C4 Innovations

Recovery Rising: Supporting All Pathways to Recovery in Pennsylvania

An episode of “Changing the Conversation” podcast

Jennifer Smith and Laurie Johnson-Wade discuss a process for fostering recovery supports for all with a focus on Black communities and anti-Black racism with host Livia Davis.

December 6, 2021


Livia Davis, Host (00:05): Hello, and welcome to Changing the Conversation. I’m your host, Livia Davis. Our topic today is Recovery Rising in Pennsylvania. I have two guests with us today. First guest is Secretary Jennifer Smith of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, calling in from Jonestown. Secretary, thank you for joining us today.

Jennifer Smith, Guest (00:29): Thanks for having me, Livia. Really looking forward to this conversation.

Livia (00:33): Also with me today is Mrs. Laurie Johnson-Wade, co-founding director of Lost Dreams Awakening Recovery Community Organization. She’s also on the board of directors of Faces And Voices of Recovery and a member of Black Faces Black Voices.
Laurie Johnson-Wade, Guest (00:50): Hi, Livia, Jennifer. So glad to be here with you both. Thank you.

Livia (00:56): Thank you both for joining us. We are going to start right into talking the Recovery Rising project. We started to work together, all three of us, starting in February of 2021. Jennifer, I am hoping that you would start by sharing with our listeners why the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs decided to launch Recovery Rising.

Jennifer (01:21): Thanks, Livia. Yeah, so there were a bunch of things converging all at the same time that led to the need to really focus on recovery supports in Pennsylvania. One of those things was some of the particular anti-black racism and unrest that was happening all across the nation, and we in Pennsylvania, particularly in the drug and alcohol space, were very concerned about whether or not our Black communities had access to the appropriate services all across the continuum, but particularly in the recovery space.

Jennifer (02:02): At the same time, we were also experiencing some challenges with communicating well across government and community based organizations and finding a real difficulty in locating a common ground for us to address how we can move forward with providing recovery supports in Pennsylvania. And so with these two things converging at the same time, we recognized that it was really necessary for us to put an intentional focus on recovery supports in Pennsylvania. How do we build those services? How we support all pathways to and through recovery? And at the same time, how are we ensuring that we’re providing the services that are necessary to our Black communities?

Livia (02:56): Thank you. And as you know, I met both of you when C4 Innovations was asked to help plan and guide Recovery Rising, with the goal to foster a recovery environment, as you talk about Jennifer, in Pennsylvania that supports multiple pathways to improved health and wellness, really centers diversity, as you mentioned, equity and inclusion, and also look at what is the acceptance of the recovery community and how can we best empower individuals and persons in recovery? So part of my role was to facilitate a dialogue process with the advisory commission that you put together for Recovery Rising, and we also facilitated dialogue with over 300 people through regional meetings and the statewide convenings over a period of about four, five months. And one of the frameworks we adapted for our dialogue processes together with you is appreciative inquiry. And so appreciative inquiry has what they call a four D cycle, where the D’s stand for define, discover, dream and design. So there are four D’s within the appreciative inquiry process that we adapted to the work in Pennsylvania.

Livia (04:15): The define stage is really a time to clarify goals and outcomes. The discover phase really focuses on learning about perspectives and values and priorities from stakeholders speaking from the full range of their experience. And the dream phase is about identifying shared goals and values and priorities, about what might be, so that’s the dream phase. And in putting together the Recovery Rising advisory commission, of course, you worked with a lot of the recovery stakeholders to find out how do we make sure that as many communities and regions and populations in Pennsylvania are represented?

Livia (04:55): So next, what I want to do is just talk a little bit about the dream phase of this dialogue process, because during this phase, we had a lot of discussion around eliminating barriers to sustainable recovery, which included acknowledging and committing to addressing institutional and structural racism and oppression. And as you both know, the discussion was rich, it was complex, and there was some initial tension that arose about whether to commit to addressing racism against all minoritized and marginalized people or to focus explicitly on anti-black racism. And Laurie, I’d love to have you talk a little bit about some of that discussion, the process, some of your perspectives and outcomes, because you were a key member of the Recovery Rising Racial Equity Subcommittee.

