [11:49]: And you’ll find many people in the correctional system and unfortunately have lost their lives based off of a simple disrespect. And someone was like, “Well, I don’t understand.” But respect is so important into my culture that, when you’re on substances and you’re being disrespected, I mean it takes so much out of you. So when you get into a place of recovery, really man, yes of course, housing and employment and all those things. But one of the first things that I wanted, I just wanted to be respected. And I think that a lot of people can really relate to that. And when you find yourself being disrespected, even though as a person that’s gone through addiction and get into a place of stability where recovery you’re in its place, and then you’re still finding yourself being disrespected. That’s problematic.

Ashley [12:43]: Yeah. You know, I think a lot of times when people hear the term respect, they get it really convoluted. We think of respect maybe in one lens or we see it as a really good seeking and level of authority. But if we get to what the root of what we’re really talking about, is people being seen, people being seen from lived experiences, people being seen for what they’ve been through. People being appreciated, people being responded to in a way that is an alignment and appropriate for what they have endured, and respecting is that you see me, you see all of me, you see what I’ve been through. And you see what I’ve contributed. And when we’re talking about disrespect, it is a critical minimalization of people’s reality.

Daryl [13:22]: Yeah. Yeah. Man. Wow, Ashley, you couldn’t have said it better. It is that being seen that, when you’re a person, I remember being in the street and being almost invisible. Right? And being invisible at night. Not even though, I’m six, five, bald and Black, people see me. Right? But not really when I’m in active addiction, I felt like I wasn’t being seen. When I feel like I’m being minimalized or taken for granted, in certain circles, which happens a lot, especially in the recovery rooms, it’s like, you can attend the meetings, but you’re really not participating in all the functions. You’re welcome to come. You can have an application, but we’re not hiring, you know what I mean? That type of thing. Oh man, Livia, where we going? Where we going? Let’s go.

Ashley [14:14]: And let’s not mistake that with inclusion, right?

Daryl [14:16]: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Ashley [14:18]: Inviting you to apply, but without the job is not inclusion.

Daryl [14:20]: Right, right. Oh, you can have an application, you can have the application, but yeah. We all set.

Ashley [14:25]: That does not count. That does not count as inclusion.

Daryl [14:29]: Right, right, right.

Livia [14:29]: I think one of the things that, you touch upon, the power of respect of being seen, of really understanding me. One of the things that you are making me think of is this idea we have discussed previously when there’s no place in many recovery spaces to share the compounding effects of racism, when you enter those recovery spaces. And what I’m hearing you say is that if you lead with respect, that can be one of those initial strategies that acknowledges not only the impact on you personally, but also to acknowledge the systemic racism, that many recovery spaces still impart.

Daryl [15:12]: No. No. You’re right. Because it’s interesting that you say that, because when you’re in the street and you’re using substances, there’s not a Black and White crack house. Right? There’s not a place where they say, “Oh, you White, you can’t buy drugs here or you can’t get high here.” That’s not how, but interesting enough, when you find yourself in recovery, even though those spaces look inclusive, they’re really separated, right? There’s a separation. I think about my own recovery community, which we would feel like we’re a tight-knit community, but a lot of the White people go snowboarding and skiing, and they do all these hiking and camping trips. And then the Black people, we do recovery dances. We do those. Right? And it’s so weird. And they’ll say that, “Oh, you can go.”

Daryl [16:04]: But when you look at the pictures, you don’t see any Black people. So I’m not even sure if they’re not invited, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a skier. I don’t want to be doing anything in the snow. I don’t want to do any of that anyway, but at least invite me. Right? But when you see the pictures and you see people, you don’t see that inclusiveness, even though we all are on the same journey, we’re all on the same path. But a lot of the opportunities if you will, do not seem inclusive, if that makes sense.

Livia [16:34]: No, I think it absolutely does. Thank you so much. And Ashley, I don’t know if you have any comments to this before we pivot a little bit again.

Ashley [16:42]: Yeah. Definitely. One of the things, I love those examples that Daryl gives. And a lot of times when folks are seeking recovery or people, just folks in my own personal life, it’s in these spaces that are not culturally attuned to their reality. So they go and they are working towards… Care for themselves in these spaces, that are culturally appropriate in the norm for some folks that maybe norm for White folks in the community. And then they go back home, they come back home. And it looks very different. And those same resources aren’t there or that same coping mechanism that was present when they were in recovery, isn’t in the community. And so it’s also an assimilation process that folks of color are going through to access recovery services. They’re assimilating, they’re adapting, and don’t get me wrong.

Ashley [17:36]: Most folks go through some sort of an assimilation process. When they’re entering into a new community. What we’re trying to look at is then the multilayeredness of it, the intersectionality of it in the true sense of the terminology and the scholarship of the term of intersectionality, which is examining the multiple different parts of identity that come into play. It’s not just that I’m assimilating to this new community, this new culture, but I’m also assimilating different parts of my identity and being thoughtful about how I stand and how I posture my body, about my tone, about the way that I am even engaging with other people who are part of this community for me. And then I have to re-adapt that back when I’m home or am around my family or in my community. And so there is many layers that we easily look over, when we miss out on the opportunity for intersectional support when we’re taking essentialist view. And we don’t see the different ways in which the culture plays a role for people in recovery.

