"A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love."

Jun 23, 2017

By all accounts, the Imani Center mahafali graduation was a celebratory, joyous affair, but there were pockets of immense beauty and reflection to be found, as well. One of the day's more poignant moments came when Malcolm, an Imani Center graduate, shared a poem he had originally written for his cousin and his son that he felt was appropriate for the day. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by the poem, which served to remind his fellow graduates of their worth, their path, and their promise,  We're grateful to Malcolm that he gave us permission to share his poem here.

• • •

A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love.

You my brother,

 are strong beyond your own knowing.

Even when you lay here,

heaving,

broken,

hurting.

You are strong.

Listen to me.

Your strength lies not in your right

or left hand.

Not in your thighs or back

or feet.

But in a place beyond you,

not to be touched,

or doubted,

only held here

when you need.

You will be unbreakable stone.

You will be the heat that burns the dross and waste.

You will be the solid earth on which they stand.

You will be the vine that pulls down the walls.

But for now, be like water. Be easy, flow over and around these obstacles. Seek your own level.

You, my brother cannot be conquered or defeated.

You will push on and over and past, like water.

You will overcome.

The truth is, you are a King among men.

But you have hidden yourself in the mundane, in the badlands.

You walk the badlands among shadows and bad men.

You do not belong chasing these shadows but you love it here.

And here you gleam.

The shadows are attracted to your shine.

You, are no mundane.

The water in you calls for release

It rushes back and forth in your veins.

The clash of tides is in you.

In your ears and toes and fingers it surges and thunders.

This dance you do-this up and down

This back and forth.

Aren’t you tired?

Isn’t this burden heavy?

Don’t you want to rise?

And join your people?

Don’t you want to rise?

It is all there for you. Yours to claim.

All of it.

You only have to release this weight.

Let go,

Let it go.

Let it go, ascend.

Malcolm Shabazz Hoover
Portland, 2017



An Imani Center Graduation: A Victory Lap for Transformation

Jun 22, 2017

Linda Hudson, Director of African American ServicesA beautiful day in Peninsula ParkMalcolm, one of 10 graduates, shared a moving poem to encourage his fellow graduates.Larry Turner, a respected voice in the local African American recovery community.Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser sang a a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

On Wednesday, June 7, CCC's Imani Center program held its first-ever mahafili—Swahili for "graduation"—for ten clients who had completed the program. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

Isn’t this burden heavy?
Don’t you want to rise?
And join your people?
Don’t you want to rise?
It is all there for you. Yours to claim.
 
-Excerpt from "A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love." by Malcolm Shabazz Hoover, Imani Center graduate

Wednesday, June 7 was a notably bright and sunny day in North Portland, a welcome break from the early-summer gray often seen in the Pacific Northwest. But for attendees of the Central City Concern Imani Center’s first-ever mahafali—Swahili for “graduation”—the brightest lights at Peninsula Park radiated from the clients present to be honored for their accomplishment.

The Imani Center provides culturally specific and responsive Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addictions treatment to the community. It is a one-of-a-kind program that utilizes a treatment model tailored to their clients’ experiences, created by staff members with lived knowledge of Black culture and the African American experience. According to Director of African American Services Linda Hudson, both the clients and the staff deserved a similarly distinct graduation.

“Graduating from such a unique program symbolizes accomplishment, change, commitment, and resilience. We thought it was the perfect time to have a family get together,” she said.

Some graduates completed their outpatient treatment in as little as four months; other graduates spent nearly a year in the program. All earned their graduated status as changed people who had developed the tools and found a support network vital to staying on the path of recovery.

The event started with Linda welcoming the crowd of about 40 people, which included Central City Concern staff members, graduates, and their friends and family. Also in attendance were several alumni of CCC’s Puentes program—a culturally specific addiction treatment and mental health program that serves the local Latinx population—that had forged a mutually supportive camaraderie with Imani Center participants over the past year.

Dr. Rachel Solotaroff, CCC’s chief medical officer, followed Linda and shared remarks on what she sees as making the Imani Center so special: that it empowers clients to build a home for the community of African Americans working toward recovery in a way that the community itself wanted to shape it.

Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser wowed the gathered audience with a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Larry Turner, a pillar of the local African American recovery community, addressed the graduates directly, encouraging them to continue the hard work of recovery and to uphold their responsibilities to themselves as well as their community.

Finally, the graduates were each recognized for completing the Imani Center treatment program, and all had the opportunity to share their thoughts. While each of their journeys through the program was unique, a theme became quickly apparent: though these graduates had participated in recovery groups and programs before, it wasn’t until Imani that they were able to feel and benefit from genuine one-on-one peer connections based in shared cultural experiences.

