In a room filled with 75 people communally punctuating a graduation ceremony with joyful whoops, thunderous ovations, and raucous laughter, it was perhaps the small pockets of silence that spoke the loudest about the magnitude of the event.
The attendees had gathered for a mahafali—Swahili for graduation—at which a dozen graduates of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Imani Center program would be recognized. The Imani Center provides culturally responsive Afrocentric approaches to substance use disorder treatment and mental health counseling, connecting clients to the wider Black recovery community in Portland, Ore. The family members, friends and staff members from across CCC who were there had every reason to be in the mood to celebrate those being honored.
Imani Center counselors called up their graduating clients one by one, sharing words about their journey together and offering words of pride, insight and encouragement. Each graduate met and hugged their counselor, awash in the sound of applause. They received their certificate, tucked in a sturdy, handsome red or blue folder. The applause petered out.
For some graduates, no more than a second. For some others, maybe it was 10. But the silence wasn’t just an absence of sound; it was the incoming rush of a feeling.
Graduates used that time to glance down at their certificate, tracing their eyes over the words that confirmed that they had indeed taken a major step forward in the recovery: Certificate of Completion... Presented to... Has Successfully Completed.
They had not only started their journeys of recovery; they’d taken monumental steps forward on the path, and they were still on it that day.
One graduate, after she had collected herself, said, “I didn’t really think I’d graduate the mental health program. A year ago I was hearing voices. I’m so proud of myself. This is a step up. It’s been such a long time since I’ve accomplished anything positive.”
“We don’t need drugs. We got people. We got each other, even with our mental struggles.”
Another looked up from her certificate and scanned the packed community room, finding a reminder of the community effort that got her to this day. “We don’t need drugs,” she said. “We got people. We got each other, even with our mental struggles.”
The Imani Center is an exceptionally tailored program that uses a model of substance use disorder and mental health treatment developed to account for the Black community’s unique assets, culture, traumas and experiences. As such, Linda Hudson, CCC’s director of African-American services, closed the mahafali with words that spoke to the community’s ties that helped the graduates reach this moment and dream hopefully in their own futures.
“Imani is building a village to support our community. Find somebody coming up behind you and pull them up with you. It doesn’t end here.”