February is Black History Month. Black History Month is an annual celebration recognized in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom in honor and remembrance of important people, experiences, and events from African-American history. The prominent and important history of African-Americans is too-often overlooked and this is especially true when it comes to addiction and recovery. When you browse the internet, there isn’t much information on the unique struggles of people of color in recovery, or articles that speak specifically to that demographic. In order to empower people of color who are in, or seeking recovery, it’s important that they can identify with the people and experiences that are being talked about. In honor of Black History Month, I’ve put together a list of well-known people of color who have battled a substance use disorder and have found recovery.
1. Malcolm X
Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X was an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist. He is well-known for his outspoken advocacy holding white America accountable for their harshest crimes while coming starting as a criminal and becoming a humanist. He founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity before he was assassinated in 1965 following his departure from the Nation of Islam. Not many people are aware of Malcolm’s history with addiction and recovery. He supported his drug habit as a dealer, pimp, and burglar, during the times of his life when he was always high on cocaine, marijuana, opium, and amphetamines. While in prison, Malcolm found a pathway to recovery through religion. He encouraged other African-Americans to quit drugs and alcohol and find their sobriety and dignity. For Malcolm X, sobriety was an act of political resistance.
2. Naomi Campbell
Campbell is not African-American, but she is a British supermodel considered to be one of the 5 “original supermodels.” She’s also had several acting gigs and even an R&B pop studio album. In 1994 Campbell came to grips with her cocaine addiction and went to rehab, it has been reported that she attends daily 12 step meetings. Following an arrest in 2010 after a few public and alcohol-fueled outbursts, Campbell quit alcohol for good. She now says she is a different person and her life has changed for the better.
3. Samuel L. Jackson
One of the biggest movie stars in the world, Samuel L. Jackson might not seem like someone who has battled addiction when he typically plays the roles of villains in movies. Addiction runs in his family and he lost his father to alcoholism. In the 70’s when Jackson was first starting out he used drugs and drank heavily. In 1990 Jackson’s wife and daughter found him passed out on the floor in their home, signaling the thought that he might have a problem. Shortly after this incident, he checked into addiction treatment and has been sober ever since.
4. John Coltrane
John Coltrane was an American composer and jazz saxophonist who worked with many other well-known musicians including Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. He was said to have revolutionized jazz music with his techniques and deep understanding of other sounds. In the 1950’s after Coltrane started to make a name for himself, he began using drugs, mainly heroin. After losing work and opportunities because of his drug use he finally got sober. He died from liver cancer at the young age of 40.
5. Darryl Strawberry
Strawberry is a former Major League Baseball player, an ordained Christian minister, and author. During his successful professional sports career, he was suspended three times by the MLB for substance misuse. Strawberry attended rehab and served 11 months in jail before getting sober. Now he is vocal about his recovery and has made it one of the several important missions of his life. In 2013, he opened the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center in St. Cloud, Florida. Since then, he has opened a second treatment center in Deland, Florida.
6. Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige has sold approximately 24.5 million records in the United States and performed for several presidents, including President Barack Obama. Blige struggled for most of her adult life with cocaine and alcohol and got caught up in the glamorous life of music-making. She finally gave sobriety a shot in 2012 and has been sober since. She did not attend rehab but credits her recovery to her faith.
7. Jada Pinkett-Smith
Life wasn’t always riches and movie premieres for Jada Pinkett-Smith. She was raised in poverty and amongst drug addiction. She has even said she didn’t think she would live to make it to the age of 21. Luckily, she was able to break free of her environment and go on to be extremely successful. Eventually, she found herself drinking two bottles of wine on the couch one night and thought to herself she may have a problem. From that day forward she went cold turkey and has not had a drink.
8. Frederick Douglass
You may have heard this name lately in the headlines from our 45th president who seems to have taken a liking to Frederick Douglass. Douglass is a historic figure who escaped slavery and went on to become an author, orator, newspaper editor, and sober person among other things. He was an important force in encouraging the emancipation of American slaves. He openly spoke about his excessive drinking in his speeches and pointed out the promotion of drinking and drunkenness that occurred by slave masters. Through Douglass’ example, African Americans in the 19th century created their own temperance and mutual aid societies that outlined a commitment to sobriety as a pathway to freedom.
9. Jayson Williams
Williams is a former professional basketball player who played for the Philadelphia 76er’s and the New Jersey Nets. After a tragic accident in 2002 that left Williams’ limo driver dead, he was imprisoned for manslaughter and for attempting to cover up the shooting. He then attended rehab and now takes his sobriety one day at a time. He credits his South Florida addiction treatment center with his sobriety. He celebrated one year sober in January.
10. Dwight Gooden
Gooden, also nicknamed Dr. K, is a professional baseball pitcher who played 16 seasons in the MLB for several teams including the 1986 world-series winning New York Mets. Gooden’s issues with alcohol and drugs started after that winning season where he partied with some of the best, including Daryl Strawberry. In 1994 he was suspended from the MLB for testing positive for cocaine. Later, he had several arrests and run-ins with the law including a year prison sentence. In 2010, he attended rehab, changing his life. It put him on the pathway to sobriety for good. March 4, 2011, was the last time he took a drink or a drug.