Paul: Hello and welcome to our webinar! My name is Paul Toriello and I’m a proud member of the Empowering Youth and Families Program. Today we have a special guest for our webinar, Richmond County Commissioner Tavares Bostic. He’s agreed to talk to us about how the opioid epidemic has impacted his community. Mr Bostic, thank you for joining us today. First off, tell us about your background, what was the path that led you to becoming a Richmond County Commissioner.
Tavares: So I am originally from Marston, North Carolina which is just down the road from where we are right now, very very small. I am a 2003 graduate of Richmond Senior High. Afterwards, I joined the army national guard where I was a 12 bravo combat engineer. I later went on to North Carolina A&T which is the greatest HBCU ever created. Afterwards I had the opportunity to attend the University of Pittsburgh where I thought that I would be in Pittsburgh forever and ever, but God had different plans and I ended up coming back home.
Once I came back I realized how much the community had changed from when I was here from years ago, and not only politically but also in just, when we think about opioids when we think about resources and I think about leadership that I saw that maybe wasn’t so political but they were just community activists, all of those things had changed. In looking at the political structure, I said well who on this board or boards really represents my interest and from there I realized that maybe I needed to step up, step in and which I did. Now the first time out, I lost not by much but I think it was more so of a situation of who is this young kid coming out of nowhere and looking to run for you know one of the top offices in a county but that loss really opened my eyes to a lot of things. It gave me an opportunity not only to get into the community but to really build relationships, genuine relationships.
Throughout the interview, you’ll probably hear me mention multiple times mobilizing versus organizing and for me what that is the mobilizing part of really anything is getting the message out door-to-door, your local newspaper, social media, saying okay this thing is happening you guys need to know about it. The organizing part of that is truly building relationships, building bridges, some of the bridges here that may have been burned trying to find people that will help you rebuild and so in my quest of county commissioner, I’ve continued to try to do that, continue to try to be collaborative, hear everyone’s ideas whether I agree or not, understand that my world and my views and my world are mine and but I don’t want to do this to people. Instead I’m hoping that I can do this and join worlds as opposed to clashing with them and so, and that’s basically with everything with me to be quite honest whether it is politically or community activism or just a conversation like what you and I are having right now
P: Quite a journey. Military, Pittsburgh for some time came back home, community was different, and you were different. You went through some formative experiences, military and education, and that motivated you to instead of be passive recipient of of the process to actually be active and pursue a commissioner’s slot. Transitioning from there a big challenge for the country and for the state of North Carolina and in particular Richmond County has been the opioid crisis, the opioid epidemic.
P: Richmond County is largely a rural county and rural counties have suffered even more. Now when we first had this conversation about making this webinar it was months ago, there was not a pandemic, there was not a significant escalation and racial issues going on in this country, and now we’re on the other side of that. We’re dealing with the pandemic and American racism is festering.
So in the context of that and let’s start before the pandemic and before recent events, what was your view of the opioid crisis in Richmond County? How was it impacting the community? What were you hearing from from your constituents? What was working to combat it? What was needed? Again, your perspective before all these trials and tribulations
T: So the one thing that I’ll say about the pandemic, pre-pandemic and post pandemic, is that none of this is new and this is the one thing that I’ve tried to explain to everyone. I get that it’s being highlighted right now but it’s not like we’re entering into new territory. The United States of America has seen pandemics in the past, and we’ve always dealt with race, systemic racism, oppression, all of the things that’s happening now, police brutality, all these things, this is not new.