Graduate Malcolm shared a piece he had written called “A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love,” originally written for his cousin and son, but perfect for this group of graduates and their shared journey forward.

A number of graduates also shared what helped them persevere: the Imani Center staff refused to give up on them, so they couldn’t and wouldn’t give up on themselves.

And like the smell of roses in bloom at Peninsula Park, the feeling of gratitude—for the Imani Center, for people who finally understood, for the mutual care and trust between staff and clients, for recovery and hope for a better, healthier future—filled the air throughout the entire mahafali.

Though this first-ever Imani Center graduation required hours upon hours of planning, Linda believes it was entirely worth the effort and foresees many more graduations in the future.

“Our clients worked hard to achieve this moment,” Linda said. “It’s like taking a victory lap for transformation.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2017 Edition

Mar 29, 2017

Just last month, Central City Concern launched the Flip the Script program with the goal of providing housing, cultural peer support, and employment specialists to support African Americans’ reentry into the community when leaving a criminal justice program. Without employment or housing, African Americans have a 36 percent chance of re-entering the system; addressing those pitfalls was crucial to their success.

But before the conversations around solutions could begin, CCC needed to identify the presenting issues, snags, and concerns facing this population.

Enter CCC volunteer, MJ.

Although much of his work was behind closed doors and in front of computer screens, the critical role MJ played in laying the foundation for the Flip the Script program was imperative to the successful launch of Flip the Script. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with MJ and ask him about the groundwork it took to assist in getting this program rolled out.

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: Michael Jones but I go by MJ.

And my volunteer proposition to you all was “Hey, if you’ve got some data, I would love to volunteer to analyze it.”

Because I thought you can do two things with that. I thought, one, we could help improve the program wherever that data came from so we can find some areas for improvement. And two, I thought this data could help you all tell your story about how you’re driving the impact in the community.

I do believe if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. But I also really know that data can close deals.

It sounds like our Employment Access Center was able to take you up on your offer, specifically for their Flip the Script Program.
Coming from a business background it’s all about ROI—the return on investment—and when I thought about it you guys have probably the largest ROI in the history of the world. Seriously. If you look at what does it cost to incarcerate a person versus what does it cost when a person is a productive member of society? That’s sort of the ROI that I see.

So with that I started to dig in, and with Freda [Ceaser, CCC’s director of Employment Services), was given a project to go run with. Once I got in, like with every large organization, it turned out to be kind of complicated. We were sort at the classic starting point of not having all of the data. CCC had some data based on where individuals were housed with intake and exit interviews, but the data actually started back with the Department of Corrections.

And then as we started to dig further, it goes into the Department of Justice. I thought it was pretty amazing in the early stages of this project that Freda was able to wrangle those folks to come and get everyone in the same room. We had people driving up from Salem, from DOJ and DCJ, and we spent some time on a whiteboard and it did turn out to be very complicated. I sketched it all out and said well they have this piece and they have this piece but how do we marry those together.

It was pretty great and they sort of rallied around that this was a good idea. We did really need to keep people’s privacy and security in mind so we did talk about the cleaning of the data so it’s non-identifiable. But gosh, after a couple of months, everybody provided all of the bits and we were able to paste it together and basically what we had was 1,000 records and those represented 1,000 people.

That sounds like quite a bit of collaboration and work! Do you feel like the results were well-received?
I feel like what I presented to your team, people were really excited. They were like, “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen the data presented in this way. We’ve never seen this much data. We’ve never heard the story told on top of it and we’ve always been looking at a small piece.” It really opened their eyes to some really healthy discussion and debate around the causation of recidivism and then a lot of thinking on how to improve it.

Recidivism is such a common thread for so many. What were some of the causes you discovered?
For instance one of the top reasons for recidivism is an individual, or a sex offender, not registering their location. But when you think about it, well, if you don’t have a home it’s kind of hard to register your location.

We uncovered some things that seem a little counterintuitive. Like how to some degree people would be less likely to recidivate if they stayed in a shelter, or if they even lived on the street, than if they went to live with friends. And that group that said they lived with friends had an incredibly high recidivism rate. But when you think about it, it makes total sense because that’s getting back to your bad habits. And so I think that helped really enlighten things.

And MJ, what made you want to get involved with Central City Concern in the first place?
I was motivated because of the homelessness situation that we’ve seen unfold in the past three years and I’m not one to just sit on the sidelines. I like to take action so I decided I wanted to volunteer locally and that seemed to be the biggest problem I could see locally.

