Black History Month: The Roots of Imani

Monday, February 01, 2016


February is Black History Month, and Central City Concern is excited to celebrate this important and valuable observance. Last year on the blog, we featured several reflections on the equity and culturally specific work taking place at CCC. This year, we are thrilled to honor Black History Month by introducing you to the Imani Center, a new CCC program that offers African American-centered mental health and addictions services. Each week throughout the month we’ll share a different facet of the Imani Center’s story. Our first post comes from Sonja Ervin, our Director of Cultural Equity, who shares why and how the Imani Center came to be.

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We wanted to do more. We wanted to do better.

Central City Concern demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that everyone we serve through our addiction treatment, healthcare, housing, and employment services feels a part of the CCC community. We also recognize that we can and should strive to do better. That desire to do and be better resides at all levels of the CCC community; just as importantly, CCC recognizes that authentic change and improvement must be driven by those who “own the experience.”

People of color face stunning disparities in health and socioeconomic wellness in Multnomah County as reported upon last year in the Report Card on Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Central City Concern wants to play a role in addressing such disparities.

With the desire to do better, and the wisdom to understand that those who own the experience must drive the process, in fall 2014, CCC’s Executive Director asked a group of our African American staff and community members (many who have lived experience in poverty, homelessness, addictions and treatment) to come together to talk about how CCC can do more and do better for those we serve from the African American community.

We got together and talked about experiences, opportunities and challenges. We looked at what was offered—at CCC and in the community—and where the gaps were. What do we as the African American community need? How should it be provided?

What did we hear? Essentially, our community was seeking culturally specific leadership, treatment, and support services that address the barriers that are uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream programs.

One meeting led into months of work to develop recommendations, a plan and a proposal to combine current programs with expanded resources to create a comprehensive program for African Americans by African Americans.

Between the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of the African American community, the agency’s commitment to listening to and serving the community better, and the support of partners like Multnomah County, an idea—now fully realized as Central City Concern’s Imani Center—took root and began to grow.

In August 2015, Linda Hudson, a longtime CCC employee with deep experience in behavioral health service, as well as culturally specific programs serving the African-American community such as The Real Program, African American Health Coalition and the OHSU Avel Gordly Center for Healing, was selected as the Director of African American Services and hiring of staff began.

The Imani Center has been serving clients experiencing disproportionate barriers to reaching a higher potential since November 16, 2015. The Imani Center has already seen the culturally specific approach to addiction and behavioral health treatment make a difference in those being served.

The program name “Imani” means “faith” in Swahili. This name was chosen to provide participants and CCC with a foundation of faith—faith in our services and our agency, and for the participants’ faith in themselves. We look forward to continuing the work of empowering and supporting the needs of the African American community.