Philadelphia recovery walk breaks turnout mark, again
Philadelphia is well known for its history with respect to the origins of this country. Its prominent role related to another type of independence and freedom, that which comes of recovery from addiction, is less noted. The city, which on Sept. 24 hosted the national addiction Recovery Month hub event for second straight year, was the fourth major city in the country to have wide acceptance of Alcoholics Anonymous, at a time when the 12-Step program was little known. Its stature in the recovery community can only be burnished as the number who gathered at Penn’s Landing this year exceeded the rally attendance record of 11,000 the city set hosting last year’s hub event.
Pat Taylor, Executive Director of Faces & Voices of Recovery, greeted the Philadelphia crowd and said similar gatherings were taking place in Louisville, Dallas, St. Paul, and Denver. All told, more than 100,000 walked and rallied for recovery nationwide as part of the month-long celebration, Taylor said. This continued a tradition of tallying all the sites around the country holding recovery rallies. Part of the emphasis is on the voting power of the recovery community, which is captured in a grassroots election initiative begun in 2008, Recovery Voices Count.
Taylor spoke of the great number of citizens in the United States who were addicted and now live lives free of alcohol and drugs: “More than 20 million Americans are in recovery. People can and do recover, and this morning’s turn-out is testament to the power of the people,” she said. Taylor is Executive Director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, the national group which advocates for recovery at the national level and dubbed this year’s Walk in greater Philadelphia the hub of all events during September, National Recovery Month.
She said, “We know that recovery is the solution. We know that all Americans have a right to recover. Join us in ending discriminatory policies that keep people from getting the help they need."
Also speaking was Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. He brought the same enthusiasm as he delivered at last year’s walk. He said, “I don’t know anyone who’s not in recovery from something.”
Beverlie Haberle, executive director of Pro-Act, the event’s local sponsoring organization, said, “We are extremely gratified to see all of these people walk. This morning there was truly inspiration and motivation to all those who have accessed recovery – these walkers provide hope and opportunity for those still struggling with the disease.”
It was one of Haberle’s support staff for the walk and a member of the Philadelphia Recovery Honor Guard (people with at least 10 years in recovery), who expressed great pride in and knowledge of his city’s place in recovery history. He mentioned that one of recovery’s founding fathers, a Philadelphian by the name of Jack Alexander, wrote a seminal article about AA that was published in the Saturday Evening Post 70 years ago. The article recounted the then young history of Alcoholics Anonymous and brought the organization wide national attention.
New Jersey was well represented at the rally, with nine buses from around the state traveling across the Delaware River to take part. State Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Raquel Mazon Jeffers walked the recovery route. She observed this event had different, more intimate, feel compared with the national hub event of a few years ago held in her hometown, New York. What the two venues shared, Jeffers said, was a wonderful day with so many celebrating recovery. The previous morning, she had been at New Jersey’s first joint forum on recovery for addiction and mental illness, reflecting both sides of the recently merged division.
John Hulick, recently tapped by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to head the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, spoke on behalf of the governor. Hulick recalled New Jersey hosting the first hub event several years ago at Liberty State Park. As a person in long-term recovery, Hulick spoke of the importance of support in gaining a foothold in sobriety and the roll of his sponsor, who was in attendance. Hulick also mentioned the addiction support group City of Angels, whose members came on one of the New Jersey buses.
Hamilton Township Councilman Kevin Meara said that there was no place he’d rather be than at the national hub event, where he saw the hope of recovery symbolized by the sun breaking through an overcast sky. He thanked the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-New Jersey for helping to get residents of the Garden State to the national event.
Hamilton Township resident Linda Molnar, who came on one of the New Jersey buses, was greatly impressed by the turnout. Molnar came in part to remember her son, who died of a drug overdose. She said, “(It is) amazing the number of people that showed up in solidarity the morning of the walk, not afraid to announce that they were addicts and giving hope to a new generation, taking out the stigma of the disease. The speakers were amazing, as were the people with the banners proud of the time they had been sober. 28 to 30 years were high in attendance. I was excited to be a part of it walking in honor of my son who never got to see the power you can regain when you walk upright and sober.”
Another person who travelled from New Jersey for the event, Katie Forlani, spoke of the importance of the walk and the awareness it promotes. “The walk was a chance to get together to rally for recovery and a great opportunity to raise awareness … sometimes I feel like we are fighting a losing battle. I would love there to be more events like this.
One thing missing from this year’s rally were the 50 recovery delegates representing each state. The recovery delegates, which began at the municipal level at New Jersey recovery celebrations before there were national hub events, were discontinued this year because of lack of funding. One former state delegate, Rich Stabp, was in Philadelphia with his granddaughter. Stabp said he’d like to see a recovery celebration in some form again in his home state. He mentioned the possibility of raffling off a motorcycle to help fund a New Jersey recovery event.
The day’s emcee was New York news anchor Laurie Dhue, who is in recovery. She is on the board of the National Youth Recovery Foundation, which works to help adolescents and their families with alcohol and drug problems.
Also there was Deborah Garrett of Project Vox in Michigan. Garrett was doing some reconnaissance for next year’s hub event, which will take place in Detroit. She said Detroit sees the role of host as a great opportunity to celebrate the city’s “thriving recovery community.” With Philadelphia hosting successful national recovery events two years running, it seems time to give another site a chance to make some recovery history.