By Brandon Jones
In our conversations about injustice and systemic racism, we tend to focus on individuals who have been mistreated. Whether we are speaking about current police brutality incidents, something that happens to Black entertainers, or racist rants, the injustice and systematic assaults on Black people continue. Oftentimes one element of this oppression that is often overlooked is how Black organizations get caught up in the abusive system.
John Woods, an African American who is the program director and owner of New Perspectives Behavioral Health Systems, is speaking out about the injustice that he is experiencing now. Woods claims that the review team at 1800 Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis (Hennepin County Detox) is systematically running his agency out of business.
“It has gotten to the point that we are being squeezed out of providing services to our culture,” says Woods “This appears to be happening because of politics and other reasons that are very obvious. Yet, it is a proven fact that better outcomes are derived from services provided by people of like culture.” Such services are generally identified as “culturally specific.”
New Perspective Behavioral Health Systems
John Woods has been working in the chemical dependency field for more than 20 years, specializing in working with culturally specific and multicultural programs. His organization, New Perspectives, carefully designs personalized treatment plans to address each client’s chronic patterns of addiction, co-occurring mental health disorders, and individual risk factors.
The clients served by New Perspectives range in age from 18 and up. Woods states that his program is one of few that fit the definition of culturally specific programs; however, he believes that he is not receiving the volume of clients that should be referred to him based upon the overall statistics reported in the DAANES.
Source: The Drug and Alcohol Abuse Normative Evaluation System (DAANES) is a database collected by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) “to provide policymakers, planners, service providers and others in Minnesota with access to current information about chemical dependency treatment activities across the continuum of care” according to a DHS website. All measures below are based on DAANES data for patients who were in treatment in 2012 and whose discharge data were submitted to DHS by December 2, 2013.
In 2012, 4,161 individuals were approved for chemical dependency treatment in Hennepin County. The Hennepin County review team (based out of the 1800 Chicago Hennepin County Community Services Agency) reviewed these individuals in 2012. Of those, 1,361 (32.7 percent) were classified as African American and approved for chemical dependency treatment. Of those 1,361 African American individuals seeking CD services, New Perspectives received only 48 approvals (6.5 percent).
Woods claims this is not something that only his organization is facing; he says African American Family Services and Turning Point, Inc. have also been victims of this referral process. Woods believes that this flawed referral process, which he identifies as a form of “systematic racism,” was an essential factor in the recent merger of African American Family Services with another agency.
African American Family Services received 42 approvals (5.7 percent). Turning Point Inc. was the only culturally specific program that received numbers that approach reasonable: Turning Point received 122 approvals (16.6 percent). The majority-White owned and operated organizations, Park Avenue and Recovery Resource Center, received the majority of the referrals. Park Avenue received 237 African American approvals (32 percent), and Recovery Resource Center (RRC) received 158 African American approvals (21.5 percent).
Behind the numbers
Woods believes the review team should either be referring individuals to culturally specific programs or offering them the option to attend such programs if they so desire. He says that if these individuals do request culturally specific programs, they are told that the non-cultural programs offer some cultural programming. In Woods’ experience, the Native American and Hispanic programs do not experience these same issues, and individuals with these cultural backgrounds are automatically referred to appropriate culturally specific programs or given the option first to do so.
Woods acknowledges that the definition of “culturally specific programs” remains unclear in the field. Majority-White organizations may have staff of color or programs designed for non-White populations, but does this mean they qualify as culturally specific? Or is only a program represented by the same population from the administration on down culturally specific?
The current practice derails culturally specific client referrals to culturally specific agencies, at least in the case of African Americans. The majority of African Americans are currently being referred to majority-White organizations. Based on the statistics, it is apparent that millions of dollars are being funneled into majority-White organizations while the culturally specific organizations for African Americans are receiving far less funding opportunities than the client base would seem to justify. John Woods asserts plainly that “politics” and racial bias are behind this discrepancy.
Dr. Thomas Adams of the African American Wellness Institute (formerly African American Family Services) states, “There must be a more transparent process for the regulation of the referral process.” Adams believes that at the end of the year all the chemical dependency program directors should get together with Hennepin County and review who got referrals, how successful the clients were, and why clients did or did not leave their chemical dependency programs in better standing. He believes this process would be more beneficial to all parties involved.
Brandon Jones M.A. is a mental health practitioner. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @UniversalJones.