Black Churches in Substance Use and Abuse Prevention Efforts

Article excerpt

Abstract

In light of their historical role in African American communities, faithbased organizations are uniquely positioned to offer substance use prevention programs to urban African American youth. This article describes the efforts of a university-based program to provide training and technical assistance to faith-based organizations in the development and implementation of substance use prevention activities. Occurring over a three-year period, the activities were assessed using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Results indicate that one-third of the faith-based participants had successfully implemented a substance use prevention program; another third were in the process of developing a program; and the final third had not begun to do so. Key characteristics associated with successful program development and implementation are discussed along with recommendations f or future community efforts.

INTRODUCTION

Historically African American churches have served as sites for the implementation of social service programs in African American communities. As enduring institutions, Black churches have historically served as vehicles for social, political and economic reform. During the civil rights movement, Black church clergy were seen at the forefront in the fight for freedom and equality. Over the years, the involvement of Black churches in real estate, housing and other economic ventures have proven to be monumental in poverty stricken communities. Further, as providers of services to African American communities, Black churches have traditionally offered educational, youth and family support activities (Billingsley & Caldwell, 1991). According to a study by Caldwell, Green, and Billingsley (1992) that included a sample of 634 northern churches, it was found that at least 7 out of 10 churches provided at least one family support program. In another previous study, Taylor and Chatters (1988), found that churches were a major source of support in the African-American community, as 80 percent of elderly Blacks in the study received tangible support from church members. However, even as Black churches have expanded the scope of their involvement in African American communities, they have noticeably shied away from certain issues. Particularly, they have had less involvement with issues that conflict with the moral and religious values of these churches, such as the use of alcohol, tobacco and other iLlicit drugs (ATOD). Other obstacles to the involvement of Black churches in ATOD programs include: a significant lack of agreement about the use and nonuse of alcohol, recognition of alcoholism and drug dependency as a medical disease, placing substance abuse beyond the direct attention of the faith community, the link between tobacco use and health issues, and reluctance of the congregation to acknowledge the need to address substance abuse (Prevention Forum, 2002). Unfortunately, the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs under gird many of the social problems that plague African American communities.

Drug Abuse in African American Communities

Recent national data show that the rate of illicit drug use among African American 12 years of age and older is 8.7 percent compared to 8.3 percent for Whites, and 8.0 percent for Latinos (SAMHSA, 2004). These data reflect the problems and challenges that urban municipalities continuously face with regard to the use of ATOD. A survey of Detroit residents show that more than two-thirds of high school students had tried cigarette smoking; one in three had used alcohol in the past month compared to one in two students statewide; and one in two students reported having tried marijuana (Drug Strategies, 1999). Moreover, 41 percent of Detroit adults reported drinking within 30 days of the survey; 31 percent of adults surveyed had tried marijuana at some time, and six percent had used it in the previous 30 days (Drug Strategies, 1999). …