Turning Point’s Peter Hayden nationally recognized as pioneer of Black sobriety

Courtesy of Turning Point Dr. Peter Hayden

A national association recently awarded Dr. Peter Hayden the inaugural “Diversity, Inclusivity and Racial Equity Award” for pioneering cultural-specific treatment with the Minneapolis-based organization he co-founded. Thanks to his Turning Point, communities of color now have alternatives to previous culturally insensitive approaches to substance use disorders. 

It’s been over 50 years since President Richard Nixon declared the disastrous “War on Drugs” that would disproportionately criminalize Black Americans, and yet drug overdose deaths are at record highs. In 2020, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. 

While overdose death rates have increased in every major demographic group in recent years, no group has seen a bigger increase than Black men. As a result, Black men have overtaken White men and are now on par with American Indian or Alaska Native men as the demographic group most likely to die from overdoses.

Despite this, there are relatively few substance disorder treatment programs geared towards Black communities. Even fewer are Black-led, according to Peter Hayden, Ph.D., making his organization Turning Point, Inc. one of few of its kind in the nation.

The Minneapolis-based agency was recently recognized by the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) for providing culturally responsive care to over 24,000 people over the course of its 46 years of existence.

“With communities of color experiencing significant disparities in access to quality culturally competent care, as well as addiction outcomes, organizations like Turning Point and leaders like Dr. Hayden are crucial to the nation—not only because of the direct care they provide but because of the experience they have to share with the rest of health care,” said Dr. Joseph Lee, president, and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, in a Feb. press release. 

The Minnesota-based Hazelden, the nation’s largest nonprofit provider of addiction treatment, began collaborating with Turning Point last year to increase access to quality care. Initially formed to serve African Americans specifically, Turning Point now offers culturally specific treatment to people of all backgrounds. 

In 2015, the University of Minnesota heralded Turning Point’s model as an industry best practice. As such, the NAATP is naming the inaugural “Diversity, Inclusivity and Racial Equity Award” after Hayden. The award will be presented at the NAATP national conference to be held May 7-9 in San Diego.

“Dr. Hayden’s leadership and community-centric approach have had a monumental impact not only on Turning Point’s programming and clients but also on the professionals throughout the country who see him as a leader and inspiration for the work they do,” said Marvin Ventrell, CEO of NAATP. “Turning Point’s grassroots efforts are a model for best practices in culturally specific substance use disorder treatment, and we are pleased to honor Dr. Hayden’s vital legacy for years to come.” 

For Hayden, Turning Point’s success is rooted in his own quest for sobriety. He credits the community for supporting him in this quest.

Courtesy of Turning Point Dr. Peter Hayden

Pioneering Black sobriety in MN

When Hayden moved from Kansas City, Mo., to attend the University of Minnesota decades ago, he “didn’t come in a good situation,” he said. He was drinking a lot of alcohol and ended up living on the streets until he enlisted in the army. His addiction worsened while he served in the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Hayden said his life turned around after a fateful accident sent him to treatment, but he soon realized there was an issue. The program was operated primarily for and by White people; the few Black and Indigenous people in treatment with him did not stay sober.  

“What I had to do then is buy into the system. So all my friends were White because I wanted to stay sober. For those seven years, I did whatever it took, aside break the law, to stay sober. That didn’t make me feel good because I wasn’t with people who look like me,” Hayden said.

In response, Hayden, along with Peter Bell, Jim Bransford, and other Black people from St. Paul and Minneapolis, started the first Black AA group in the state of Minnesota, adding Afrocentric supplements to the standard 12-step program. 

In 1976, Hayden and his friend Henry Sullivan also co-founded Turning Point, which initially started as a co-ed halfway house serving 16 people, with a $25,000 grant. The group continued to support each other and the community in sobriety, relying on guidance from elders. 

Turning Point continues to evolve to address the needs of the community, over time developing eight facilities across the Twin Cities with offerings like residential and outpatient treatment, low-income family housing, and community space. 

Today, they are focused on increasing access to culturally specific care at other agencies, Hayden said. “There will always be more White people treating Black people than Black people…  So now what we do is, we train everybody how to work with African American men and women.”

Hayden said Turning Point’s model—and culturally specific care—looks at a person holistically. This means building their foundation: supporting them with housing, employment, education, and family counseling among other things, which is beyond what typical substance disorder treatment programs offer.

Much of it centers around community. “One day, one step at a time. That’s all you can do,” Hayden tells people. “And then getting to those people who have chosen to get into treatment and change their life, give them all the support you can.”

To talk about any issue and seek help for relatives or community members, Hayden recommends contacting Turning Point at 612-448-9318 or ourturningpoint.org