Devin Reaves: Advocate Who Rights Wrongs
As a kid, Devin Reaves wanted to be a lawyer, but as a 24-year-old entering recovery in 2006, he figured law school might not be the most healthy choice for him. He became an advocate instead.
“I like to argue,” he says. Those who know Reaves well also know that he speaks his mind, especially when there is a wrong that needs to be righted.
After a few hard knocks in the early advocacy days—especially his first serious gig in downtown West Palm Beach in 2009, while protesting LGBT discrimination—Reaves says he wishes he would have learned sooner how to play well with others.
“As a straight ally, I couldn’t understand the level of apathy that allows the most marginalized groups to support a cause while more mainstream groups stay away,” he says.
Today, as a recovery advocate, Reaves also doesn’t understand the apathy behind the modern recovery movement. “I don’t know why everyone isn’t up in arms,” he says with passion.
“If today we faced the drug climate that we did in 2010, or better, in 2007 in the Northeast, we’d probably be all right in terms of a drug crisis,” Reaves explains. “But we’re so far behind the eight ball and don’t even know it.”
Reaves, who is the new executive director of the soon-to-open Life of Purpose New Jersey location, is referring to what he calls “reactionary” policies and practices instead of “going out on a limb and trying new things.
“What about doing whatever it takes—harm reduction, medication-assisted treatment and even needle exchange programs—to move from behind the eight ball to in front of it?” he asks.
When it comes to the modern recovery advocacy movement, Reaves states what seems obvious: there must be an integration of people of color.
“I’ll be honest. Many people of color think that this movement is a smack in the face because where was everybody 30 years ago when the crack epidemic was killing off black men?
“Now, the focus is on heroin addicts—as it should be—but what about meth and crack?”
Reaves says he hopes the movement doesn’t take on the look and feel of “rich, white kids from the suburbs” and the “kids of color from the inner city.”
He says he’s had folks say to him, “well, at least it’s a step in the right direction” to which he replies, “in fact, it’s a step in the wrong direction if we’re creating more divisions.”
Reaves readily admits “the recovery advocacy movement is my life” and that sometimes he wears his passion on his sleeve.
“The first time I met a girl who was saved by a cop with Narcan I cried,” he explains.
As a current board member for the Association of Recovery Schools, soon-to-be board member for Prevention Point Philadelphia, a Community Health Clinic and Needle Exchange in North Philadelphia and as the founder of Brotherly Love House in Philadelphia—a recovery home for men—Reaves has experienced a lot during his 10 years in recovery.
What does the future hold for this advocate?
“I’m trying to change my community, my state, my country, and the world,” he says. “No hyperbole intended.”