Peter Hayden, PhD, always sees an opportunity to help. Even when his family is blindsided by tragedy—the likes of which no parent should endure—he somehow uses the experience to protect complete strangers. Now he shares his story with host William C. Moyers, reflecting on his nearly 50 years in recovery, the biggest difference makers and the undeniable truths that connect us with a higher purpose.
0:00:13 William Moyers
Here we are again, a new season in our award-winning series of Let's Talk podcasts. Presented to you by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. I'm your host, William C. Moyers. Welcome! Thanks for joining us. Our topic today: overcoming addiction in a time of racism. Our guest, Peter Hayden. I've known Peter since I first went to work at Hazelden in 1996. And everyone said, 'William, you need to meet and you need to listen to what Peter Hayden has to say.' And I think it's fair to say that I've been listening ever since. But not just listening. But learning. And along the way admiring what Peter has done for people in recovery, particularly people of color. He is the founder, the President, and the CEO of Turning Point, based in Minnesota.
0:01:00 William Moyers
[turns from camera]
Peter, welcome, and thank you for joining us today.
0:01:03 Peter Hayden
Hi William C. Moyers, how are you? [smiles]
0:01:07 William Moyers
[laughs] I'm doing okay, thanks. Tell me Peter, 1973, why does that year resonate with you?
0:01:15 Peter Hayden
That's the time I changed my life. [Moyers nods slowly] I was—just a quick story. I left the friend's house. We had been doing cocaine. Driving home I ran into a car in front of the police station. Let me show you how God works. I ran the car in front of the police station, police just came out. They saw I was drunk and they took me inside of their building. From there, I have been sober ever since. I went to a place called Meadowbrook Treatment Center. A Forensic Psychologist told me, said, 'You know, if you follow this program, your life will never be the same.' And William, my life has never been the same.
0:02:04 William Moyers
Mmm. What was it like, Peter, growing up in the 1960s as an African-American man in the Twin Cities. And as somebody who was addicted to presumably was running along a narrow path at that time.
0:02:20 Peter Hayden
It was interesting because I'm originally from Kansas City, Missouri. And at the time I was going to school, schools were named after black people. It was around the time of Topeka vs. Board of Education. So I knew my history. I went to a school called W.W. Yates. My friend went to the school called Banneker. So all these schools were named after people who looked like me. When I came here to Minnesota, there were Grants and Lincolns and all these people who I knew nothing about. And it was interesting that the environment in which you come up in makes your life different. And so, I just thought that black people lived over in North Minneapolis and you were tied down there, you didn't go downtown. And I'm talking about Minnesota, it sounds like I'm talking about Mississippi. But in the sixties, that's what it was. And I graduated from De La Salle Military Academy in Kansas City. And come here and see some different things happening that I just didn't understand.
0:03:42 William Moyers
What did you become aware of first: racism in your life or substances and their impact in your life?
0:03:52 Peter Hayden
I understood racism first because I come from a racist area, Missouri. If you're from St. Louis, it's Missour-a. If you're from Kansas City, it's Missour-i. You know? [Moyers smiles, nods] And so I understood all of that. But nothing stopped me from getting a good education going forward. When I came here, it was silent. It creeped up on you. And you kinda said what is going on? Because all I wanted to know, get the information of where I was at and things like that. So, what happened William [chuckles] was that I used drugs and alcohol to fend off many of the issues that I was dealing with. And I didn't understand drugs and alcohol, I thought it was just what people did.
0:04:47 William Moyers
So when did you finally decide or become aware of the fact that you had a problem? Was it when you had that accident in front of the police station or were you aware of that before?
0:05:00 Peter Hayden
It's when I not before the accident, it was when I went into the service. Into the United States Army to serve the people of this great country, the United States. And found out that there was separation between the—what I had to do in terms of serving and what others had to do. The interesting piece was liquor was very cheap. When I was in the service it was like 29 cents a shot. And so, and you had a lot of it. And I was in Korea and Vietnam. And so, the more stress you had, it was not about treatment, it was about get you something to alleviate the stress.
0:05:49 William Moyers
Hmm. And then, you grew up, you came home from Vietnam, you're hanging around. When you found treatment, what was that experience like for you?
0:06:01 Peter Hayden
It was unbelievable. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, William. Simply because there were people who understood my treatment issues versus my color issues. And so, when I for seven years of my sobriety I didn't have to worry about issues of what people felt about me as much as what others saw in me in the recovery system. It was a family.
0:06:36 William Moyers
Hmm. You found recovery in 1973 and just a few years later you're going from being an addict and an alcoholic and going to treatment to starting a treatment center! How did that happen?! [chuckles]
0:06:39 Peter Hayden
You know, that was really interesting because what—everything that I said about treatment, I want you and your public to know I meant that. However, as an African-American man, I started to see some things that by going through treatment, my friends started to change. My friends started to look like you. Their color was your color. I started to see that if I wasn't within that mix, I didn't do well and things of this nature. And fortunately, I figured out that if this was happening to me, it must be happening to others. And so I didn't wanna be selfish and say that I've made it, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and everything is good. And so I said 'cause a man named Henry Sullivan—I said we should do something about this. And in talking, I started to meet with icons like Harry Davis Jr., Richard Greene, many people like that, Earl Craig, those kinds of people. And I said, 'What can we do to have a program like Meadowbrook?' 'Cause Meadowbrook was a lot like Hazelden Betty Ford. And we started to work on it and that's how we started. [Moyers nods] So I must say this, William, nothing I have done has been because of my intellect. It's all been because of taking it a step at a time.
