February is African American History Month. The original proclamation for African American History Month was issued by President Gerald Ford in 19762. From Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama, African Americans have made and continue to make major contributions to American history3. African Americans have endured over 400 years of toxic stress and trauma through slavery, the Jim Crow Era, the war on drugs, and now institutional and structural racism1. Although we recognize the struggles, we want to honor the triumphs and resilience. Due to the leadership from many, we have been able to see progress made in equality in the fields of substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery.

Below are just a few examples of African American leaders and pioneers in the fields of prevention, treatment, and recovery.

  • Henry McNeil “Mandrake” Brown (1935-1996): He is known for protesting alcohol and tobacco marketing products in African American communities. He is noted for being arrested for whitewashing billboards promoting these products and for using zoning laws to have over 700 illegal billboards removed from African American communities. He co-founded the Citywide Coalition Against Tobacco and Alcohol Billboards and the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery3.
  • Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D. (1959- ): Currently, he is the CEO of American Psychological Association (APA). He was Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services. He led a recovery-focused change of Philadelphia’s behavioral health care system. This included a focus on overcoming minority community gaps in health care access and quality. Under his leadership, Philadelphia became a model for the development of recovery-oriented systems of care3.
  • Dr. Melissa Freeman (1926- ): The granddaughter of a slave, Dr. Freeman was involved in the development of using methadone to treat heroin addiction at Rockefeller University. She became the first doctor to treat a pregnant woman on methadone maintenance therapy. She is still currently practicing at the age of 92 and splits her time between her own internal medicine practice and a methadone clinic treating patients1
  • Annie Moody (DOB Unknown): She was the co-founders of one of the largest faith-based addiction ministries at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in 1986. This organization acknowledged the growing involvement of the church in addressing addiction problems within the African American communitites3.

These individuals were able to make headway in not only their communities but in the world; to help prevent and treat substance abuse, and to provide resources to those in recovery. These men and women are just a few of many examples of the contributions made by African Americans in this field.

These advancements helped to make sure that future generations have the resources needed available to them. Parents, talk to your children about the dangers of substance abuse and know that there are resources available to help. Please educate them on the history of all Americans.


1. Chapman, E., (2019) Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in Minority Communities: “An Integrated treatment Model of Care”. Paramount Lifestyles, Inc.

2. Huang, L., Holiday-Moore, R., (2019). Three African American Leaders Making an Impact on Mental Health in the Community. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 25 February 2019. https://blog.samhsa.gov/2019/02/25/three-african-american-leaders-making-an-impact-on-mental-health-in-the-community                            

3. Sanders, M., White, W. (2016) African Americas who Have Made (and are Making) a Difference in Promoting Resistance to and recovery from Alcohol and Other Drug Problems. William White Papers. 2016. http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/2016%20African%20American%20Pioneers%20in%20Recovery.pdf