And I was impressed [with Central City Concern]. There’s a huge number of organizations that are helping homeless populations in a variety of ways, but I really liked CCC because you guys focused on the health angle, the employment angle, and the housing angle and so I saw that as more sustainable. I guess I saw that as teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish.

And I love the social enterprise angle because I think that gives people real world work experience and it gives people the skills they need but it’s actually a real company and it’s about generating revenue. So I’m wild about that. We’re not just throwing cash at people but we’re teaching them life skills. It’s a bigger organization than I thought and I’d say it’s more innovative.

Is there anything you would think about doing differently if you volunteered again?
I loved it but in hindsight I was thinking my flaw in that volunteering opportunity was that these people were still numbers. And I think it would be good for me to see them as people and not numbers. And so I think being critical of my own volunteer experience, it was a very clinical and analytic sort of play where I think I could build more empathy if I got closer to the people rather than spreadsheets of numbers. Which is to say I have a couple of other things I want to work on, volunteering things, but that thinking has helped me inform my future strategy around my volunteering opportunities and wanting to be a little bit closer to it.



Empowerment by Design: CCC Celebrates Black History Month & the Imani Center

Feb 23, 2017

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern!

We are thankful for occasions like Black History Month to intentionally set aside time to celebrate and reflect on the richness and depth of Black history and culture.

As an agency, we also aim to daily honor the strength, resilience, creativity, and joy that are core to the African American experience. A primary way we do that is through CCC’s Imani Center program, which offers culturally specific and responsive outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services, peer support, and case management.

Based out of the historic Golden West Hotel building—itself a significant part of Portland’s Black history—the Imani Center is a prime example of a community using knowledge of its members’ histories and needs to help its own.

According to Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services, Black clients of mainstream mental health and addiction treatment programs often face unique barriers to their recovery success. “When African American clients come in with different experiences and different perspectives and they try to fit the client into that [mainstream treatment] curriculum, there’s often some tension there.”

But at the Imani Center, we provide Afrocentric services. All mental health and addiction counselors, as well as the peer support specialists, identify as African American; several have longstanding ties to the Portland area. Clients can feel like they are in a safe place. Here, they can talk about the impact of racism and discrimination knowing the staff understand firsthand what they’re talking about because of the staff’s collective experience.

“We know how it goes and we know how it feels,” Linda says. “We the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are. We can share with clients how they might be able to navigate [their recovery] and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.” There is an understanding that the Imani Center's services explore the meaning of being Black in America and how it impacts one’s recovery. There is also an understanding that the Black self is deeply entrenched with the collective experience. (Bassey, 2007)

During the listening and planning process that preceded the Imani Center, CCC heard the African American community say that they valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Today, between Imani Center’s eight-person staff, there are three Masters of Social Work degrees, three Certified Alcohol and Drug Counseling credentials, three Certified Recovery Mentor credentials, and three Qualified Mental Health Professional designations. While those qualifications are impressive, Linda says that they send a message. “We need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving.”

So while innovative counseling approaches and a full slate of group sessions drive much of the change that Imani Center clients see in themselves, much of their success comes from seeing themselves reflected in the make-up of the staff. This empowerment is by design. Addiction and mental health recovery, as well as educational and professional achievements, seem so much more possible when one can readily picture themselves in the shoes of an Imani staff member who has walked that path ahead of them.

Each day, the Imani staff reaches back to pull other members of the Portland African American community up with them. They understand what their clients are experiencing; now, they’re committed to helping their clients experience the empowering freedom that comes along with recovery.

• • •

The Imani Center is accepting new clients. If you know someone who may benefit from talking with a counselor who will listen on a regular basis and offer compassionate support, please pass on this information about the Imani Center.

Anyone can schedule an eligibility screening by contacting the Imani Center at 503-226-4060 or Imanicenter@ccconcern.org.



Celebrating Transgender Awareness Week

Nov 18, 2016

Nov. 14 – Nov. 20 is Transgender Awareness Week! GLAAD describes this week as a time to “help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.”

The transgender patients and clients we serve at Central City Concern are a valued part of our vibrant community, but they also face a number of unique barriers. According to CCC Associate Medical Director of Primary Care, Dr. Eowyn Rieke, people who identify as transgender are more likely to have difficulty finding employment and accessing housing. This, of course, increases the chances they become homeless and live in poverty, which is often how they end up as CCC patients.

Roran Everheart, an urgent care medical assistant at our Old Town Clinic, adds, “There is an overriding fear of being outed and ending up on the street. There’s a fear of violence.”