0:08:20 William Moyers
And of course you've talked very openly about the fact that your program of recovery is the Twelve Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. Do you find that the Twelve Steps are applicable regardless of your skin color?
0:08:31 Peter Hayden
Yeah. You know, and what we also did—I will never leave the Twelve Steps. But we also added in the Seventh Step so Kwanzaa. Because it was a cultural thing. And so I would say to people never abandon the Twelve Steps. But you can also culturally look at how you grew up, who you are, and things of this nature. And because Twelve Steps is so great that it fits into the Twelve Steps. And that's the beauty of Twelve Steps.
0:09:03 William Moyers
And Peter, what about the role of spirituality or faith specifically church in the African-American community and in the community of recovery?
0:09:12 Peter Hayden
That is our Foundation. The church has always been. Now it's a little different now and we're gonna have to figure that out because younger and younger kids don't know anything about church. And church is the foundation of who and what you do. I would never, ever—because you've gotta know a Higher Power. You've gotta have a God, you must have something to lay on or stand on, otherwise you can't make it. And that's what the Twelve Steps does. It gives you a foundation and then you find out your foundation that allows you to stand on and in the black community, or African-American community, you find that church is—is the thing. Is the way to go.
0:10:01 William Moyers
Peter, you've been in recovery a long, long time [chuckles, smiles], 1973, and certainly you've had a lot of highs during that time. But you've had some lows as well. What's been the toughest part of your journey?
0:10:17 Peter Hayden
Phew. That's a tough one, man. But I had a daughter—I have a daughter, I say it that way. Her name was Taylor Simone Hayden. Taylor did everything along with my other two kids, and along with Jeff Hayden who was a Senator up here. Taylor did what was right. She wanted to go to a HBCU. She picked out Prairie View. She went to Prairie View, was a great, great student, and graduated from Prairie View in '14—2014. Decided to move to Houston, Texas where her grandparents lived and her uncles. Was doing a great job in the internship with Enterprise Rental Car. She was on her way. And so she and some girls decided to take a vacation, a weekend vacation to Atlanta, Georgia. And went there and things were going well, she went to a supper club in Buckhead. Not the bucket of blood but in Buckhead. Gets there, things are going well, she goes out to see if the Uber is on his way. Some other—some guys across the street were arguing around drugs and gangbanging and things of this nature. And so, before she could get back in the club, they start shooting at each other and out of a hundred people, she was the one that got hit by the bullet. And that was—I'm telling you, if I hadn't had AA, I don't—I know I would be in jail or back using. [Moyers nods] But I took it a step at a time, my family takes it one step at a time. And we know that God does nothing wrong or bad. And so, we have the Taylor Hayden Fund. For her. And that's what we're working on. We're working with young ladies who are young and trying to give them an opportunity. Because nothing she did was wrong so it's not like you can't do this, you shouldn't do that. It's just a fact. [Moyers nods] Life is only in one person's hand, and in my belief, it's God.
0:12:42 William Moyers
So Peter you turned the adversity of your daughter's murder into the opportunity to help other people. The other thing that I know has been a big challenge that you've turned into an opportunity has been what happened in the Twin Cities in the summer of 2020. This past summer. With the murder of George Floyd and the racial strife. Tell—tell me how all of that has impacted your own perspective in your journey.
0:13:10 Peter Hayden
Well, yeah, you know, it's—I could've been George Floyd, you could've been George Floyd. But more so I could have, because I was crazy. As my son talks about all the time, State Senator Hayden, he talks about if the way the world is today, in Minnesota is the day. If I hadn't been going through—if I had been out there in the streets, just put it that way, I had more of a chance being George Floyd than Peter Hayden who you're talking to now. And that's 'cause I was crazy. And but at least there was people like Hazelden Betty Ford and you in particular that gave me an opportunity to change my life! So our acronym for Turning Point is a Time and a Place to change your mind. And that's what we're trying to do. We're not—you're not going to see me on TV a lot or whatever the case is, but you're going to hear about Turning Point. And that's why I'm on your show and I wanna be on other's people shows to say you don't always have to be talkative as much as your actions speak louder than your words.
0:14:37 William Moyers
[nods] Amen. Thanks, Peter Hayden, you are an inspiration to thousands of people, me among them.
0:14:43 Peter Hayden
Let me say this. My family I have a son—in other words, I'm an alcoholic, but my son never had to do that because he was a State Senator. My daughter Taylor graduated from Prairie View A&M. My daughter Sydney graduated from the University of Missouri and is a grade school teacher. And then my daughter Erin Nicole works for Target. And she graduated from Mississippi State. And I couldn't do that without the program and certainly without my wife.
0:15:22 William Moyers
Thank you for sharing your family and your recovery with us today, Peter Hayden. [turns to camera] Please join us for another edition of Let's Talk and make sure to tell your family and friends, colleagues and fellow travelers to check out our podcast too. On behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl, and the crew at Blue Moon Productions, we want to urge you to remember together we are building a healthier, wholesome, and happier tomorrow, one day, one life, one family, and one community at a time. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay the course.