Coalition Member Q&A with Beverly Austin

To celebrate Black History Month, we are interviewing Beverly Austin, coalition member of the Northeast Texas Coalition Against Substance Abuse.

Austin is the Project Director for the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, Medically Assisted Treatment (RCORP-MAT). This program has formed a coalition consisting of four consortium members including Titus Regional Medical Center, Lakes Regional, Glenoaks Hospital, and Franklin County Sheriff, and with over 22 Partnerships within Titus, Morris, and Franklin County. The coalition is comprised of healthcare professionals, law enforcement, education, housing, and the recovery community. She is a Board Member of one of the partnerships, the Morris County Collaborative, and has served there since its beginning in 2018.

What conversations about mental health or substance abuse did you have growing up?

I finished high school in 1969 in Texas. My family was very close knit. Every Sunday after church we would gather for dinner and to have family discussions with my older and married brothers and sisters. Mental Health was not discussed very much, and substance use was not as prevalent, so it was a subject that was not talked about much. But, by the 1980’s, drug use was more prevalent especially in the poorer African-American neighborhoods around the country. I witnessed the devastation and the toil that it took on communities and families. I wished we had more conversations about mental health and substance use.

What advice would you give to the Black community regarding mental healthcare or substance abuse?  

Witnessing what I saw in the 80’s, I would advise every parent or guardian today to have conversations with their family about mental health and substance use. Most addictions begin early so I would start to talk to children early.

A study conducted in 2006 by the Trauma & Learning Initiative shows that children who suffered Adverse Childhood Experiences like abuse, neglect, homelessness, death of a parent, witnessed violence in the home, and more, were more likely to endure social, emotional, or cognitive impairment as an adult. I see it in adults today. Be honest with your talk. Describe the various substances that are being used in the community, both legal and illicit drugs, and the dangers that lurk behind them. I would advise to be open to discuss all aspects of mental health issues because these issues could lead to substance use.

I would advise to learn how to communicate with children and loved ones through tools like “Mental Health First Aid” and other programs that help teach the Black community the “language” of communicating to those experiencing a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder. Children need to be guided when they are dealing with problems at school or in their neighborhood. They need support as well as love. They should not have to try to solve their own problems.

What are some things you do for your mental health or make yourself more resilient and less likely to use substances?

I talk with God, family, peers, associates, counselors, and friends — and I listen. When I have a negative experience, I ask myself what I would do differently the next time to have a better result. So, I use the negative experience as an opportunity to do better, but also to see the greater good. I accept things I cannot change and do not allow myself to be a victim. I don’t dwell on matters that I cannot change. I keep getting up and pushing through. I am intentional about how I take care of myself and seek growth. God made me different from everyone else because of His purpose for me. Therefore, I cannot and will not compete.

I have my own road to travel and my own cross to bear. Sometimes the road is crooked and sometimes the cross is too heavy to carry. Life has not been perfect for me either. As human beings, we will suffer from time to time. But turning to drugs is never an option. I have seen the hurt and pain it has perpetrated on family and friends, so I know how that story ends. Instead, I seek to be proactive rather than reactive. When I feel I need help or a need to talk, I turn to God and to the people I know who will guide me. I never live life alone, rather I will seek what I need to get whole.

What do you see as your greatest contribution as an African American/ Black leader?

The inspiration to control our own destiny through education. There are many open wounds in the African American community that have not healed in the years since 1968. But we cannot rest and do nothing and wait for others to change our destiny for us. And why should they? If we want better jobs, access to better health systems, better education, homes, and clean and safe communities, then we must initiate the means to meet our own needs. For one, through organizations like the Morris County Collaborative, I advocate for education. This does not mean getting degrees necessarily, because in the words of Martin Luther King, “Many so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically”. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Therefore, my greatest contribution to my community is to advocate for education. Through education, all people, especially African-Americans, can be armed with the tools and resources needed to overcome the challenges that keep people stagnated. No government, state, or county will do more for us than we can do for ourselves.

What do you want people to know about the community or communities you are a member of?

I live in a small rural East Texas community in Morris County called Daingerfield. This community is made up of people of all races and backgrounds who live, work, learn, and worship peacefully. There is opportunity for a small business to flourish, a spirit of cooperation, the absence of traffic, very low crime rates, lower cost of living, lower property taxes and a great sports environment!

Which Black Historical figures inspire you and your work the most? Why?

Martin Luther King, Jr. He inspired me because he united people, black, white, Hispanics, and others to stand up against inequality and violence. He especially inspired African Americans through his courage, his fight for equal rights, his plight to end segregation, and his determination to not let what others said about him or called him or any of his family sway his judgement in his fight for equal rights. This despite his numerous arrests, attacks on himself, his family members, and his followers during his many marches, even after the bombing of his home. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a giant among men. There have been few men in my lifetime, black or white, that compared to this man.

Finish this sentence: Equity is …

Equity is a term that recognizes that each person has different circumstances and when equity applies it allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.