This Doctor Fought Unfair City Policies Toward Addicts

Poor People's March at Lafayette Park
Shonda Buchanan
March 20, 2021

One of few Black neurosurgeons in the country, Dr. Thomas Matthew understood that what poor, struggling, and drug addicted people needed was treatment and support, not hatred. He especially noticed the disparity between recovery services Blacks and whites were receiving. 

But how could he make the public realize Black addicts needed safe spaces to recover?

He founded the National Economic Growth and Reconstruction Organization, which offered treatment and job opportunities. But it wasn’t enough.

He asked President Nixon for use of Ellis Island, which was currently unused, so he could create a treatment center that would also rehabilitate the facilities – but never got a reply! He wasn’t about to give up, though.

The system wouldn’t care if countless Black people suffered and died of addiction. If only the press would tell our side of the story, Matthews thought, something would change! 

So, he did the unthinkable.

He seized Ellis Island! There, he attempted to create a viable drug rehab center. His daring occupation lasted nearly a year, but for a variety of reasons was unsuccessful.

Matthew himself later suffered financial troubles, as well. Still, the occupation helped bring attention to Black people suffering under punitive drug laws.

Sometimes we have to take drastic actions to change the paradigm, empower our people, and bring much-needed resources to our communities!

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