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News | July 7, 2020

Response to Open Letter

A month ago, a small number of our SAFE Collegiate Recovery Leadership Academy (CRLA) mentors published an open letter on social media.  The letter commended SAFE for taking “a bold and prominent place in the recovery community by providing exposure, resources, and leadership in cultivating a culture of change…” but believed SAFE should take a greater role in addressing racial oppression and presented a list of demands. Also, it criticized the message our Executive Director shared on behalf of SAFE days before.

Our Senior Director and Technical Assistance Manager of SAFE Campuses reached out directly to the main author of the letter. The goals of the conversation were to assure them that their concerns were heard, convey the work SAFE had started even prior to the murder of George Floyd, and also express the negative effects that specific contents of the letter had on our staff. Specifically on Ariel Britt, the Senior Director who is responsible for the program in which the authors served. When we asked to participate in that conversation, Ariel asked that we take her lead. We trusted that Ariel’s voice had been heard.

Based upon that conversation, the main author decided to remove the letter from social media, apologized for its impact on Ariel, and accepted an invitation to meet with SAFE Leadership to discuss our ongoing efforts as well as any of their concerns. On June 18th, invitations were sent out to all the CRLA mentors to have that conversation this Wednesday, July 8th.

Yesterday, two days prior to the conversation with CRLA mentors, a few of the original drafters issued another open letter on social media that used highly inflammatory language to condemn SAFE for not addressing their original list of demands. It included their decision to no longer affiliate with any of SAFE Project’s initiatives.

We started SAFE Project days after the tragic death of our son. It was striking and heartbreaking to us that if our son, with access to world-class resources, could not survive his battle with addiction, then how much more difficult might it be for folks who do not have that access?  That awareness led us to create an organization whose mission is to pursue saving a life every day, wherever we find the opportunity. We know that, in order to accomplish this, we must be dedicated to constant change, both internally and externally. We know we alone are not qualified to do the work to get there.

We were heavily involved in the startup of SAFE, but now, like most businesses and non-profit organizations, our Executive Director speaks for the organization. You should know that we cherish every member of our staff and celebrate their diversity. As individuals and as a collective, they have helped us solidify our vision and strategies to impact underserved communities. SAFE has always believed to its core that Black Lives Matter. However, addressing historic oppression and overcoming barriers that have marginalized millions of Americans demands far more than words. It requires thoughtful and collaborative action. It requires intention. It requires time.

SAFE Project will continue to pursue bold and impactful action driven by our understanding that the opposite of addiction is connection. We are resolved to continue to grow and improve on our efforts across the board in this complex environment. Below are highlights of some of that growth our team has initiated in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other unconscionable acts.

We sincerely welcome other ideas, as well as volunteer participation, from groups or individuals who are willing to act responsibly in helping us with our important mission. We will continue to seek your collegial accountability, and we hope you’ll join us as we continue to break down barriers and do our part to save a life every day.

Sandy and Mary Winnefeld
SAFE Project Co-Founders

Over the last few months, SAFE Project’s team has been actively engaged in forging an even better understanding of our impact in the recovery field. This effort not only involved the soul-searching internal evaluation that every organization should undertake, but also included hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional to work with the entire team over the next year.

Meanwhile, each of our portfolio leaders has been working to refocus their work to achieve a greater, proactive, impact on racial and social inequalities by breaking down barriers, not only in recovery but in all aspects of substance use disorder.  It is essential that we find ways to address inequalities across the board, not only in recovery, but in prevention, pre-arrest diversion, and treatment as well.

We have also established educational programs that focus on helping children overcome adverse childhood experiences using social and emotional learning skills to help manage mental health challenges that could lead to addictive behavior. And we initiated Resources for Diverse Populations to assist individuals and communities needing immediate professional assistance.

If you’d like to know more please visit our recently released Blueprint for Change, the SAFE Project website, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or contact any of our staff or leadership directly at any time.