Our mental health providers also see a relationship between people who struggle with questions about their gender identity in isolation, and mental illness and substance use disorders. “Oftentimes we see that someone’s gender identity struggles play such a role in their mental illness that we actually see a relief of symptoms when people can make steps toward living the life that they believe is rightfully theirs,” says Erika Armsbury, Director of Clinical Services at our Old Town Recovery Center. “And the same goes with substance use—we see people who use substances as a means to manage whatever it is they are struggling with around who they are with respect to gender.”

Roran, who identifies as trans, understands some of this firsthand. “I wasn’t able to transition until I got into recovery,” he shares. “Gender identity is so complex. When you’re trying to figure out what your gender identity is, it’s a strain on your mental state. From my own experience, it’s hard for me to imagine how hard it must be for someone who is also homeless, addicted, and also trying to transition.”

These are the very real issues that affect the transgender community we serve; they matter profoundly to us. We also know CCC must continue working to extend the values of equity and inclusion to more and more people. In fact, increasing equity is an explicit part of our organization’s strategic plan.

In that spirit, CCC—particularly our health services—has taken steps over the last year to make our agency is more trans affirming, trans inclusive, and responsive to the experiences of transgender individuals. Staff members formed working groups. They held meetings, brainstormed, and prioritized. They consulted with our own health care consumers and colleagues.

Since that call to action, CCC’s health services have made significant advances to address the unique issues our trans patients and clients experience.

Trainings
Within the past few months, every single CCC staff member across our primary care, mental health care, and substance use disorder programs has gone through a “Trans 101” training to provide an understanding of the basics. The information covered in these trainings was intended to demystify trans issues, as well as to learn how to be an ally and interact with transgender patients in appropriate, sensitive ways.

However, Eowyn emphasizes that this is not about cultural competence; instead, it’s about humility. “Competence implies that we who don’t identify as trans ‘get it.’ Instead, we’re working toward a culture of humility as it relates to gender identity—recognizing that there are great differences at play here and that we need to be humble about our assumptions.”

Old Town Clinic primary care providers received additional training on the basic medical care of transgender patients. In a separate two-session training, mental health providers at Old Town Recovery Center learned about working with transgender patients during the transition process, as well as their responsibilities related to writing assessment and approval letters for patients hoping to transition.

“We want to be sure out providers are on the same page,” Erika says. “[Providing letters] is something we want to offer our patients consistently, but it’s important for us to improve our larger understanding of trans issues because, for us and our patients, the letter isn’t the ultimate goal, nor is it the end of their journey.”

Providing CCC health staff with information doesn’t just benefit them. It’s also a way to take a common burden off our trans patients. As Roran says, “Having to train your doctor to be trans aware can be so exhausting.” Staff members who are aware of trans patients’ experiences drastically reduces the chances of retraumatizing patients with insensitivity and judgment. Instead, calling back to CCC’s goal of cultural humility, Erika says, “Even if we aren’t experts, we know enough to be open and accepting. We honor their experiences and all the things they come to us with. We can show that we want to work with them to tease out the severe mental health hardships while also supporting them around their gender identity.”

Transgender Support Group
Patients of Old Town Clinic and the Old Town Recovery Center can now find a community of support, thanks to a new group co-facilitated by Roran and Shanako DeVoll. Though in its early stages, Roran sees great potential for the group, named “Chrysalis.”

“A lot of our clients are pretty isolated in their lives,” Roran says. “When you start to navigate your gender identity without supportive family or friends, it can be lonely to not have that sounding board. This group gives them a chance to meet other people who identify as trans.”

The hour-long support groups make room for organic conversation to talk about struggles and victories, resources, and relevant topics. Roran and Shanako co-facilitate, but the group itself is largely client-led. It begins open for anyone for two meetings, then closed for the following three months to give the group time to develop a sense of community and trust. After, the group open up again. That sense of trust, Roran says, is imperative to our clients.

“Many of our clients face mental health and addiction challenges. There are already lots of groups out there for trans people, the feeling is that many of them feel cliquish. Clients with mental health challenges may not be able to navigate the social cues at larger, more established groups, so having someone like Shanako, a mental health professional, on board is great.”

Roran hopes to see the support group thrive. Early signs show interest is high, and people appreciate this opportunity to find an accepting community. “I hope that people want to come back all the time and that this first group will invite their friends to this awesome group they’ve discovered.”

Adapting Electronic Health Records
In a health care setting, it’s easy to forget infrastructure and technology can carry the same biases and blind spots that we seek to mitigate. Thankfully, CCC health services didn’t forget, and instead spearheaded substantive changes to our Electronic Health Records (EHR) system to, as Eowyn says, “reflect this culture change of becoming more trans affirming and inclusive that we’re working to embed within the organization.”