Laurie (05:46): Yes, Livia. Thank you. Yeah, it was a very interesting process, first coming to a general consensus that we weren’t quite sure what to deal with first. And we know with substance use disorder, there is stigma, and so we didn’t know whether we should deal with that just in a general sense or did we need to go to the fringes of those who were the most marginalized. And so in good work around diversity, equity and inclusion, which is really the end goal of this, making sure that everybody, not just some of us, there’s equity in the delivery of recovery support services. We identified that the best practices, when you go to the fringes, when you go to the outermost circle of the marginalized group, you automatically bring in and rise up, Recovery Rising, you help rise and lift up everybody. And so we had made the determination that we would deal with the issues of the anti-black racism, which we perceived as the most pressing.

Laurie (07:12): And then looking at support services, there being a substantial body of work that shows that discrimination in the four primary areas of home, community, purpose, and health were barriers, great barriers for Black folks and for Brown folks and for what we identified and agreed upon in language to call BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color]. It was probably the most expansive term we could come up with to cover the most folks that are within that category. Now, everybody initially did not agree. There was some contention, and of course, everybody initially sees themselves in a situation. So you look at the composition of the group, which was pretty reflective of Pennsylvania, how Pennsylvania looks, so that was pretty fair.

Laurie (08:10): But when you have that dominant culture influence, sometimes you have to take a minute to step back and see a bigger picture and to say, hey, we collectively need to be advocates around this particular group of folks and knowing that we have to bring them more into the center, so we center the other. It’s a way to center the other. And so that was a beautiful, collective, collaborative process, but it did need to happen in a subcommittee, and it deserved that. And there were some committed individuals to that process. We showed up regularly. As far as how it looked, it was kind of equally divided in terms of Black people and White folks. So it was actually 50/50, it was an equal split, which is wonderful because now you have a perspective from different lenses.

Laurie (09:16): And so that was just a beautiful process, and we came to the consensus that we would indeed make that a priority item, the anti-black racism. And then part of that process is what do we call folks? Language, language matters, and I think that’s a stopping point for many. What do I call you? Or what do we say? And when you don’t know what to say, you don’t say anything at all. And so we’re still in that process of discovering language around a strength based approach to what we discovered through these processes, and I’m really happy that Pennsylvania chose to do this work because I think we can be trailblazers in this area, and we could really stand out as leaders around equity in recovery support services.

Livia (10:15): Thank you, Laurie. You said a lot, and one of the things that might be helpful to share with our listeners is the importance of setting the stage, putting together community agreements, coming up with agreements on how we’re going to be together to have these important conversations. And so initial work with the Recovery Rising Advisory Commission and of course the subcommittees was to discuss what are our agreements for our time together? And taking the time to get to know one another, explore what is your why? Why are you here? Why is this important to you? Why is recovery so important? And how do we talk to each other, at least in these meetings? So that we can take some risk and be vulnerable, so we can lean in, so we can assume positive intent and have some grace if we mess up as we start to understand and apply and talk about racism, which can be hard to talk about.

Livia (11:17): And so that container, taking the time to do that, I think really has set the stage beautifully for a lot of these discussions, and I’m so glad that we at the subcommittee really came to the language around focusing and addressing on anti-black racism specifically. And it’s really a testament to the work of the subcommittee.

Livia (11:39): Jennifer, I’m wondering if you have anything specific you want to add here around some lessons learned, or if other states are thinking about maybe doing some similar work, are there some lessons or aspirations that you might encourage them to have in terms of the Recovery Rising overall?

Jennifer (12:04): I think one of the things we learned really quickly in the process was that having the right people participating in these discussions was so important. And by right people, I don’t mean all the people that think the way you think. By right people, I mean the people who are very influential in this field and in the topic area that you’re talking about, regardless of what their viewpoints are. And doing your very best to try to equalize the power in those discussions and letting everyone feel like they have an equal seat at the table. And sometimes, that’s really hard. It’s hard to sit and listen and hear criticisms perhaps of things that you’ve been a part of, that are passionate about, but being able to give everyone that voice and a safe space to say how they really feel and then explain why.

