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.

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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.

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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.