The most immediate and noticeable change is the banner when one pulls up a patient’s record. There, at the very top, is now an area that shows the patient’s pronoun and preferred name. Though small, this change will help staff interact much more appropriately in the way that the patient identifies.

The EHR system will also help health care staff ask appropriate questions related to gender identity and sexual orientation, in both content and word choice. Staff members performed hours of research to learn about best practices for asking these questions, then adapted it to CCC’s culture to be even more inclusive than what the current body of research suggests. The goal, according to Eowyn, is to structure these questions in a way so “as many people as possible have a place to feel like they belong.”

Better, more inclusive questions means gathering better, more inclusive responses. This, ultimately, will help CCC health services track how we are serving our transgender patients as a whole. In that vein, an OHSU Doctorate of Nursing student is planning a period of focus groups and one-on-one interviews during which trans patients and clients can provide direct feedback about how CCC is doing and how we can continue to improve.

Keeping the Trans Community Visible
Finally, CCC will continue to be intentional about talking about trans issues, whether internally within the CCC community, or externally with partners and constituents. (Even this blog post is part of that effort!)

According to Erika, “The more we talk about [trans issues], the more we see it, and the more we work with people who identify as trans in a safe, open, and aware way, it will have a ripple effect in the public.”

Knowing that, CCC will continue to bring stories of our trans patients, as well as the work we do to, as Erika says, “give people an opportunity for people to live as they see themselves.”

 



An historic $258 million bond measure for affordable housing in Portland

Jul 08, 2016

Central City Concern is committed to reducing homelessness in Portland. We believe everyone deserves to have a place called home. Working families should be able to live where they work. Seniors who built our neighborhoods should be able to thrive here through their golden years. But because of significant growth and stagnant incomes, Portland has a huge shortage of affordable housing: affordable housing helps everyone by creating a safe, equitable and healthy community.

That’s why Central City Concern supports the Welcome Home Coalition’s Yes for Affordable Homes campaign, which is dedicated to funding affordable housing development in Portland. On June 30, the Portland City Council voted to refer a historic affordable housing bond to the November ballot, giving voters a chance to make a critically needed investment in our community. The $258.4 million bond will:

- Add permanently affordable housing – an estimated 1,300 units, 600 of which will be reserved for very low-income households (0-30 percent median family income, which is up to about $22,000 for a family of four)

- Stabilize existing affordable housing in changing neighborhoods

- Ensure thousands of homes are protected from the market

- Protect communities of color, seniors, families, children and people with disabilities

- Prevent and reverse displacement.

Housing prices in the Portland metro area are rising at an alarming rate. National research shows when the average rent increases by $100 per month, homelessness increases by 15 percent. In 2015, average Portland rents increased by $128.

Please join us in supporting the Yes for Affordable Homes campaign. We can all join together to prevent homelessness and preserve our healthy Portland neighborhoods.

For more information on the Yes for Affordable Homes campaign, visit the Welcome Home Coalition website.



Black History Month: What Do Imani Center Clients Say?

Feb 24, 2016

Over the course of Black History Month, we’ve heard from a number of exceptional people involved with the Imani Center, Central City Concern’s new Afrocentric mental health and addictions treatment program. In our final installment of our Black History Month blog series, we hear firsthand from Imani Center clients who have been impacted by the program’s culturally relevant services.

• • •

“It’s been great to be at Imani Center. Every other treatment program I’ve been in, I’ve had to wear a mask to get through. This is the first place I can come, be honest, and not get locked up.” –Eric C.

“I like when I can release how I’m feeling with my peers. I like the different groups. It helps me and is a positive influence on me. This has provided a positive atmosphere for me.” –Michael C.

“I was pointed in the right direction by an Imani Center Peer Specialist and it’s turning out to be all they said it would be.” –Jeff G.

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste and without Imani, I would be doing the same thing… going down the wrong path. This is a different place and I really appreciate y’all. When you mess up you don’t feel like you got caught; I can just focus on what I need to work on.” –Olty S.

“To work with people who have had the same struggle as me is very powerful.” –Anonymous

“At first I was reluctant, but I’ve been so impressed by the staff. Seeing our people come together in unity makes me feel so comfortable. I have seen genuine concern for my welfare, which speaks volumes to me.” –Anthony S.

“The Imani experience has been priceless due to me being able to access services without being enrolled, which gave me a foundation. It is clear to me they want me to succeed and I carry it on a daily basis.” –Robert L.



