Mercer Council News
Black history unsung hero, Jack L
Jack L wasn’t a famous or even a known black history icon, but he certainly was an unsung hero to me and countless others who struggled with addiction in the New Brunswick area in the early 1980s.
I was introduced to Jack at a local substance abuse treatment facility. I was 21, completely naive to substance misuse and I was placed there during my first year of undergraduate social work field ed. . The facility was an “unconventional” treatment program that bore true to its name. You were welcomed as you had a respect for others, a mind to stay sober and a desire to work your program. Services consisted of individual counseling, groups, community referral, recreation and even free meals. It was a safe space to be during the day and evening as people fought hard to avoid relapse at any cost. I can recall people sleeping out in the parking lot at night anxiously awaiting the next day programming.
Jack was the embodiment of the program. He participated in and facilitated 12 step, AA, NA, and Al Anon groups. He also ran additional groups and had full oversight of most of the daily operations of the building and program. He performed partial intakes, cooked and served meals, vacuumed, cleaned and mopped floors, replaced lights, did maintenance and everything else that was needed. Nothing happened at the program without his direct involvement and sanctioning. When the agency received a grant to open a halfway house, Jack ran it. He always had his own office parallel to the executive directors and it was filled with sobriety motivational posters, certificates from trainings and AA accolades/accomplishments. Jack received his CADC, I believe, without even having a high school diploma. The young executive director and management staff readily sought his advice in every program policy that was implemented. Once, a highly sought after mental health clinician was hired. After a few days, it was obvious that she was not relatable to the clients. Jack went behind closed doors with the management team and within a week the clinician was gone! Fortunately for me, Jack welcomed me into the program and despite discovering early on that I had absolutely no experience in working with inner city substance misusers, he paved the way to ensure I received real life and on the job training. Once when an aggressive group of clients angrily challenged me, Jack came to my defense by saying “ He doesn’t have to know your exact pain in order to try to help you find a better way ... so either sit down, shut up , listen or leave”. Jack was never impressed with academic degrees, but interestingly I do remember him encouraging me to pursue my MSW, citing that even though I had a good listening ear and a spirit of humility, and the MSW would guide me in the door!
My historical account of Jack’s life is rather evasive. There were many unanswered questions about his past. What I do know was that he bore the physical and medical scars of a long history of substance misuse. For years he characterized himself as having been a "hopeless heroin abuser and relentless drunk", who one day had the good fortune to realize that “enough was enough!”. After participating in an inpatient detox program, he set his sights on the treatment agency and never looked back. Jack got a chance to start his life completely over. He even married a young woman who shared in his recovery process and at age 60 they had a son. Jack cherished his remaining years on earth being a devoted father, husband, sponsor and friend. When I met him he had seven years of sobriety under his belt and by the time he passed away in the late 1980’s he proudly had 11 years of sobriety. Jack’s funeral repass was held at the Open Door and it went on for hours while literally hundreds of people came to pay homage to him and the extraordinary influence he had in their lives.
Jack taught me so many things, but most importantly that everyday sober was the opportunity of a lifetime! When people would relapse he would always remind them that tomorrow was the first new day of the rest of their lives.
Thank you Jack, for in many ways serving as my incredible Black History Hero!
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This is a beautiful story. Thank you for allowing us to celebrate Jack and their contributions along with you.