Carol Grayson was deep in the throes of drug addiction, “using crack cocaine, marijuana, alcohol … and experimenting with heroin,” she says, when a friend told her about the Addicts Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Harlem, New York City. “If you can get to ARC by 12:00 pm,” her friend said, “then you’ll have a bed.”
Little did Carol know that this one decision would influence her life for the next nearly 25 years. Today, not only is she clean and sober, but ARC has become her home away from home, number-one support system and place of employment. Carol, a medical assistant at ARC, is one of the more than 20,000 addicts who have turned to the center, founded in 1957 by Mr. James Allen (a former addict himself), for a chance at a sober life. One of the largest and oldest rehabs in New York City, ARC has grown over the years from a church-based and church-funded day treatment program to a 400-bed drug-free rehabilitation complex licensed and paid for by the state of New York.
The Musical Road to Recovery
ARC is perhaps most famous for its ARC Gospel Choir, an a cappella singing group made up of former addicts and open to any graduate of ARC. The group travels the world, touring in Europe, Africa and Japan and performing more than 200 concerts a year. Every Wednesday, the Harlem community comes in droves for the group’s weekly concert, “The Hour of Power,” held at Greater Central Baptist Church. The choir has released two albums, “Walk With Me” and “Thank You Lord,” and can be heard as a sample on the Kanye West song “Jesus Walks.”
There are only two requirements to join the choir: “You can carry a note and you’re drug-free,” says president and CEO Reverend “Reggie” Williams. Thanks to this “marketing tool” for ARC, the community gets to enjoy powerful voices they otherwise wouldn’t hear if these singers hadn’t overcome addiction, explains Reverend Williams. “It gives people, the audience, the loved ones going through similar struggles hope … It dispels the myth that ‘once an addict, always an addict,’” he says.
Beyond the spiritual and emotional release provided by the music, singing in the choir offers yet another valuable rehab tool: accountability. “It puts those in recovery front and center in the community. It gives you a real sense of responsibility for your behavior,” adds Williams. “You have to represent not only yourself, but ARC; you’re representing sobriety and people who are struggling to overcome addiction … so you don’t want to do anything [later] to detract from the testimony that you were trying to give during the performance.”
For Carol, the choir is a constant reminder of the life-altering choice she made to follow her friend’s advice and check herself into ARC. “My signature song is ‘Almost Home,'” she explains. “[That first night,] I was running to the program; I was almost home. I was almost here.”