Courage to Change
When we first moved to Columbia, Tennessee in the winter of 1984, there were only two AA meetings a week. They were both held in a small house called the Friendship Club.
This house had been purchased by a small group of recovering alcoholics and paid for by each one setting aside the price of a pint of whiskey per week. This was all done in a spirit of love and service.
Over the next few years, I had the pleasure of watching this small group grow from those two meetings to the fourteen meetings a week that it currently has. Membership in the group grew from about ten to over sixty. What a joy it was to see so many people getting sober.
There was, however, one group of people who were obviously absent from this fellowship--blacks.
My wife was sponsoring one black woman, Annie, who attended regularly. But others who came to our meetings seemed to drift away as quietly and suddenly as they had arrived. When I talked to Annie about the problem we had with attracting blacks, she shared her personal experience with me. She explained that she felt uncomfortable when she first came to our group because of her "uniqueness." But because of her determination to stay sober, she kept coming back.
It became obvious to me that prejudice and alcohol were both holding many of God's children in bondage.
Like most small rural communities, the majority of blacks seem to live on one side of town. From where I live, it is necessary for me to drive through "black bottom" to get to a meeting, and each time I would express to my wife that "someone" should get a meeting started in the black neighborhood.
It was a Wednesday night in December 1986 that I made a phone call in response to a message left on the AA answering machine. My call was to a black man who was feeling all the misery and helplessness that alcoholics are so familiar with. I got to share with this man my experience, strength, and hope. Almost an hour later, he agreed to attend an AA meeting the next night. I made arrangements to pick him up at his house at 7:30 PM.
I arrived at Willie's house fifteen minutes early just in case he decided to back out at the last minute. I thought I was being clever. When blowing my horn didn't produce any results, I went to the door determined that this man was going to a meeting. Standing on the porch, I could hear the mournful cry of a woman inside the house. Finally a young woman came to the door. I introduced myself and explained why I was there. I was not prepared for the shock I received when she told me that Willie was dead.
I stood on the porch that night and cried like a baby. Not because of any sense of loss, since I had never met Willie, but because of the guilt and shame that overwhelmed me. Another life had been claimed by alcohol--only one block from where I had so many times expressed that "someone" needed to get a meeting started for these people.
I went on to my meeting that night. When Annie and my wife arrived, I told them about my experience. I asked Annie if there was any building where we could start a meeting in the black neighborhood.
That's all it took for Annie. The seed had been planted and Got took over. That Sunday night, the first meeting of the Courage to Change Group was held in a black neighborhood, in a black Baptist church, chaired by a black alcoholic. Twenty-three people showed up.
As GSR of my home group, I queried the group conscience at our monthly business meeting if the group would consider sponsoring this new group. It was unanimous. We immediately furnished literature and support for the new group.
My wife and I are now members of the Courage to Change Group and Annie was elected GSR. I regret that someone had to die in order that we may be here but I find great consolation in knowing that we exist because of a genuine love and concern for the alcoholic who still suffers. I am also very proud to be a member of a group that didn't begin with a grudge and a coffeepot.