For more than 45 years, Peter Hayden, Ph.D. ,and his colleagues at Turning Pointa North Minneapolis-based agency providing culturally specific substance use disorder treatment, have been focused on supporting members of the Twin Cities’ Black community. For most of the that time, Hayden, Turning Point’s president and CEO, has been used to flying under the radar, doing important — but often under-recognized — work in the shadow of the state’s larger addiction treatment organizations.
Then, late last year, Hayden, 78, got a call from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). The Colorado-based organization wanted to present him with its inaugural “Diversity, Inclusivity and Racial Equity Award” at their national conference. Going forward, the award, which will next be presented this May at NAATP’s national conference in San Diego, will carry his name.
“Somebody had said to them, ‘This guy and these people are doing something good for people,’ and it just blew me away,” Hayden said.
He spoke to Marvin Ventrell, NAATP CEO, who personally invited him to come and accept the award in honor of Turning Point. Hayden, who said the invitation moved him to tears, recalled, “I picked myself up off the ground and said, ‘Of course.'”
The honor is fitting cap on a long career. “After all the work over these many years, finally a group of people — counselors, psychiatrists, etc. — came to understand that here in Minneapolis there is an organization that for more than 45 years has been working with people and has been consistent with the diversity. It feels like a recognition of everything that we’ve been doing.”
Ventrell said that Hayden’s commitment to providing recovery services tailored to meet the unique needs of Minnesota’s Black community made him the perfect person for this honor.
Turning Point’s culturally specific approach was ahead of its time. Recently, major recovery organizations like Hazelden Betty Ford have begun to acknowledge the importance of creating addiction treatment options focused on the needs of BIPOC communities. But Hayden and his colleagues have been successfully taking this approach for years.
Dr. Hayden’s leadership and community-centric approach have had a monumental impact not only on Turning Point’s programming and clients but also on the professionals throughout the country who see him as a leader and inspiration for the work they do,” Ventrell said. “Turning Point’s grassroots efforts are a model for best practices in culturally specific substance use disorder treatment.”
Andrew Williams, Hazelden Betty Ford director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said that within the Black community, Hayden and Turning Point have long been recognized as offering the gold standard of addiction treatment.
“Many in the majority have not been aware of the real gem and transformative healing force that we have in our community with Turning Point,” Williams said. “That has less to do with the power and the importance of the organization than it does with the cultural biases we see reflected in what organizations get attention.” Even before the NAATP award was named for him, Williams continued, “Peter was very much on the radar of folks in the Black community around the country.”
Committed to the community
Originally from Kansas City, in 1960, Hayden moved to Minneapolis as a young man. His godmother, a woman who had cared for him as a child, got sick, so he moved north to be near a set of distant cousins.
Without his godmother’s protection and guidance, Hayden struggled to find support.
“My mom was only 15 years older than me,” Hayden explained. “So I was really on my own.”
In Minneapolis, life was tough. The distant cousins were, “good people,” Hayden said, but, “they were distant. I didn’t have a support system up here. I was in the streets. I was doing whatever I could do to keep myself together.”
Eventually, Hayden joined the military, where he was sent to Korea. While military service gave him a home and a focus, it also upped his substance use. By the time he finished his service, Hayden said his addiction was in full flower. He was discharged in Chicago, and lived there, “for a minute,” before heading back to the Twin Cities, where he continued to struggle. “I was staying in basements,” he said. “I was homeless.”
Hayden eventually went into a residential addiction treatment program, where he learned how to access his veterans’ benefits. He eventually enrolled in University of Minnesota’s General College and got help finding an apartment. He earned an undergraduate degree in education and later earned a masters’ degree and then a Ph.D. in co-occurring disorders.
Hayden’s time at what was then known as Meadowbrook Treatment Center in St. Louis Park helped to spark a decades-long commitment to recovery, but he believes that recovery came at a price.
After leaving Meadowbrook, Hayden decided that the only way for him to stay sober was to keep a distance from the people he knew in Minneapolis. This meant making a new life for himself in Edina. He’s lived on that side of town ever since.
