I cried as I watched the spirited homegoing service for America’s diva, Whitney Houston. I cried for daughter Bobbi Kristina. I cried for her mother Cissy Houston. Then I cried for myself.
For many years I was addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs, the kind of toxic cocktail that reportedly caused Houston’s untimely death at 48. At her funeral, preachers, musicians and movies stars kept respectfully silent about her drug dependence.
But we can’t afford to remain silent on this issue.
If it were not for divine intervention, I would have met the same fate. Fortunately, since the 1980s, I have been a member of Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church in the District.
Bishop Alfred Owens preaches deliverance and instituted a faith-based program—CATADA HOUSE— to aid those addicted to drugs and alcohol. After my own deliverance, I now serve as director of the Harriets Anti-Drug ministry there which for 15 years has helped scores of addicts break free.
There remains a terrible stigma to admitting that behind the Sunday-best faces, some of the so-called righteous are struggling with addiction. Silence and shame cloud a disease that impacts more than 22 million people. Overdoses claim a life every 14 minutes. Continued silence, however, cannot protect us from the scandal of how our drug culture with its baggage of pampered entertainers, glitter and self-indulgence is killing us from the top to the bottom, where people die with only a few remembering their names.
Many of us, the media and fans are akin to ambulance chasers racing from one celebrity death scene to another, scrutinizing every salacious detail and then rushing onto the next spectacle. When will we stop and examine the reasons for all these red-carpeted deaths and what must be done to stop them?
Many cried over the drug-induced death of Michael Jackson, the demise of Mega-church pastor Zachery Tims, who was found dead in a New York City hotel floor with a suspicious substance in his pocket, and the loss of Anne Nicole Smith in another prescription drug-related death. Rumors are now sweeping the Internet that Bobbi Kristina, who has watched both parents struggle with drugs, is said to be using cocaine to cope with her mother’s tragedy.
There are several ways to abate these tragedies. A first step is for the music industry to take ownership of the problem not only in the messages it peddles, but also the cavalier way it enables drug use. Can you imagine what would happen if the industry could find enough non- drug using role models to start an anti-drug drive, especially since entertainers often carry more weight with kids than parents.
“Drugs are everywhere at the Grammy ceremonies whether in hotels or private rooms,” says James Walker, an entertainment attorney, CNN contributor and author of “This Business of Urban Music.” Drugs are the status quo.
Many of those who manage the stars are more enablers than managers. There is virtually no one around to help those struggling with drugs. The drug demons are just awaiting them. The irony of all this is Houston, the star of Bodyguard needed a bodyguard to protect her from herself.
A culture of indulgence is a major contributor to the drug crisis, says Stephanie Myers, national co-chair of Black Women for Obama for Change, who conducted an informal on-line focus group to discuss Houston’s demise. We must guide our youth to dream bigger dreams than those benefitting self and to dedicate themselves to moving beyond their fears to leave a legacy for others to follow.
We must help educate our youth to have a YES WE CAN attitude that prolongs life because we cannot afford to lose talented individuals like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and many others, to intense stress combined with powerful prescription drugs and/or illegal drugs.
So what must we do to stop the parade of drug-induced deaths?
Education consultant Eleanor Renee Rodriquez, co-chair, education committee of Black Women for Obama for Change says, “We must stop scooting things under the rug. The culture has to change because drugs have become normal. All the adult stakeholders that impact our youth, from preachers, teachers, parents, have to stop sending mixed messages of saying no to drugs while using them themselves.
There must be better education of the dangers of prescription drugs and we must provide more alternatives to building an internal foundation in the lives of children, such as nutrition programs, exercise, art and music.”
I last saw Whitney Houston in person in 2010 when she was honored by BET, where she asked to be judged not by her failures but by her triumphs. I can’t judge her at all, but I only wish her triumphs could have saved her.
Reynolds is the author of six books, including “Out of Hell and Living Well, Healing from the Inside Out,” a spiritual biography which describes her personal battle with addiction and the program she launched to help others. She is an occasional blogger for the ROOT DC.
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