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Friends and supporters of Wesley Smith watched in awe as Brother Shane Price, director, Hennepin County African American Men Project, read a letter of congratulations from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak in support of Smith’s 10 years of sobriety. Friends and supporters of Wesley Smith watched in awe as Brother Shane Price, director, Hennepin County African American Men Project, read a letter of congratulations from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak in support of Smith’s 10 years of sobriety. As tears trickled from Smith’s face, he heard, the words "leader", "man of strength", "lover of his community" and "dedicated to staying drug and alcohol free."

Smith grew up in Chicago, Ill., which is full of glitter and temptations that the fast life offers. Drugs and alcohol are part of the fast life. Smith said that at age 11, he smoked his first joint and never looked back. He said he did it all: cocaine, marijuana, uppers, downers, hallucinogens, freebasing, and every form of alcohol on the market. "If it would make me high, I would take it. I did everything but shoot up. I couldn’t imagine freely sticking needles in my body," said Smith. However, there was a price to pay. Smith said he felt like he no longer had any worth, that no one saw him as a good man. And he wasn’t. He was no good and for all practical purposes, he did not exist to his family, his children, and his friends. He was nothing but a junkie. Society saw him as another worthless Black man.

In November 1989, Smith moved to Minneapolis. The city introduced him to a new experience: Crack Cocaine. Smith said this new high had addicted him to the point that he felt that it was taking his soul. Being homeless, not knowing what life was going to be from day to day was no way to live.

On his 33rd birthday, said Smith, he looked in the mirror at himself, eye to eye and asked himself, "What am I doing with my life, what do I have, how have I helped my children to be strong responsible adults? I saw that I was going nowhere fast," said Smith.

Smith went into treatment that lasted 28 days. His real salvation came when he went into a halfway house. A counselor who was a Black man told him that he could beat the drugs and Smith believed him. "This brother told me that I didn’t have to be chemically dependent all my life and that I didn’t have to identify with it. I took a page from Muhammad Ali’s book, The Greatest. I did a lot of talking and promoting of myself. I set myself up for being either the greatest winner or the greatest loser," he said.

Smith shared that plenty of darts and negativity were thrown at him, but he said he used the negativity like gasoline to fuel himself forward. "One thing that I didn’t learn in treatment was how to love myself," he said.

Smith believes that Alcoholic Anonymous doesn’t apply to Black people. "It was created for white collar doctors, a social thing to keep them from drinking, it wasn’t designed for us." He strongly feels that White skin privilege, makes it possible for a White man to be drunk and still get the job. Smith expounds and goes deeply into his feelings and shares that "drugs and alcohol have been used to cover up the emotional pain of being Black in America. Our pain goes so far, the pain that has been put on our mothers, the pain that we have had to carry all of our lives. We have tried to medicate the pain; we have used it as an excuse to get high."

When asked what lesson he wants his son to learn from his drug and alcohol experiences, Smith looked reflective and said, "We have always been a people who believe in God, but we have failed to believe in the devil. We must begin to associate the devil with the dope and the alcohol. I think that understanding this has helped to keep me strong. The devil is always trying to tempt you and have you do what you don’t want to do."

Smith believes that, "If you are Black and selling dope to your own kind, your mission is the same as White Supremacy. If you continue to make the soldiers weak,

March 24, 2003
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