“I never moved back,” Hayden said. “If I had stayed in Minneapolis, my friends would’ve come back and said, ‘Hey, man. Let’s get high.’ I couldn’t have said no.”
Though that scorched earth approach worked for Hayden, he felt strongly that Black people should be able to find recovery without leaving their community. In 1976, with the help of his friend and colleague Henry Sullivan, he opened a culturally-specific halfway house named Turning Point at 1523 Emerson Ave. N. The halfway house grew into the residential program that exists today.
Even then Hayden knew he wanted to build a program that would cater to the distinct needs of his community. “The reason I started Turning Point is because I thought, ‘Why did I have to give up who I was and my friends in order to be sober and have a sober lifestyle?”
Hayden wanted people like him to be able to find recovery without having to turn their backs on their community. “I knew there had to be a better way for African American men and women and children to have treatment and come out in a better way,” he said. “We had all these other programs but we did not have anything working with the African American community.”
The power of culture
At Turning Point, Hayden and his staff focus on making the program feel like a place where participants don’t have to explain themselves, where they share a common language and culture. This, Hayden believes, helps support long-term recovery.
“When you come into Turning Point, the first thing you see is people who look like you,” he said. “The second thing you see is people who talk like you or understand what you are talking about or have had the same type of relationships you did when you were growing up.”
This sense of belonging, of shared culture, helps build trust — and supports participants as they go through the vulnerable process of stepping away from substance use, Hayden said. This feeling of belonging extends to every part of the program — even down to the meal plan.
“A person feels more comfortable with what they are going through when the food they’re served is what they’re used to eating,” Hayden said. “At Turning Point we try to put a person in a position where they are ready to learn.”
While Turning Point’s programming is based on 12 Step recovery principlesit also takes a broader approach designed to meet the needs of its client base.
“We still use the 12 Steps, but we also use the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa,explained Hayden.
Creating a space that is focused on the African American experience, where staff understand where clients are coming from, is key to Turning Point’s success. “If you are feeling comfortable, you don’t have to warm yourself up, you don’t have to at some point say to yourself, ‘Maybe this guy’s okay,’” Hayden said. “At Turning Point you know it’s okay because your cousin, your brother, your mom has been through our program and succeeded. The beauty of what we do is we bring in the foundations that you need to stay sober.”
These days, Hayden is finally allowing himself to think about retirement, but that doesn’t mean that he plans to slow down. In 2015, the University of Minnesota identified Turning Point’s approach to culturally specific treatment as an industry best practice, and the organization has been building key partnerships with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. In 2021, it joined the nonprofit’s Patient Care Network as a collaborative partner.
This recognition feels good, but Hayden admitted that it’s been a long time coming.
“What we’re saying at Turning Point is not new. I have been saying that for 47 years,” said Hayden. What’s new is that Hazelden now says, ‘We see that your approach is needed and we want to partner with you and give you the recognition you deserve.’ Now folks want to understand the cultural piece.”
Williams said in the face of discrimination and provider bias, Turning Point’s “culturally attentive” approach to treatment and recovery is, “critical to advancing health equity and healing justice because they diminish these barriers and are able to leverage their cultural knowledge and grounding to advance hope and recovery.”
Once he retires, Hayden will also be able to devote more time to a cause that is central to his life. In 2016, his 25-year-old daughter, Taylor Simone Hayden, was killed when she was caught in the crossfire of a shooting in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Taylor’s killer has not been identified, and the case remains active. In response, Hayden and his wife Joyce Hayden founded the Taylor Hayden Memorial Fund to End Gun Violence. The group donates money to causes focused on supporting girls, an issue that resonated with his daughter.
“Ever since she was taken from us we’ve been on television trying to let people know about what happened to her,” Hayden said. “Every year except the COVID years we’ve done fundraising.”
Even in the face of this tragedy, Hayden has kept his commitment to advancing culturally specific addiction treatment. He believes that there is still good in the world, and he wants his life’s work to reflect that.
“The way you draw in more people is you ask them what they need, and, ‘How best can I serve you?’” Hayden said. “Make sure that when you go through this process of recovery that it is going to work for both of us. We want to improve people’s lives, and we’ve discovered a way that works.”