Health & Medicine

Merlene Davis: Fighting drug abuse is everyone's responsibility

When I was growing up, Miss McIntire, who lived across the street, told my mother everything she saw my siblings and me doing.

We had barely put the boysenberries in our mouths before our mother knew we had pilfered them from her tree.

But hers weren't the only eyes we tried unsuccessfully to duck. In fact, there were so many, we finally decided to do what was expected to avoid getting into trouble.

Howard J. Clark thinks we need to get back to those days to counter the destruction in the black community from illicit drug use.

Family, friends and neighbors must take more active roles in reporting those who are selling and using drugs in African-American communities, Clark said.

"If you think your son is using drugs, have him take a drug test," he said. "I think we need to hold them accountable. When we were young, they said it took a village to raise a child. We have to get back to that mentality."

And when Clark says "we," he means all of us.

An associate minister at Shiloh Baptist Church, Clark shuns titles, but he embraces his mission to be one of the voices — and one of the villagers — who turns things around.

He will talk about how we're all in this together at the third session of the S.T. Roach Community Conversation, a collaboration of the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center and the University of Kentucky African American Studies and Research Program.

Clark spent 30 years abusing drugs, incarcerated or struggling to regain a foothold in society after his release.

At 55 and the owner of Clark's Upholstery, he doesn't want anyone else to have to go that route.

As an upholsterer, Clark said, he has tried to teach his trade to young men who prefer the more lucrative business of selling street drugs. He said one of them asked him, "Why should I come to work for you for $300 a week when I can make that in a day?" Clark said, "I told him, 'If I see you on the corner selling, I will call the police and then sit there and wait till they come.' That's what we have to start doing."

It's not about getting them in trouble, he said. It is about saving their lives. Parents must question their children when their actions don't add up. If they are out late at night but won't get a job, Clark said, pick up a home drug-detection kit at a drug store and then stand there while it is administered.

"If they know we won't put up with it, then that can stop it," he said.

We also have to provide some alternatives for those who turn back from drugs or those who return to society from prison.

Clark teaches substance-abuse classes at Shiloh for abusers and their relatives. Families need to know how to be a good support system, he said.

He and his wife, Patti, are involved in a prison ministry and in feeding the hungry, either at the Hope Center or from their home pantry.

"There is not a day that goes by that my wife and I are not helping somebody," Clark said.

He also is working with a group of men who are willing to teach their trades to young people. The trades include heating and air conditioning, masonry, carpentry, sewing-machine repair and, of course, upholstering.

"We can take them from being ineffective to effective," he said, "if they put that pride down. Pride has never paid a bill or a mortgage or a car payment. If they put pride down, they can get ready to live a good life."

On top of all that, Clark is taking a college course. "How can I tell them to go to school if I didn't?" he said. "I have a lucrative business. I didn't need to go to college. But it became a need so that I can be an example.

"I tell the men I mentor that you are not where you used to be. Come on up where God wants you to be."

Sonja Feist-Price, director of the African American Studies and Research Program, said, "Clark is committed to giving back to the community and helping to eradicate some of the social ills that plague our community."

Clark's conversation will allow him to share his story and "spark discussion" about ways to empower the people and the community struggling with drug abuse, Feist-Price said.

If you want more information about Clark's work, call him at (859) 433-3036. He wants as many of us to join him as possible.