Sometimes they do not see the results until years later.
“People will come up to us and say ‘I heard you (sing) and I got clean that day or that night.’ That’s the whole blessing,” said Gloria Johnson, one of the founders of Sistahs Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse (S.A.D.A.A.) about the impact the group has had on its listeners.
S.A.D.A.A. is a gospel music group that grew out of three women’s recovery from addiction, and now is a ministry that particularly focuses on helping women.
“For women it’s really hard because you have stooped so low. The demoralizing things we have subjected ourselves to as a result of the disease makes it sometimes so hard to come back from. For a man it’s different; they get up, dust themselves off and nothing is really said. But for women it’s different. We have children; we’ve lost the children. We lose our self respect,” explained Johnson who adds that sometimes women do not believe they can be forgiven.
But they can. Johnson and group co-founders Toni Schexnayder, La Wonya Brown (she recently left the ensemble) and current member Yolanda Hill are living proof.
“We know first-hand how it feels and what they are going through, and we just want them to know there is a another way to live. We represent hope and the fact that God can and will help, if you seek him. But it has to be something you want,” said Johnson who, for eight years, abused crack cocaine to the point where she lost everything including her son, who went to live with her parents.
Hill, is a recent addition to the group and she too sang in the church choir as a child; but later because she was a functional user, her addiction to drugs and alcohol did not cause her to lose everything in a material or physical sense, but it did cause severe problems in her life.
Schexnayder grew up in Chicago’s State Street housing projects, and for many of those years, because of her involvement in the church choir, she escaped being touched by the rough life that some face in that environment. However, the death of her mother and father three years apart sent her stumbling into the world of drug and alcohol abuse.
Like Schexnayder, Brown grew up in the church, but an attempt to gain the attention of her drug-addicted husband by trying crack cocaine led to domestic abuse and feelings of hopelessness. That led to a downward slide into drug addiction that lasted several months.
She came close to losing her job and her daughter before she got help.
It was during their recovering that Johnson, Schexnayder and Brown met and began to make music together.
“I grew up taking piano, and I hated it at that time, but I still had love for music. They had this piano there (at her recovery center) that no one was ever allowed to touch, but for some reasons they allowed me to play.
“I started playing this song that just drew people (to the piano),” continued Johnson, who has been free of crack cocaine for 20 years. “It was called ‘Give Something Back,’ and I wrote this long before I had the disease.”
Johnson said the song seemed to minister to everyone in the facility, and it became the theme song for everyone who graduated from the program.
“That’s when I realized music could be instrumental (in recovery); a soothing and healing instrument.”
Johnson put together a singing group that included Schexnayder and Brown, and they performed for the recovery program at one of the annual events in the park they hosted. The group was called Voices of Infinite Serenity.
Then she left the recovery center and moved into a sober living facility, and rather than leave the music, she continued the group for a short while. It would eventually die and be reborn as S.A.D.A.A.
The intention when the group in 1993 was formed, was to perform at the various recovery facilities around the area, but Johnson said it did not quite work out that way.
“What happened was the churches were hungry for the message, so we started performing in churches,” Johnson said, adding that those performances became the centerpiece of their ministry. Johnson said contrary to what people might think, they were continuously approached by people who had a friend or relative with an addiction disease. They even talked to individuals who themselves were fighting addiction.
As a result and in addition to their performing ministry S.A.D.A.A. acts as a sort of liaison, providing those in need with information on where to go and what to do.
Eventually Johnson said the group’s goal is to take their message nationwide because the problem is an American one. But that is an aspiration for the future. Today S.A.D.A.A. has released its first CD, “Serenity” which is available on their Web Site–
The group will also appear in the play “James and Joseph,” which opens tomorrow at the Meta Theater and continues through Oct. 25. Tickets are $25 each, and the show begins at 7 p.m. The Meta is located at 7801 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles.
Like their ministry, James and Joseph is about facing addiction, and centers on a pastor of a local church, who is dealing with community expectations and drug abuse in his family. The intent of the production is to show that even highly-regarded individuals can be affected by the same issues and conflicts (such as a drug abuse) as everyone else.;