VAMHAR’s Commitment to Anti-Racism in the Recovery Community

“Racism. The belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance.”

-Audre Lorde


September 29, 2020

Dear Community,

We at the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery (VAMHAR), which includes Recovery Vermont, Camp Daybreak, and the Vermont Alcohol and Drug Information Clearinghouse, are deeply concerned about the level of police brutality against Black people as well as the extreme and dangerous ways white supremacists are responding to protests these brutalities. It is clear to us that racism and white supremacy is a public health crisis, and as a public health organization we take seriously our responsibility in addressing this crisis. 

When we name this public health crisis, we are not only speaking of the murders of Black people we all have witnessed on the news and social media but also of the health disparities across the board — from childbirth to chronic illness to COVID-related deaths. We also acknowledge that these disparities are deeply embedded in the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder arena, affecting the care, services, and health outcomes of the BIPOC community; VAMHAR is not immune to contributing to these disparities.  

As an organization, VAMHAR acknowledges that our past inaction of not understanding and responding to our parts in these systems has caused harm. We also acknowledge that we are an entity (board and staff) that consists entirely of white people and that, as white people, we have been raised in racist systems that we have benefited and upheld. We believe that we are responsible for changing its legacy.

White supremacy culture harms BIPOC people and communities the most. White people are also harmed by these systems.  This is a time for us to recognize and acknowledge the impacts of interpersonal and structural racism on our world; a time for us to engage in anti-racism work that seeks to dismantle that harm in all of its forms.”

On June 5th, we wrote a letter addressing our desire to become anti-racist in our work as an organization. In that letter, we listed these action steps:

  1.     The hiring of a black-owned consultant agency to perform an equity audit for our organization.
  2.     Training of all VAMHAR staff on what it means to be anti-racist and how to create equity and anti-oppression in our workplace
  3.     Using the findings of the equity audit to address and evaluate our mission, policies, training, board, and hiring processes. 
  4.     Creation of BIPOC led and recovery meeting opportunities

We are happy to report that we are well underway in these action steps. We have hired The McKensie Mack Group (MMG) and are working with them on performing  an equity-audit of our organizations, which will include a stake-holder meeting to review results as well as at least three training on anti-oppression & anti-racism.  In additional to the work with MMG, Recovery Vermont is hosting monthly Recovery Groups for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, And Deaf and Hard-of Hearing communities with trained facilitators.  As we move forward with these steps, we ask ourselves, “What else?” It is clear to us that we have much learning and unlearning to do. To be part of the change, we must be actively anti-racist which means we must commit to dismantling systems of oppression, not just within the systems, but within ourselves.     

In addition to our action steps shared on June 5, we have committed to the following:

  1. Weekly staff meeting addressing anti-racism/oppression, which includes readings and discussions.
  2. Building relationships with Vermont anti-racist/oppression groups and listening to them about what work they have done, are doing, and how we might be in service to them.
  3. Looking at what resources, influence, and power we hold as an organization and how we might use them, in collaboration with anti-racist organizations, to address racism as a public health crisis.
  4. Looking at the make-up and structure of our board and staff regarding who holds power and how to restructure with mindfulness to equity and anti-oppression.
  5. Partnering with local organizations to create community anti-oppression learning opportunities so that we can promote education, action, and healing at a community level. This looks like community discussions, book groups, and movie nights. We are not the experts and wish to engage with the community on this learning journey.

We feel honored and humbled to be serving the recovery community in Vermont and take seriously our role as leaders and educators to do better. We often say regarding recovery, “Change is Possible,” and we believe this now: Change is Possible and as a community we can enter Recovery from Oppression and White Supremacy. Together we can heal and repair.