When Felton Davis enrolled in the domestic violence program at the Africentric Personal Development Shop, he was embarrassed, ashamed and afraid.
“I just felt like I broke the covenant with God when I put my hands on my wife,” said Davis, 60, of the Northeast Side. “I not only hurt her, but I hurt my kids. I lost their trust. I lost their loyalty. So, I’m working on it.”
Now separated from his wife, Davis said he is learning coping skills and signs of unhealthy relationships.
“For a long time, I didn’t know that I had an anger issue and controlling issue,” he said. “I’m glad (APDS) was there when I was looking. I would like to be a sounding board one day. Maybe I can help somebody or just be a mentor.”
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Davis is one of the many people who have walked through the doors of APDS, a longstanding, affordable behavioral health care center that opened in 1988 on the Near East Side and relocated to Driving Park in the late ’90s. The facility has helped 22,000 families affected by drug and alcohol addiction and domestic violence, according to CEO Jerry Saunders.
Funded primarily by the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, APDS has an annual budget of $1.3 million. The treatment center specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, acknowledges past trauma, considers the impact on the client’s entire family, and provides culturally competent care.
“The majority of our clients are court-referred, but we see any and everybody,” said Saunders, 68, of Pickerington. “It’s a holistic approach. We want to find out, ‘What happened to you that got you to this point?’”
APDS was founded by Richard “Moriba” Kelsey, a psychologist and retired Ohio State professor, and his wife, Barbara “Niambi” Kelsey, a counselor and educator, who now live in Atlanta. The couple saw a need for drug and alcohol counseling geared toward the African American community, especially because of the lack of evidence-based programs for the demographic at the time.
“This industry is still based on Sigmund Freud,” Saunders said. “It’s not always pertinent. It’s still good stuff, but you have to make adjustments as time goes on.”
Part of that specialized treatment includes the consideration of trauma that African Americans have endured for generations in the U.S. And it’s beneficial for clients to see counselors who look like them.
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Moriba Kelsey moved the center to Driving Park because the neighborhood had a high concentration of businesses selling alcohol. Today, marijuana is the primary drug of choice among clients seeking treatment from substance use disorder. But alcohol is their secondary choice — even amid the opioid epidemic, Saunders said.
When he joined APDS in 1997, Saunders helped initiate the domestic violence program after noticing more and more occurrences of the offense in clients’ files. In the beginning, clients seeking help with domestic violence were typically 35 years of age or older, but now, men as young as 18 have been coming in, Saunders said.
“It’s happening at a younger age,” he said. “And I don’t think it is reported nearly as much, but there are times when domestic violence is the son against the mother.”
Cases have only increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot of times, people don’t have conflict-resolution skills,” Saunders said. “They’ve been taught, particularly in this male-privileged society, that they have to get physical or intimidate, instead of having conversations. It gets passed down from generation to generation and not only with the males, but with the females. They think it is acceptable because they saw it in their home.”
Carol Stegall, one of the counselors, said some of her clients did not have proper role models growing up.
“They follow what their friends do because it’s manly,” said Stegall, 70, of Whitehall. “Society says this is how a man is supposed to be, and then when I try to be that man, I’m knocked down. Then, that process of internalized oppression starts: I hate myself for being myself.”
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APDS staffers said they have seen quite a few success stories; they run into former clients in the city and see them thriving. Others have returned to volunteer.
Saunders said he is still moved by a former client who began drinking at 9 years old and finally became clean after completing the program at “about 60 years.”
“Even when they don’t fare so well, guess what? They call us back,” Stegall said. “They say, ‘I messed up and I need to come back.’”
Shakur Edmonds, who has attended both the drug and alcohol and domestic violence programs, said he has achieved one year of sobriety. He praised the group therapy component at the center.
“It’s definitely a good thing when you hear other people’s situations and all the things that they teach,” said Edmonds, 25, of the North Side. “It actually calms you down if you actually use the coping skills. I haven’t had any anger or outbursts. I can actually say I’ve changed since I’ve been in this class.”
Although APDS is inclusive of all demographics, the interior of the building is intentionally decorated with colorful African and African American art that inspires both the clients and staff.
“I think it helps educate all of us,” said Charmaine Jordan-Morton, 46, of the Far East Side, who is the director of administrative services at APDS. “It helps to become more proud and not to feel ashamed when you come in. Look around and look at where your heritage is from. We’re trying to help you understand community and family and how important it is and how you play a major part in that.”
APDS provides a wealth of other services, including a summer enrichment program for children 6 to 12 years old at Millennium Community School; a college scholarship fund; food and toy giveaways; and litter pickups.
“We have people who stop in here and ask, ‘Can you help with housing? Can you help with jobs?’” Stegall said. “And even though we can’t provide those services specifically for them, we can give them information. And so that’s the beacon of light that I believe we have become in the community.”
This story is part of the Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative, which is currently focused on Driving Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Visit our reporters at the Driving Park branch library.
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