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September- National Recovery Month

National recovery month, now in its 32nd year, is a national observance held every September to promote and support the strong and proud recovery community. It all started under the name “Treatment Works!” in 1989. It was a way to honor the hard work of healthcare professionals in the addiction field. After a few years, it was renamed to “National Alcohol and Drug addiction recovery month”,in an effort to also honor the work of individuals suffering from addiction.

This 30-day event is created to educate especially Americans on mental health and substance use disorders. Every year, There are about 4 million people in the U.S. from age 12, who received some kind of drug. Considering these stats, you can clearly see that issue of drug addiction in U.S. is real.

This problem started to grow mainly around mid to late 1980, when crack cocaine became popular. More dangerous, cheaper and more addictive than its powdered equivalent, began to gain momentum around poor and working-class neighborhoods. As the number of crack users nationwide increased from approximately 4.2 million to 5.8 million from 1985 to 1989, Keith Haring, as the very influential artist, embarked on this theme with his “anti-crack” murals.

“Crack Is Wack” mural (1986) located in Harlem NY, was served as a warning against crack cocaine, and is till now taken as a symbol of anti-drug activism. It is practically billboard-like mural, because of its location along Harlem River Drive. As the artist wanted to spread this warning to every New Yorker, he chose a spot that had the largest potential for visibility. Location between Central Harlem and East Harlem was chosen very emphatically. These two areas,inhabited by African and Latin America neighbourhoods, were recognized as the most crack users as well as graffiti writers.

Funny thing is, that Haring didn´t have permission to do it. Keith himself said “When you have a van, ladders, and paint, policemen don’t even consider asking whether you have any permission, they just assume you do.” It took only one day to create this mural, but as Haring was wrapping up at the end of the day, one policeman arrested him after finding out that he didn´t have a legal permission. He faced a giant fine and jail, but the mural’s instant popularity saved him. “Crack is wack” mural went instantaneously from illegal to protected.

Sadly, this mural was largely referred to Keith’s personal experiences. Artist witnessed his studio assistant Benny, struggling with substance use disorder, which led to a near-death experience in 1984.

Before the mural, Haring and Benny had tried everything from seeking help from counselors to calling cocaine hotlines for help. During this time, they noticed lack of support in this area.Slow reaction from health and government agencies inspired Haring to create an anti-crack painting that would be seen easily by all.

This powerful mural is still standing on its place, restored, protected and sought after by many people. Thanks to its catchy title, it’s easy to memorize and also easy to spread all around the world.This mural ultimately conveys an important message to a variety of viewers every single minute, and that´s how real street art is supposed to be.

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Estella Tongwei
Estella Tongwei
Sep 29, 2021

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