Recovery Community Organizations in Medically Underserved Communities of Color

by Joe Powell

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A Recovery Community Organization (RCO) is an independent, non-profit organization led by persons in recovery, their family members, friends and allies. RCOs provide a combination of long-term peer-based recovery supports, community education, grassroots mobilization and advocacy to support recovery. The sole mission of an RCO is to mobilize resources within and outside of a community to increase the prevalence and quality of long-term recovery within a community (Valentine, White and Taylor, 2007).

 In 1998 SAMSHA funded 20 RCOs throughout the United States to advocate and educate communities about the long-term effects of recovery. It was in the same year that the Association of Persons Affected by Addiction (APAA) was founded by people from various backgrounds and experiences. We had one simple purpose and that was to spread recovery in Dallas Texas. Now 21 years later, we know through experience that the RCO model is ideal for African American communities impacted by addiction and co-occurring mental health challenges. Recovery flourishes in a community that is connected to a network of strength-based services; and that network thrives because of the experiential knowledge and lived experience of the people in recovery and allies.

While many African Americans receive services in traditional addiction treatment programs many of these programs offer acute care solutions to a chronic and progressive illness. Simply, they focus on the problem and the person’s weakness rather than their strengths and supports. Many of these programs are located outside of the black community and offer little to no continued cultural hope or recovery support upon discharge. It became clear that services were needed within the community to support recovery. APAA moved to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in the heart of a black community in Dallas. The first thing our RCO did was Map the entire community for recovery capital and champions. In the community there were churches, barbershops, police stations, grocery stores, community groups, 12 step meetings etc. We pulled the entire community together, bringing addiction out of the closet and we mobilized the community to support recovery. We viewed the entire community as the recovery center. We noted that there were many liquor stores in the community and no programs to support recovery. We started training and hiring recovery coaches within the community to support long term recovery. Treatment centers often lose funding and shut down. We have found that offering a peer-based solution in the black community is a great solution.

Federal, State, County and the city council is now involved in our recovery efforts. Our funding is now provided by various community groups who see the benefits of anchoring recovery in the community. While there is much work to do, we have a thriving recovering community in Dallas. We coordinated the 2016 National Recovery Celebration and look forward to hosting the 2019 Big Texas Rally for Recovery. 

About the Author

Joe Powell is the President and CEO of APAA a leading peer driven, peer led, and peer ran recovery community organization. He is recipient of the Vernon Johnson Award for advocacy.