Jennifer (13:04): You mentioned the importance of the why. We often don’t get to the why when we have difficult discussions because we’re so busy fighting each other and trying to be defensive about what we’ve done, we forget to listen to the other person about why they’ve done what they’ve done or said what they’ve said, and then being able to internalize that and think about how you could respond in a different way now knowing what you know about why they do what they do. And I think that has been a huge lesson learned for us.

Jennifer (13:40): We’re still really deeply entrenched in this work, so while we completed that phase one of this project, there are so many more phases to come where we’re going to need additional input from a lot of these same folks, and also including some new folks that can add value in other ways. So I’m sure we’re going to have a lot more lessons learned by the time we could say that we’re wrapping up Recovery Rising, but I think from the first phase of the project, really having the right people at the table and inviting them to the table, making them feel welcome and working through those feelings of needing to understand each other and our respective whys is so important.

Livia (14:27): Laurie, as a member of the recovery community, as a member of Faces and Voices of Recovery and Black Faces Black Voices, what advice or inspiration would you want to share with other states doing similar work?

Laurie (14:44): I would say first of all, have the courage to do it. It takes courage because it’s very easy to sit behind what some perceive as privilege or status quo, business as usual. It takes courage to step out of that and to make sure that there is equity for everybody, especially in the recovery space. Because that’s supposed to be equal ground. It’s supposed to be level ground for everyone but yet, we find disparities within that. And looking at that, exploring that. Look to see, listen to hear what’s really going on. And so it takes great courage to do that. Get help to do that. It can be a heavy lift. So I believe that sometimes, we have to enlist partners and collaborative efforts in terms of getting to where we need to get. The most important thing is to keep the conversation going.

Laurie (15:52): This topic is not going anywhere anytime soon. As a matter of fact, I’ve committed the rest of my life to the work. And I know if I am fortunate, I may see some really concrete change in my lifetime, but I do this for posterity. I do this for my grandchildren. If they ever need to access services, and I pray that they don’t, but if they ever have to, that it would be equitable. That they would be able to receive the same services that their little White friends receive or that their neighbors receive. It needs to be equitable. It’s good for all of us. And so we want to be the type of society that collectively takes care of everybody, and then we’re just naturally better. So it’s been such a joy and a privilege to work on the Recovery Rising project, to work with you, Livia, and C4, and the other partners that were a part of this. It’s just courageous work. There’s no other way for me to say it, it’s courageous work, and I applaud it.

Livia (17:12): Well, thank you so much, Laurie. I know also, Jennifer and Laurie, that we will be working together on the next phase of Recovery Rising, and it is such a privilege. And I just want to thank both of you for who you are in the world, what you’re doing, and specifically around the Recovery Rising work in centering anti-black racism, I have applaud you both for your role in that. And I just want to wrap up.

Jennifer (17:39): Well, before we go, I don’t know that I ever really personally thanked Laurie and Livia for the work around that dream language. It was a really difficult place for me to sit back and let it play out because I felt very, very, very strongly about the inclusion of that language, that was part of the impetus for doing this work to begin with. And when some of the group was starting to head down this path of, well, we’re all vulnerable, and we shouldn’t call out one over the other, it took everything I had to say, “Nope, I can’t step in and say, this is how it’s going to be. I need to let this play out.” And I just am so appreciative for the way that you two navigated that situation, and instead of trying to use strong arming or power to change the conversation, you just used your personal experiences and kept circling back and asking some hard questions. And I am truly appreciative for where we ended up, and I recognize that the two of you were really the leaders in getting us to that place. So I wanted to say thank you.

Laurie (18:59): Thank you, Jennifer.

Livia (19:02): Oh, yeah, thank you very much.

Laurie (19:04): This is not for the faint of heart.

Livia (19:06): No, it is not. So, Jennifer, thank you for being here with us today.

Jennifer (19:11): Thank you, Livia. My pleasure.

Livia (19:13): And Laurie, thank you so much for being here today with us.

Laurie (19:16): My pleasure. Thank you.

Livia (19:18): And to our listeners, join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

Erika Simon, Producer (19:23): 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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