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Saving and changing lives

October 1, 2008
by Shandi Matambanadzo, Associate Editor
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The new president of the Johnson Institute shares his experiences with social causes, including addiction recovery

Rev. Dr. James G. White

Advocacy—and controversy—are very familiar to Rev. Dr. James G. White. He has performed in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa as the hip-hop artist Ghetto Priest, refusing to perform in South Africa until Nelson Mandela was released from prison; for three years he hosted and produced a contentious weekly radio show in Milwaukee called

Slave Uprising; he toured as a gospel musician with a group called Unity; and he found himself in the middle of an emotionally charged South African rent strike. And if that weren't enough, here in the United States Rev. Dr. White served as truth commissioner for the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, co-founded both NULITES (National Urban League Incentives To Excel and Succeed) and Faith Partners (an initiative of the Johnson Institute Foundation), held state and local government positions (including supervisor of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin), and served as chairman and executive director of the Milwaukee Coalition Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Recently appointed president of the Johnson Institute, an organization dedicated to enhancing addiction recovery, Rev. Dr. White says his past gives him the tools this position demands and the experience to bring what he has learned along the way to the addiction recovery field. “I have had some interesting experiences along the way, it's true,” he recalls.

Rev. Dr. White's first experience with community service was in 1985 with New Hope International Ministries, a nondenominational, multifellowship Christian ministry in Peoria, Illinois. That same year he interned at StoneHedge, a heroin treatment facility, which was his first foray into substance use treatment. “I just have not been able to pull away. I have had a lot of other experiences but this field has been a part of my life ever since,” he says. He later returned to Milwaukee, his hometown, to establish a 12-bed alcohol and substance use treatment facility called Imani House, serving the treatment needs of the local African-American community.

Rev. Dr. White says his experience with friends and family members with addiction helped prepare him for his current position. “I am an eyewitness and wounded survivor of the devastating and deadly impact that untreated addiction illness has on our children, families, and communities,” he explains. Rev. Dr. White firmly believes in the vision of the Johnson Institute's founder, Vernon E. Johnson, who emphasized the importance of early, comprehensive intervention and removing barriers to treatment. Rev. Dr. White reflects, “Several people I loved dearly would be alive today if their addiction illness had not gone untreated. I believe, as did Vernon E. Johnson, that our efforts are truly a matter of life and death.”

Behavioral Healthcare 2008 October;28(10):36