Following the cocaine related death of famed University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, the U.S Congress intensified its war on drugs (June 1986).
This war ultimately led to a prison population increase from 400,000 inmates in 1985 to 2.5 million by 2005; disproportionately African American men with substance use disorders.
In 1986 the museum's founder, Mark Sanders was a young social worker and addictions counselor. He was hired to be the gate keeper in Illinois for the General Motors Substance Abuse Program. Cocaine hit GM hard and Sanders's job was to determine the length of stay for GM employees seeking treatment for their addiction.
Sanders would do assessments with these employees throughout Illinois and noted the large percentage of African American men receiving addictions treatment in these facilities. Striking was the large percentage of African Americans receiving treatment in these facilities and the small number of African Americans living in the communities where services were being received.
In assessing the treatment facilities, Sanders noted that very few of them offered culturally specific treatment services.
Each night Sanders would turn on the 10PM news and see scores of African American men being arrested for drug related raids. Seeking relief, Sanders would turn the television from the nightly news to Comedy Central, where he would witness prominent African American standup comedians deliver their "crack head" routine. Meanwhile, African American women with substance abuse disorders were increasingly becoming the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system and the center of additions treatment was beginning to shift to the child welfare system as newborn babies of mothers addicted to cocaine were labeled, "crack babies." One of the great tragedies of the war on drugs was the thousands of babies taken from their mothers (disproportionately women of color), based upon the stigma of cocaine dependence.
To be a part of the solution Sanders committed himself to speaking and writing on the subject for the next 30 years and met others along the way who were equally committed to addressing substance use disorders among African Americans as advocates, administrators, counselors, persons in long term recovery, educators and researchers.
This museum is the culmination of that journey. We hope you enjoy it!