Daryl [18:41]: If I could just jump in, I actually triggered something in my mind about recovery, right? So I’m in recovery and I’m in treatment. Treatment is a nice whatever, I’m in treatment with my white counterparts or what have you. And we’re all eating these sandwiches, and we’re having a good time, and this was great. But when it’s over, I’m going back to poverty. I’m going back to, maybe no food in my refrigerator, whereas my white counterpart is going back to this suburban household, to where this doesn’t change. Actually the sandwiches may be even better, right?

Daryl [19:18]: Then what was being given in treatment where I was like, “Man, this is great. This is amazing.” So understanding that. So when we start to talk about equitable lenses and talking about what does that look like? How do we prepare me, to go back to poverty versus Perry and Joe, to go back to the suburban area? Our recovery is going to look a lot different, right? So for me, recovery’s going to look like, man, just trying to survive, without using and just trying to survive, versus not using and trying to strive, if that makes sense.

Livia [19:51]: I think it absolutely makes sense. Thank you so much both for sharing. And I think if we think about the importance of adapting or promoting recovery in the Black and Brown communities and what it means, it means that providers really must understand the paramount importance of respect and seeing the person that is in front of them with all the context that comes with them. Right? And so that is something that we want to just in our last minutes together, maybe think about some key takeaways for providers to think about recovery support providers. What are some key takeaways to really look at the power of respect in interactions as something you lead with, when you are working with the Black and Brown community?

Ashley [20:46]: People always say, what’s next? What is the tangible thing that I can take and do? And it’s really hard to resonate with the amount of self-work that’s required. We do not know what we don’t know until we realize we didn’t know it. Right? Sounds like a mouthful. But the reality of it, is that we have to begin to examine our biases. We need to begin to see the ways that we might think that we’re showing or demonstrating respect to someone, that we’re really not. What does it mean to be a person in recovery to be a member of the LGBTQ community and to be Chicano? We’re not talking about what that, what it all is part of that process, and respect would be to acknowledge that all parts of that identity, all parts of those identities are important in recovery.

Ashley [21:37]: Looking at the intersections of race and class, race and ableism, race and heterosexism, all of those things are important. And when we’re navigating with our idea that we are going to have one little cookie cutter way that we’re going to provide these anti-racist services and then we’re going to be done with it, it is completely insulting to the complexities of which people have been navigating their entire lives. And also disrespectful to the fact that recovery process for folks with different compounding intersecting, marginalized identities is a whole level of complexity and challenge.

Ashley [22:16]: Even if class is the same, there’s still the cultural variables, right? And sure there are lots of different cultural variables that exist within white communities. Absolutely. And in most circumstances, we are able to adapt and amend to those. But we have this idea of normalcy, of what is standard, of what is the baseline. And we never question, what is that baseline or what is that standard derived from? We never sit and consider what respect could look like to say that people aren’t looking to be treated, given different opportunities that others aren’t, people are asking for equity, which I think a lot of times we say equity and equality are the same thing. Equity is acknowledging that people have had different barriers.

Ashley [22:59]: And so what they’re expecting or asking of us might look different, but is in consideration of what they’ve been through to get to where they are today. And that is a really big part of respect that I think is needed and something we need to consider and talk through a bit more. I have lots more suggestions, but I want to hear from Daryl.

Daryl [23:18]: No. I mean, wow. Okay. Mic drop Ashley or what, right? It made me think of just so much more of recovery, right? It’s supposed to be so inclusive, but then there’s so many times that you see the difference. We all go to the same meetings, but we all go home in different directions, in different cars. Some of us are you, you can really see the difference. Joe and I get out of treatment together.

Daryl [23:46]: And Joe shows up with a new car in a couple of weeks, and I’m still trying to figure it out, and you do see the differences. And a lot of times you’re reminded of… There are a lot of differences and similarities that we have, even though we’re all on the same journey. But when you start to look around the room and you start to say, wow, a lot of my friends who are White own their own businesses, right? Construction, carpentry, whatever, or they were allowed into… Somebody in their family was able to give them a hell of a start. Whereas for me, I might be three, four weeks, couple of months, still unemployed and trying to maintain some stability, right? Some stability with very little funds and trying to… And then I’m seeing other people strive. So I think that for these organizations to understand, we say read the room. Understand.

Daryl [24:47]: How do we set people up and make sure we understand where they’re going back to? And what those challenges are? And then providing them with individuals that can link them to resources, or at least prepare them. We talk at C4 all the time about preparing individuals to go back into, for survival, right? We should be preparing individuals to go back into their communities. And whether you’re going back to the suburban area, you should be prepared for that. If you’re going back to an urban area, where there’s going to be struggle and poverty, we need to prepare individuals for that. It can’t just be about recovery. No, not using drugs. It’s got to be, how do I survive as a person in recovery? Come on man, let’s go man, Livia. You got it started now.

