Black History Month

in Addiction
Olivia Pennelle
Published Feb 8, 2021
black history month

February is Black History Month! By way of honoring this important annual event, we have highlighted five important black people who are in long-term recovery.

What is Black History Month?

Formerly known as “Negro History Week”, Black History Month is an annual celebration held in observance in the United States and Canada. Ireland, the UK, and the Netherlands have also embraced the week in recent years. Its purpose is to recognize the central, complicated role black people play in American history.

Black History Month was the brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson, as well as other prominent African Americans, including minister Jesse E. Moorland. They inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize celebrations, host performances and lectures, and start history clubs to drive awareness.

February was selected for Black History Month in order to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976 and every US president since has also designated February as Black History Month. Ford called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” he said.

Each year carries a specific theme. As such, 2021’s theme is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” This theme explores the African diaspora, in addition to the spread of black families across the United States.

You can read more about Black History milestones here.

Black people and addiction

“Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes. Then sent them to jail. If we did that everyone would know we were crazy. Yet, we do practically the same thing every day of the week to sick people hooked on drugs.” – Billie Holiday, singer

An important and often overlooked aspect of substance use disorder is how it disproportionately affects marginalized groups, including black people. There is no doubt that addiction has a detrimental impact on communities of color. For example, black women over 45 are the fastest growing population with alcohol use disorder. Studies show that African American and Latinx individuals are far less likely than white people to complete outpatient and residential substance use disorder treatment.

In the media, we see the opioid epidemic framed as impacting everyone, but that isn’t an accurate picture. Dr. Pooja Lagisetty, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, stated that “this epidemic over the last few years has been framed by many as a largely white epidemic, but we know now that’s not true.” Deaths among black people were rising at a faster rate than non-black people.

While only a glimpse at the scope of the problem, these disparities highlight the importance of recognizing the unique battles of people of color in finding recovery. Celebrating black people who have found recovery can help empower others who are struggling with those same challenges.

Here is our list of some of the well-known people of color in recovery.

Black people in recovery

  1. Samuel L. Jackson. Oscar-winning actor Samuel L. Jackson has frequently said that sobriety saved his career. The turning point for him was when his wife and daughter found him passed out on the kitchen floor of his home. Upon waking, Jackson “realized I was doing something that was greater than just smoking weed and drinking.” He checked himself into rehab the very next day. In 2022, he will be over thirty years sober.
  2. Mary J. Blige. Despite a career studded with platinum records and countless awards, R&B singer Mary J. Blige has never forgotten the darkness from which she came. She struggled with addiction and depression dating from her teenage years. She finally found recovery in 2012. Reflecting on how far she has come, Blige asked, “How did I get here? It makes all the struggle and pain worth it. Every time.”
  3. Jada Pinkett-Smith. Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith has been sober for over twenty years and her mother has been in recovery for over thirty. Interviewed by ABC News, Pinkett-Smith likened her childhood to a “war zone” of addiction and poverty, where later developed alcohol and drug problems. “I grew up in a drug-infested neighborhood where you walk out each day and you just hope that you make it,” she said. “I came from a war zone… There was a possibility that I wouldn’t make it past 21—that was the reality.” Finding herself drinking two bottles of wine on the couch she realized she had a problem. Reflecting on this moment, she told Contact Music, “I really had to get in contact with the pain, whatever that is, and then I had to get some other tools in how to deal with the pain. From that day on I went cold turkey…” As of 2021, Jada is 24 years sober.
  4. Frederick Douglass. Douglass was an internationally recognized orator, author, newspaper editor, and skilled social reformer. Having escaped slavery, Douglass became a prominent force to emancipate slaves and he advocated within the temperance women’s rights movement. Less is known, however, about Douglass’ struggle with addiction. In Counselor Magazine, Douglass said of his drinking problems: “I used to love drink—that’s a fact. I found in me all those characteristics leading to drunkenness.” (February 18, 1846 Speech in Glasgow, Scotland, quoted in William White Papers)
  5. Malcolm X. Formerly known as Malcolm Little, Malcolm X used to describe himself as “always high” on amphetamines, cocaine, opium, and marijuana. However, through a religious experience in prison, Malcolm X found recovery which led him to the stage and becoming known as a voice for the voiceless. His advocacy and outreach efforts helped many people of color find recovery.

 

To find out more about addiction and recovery as it relates to people of color, you can visit the Museum of African American Addictions, Treatment and Recovery website.

Solutions to addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we are here to help. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we bring compassion to the commotion. Peace to the pain. Empowerment to the powerless. If you or someone you know needs support with addiction problems, bring us your battle. Call us today and take the best, first step towards recovery: 720-704-1432