Lukas Nel, Contributing Photographer

In a Thursday morning press conference, Mayor Justin Elicker stood beside New Haven community leaders in front of the Dixwell Avenue United Church of Christ to announce the plans for the Black Church Project — a collaborative program led by local churches and health professionals that will focus on substance abuse research and treatment for members of the Black community.

The organization recently won a $3 million grant from The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Ayanna Jordan, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, worked with local city officials like Elicker to secure federal funding for the 10 week program scheduled to begin in March. The program will run out of the Dixwell Avenue United Church of Christ and the Midwestern Connecticut Council on Alcoholism rehabilitation center on Whalley Avenue. It will offer 200 community members cognitive behavioral therapy via electronic interface.

“We’re focused on trying to figure out what is the best way to take care of the most marginalized [and] historically excluded people who use alcohol and other substances, and that, really, in our community is Black people with alcohol use,” Jordan told listeners at the press release.

Jordan founded a pilot of the program in 2018 in the predominantly Black neighborhoods of Dixwell and The Hill. The pilot program of over 40 people aimed to serve those affected by alcoholism and drug abuse in these communities and, according to Jordan, attracted attention from hundreds of community members, though not all were able to participate. Now, Jordan said that with the NIAAA funding, the program can expand. The project is currently recruiting Black community members battling alcohol and other substance addictions to sign up.

She said that she hopes to offer “culturally-informed” addiction treatment options that “affirm the humanity” of participants and looked to the future for implementation of the program in multiple cities.

In an interview with the News, the Rev. Frederick Streets, senior pastor of the historic Dixwell Avenue Congregational United Church of Christ, echoed Jordan’s sentiments. He emphasized the necessity of trust in the treatment project. 

“Part of that trust is seeing the treaters that reflect you, your own background, your own culture,” Streets said. “Many in the Black community, he added, suffer silently due to stigmatization of asking for help with their addiction.” According to Streets, others lack an understanding of where to go to receive this help. Streets said he hopes his background as a clinical social worker and senior pastor of Dixwell UCC will allow him to contribute the project’s efforts.

The project will also feature other local community members within its ranks. Kimberly Guy, who participated in the pilot program, will work as a research assistant for the Black Church Project. A former addict who is now 18 years sober, Guy said that the program helped her to be “mindful” of her own addiction and will help others learn how to change certain actions and behaviors. 

Although the treatment will not start until the spring, both Jordan and Streets said that registration is already open. Streets said he wouldn’t be surprised if “a couple hundred people” expressed interest in the program like they did for the pilot.

“I’m not only looking forward to the results of the work that you’re doing, but looking forward to expanding what we learn from you to the services that we provide to so many other residents in New Haven,” Mayor Elicker told Jordan at the press conference. The mayor pointed out that many people in New Haven and around the nation suffer from alcoholism and substance abuse, and emphasized a “clear need” for communities of color in the Elm City.

In a 2012 study, New Haven County exceeded the national rate for any alcohol consumption with 62.7 percent of adults county wide, compared to the national rate of 56 percent.

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu

Lukas Nel | lukas.nel@yale.edu