Monday, March 24, 2008

WE COMMUNITY - SAPACCY: Saving Toronto's Black Youth

By Krysta Celestine

Back in 1996, a group concerned with the growing number of black youth incarcerated for substance abuse and involvement in the drug trade; approached the Ministry of Health with a proposal for a service that was sensitive to the cultural needs of black youth and their families as it relates to substance abuse. The result was SAPACCY--the Substance Abuse Program for African, Caribbean and Canadian Youth, and for the past 12 years the organization has been making a difference in our community.

SAPACCY provides counseling and early intervention for youths who are at-risk at becoming involved in the dangerous world of substance abuse. The service helps youth and their loved ones make positive choices about substance use and mental issues.
An alarming 40 % of black youth do not finish high school, and turn to the drug trade as a means of survival. This, says Lou Golding (program manager at SAPACCY), creates a vicious cycle: "where there is a drug trade, obviously there are users. [Drug dealers] are selling drugs to other kids, creating a cycle where people are stuck".

An alarming fact is that, despite SAPACCY's efforts, there is still a dangerous amount of black youth who are involved in substance abuse or the drug trade. Goulding warns that the need is outgrowing SAPACCY's capacity to respond. As a community, we need to challenge this problem, says Golding. The community needs to be aware of the increasing numbers of black youth that are smoking weed and are experiencing psychological problems, such as schizophrenia, paranoia and depression.

"One of the things that people do not realize [is], once the psychosis is triggered, it does not go back to what it was before. They (drug users) have to be medicated", he says. "We have a small staff, and an amounting number of referrals that they receive, so people need to be aware of that. One of the things that may be useful is to provide more exposure to young people from the point of view of prevention, so that they have that as a basis to make some decisions."

Golding lists Hip Hop culture as the main culprit of substance abuse among black youth. Teenagers are still young and impressionable, and with one listen to a hip hop record, it's easy to see how drug use, or more specifically, drug dealing, is sensationalized. "I look at how hip hop has had an impact on our young people so much so that more of our youths are exposed to substance abuse (marijuana, ecstasy, and crack) as a result of the social scene. Hip hop culture normalizes these as tools to suppress pain... to create happiness."

Covered by OHIP and free for Ontario residents, SAPACCY offers counseling, assessment, consultation, family support and community-based programs for youth. For more information, visit:, or call 416 535.8501 x 6767.

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