Strength Emerging from Grief
A Q&A with Twin Cities Recovery Project co-founder and CEO LaTricia Tate
This Q&A, facilitated by Jeremiah Gardner of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, was originally published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.
LaTricia Tate was a stable rock for Marc Johnigan when they met in 2015. Today, it’s Johnigan’s memory that buoys Ms. Tate as she builds on their shared legacy as co-founders of Twin Cities Recovery Project, an organization focused on the needs of the African American community. It’s been 21 months since Johnigan died in a car accident, thrusting Ms. Tate — his nonprofit partner and fiancée — into the role of CEO. While the transition was initially marked by grief and anxiety over her newfound responsibilities, Ms. Tate now draws strength and inspiration from Johnigan’s spirit as she guides Twin Cities Recovery Project’s significant growth and expanding impact.
What have these past couple of years been like — would you mind describing your personal journey — from loss, grief and new responsibilities to strength, resilience and inspiration? I’m sure there have been ups and downs.
The past couple of years have been incredibly challenging. Losing the man who meant everything to me — he was the head of our family, my best friend, my pastor, my boss, and my business partner; gone in the blink of an eye — and then having to adjust to a new normal without him has been a very complex and emotional journey.
My faith and my commitment to our community and TCRP were the driving forces behind my decision to continue moving the organization forward. I knew so many people depended on it, and it was a dream of Marc’s that I wasn’t willing to let die. I had no idea how I was going to be the CEO, and I had some fear of the unknown, but I put all my trust in God to lead the way. I am proud of myself for stepping up and pushing through the uncertainty and grief. The lives we have been able to impact over this past year and a half make it all worth it.
In what ways have you surprised yourself?
Oh my!!! I surprised myself by stepping into this role in the first place (lol). Marc was a giant with huge shoes to fill. But it was almost like I could hear him staying, “You got this. I’m right here.” Now that I’m in this leadership role, I guess I surprise myself all the time. For years, I had always been in the background telling Marc what to do and handling the staff. When I had to take on the out-front role, I was thinking, “What did I just get myself into?” Now, in addition to being TCRP’s CEO, I serve on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Opioids, Substance Use and Addiction, and as a board member for the Minnesota Alliance of Recovery Community Organizations. Surprise!! Never did I imagine I would serve in such capacities, but here I am, and I love it.
For those unfamiliar, could you provide an overview of TCRP’s mission, services and community engagement?
Our mission is to offer assistance and support to those suffering from substance use disorder in their transition toward a lifestyle of health and productivity by offering a drug-free environment as well as resources to develop the whole person. We aim to help people build healthy and positive relationships and to become productive members of society.
- One of our services is a Friday Night Social Club, where those in or seeking recovery can hang out in a sober environment while dancing, playing cards or dominos, or shooting pool.
- We also have Speaker Jams and Bingo Night.
- We host grief and trauma support groups for both adults and youth.
- We have outreach groups that go into the communities of both North and South Minneapolis twice a week to provide services to the unhoused.
- We also offer peer recovery services, pairing people with Certified Peer Recovery Specialists, who meet with them one-on-one to help them navigate and access community resources such as treatment, housing, employment, drug court, child protection services, etc.
- TCRP also provides Peer Recovery Specialist training — a 46-hour course — and pays for those who complete the training to take the state certification exam.
- We are also an access point for naloxone (also known by the brand Narcan) and provide Narcan trainings across the city.
When it comes to community engagement, that is TCRP’s middle name. Those who follow us know TCRP is always out in the community. You turn around and there we are — at community events, fundraisers, walks, gatherings etc. We are always looking for or creating space for community engagement. We are also always seeking collaborative partnerships with local businesses, community organizations, government agencies, churches, etc.; this allows us to conduct workshops and trainings to educate the community about addiction and recovery. At TCRP, we facilitate support groups and offer peer services where individuals in recovery can connect, share their experiences and provide support to one another. These types of initiatives, I believe, help build a sense of community and foster a supportive environment for those on their recovery journey. We bring our spirit of community everywhere people are, including events that serve as platforms to engage, learn and support one another.
Another way we show up in the community is through our advocacy and policy engagement. We believe our voice influence policies related to addiction, recovery and mental health at local, regional and even national levels. By advocating for change, we aim to improve the overall well-being of the community and increase access to recovery resources.
Last summer, when Hazelden Betty Ford hosted the Mobilize Recovery bus as it rolled through town on its way across America, you began to talk more publicly about collaborative plans with the Minneapolis Fire Department. Earlier this year, those plans indeed came to fruition. Could you please share some details about how you operate there, a success story or two, and why this is a partnership that makes so much sense?
MARI (Minneapolis Addiction Recovery Services) finally launched in March 2023. We are very proud and appreciative of the partnership with the Fire Department. This has been an amazing experience to work together to serve the residents in our community. MARI operates out of Minneapolis Fire Station 14, where a firefighter or TCRP staff member will welcome and connect anyone who shows up with judgment-free and shame-free support. TCRP staff do outreach in the community too, so we can meet people where they are. We’re able to connect people to withdrawal management services, medications, mental health care, harm reduction resources, treatment, etc. Whatever helpful steps the individual desires, our peer recovery coach will support them throughout their journey.