But when it comes to folks who look to reduce the pain of trying to figure out, how to create a relationship with what people are calling a new normal and trying to figure out their place in the pandemic, and now with all of the racial tension I think that what we’ve seen is an increase in opioid use. Whereas maybe before trying to handle life on life’s terms was already difficult and you know we’ve seen many people in this community overdose and try to find different ways to reduce the struggle of everyday life. For many and at least what I’m hearing in the community is that that has gone up. It’s no secret here that we have many drug dealers here, and I’m hoping that we can keep the majority of what I’m saying. Richmond County is not vacant of drug dealers, we’re not vacant, and I don’t mean the traditional you know, for the sake of conversation, thug street corner. I’m talking about grandma, I’m talking about uncle Joe who’s getting an enormous amount of perks and all this, and he’s realized that hey I can sell a perk for x amount of dollars and bring in some income. Now that starts to filter off into the conversation of are we doing a good job with bringing in jobs, you know, here, so that people don’t feel like they have to sell off their medication. That’s a different conversation but for many people they see that yeah I can make a quick buck selling my medication, and these are not your typical drug dealers and so for many people here, folks who do have a diagnosis and require medication, and then people who are saying you know what I know that this medication can take the edge off from me, either watching cnn or fox news or whichever news outlet they subscribe to, but honestly pre-pandemic – post-pandemic has been relatively the same.
For a place like Richmond County the understanding of race relations here, that has always been what I’ve called a very flimsy band-aid. When it comes to race relations and even when it comes to trying to cope with it through opioids or whatever their drug of choice is. It can be something small and what this pandemic has done was really kind of bubbled everything up to the top when it comes to just how we see one another. Most recently with the shootings and the police brutality and all these things you have some people that can get on social media, and they’ll say you know “bah!” and then you have folks who say you know what I don’t want any part of it, I just want to escape from it and that’s my fear for many is that not only don’t they want to be a part of the conversation you know, they feel like they just don’t want to be a part period and in that we have an increase in opioid use.
P: It’s an added stressor, an added stressor that leads me to maybe use more opiates. It might, I may have been furloughed from a job because of the pandemic. How am I going to make money?
P:What was if anything working again before, during pandemic? What was working that would motivate or inspire a citizen to put down and seek help? What were some organizations or some systems that were working to whatever extent?
T: Well, and we can start with law enforcement, so and here’s what I’ll say just kind of candidly. There’s a conversation now of when did big time drug use happen here in Richmond County and you can walk 10 miles north, south, east, and west, and you’re going to get several answers.
T: At least in my experience and here I am now 35. Here’s the realness of this situation. In early 2000s you had particular music that came out and where people here and this is the conversation of drugs and gangs because I’ve asked this question multiple times. When do you think this happened and this happened and some people say oh it’s just three years ago. It’s like well no it wasn’t just three years ago. There was and I don’t know if the viewers will even know Pastor Troy, they can go and look them up for you, but he came out with an album called Ready for War.
T: For a place like Richmond County, you have Ellerbe, you got Hamlet, you got Rockingham, and you got Cordova and so earlier on you see that everyone was starting to get very territorial. but in that time you also started to see where there was this emergence of new so-called drug dealers you know, and at that time it was just weed that that sort of thing, but it continued to evolve so whereas people may have lived in a bubble in this county and say oh no it, was only three years ago. No, we’re talking about 1999 all the way up. Now as a result of that the law enforcement here has created this drug and gang tasks force. Now I have my thoughts on it. I think that maybe we could have come up with this much sooner, but nonetheless we have it and I think that they’ve done a pretty good job on trying to get a handle of it.
Then we also have other groups, churches, 4-H even who has tried to really highlight this particular issue, then you have some of us who have worked and worked with people who are chemically dependent. My time in Pittsburgh, that was my job. I worked for a gateway rehab and what I will say is that for everything that’s happening, for all of the resources that that’s looking to attack this particular issue, none of us are really working together and I think this has brought on a much larger issue that I don’t think people are necessarily either ready to have the conversation too or they’re going to come to the conversation with a lot of excuses and truly we have a situation where everyone is going after the same people. What I’ve noticed is that I might go to a meeting and they say, well this conversation is about drugs and trying to combat this issue you know, talking about abstinence or not selling your meds, and then I’ll go to another meeting and it’s the same people sitting in the room, and then I’ll go to a church and I’ll say, oh hey Miss Linda from the other two meetings.