Black History Month: Hear from the Peers at Imani

Feb 18, 2016

In last week’s two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1, Part 2), CCC’s Director of African American Services, emphasized the importance of Imani’s three peer support specialists and the special relationship they foster with clients in need of guidance in their recovery from addiction and behavioral health challenges. In today’s Black History Month blog post, we hear directly from the three Imani Center peer support specialists—Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson—about how they view their work.

• • •

Walter: For me, being a Peer Service Specialist at Imani means that I have an opportunity to help my people rebuild their lives from the ground up, and give them hope and encouragement to achieve a better life.

I think that I have a plethora of things I bring to this position, but mainly my experience of once being a hopeless dope fiend. Thankfully, over time I realized I was lost and broken and I finally asked for help. Since I surrendered to getting help, I’ve been recreated into a dope-less hope fiend!

I joined Imani because I wanted a challenge to bring my skill set to a new program that I know can be an impact in the Portland community. I love seeing people change lives and find success. We meet clients where they’re at in life. We won’t give up on people and our team at the Imani Center takes great pride in providing the best care, services and support networks that we can to help clients realize they can feel safe, and they can feel supported and cared for.

Bonnie: Being a peer Support Specialist at Imani means so much to me. Being in recovery now for 25 years myself, I feel that I have so much life experience when it come to this kind of work. I totally understand the many challenges clients struggle with even when they get clean.

I have spent many years working in and around recovery; I started doing this work in 1992! I'm a certified alcohol and drug addiction counselor and I always knew I wanted to do this work.

But I really wanted to come from behind the desk as a counselor and be on the front line helping people, meeting people where they were at. I was a Family Involvement Team (FIT) Case Manager for six years and remember how rewarding the work was watching people and families heal. So I recently got certified as Peer Mentor, and here I am.

I think Imani is special because we are a culturally specific program and we understand our clients’ many struggles as it relates to being misunderstood for so long. A recent client told me, “I’ve never seen a program like this. This is what we needed: someone to listen and to support us." Since the word has been out about Imani, we’ve been swamped with clients trying to get in. Imani means faith, and they sure have faith in us.

Richie: I feel fortunate and blessed with this opportunity to be a peer service specialist at the Imani Center and to serve people doing something that I love. We work together with a common goal and with our clients in mind.

I’m in the second term of my drug and alcohol addiction counseling certification cohort and will be starting my practicum soon. I’ve got my Certified Recovery Mentor certification and firsthand experience in the field. All that while also being in recovery myself gives me a unique perspective to support our clients’ needs and help them learn new tools for their own recovery.

I wanted to be a part of Imani because it has a great foundation in Central City Concern and the great work CCC does in the community. Between the clinicians and the peer service specialists, and with [Director of African American Services] Linda Hudson leading us, Imani has extraordinary staff with great credentials. I feel confident Imani will be provide successful outpatient services.

 



Black History Month: Q&A With Linda Hudson (Part 2)

Feb 11, 2016

Today we share Part 2 of our Q&A session with Linda Hudson, Director of African American Services. The conversation touches on the paramount important of peer services, her personal connection to the word “imani,” and the feeling of history in the Golden West Hotel where the Imani Center is based. You can read Part 1 here. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ÿ• • •

What services are offered at the Imani Center to African American clients?
The Imani Center offers outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services through both group and individual counseling. We do facilitated groups for cultural healing and criminality, or relapse prevention, groups just for women, and so on. We provide case management and help people develop life skills. We engage with patients at Hooper Detox and bring them into the fold of services.

We also have peer services, which I believe is one of the most important aspects of our program.

Why are peer services so important? What do peer services at the Imani Center look like?
Traditionally in treatment you come in, you go to group or you do an individual session with your counselor, and that’s pretty much it. After that, you go out in the world and you’re pretty much on your own to navigate and find resources. Trying to come out of a life of addiction and drugs and crime and all those things, and perhaps living with behavioral health issues on top of that, and just trying to figure out how to do this clean and sober life and all you’re expected to do along with it—that’s incredibly hard.

But with a peer attached to you when you walk out the door of the Imani Center, the client has someone saying things to them like “I’ll meet you at the meeting” or “I’ll come and get you to help you move” or “I’ll take you to the clothes closet.” That’s what our peers do.

The work of our three Peer Service Specialists is largely done outside the clinic setting. They wrap around the client in both mental health matters and addictions and support them in navigating the scary world of trying to stay in recovery and trying to change their lives. When a client walks daily with someone who they can call when they’re in a crisis or can meet them at a meeting or they can take you to the grocery store in the afternoon, it just makes all the difference. Our clients really benefit from it.