One success story happened during our very first outreach initiative. Our team was able to bring in three individuals right off the street that day — one was taken to detox, and the other two were able to get assessments right away through YourPath and were then placed into treatment. Those two are still connected to TCRP services today and volunteering for our events.
Partnering with the Fire Department makes sense for many reasons. Fire stations are already prevalent and in the center of our communities. And firefighters are first responders often called to provide support in overdose situations. Twin Cities Recovery Project is also embedded in the community, and our focus is on long-term recovery and support for individuals struggling with substance use disorder. By collaborating, we can ensure continuous care from emergency response to ongoing treatment and recovery services. I also believe the Fire Department, as a respected institution, can help us raise awareness about the opioid crisis and reduce the stigma associated with addiction. Together, we combine our expertise and resources to stand up against the challenges we face with the opioid epidemic more effectively.
It’s National Recovery Month, and if I remember correctly, you don’t identify as someone in recovery from a substance user. But we’re all in recovery from something. And you’ve certainly been close to addiction and addiction recovery for most of your life. You are most definitely a fierce recovery advocate. Would you mind sharing some of those connections, what the role of recovery advocate means to you, and what you are reflecting on during this Recovery Month?
Correct! I have been close to addiction my entire life. Both my parents suffered from the disease. At the age of 11 is when my life was flipped upside down. I experienced my mother losing everything, lights getting cut off, no hot water, no food, no clean clothes, falling behind in school because there were no lights to do homework, and being teased in school about my situation. Kids are cruel. Fast forward to October 2021: I lost my nephew to a fentanyl overdose. That was a devastation that still lingers. He was my first-born nephew and the light of my life. He had experienced some traumas that caused his mental health to spiral out of control, and he covered it up with substances and ultimately lost his battle to addiction. The very next year, in 2022, my only son overdosed right before my eyes; doctors were able to revive him, but that is something I will never forget. Not long after he left the hospital, I asked him, “How did we get here?” My son said, “Mom, remember when I got shot?” I said, “Yes.” He responded by explaining that after he healed, he couldn’t stop using the Percocet the doctors had prescribed.
I also lost my brother-in-law to an overdose in 2020 and have experienced great loss in our community. So, yes! I live, breathe and fight for those who suffer from addiction. I know recovery is real and that it works. Marc Johnigan showed me that recovery is a lifestyle. He wore recovery like a badge of honor each and every day. The recovery community is my family, and my role in this family is to be there for those who are struggling, lead them to resources, listen to them, and be a voice for the voiceless. I will speak up unapologetically.
For Recovery Month, I am reflecting on the things I am grateful for in my recovery from trauma. I reflect on the support I have received over this last year and a half, the lessons I have learned both good and not so good (lol), and the opportunities and growth to come.
I know you are a woman of deep faith. How does faith work in your life as a leader, and how does it show up in the work you do for others?
It is so hard to describe myself, but I will take a shot. My faith plays a major role in shaping who I am as a leader. My faith provides a foundation of values and a sense of purpose. It serves as a compass to guide my decison-making and empowers me with a sense of compassion and empathy for my fellow human beings. My faith fuels my commitment to helping those in their recovery journeys. My faith instills in me a genuine sense of care, kindness and unconditional love for those who are struggling. My work is driven by my belief that every human being deserves support, healing and transformation. In my role, I lead by example, demonstrating resilience, perseverance and hope in the face of adversity. As a woman of faith and an advocate for recovery, my leadership is infused with authenticity, compassion and a deep sense of purpose. I am so honored and grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of the people we serve — fostering growth, healing, empowerment and spiritual renewal in their recovery journeys.
What are your dreams for TCRP?
Well, I have lots of them but right now, my greatest dream is for Twin Cites Recovery Project to own (not rent) our own building. Having our own facility will allow us to provide comprehensive services on site: peer recovery services, medications, training, checkups, and even therapists. I am dreaming up my one-stop shop for those in recovery. Through collaborative and creative initiatives, I also believe we can offer more employment opportunities to individuals in recovery, equipping them with valuable skills and a sense of purpose. I am speaking my dream into existence (lol) and this dream facility will become a beacon of hope, providing a comprehensive and holistic approach to recovery and helping individuals reclaim their lives.
In what ways does Marc’s spirit live on in your work and the work of TCRP?
Marc’s spirit was his greatest attribute. It’s what we all loved; he had an AMAZING spirit. Faith, integrity, compassion, and commitment to recovery. Marc’s life was a true testament to selflessness as he dedicated himself to helping others. His influence lives on through TCRP, where his values and principles are embraced, and his legacy is carried forward by those who continue to pour our hearts into supporting individuals on their recovery journeys.