So I’m just like well why is it that we can’t all work together, and it comes down to basically one thing. You have folks who are more concerned about credit over community, and that has absolutely killed our ability to truly do real long lasting work. I started an organization called Black Brothers Leaning On Another Creating Kings that’s for young African-American males, ages 12 to 18. We do a lot of different things to try to change that negative narrative. Now since then, we’ve done book bags and turkeys and scholarships and everything. Now people have come to us and said, hey, we want to do this too, and I’ve even been willing to say okay, let’s do it, whatever resources you have we can combine those, we don’t even have to have our name on it, if you want to put your name on it, fine, but there might be people that you have that maybe we weren’t connected to initially. That’s really my only goal in this thing. How can we add more and more people to whatever it is we’re trying to do. I don’t really care whose name is on it. There’s a lot of people in this community and if they watch it, please call me and we can discuss, but truly there are too many people in the community that want to see their name on it and that’s more important than content, it’s more important than helping, it’s more important than reducing the stereotypes that’s connected to people who are truly chemically dependent.
The one thing that always irritates me to no end is we, a lot of the meetings that I show up to are filled with folks who know better, right? There’s really no one from the community and then you hear things like, oh this is an evidence-based program, evidence-based, evidence-based, evidence-based, it came from NC State, it came from A&T, so it has to be the right thing, and so my question always is well did NC State go into the community? Did they go into the hood? Do they go into some of the more run-down areas? How is this evidence based? And we haven’t spoken with anyone to get any real evidence, and so for me, my mission has always been since coming back home is to get into all of the areas that I know people are afraid to go into or for me, I mean my mom and I lived in a house no bigger than probably the square that me, you, and the camera lady are in right now, and for us it was quite difficult, and so it forced us to kind of move around a bit in order to get comfortable, and honestly during that time it probably wasn’t as bad then but I probably could have been taken away from her. The big thing though is that for many of us who have lived in these communities in the hood or some of the more run-down communities, we’ve forgotten this. We got fancy, we went off, we got degrees you know, we started to speak a little bit better, we started using maybe less ebonics, and then we forgot that we were the very people that now we’re going and we’re trying to help. We somehow, we’ve created this hierarchy that says, oh because I got out, you guys are now eh, so we don’t necessarily want to deal with you.
P: I’m curious about that. To what extent when you came back from Pittsburgh did you have to reestablish trust? As a starting point, and then how that developed to being a county commissioner?
T: Yeah, that was probably the most difficult, right? And I’ll just say this because I think it’s important. I don’t necessarily fit the profile of many of the young black males that this community might be used to. If you make it out of some of the communities that many of us have grown up in initially, it’s looked at as this wonderful thing that you’ve been able to accomplish, that you made it out, that you’re able to go on and get educated, and those things. Coming back was difficult because one, there was a conversation of is Tavares really from Richmond County and there was almost a campaign even to say that I’m not from here, even though I bleed Marston, North Carolina everywhere I go, but then it was a situation of well, he doesn’t talk like us and so I said well what does this even mean, and well you don’t carry this thing like this, you’re not out here saying fried chicken and sweet tea, and so we don’t really know where you come from buddy. Because I’ve gotten, maybe gotten away from that, I don’t know if I ever spoke like that, but it’s not to judge anyone that does speak like this, but coming back because I don’t necessarily carry that twang, people were a little nervous about that. I wear a lot of suits but it’s mostly because I also own a private practice, so I mean and now I’m county commissioner so I’m going to be in more suits, but it threw people off terribly and so, but it took me honestly going into communities, starting that organization black, really literally knocking on doors, and saying can I come and talk with you in your home right? Allowing people to offer you something you know to eat or drink and really build relationships, and so now folks are like okay, yeah he’s from here. He’s a little bit different but you know, he is from here and he genuinely cares about us.
P: So my next question is about prevention. What do you see as working in the community? Again it’s not perfect and there’s a long way to go. What are some elements in terms of prevention, of opioid use, drug use, etc that are working? What is needed and for lack of a better phrase, what is ideal for you in terms of prevention? What would you like to see come in terms of prevention efforts?