The three Imani peer specialists also have similar life experiences. They’ve earned the right to say, “I get it. I understand. I know what you’re saying.” Because of that, the clients almost listen to them more compared to a counselor may not have that firsthand experience of addictions or mental health difficulties.

Aside from the peer mentors, what other ways does the Imani Center emphasize relationships?
African Americans are relational people. We have family that isn’t blood. We’ve grown up taking other people into our homes. What makes family is acceptance and respect. Sitting around, breaking bread together…

If you sat here [in our lobby] for an hour, you’d see clients come in and the peers interact with them like family. It comes down to I see you, I hear you, I honor you. That’s how it is.

And we speak to them with respect. Looking them in the face and shaking their hand and hugging when we can. We strive to create an atmosphere like a family but with boundaries, of course. And because of that relationship, we can often say things to them that others can’t, and they hear it. Because of the cultural connection that we have, we have an understanding, and we can hear each other better.

What does it mean to you to be based in the historic Golden West Hotel ?
It wasn’t the plan originally! When we were looking for a place to put Imani, I knew we couldn’t be in a place where we couldn’t be ourselves. So off-handedly I suggested the Golden West and that idea gained support quickly!

The building itself makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. It means a lot for people to know that this is where African Americans stayed in the 20s and 30s. People who worked on the railroads stayed here, this was the only place they had. There was a thriving Black community here. There were businesses and barbershops here.

Right in this hotel, right down there, that was the gambling area, it was one of the largest gambling halls around. And they had music recitals here. I love the history.

It still needs some work, but thankfully renovations are coming soon. 

I heard that you really pushed for this program to be named the “Imani Center.” Why?
It’s personal. When we were trying to figure out a name for this program, I had several ideas. But I wanted the name to, numbers one, mean something. Two, I didn’t want an acronym. [laughs] But I wanted it to mean something to not just me, but also the clients—something they could relate to.

So you know that “imani” means “faith” in Swahili. Without faith, our people would not still be around… striving, thriving, trying to get better, and holding on. Faith was a thing that was ingrained in us as children growing up. We saw our parents and grandparents worshipping in the church and such, always talking about having faith. “Have faith in God. Have faith in this, have faith in that.”

It’s one of those words that feels like a foundation for me. Faith is the foundation of all things we hope for and wish for. So when we had about two or three options, the staff—they helped me choose— they all liked the word “Imani” because it was about faith.

I want the clients to have something to remind them to have faith in themselves first. We speak a lot about higher powers in here, in a power greater than yourself. Having faith that things are going to turn out right. So if they have faith in themselves, and faith in us as clinicians and as people who care about them, that means there’s faith in Central City Concern, too. So that’s why Imani came about.

And I wanted it to be Imani Center instead of Program because I want our people to have access to the same things other people do within all of CCC. The center can be a hub for a lot more of those services for African Americans and people of color in the future. If it’s the center, that means we’re a hub, and we want to be on the hook for doing a lot more.



Black History Month: Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1)

Feb 09, 2016

We continue our Black History Month series introducing the Central City Concern Imani Center with a two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services. Last week’s post introduced the roots of the Imani Center. In part one of our interview, Linda shares more about the unique experiences many African Americans encounter in mainstream treatment programs, how the Imani Center breaks through them to enhance their clients’ chances of recovery success, and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Part of the purpose of the Imani Center was to provide services that address barriers “uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream [treatment] programs.” Can you talk a little bit more about those barriers are?
One of the main things we see is the effect of treatment curriculum taught in many traditional programs, which has been created and maintained from the viewpoint of the dominant culture. So when an African American patient comes in with different experiences and different perspectives, and they try to fit the client into that curriculum, there’s often some tension there. If it doesn’t relate to the individual, or if they have a difficult time understanding it, they get labeled as “resistant” or “not a good fit.”

Or if an African American person enters treatment with a background of trauma—and so many African Americans carry the trauma of discrimination and racism—it’s easy to get triggered. A lot of those curricula and even treatment staff don’t have that cultural lens to understand that the client has had some horrible history that they may continue to carry every single day. So a person with consistent trauma can get triggered very easily.

An African American client might enter a treatment program, perhaps loud and boisterous with a lot of PTSD and trauma, and they’ll probably make people in the group uncomfortable. They’ll get labeled as aggressive, so they don’t do well in treatment. Black people in treatment get kicked out of programs more often and they don’t graduate as often. Many African Americans encounter this in traditional, predominantly white, treatment programs.

