Hundreds to march through Kensington to fight opioid addiction stigma

The “March in Black” comes on International Overdose Awareness Day.

Under the Market-Frankford Line

Under the Market-Frankford Line

Jared Whelan/Philadelphia Inquirer
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When Brooke Feldman first entered a recovery house in Kensington at age 24, she didn’t take it seriously. A decade earlier, her mother had died of a heroin overdose in that neighborhood, and it was the last place in the world she thought she’d address her own long-term substance abuse.

Feldman didn’t want to admit she had a problem. And she really didn’t want to admit she’d fallen into the same cycle of addiction that killed her mother.

“I really just reached a point where I no longer wanted to live the way I was living,” she said. “And was at a point of no longer wanting to live, period.”

It’s been 12 years since Feldman, now 36, has used drugs or alcohol. That recovery house in Kensington — Fresh Start, which is still there today — was the place she truly began her journey toward long-term recovery, she said. Now, the Lower Northeast Philly native is a masters candidate at Penn studying social work, and has become a leading voice advocating for access to drug and alcohol recovery assistance.

Thursday evening, she’s returning to Kensington to tell her story as a speaker at the March in Black, an International Overdose Awareness Day event in Philly that’s expected to draw hundreds of people to the streets below the Market-Frankford line.

Feldman’s slated to speak at the El’s York-Dauphin stop at 6 p.m., where she’ll be joined by other activists who work in harm reduction and recovery. From there, the march will move north along Kensington Avenue to the Huntingdon stop, where law enforcement officials will speak, and then to the Somerset stop, where politicians will discuss government’s role.

To end the event, victims of the city’s ongoing opioid crisis will be encouraged to “speak openly about those lost” during a vigil at McPherson Square, a Kensington park, where many people go to use drugs.

A map of the march route

A map of the march route

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Last year in Philadelphia, more than 900 people died of a drug overdose. The city’s on track to record more than 1,200 deaths this year.

Dan Martino, a community activist in Port Richmond who organized the march to address the “stigma” of opioid addiction, said he invites “anyone who feels connected” to this issue to attend — not only to advocate for change, but to get answers to questions they might have.

“There is an element of sadness,” he said. “But I don’t just want people to come here to cry. I want people to realize there are solutions. We just have to have the courage to seek them.”

Martino partnered with Prevention Point — a Kensington-based harm reduction operation that works with thousands in the neighborhood — and Angels in Motion, an group founded by the mother of a man in recovery that provides resources to others experiencing addiction. Those organizations will provide assistance and answer questions on-scene, along with city representatives.

According to Martino, guest speakers will include Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, as well as Elvis Rosado, a community activist with Prevention Point, and both candidates for district attorney, Republican Beth Grossman and Democrat Larry Krasner.

Carol Rostucher, president of Angels in Motion and a Kensington native, said the organization is asking those impacted by opioid addiction to submit the names of loved ones who have died so they can be added to a massive memorial quilt.

“In order for society to see everyone as a person, when you put that person’s name down, you should say something about them,” Rostucher said. “These are human beings we are losing. These are people’s loved ones. We are losing them.”

March attendees are encouraged to wear black, but not because the color’s associated with grief. On the contrary, it’s a call to action. Martino said he got the idea after listening closely to the lyrics of Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black.”

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,

Why you never see bright colors on my back,

And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.

Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,

For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,

I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,

Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,

And tell the world that everything’s OK,

But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,

‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

Click here for more information about how to attend Thursday’s march.