Ashley [25:33]: I don’t know. Oh we ran out of time. And to organizations, does what you’re promoting suggest that? Are you articulating that? Have you thought about that? And if you have thought about it, do folks know because one of the things that’s very clear is people who have experienced marginalization, know that most spaces are not created with them in mind.

Daryl [25:55]: Right.

Ashley [25:55]: I know that most of the places that I go to, was not developed or created with me in mind. And so we’re standing here saying we want to create these services, we want to create more opportunity, doesn’t speak to it. Whereas a person who’s experienced systematic and structural marginalization and they come into your facility or they go to your webpage or they’re interacting with the folk who work there. Are they getting that, we respect and understand the intricacies of your experience in recovery as a person of color?

Ashley [26:25]: That’s not felt through, we promote diversity here, period. That’s not felt there. And there’s another level of depth and involvement that goes into creating an environment where what Daryl just said can be absolutely felt. People want to delegate it to different task groups. It’s everyone’s lane. It’s about an entire culture shift that is required for respect to be felt for the meaningfulness and the critical perspectives people bring, when they enter into your space. Do they feel respected and welcome? Are their life stories considered in every single part of what we do? And so that’s a lot of the conversations we have. It’s talking to leaders about being prepared in their comfortability and then taking leadership on these initiatives. No, we don’t know how to do this initially. It’s about taking the opportunities that are presented to us and being willing to be vulnerable enough to say we don’t have it right.

Daryl [27:25]: Right.

Livia [27:26]: Right.

Daryl [27:27]: Absolutely. Because recovery’s a lifestyle, right? It’s not a light switch. It’s not a moment. It’s a lifestyle, right? So you have to teach people how to live this lifestyle. Is your organization ready to implement? Like okay, so Joe’s going back here and that lifestyle looks like this. Daryl’s going back here and his lifestyle’s going to look like this. Daryl, how can we be supportive of you going back to your community as Joe needs that same support going back to his community? And so on and so forth. It’s not cookie cutter. It’s not that. And this is why so many people end up cycling back through. And sometimes that treatment facility is better than my home life. So I’m going to keep coming back there because no one showed me how to actually survive outside there. How do I replicate this lifestyle outside of this treatment facility? No one taught me that. They just said, “If you keep coming here, we got juice and snacks at seven o’clock.” Well, teach me how to have juice and snacks at my house at seven o’clock. Teach me that.

Ashley [28:30]: Yeah. And we also want just to bring it home around the point of respect. If I’m continuing to come back into your organization and engage with the process like Daryl said, I’m coming back, people are back to the facility and they’re seeing other people they’re come back to the organization. They’ve seen people who have using cool fingers have been successful, because I know it’s a journey and it’s process and they’re comparing their own experience to that. And they’re saying there must be something wrong with me. There must be something wrong with me that this isn’t, that I’m not navigating my recovery journey the same way as this other person who I’m looking at or seeing in this light.

Daryl [29:12]: Right.

Ashley [29:12]: Well, if there’s nothing around you that reflects or respects all of the other compounding factors that are influencing your journey in recovery, you’re led to blame yourself. Instead of someone saying your journey’s going to be different because you’re dealing with X, Y, and Z, and we see X, Y, and Z, we know that’s a real barrier for you. And let’s just be real X, Y, and Z are rooted in racism and rooted in classism and ableism, right? And so that has to be a part of the process because we want people to not blame themselves, people to not feel dehumanized, people to not feel like it’s something that is not on their own desire, but the reality is that they’re faced with during their recovery journey and their-

Daryl [30:00]: I agree. I agree. Livia and Ashley, just having this conversation, one of the things that we don’t talk enough about is trauma. I know for me that that was a leading factor of why I was using substances and many Black and Brown people that I talk to that are in recovery. It seems like treatment facilities completely don’t even touch the issue or talk about trauma, especially urban trauma, right? And talking about the things that we experience going through. Why was I reaching outside of myself to use a substance? It was a lot of the trauma related. Yet we don’t talk about trauma at all. We just are supposed to be in recovery and forget the things, that reason, that brought into use in the first place.

Livia [30:43]: I mean, you have both shared so much, there are so many takeaways, and our time is up. But what I just wanted to reiterate in two things that I heard, is that respect as an antidote to the disrespect that people encounter in all systems is one key take away, is one strategy to look at. And what does that mean? What does that look like in every interaction you have as a recovery support provider? And this idea of making sure that you understand the culture and the context and the background and the historical racism of the people in front of you, and looking at framing the power of recovery in terms of recovery, giving me my respect back may be one important strategy to consider as well because of the importance of respect that we’ve talked about today. Mr. Daryl McGraw, Dr. Ashley Stewart. Thank you so much for your time.

Daryl [31:39]: Yeah.

Ashley [31:40]: Thank you.

Livia [31:41]: And for our listeners, please join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

Erika Simon, Producer [31:46]: Visit c4innovates.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube for more resources to grow your impact. Thank you for joining us. This episode was produced by Erika Simon and Christina Murphy. Our theme song was written and performed by Peter Hanlon. Join us next time on Changing the Conversation.


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