How does the Imani Center avoid those barriers?
A lot of our clients have never been able to sit in a treatment program and really be themselves: say the things that they would love to say the way they want to express it. At the Imani Center, clients don’t have to feel like they need to use the perfect vernacular, to choose their words. Here, they can say things the way they want to, and we can understand it and work with them. And of course, we can work on refining some things to get their needs met if they want that.

At the Imani Center, clients are allowed to be who they are in a safe place. They get to talk about racism and discrimination, and they’re talking with staff who understand what they’re talking about. We’ve been there ourselves. We know how it goes and we know how it feels. And we the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are; we can share with clients how they might be able to navigate it and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.

And I want to be clear that traditional programs are in no way bad. They are absolutely necessary. But some of our people just haven’t been set up for success in those environments, and we’re hoping to change some of that and help them heal in ways that they can start getting their needs met in an appropriate manner and understand how to navigate through the system.

Who are the faces behind the Imani Center?
I’m the director of African American services. Joanna Smith is our lead mental health counselor. JoAnna and I are the only Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP) at this time. We have recently hired another QMHP who will be on board soon. Yvette Davis is an Addiction and Mental Health Counselor, and Jammie Trimble is a Mental Health Counselor. Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson are our three peer support specialists. Karen Fahie, the Imani Center Office Manager, keeps everything organized and running smoothly.

We heard from Sonja Ervin in last week’s post that during the planning process, the African American community voiced that they greatly valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Aside from the lived experiences, there is a high level of education under the Imani Center roof. What message does that send? How does that aid in what the Imani Center hopes to be?
Yeah, people sure do want those credentials behind your name! [laughs]

Joanna, Yvette, and I all have Master of Social Work degrees. Joanna and I are Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP), which means we can do mental health assessments and diagnose. Yvette is also a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor which means she is credentialed to perform alcohol and drug assessments. I’m dually credentialed, which means I can do both mental health and addiction assessments. Jammie and Yvette both are Qualified Mental Health Associates, which means they can work with mental health clients, but not diagnose. Jammie will be taking the Oregon Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) test shortly.

The three peers support specialists have gone through the extensive Certified Recovery Mentor training. Walter and Bonnie are former counselors. Walter is also a Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) and Bonnie, a CADC l. Richie is currently enrolled in an A&D counseling program. And they all have firsthand experience to varying extents with addictions and mental health struggles.

My goal is to get everyone dually credentialed. Nowadays you don’t find many people struggling with just one disorder. They’re so often co-occurring: mental health and addictions. Most mental health clients use drugs to self-medicate; most people who use drugs develop mental health disorders. We have to be able to work with both at the same time. You can’t work with one and then the other. It’s called integrated treatment. And along with our CCC primary care clinic, most of our clients are getting the best of the best care.

As treatment program staff, we need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving. I encourage our staff to take care of themselves. Stay home if you’re sick. Take time off when you need it. Working with our clients is challenging. The disease of addiction and mental health disorders are so complex and we need to be at our best.

That’s why I’m so grateful that we were able to create the Imani Center. It’s not a traditional program. We do individualized treatment. We do it according to what the client needs. What does he need? Oh, he needs to be in the MH group and the criminality group. What does she need? She needs to be in the women’s group and the relapse prevention group. All based on their needs and history.

Aside from not having had success in traditional treatment programs, is there a “typical” profile of a person coming to Imani? What makes someone a good fit for Imani?
I don’t know how to answer that… there are so many types of people who come here!

The big thing is if they are willing and able to show up and do the work. We don’t sugarcoat anything here. We’re going to do work here. This is an alcohol and drug addiction and mental health clinic. Someone who is tired of doing things the way they’ve normally done because it’s not working for them. Let us show you a different way of getting your needs met. You also need to be able to get along with others. We have a complex group of people. We empower and encourage people to monitor themselves.

Many years ago when I started in this field, the word “manipulation” would be thrown around so much about clients. “They’re manipulative. They’re manipulating.” But if I needed to get my needs met, I need to get my needs met! Addiction is a very selfish disease and in many ways, mental health issues are not far from that. And if you constantly label people manipulative, you can’t empower them to be better.

So we do not use that word as it pertains to clients here. Instead, I encourage my staff to think of people trying to get their needs met the best way they know how until they learn how to do it differently! That means they have to unlearn all the things that they have learned on the streets and through criminality, and then learn a different way. And that takes a long time to do.

But if you’re willing and able and you and show up and get along with others, then we can work with you.

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Part two of the Q&A with Linda Hudson will be posted on Thursday.