T: What I want to say is that there was a study done, this might been two years ago now, and it said that there were enough prescription drugs written for each and every individual in this county to receive well over a hundred pills, which is mind-boggling to me. What I have seen and what I believe is working is that now doctors are starting to kind of play this thing a little bit closer. So instead of just writing scripts that say you know what, you can have this enormous amount you know, now we’re saying okay, maybe not so many you know, and I think that’s something that that works. I think doctors being able to get on board with truly being able to treat patients and not put them in this very counterproductive you know healing process, but I also think that like I said earlier there are several entities that’s doing good work. Can we all come together?
T: You know and because we’re all helping the same amount of people. The health department does a “you can turn in your old meds” and I think that’s working. I think that churches being more involved because for many of churches, I think we have well over 200 churches in this county, I think many of them are trying to have the conversation, and I’ve seen many of them bring in professionals to try to talk to their congregation, which I think is a wonderful thing because churches have the largest audience, multiple days a week, every week. So if we can get the pastors on board with this thing and I guess this is the message to all of the pastors to join the efforts, and it kind of goes into credit versus community too, you know, with some of them, but my hope is that they can set those things aside and truly do the good work of the Lord. So really being able to get the churches involved is going to be a huge move because they do have the largest audience every week, multiple times a week. It’s important that the community at large and the religious community can certainly band together, and I think when it comes to and, I know many other churches are having bible study or bible counseling and Sunday service, being able to carve out some time and say hey, here are all of the services that’s available for people who are chemically dependent, and we want to work with you all. I think that’s going to be so important especially when you’re talking about prevention.
I like for everyone to kind of stay in their lane, and for many of the patients that I see that come in just as an example, for patients that come into me and they say Tavares, I’m struggling with my relationship you know, with the good lord, I will always say have you spoken with your pastor or your religious leader? Now if those things start to transition over into mental illness or you know whatever chemical dependency, then that’s where I can step in. Now we have an inside-outside game, and that’s really what I like to see with many of these different entities including my position as county commissioner. The community at large has a particular issue and let’s just say for the sake of conversation, it is opioids. You’re not, you may not be able to get into the meetings that I’m in, but if you tell me what your plight is then that’s the outside game. You guys are going to mobilize, you’re going to protest, you’re going to get the word out. The organization piece is me going into these meetings, saying hey guys, all of the people that’s outside with their you know signs and screaming, this is what they want, and we continue to try to do this. Again earlier I said I’m a person that wants to be able to blend worlds, not clash with them, and when we’re talking about prevention, that’s all of it.
P: Final question, what is your wish for Richmond County? What is your vision? Tell us what you would like to see long term.
T: Long term, I think it’s going to be important that everyone understands the importance of mobilizing and organizing, and being honest, if everyone is not going to have the expertise in each and every hot topic item that comes up and it’s okay to say that. There’s going to be a certain level of ineptitude in, maybe the conversation of chemical dependency, race relations, oppression, all these things. What we find on social media since that right now is the source where we can all kind of talk to each other what we find is that instead of people admitting that they don’t know some of the information in order to be a productive contributor to the conversation, they resort to antagonism. For me, it impedes all of our ability to do good long-lasting work, so all I’m saying is that if we are all wanting the same thing we, I don’t want us canceling each other, I don’t want anyone to shut up as we see on social media.
What I do want is for the conversation to be more productive, and so my wish is that we can have more productive conversations. We can have more people understand the significance of mobilizing these ideas, organizing, and having better relationships and building better bridges, and then once we have that particular algorithm if you want to call it, that then we can start dropping in opioid dependency, prevention, all of these things that would say, you know what we see this issue and we swarm to it. I think a very good example of that is no one can say anything bad about Beyonce. There’s the beehive right? So anytime that lady comes up, there’s nothing that you can say, everyone swarms to it right? No one can say anything, so which is why she doesn’t always have a lot of negative commentary without an enormous amount of people coming.
I’m saying, can we be that particular hive when it comes to all of us joining together, to focus on a common enemy like opioid dependency, like oppression, like police brutality, like race relations, and like a pandemic. Can we do that? That’s my wish.
P: Thank you for watching our webinar. We’ll have some contact information at the end if you’d like to contact Mr Bostic. Thanks again.