ABOVE PHOTO: On the left is Dr. Arthur Evans, former Commissioner of the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral health and Intellectual Disabilities with Derrick (Rick) Ford.
By Thera Martin
Donna Anderson and Vivian Lewis were the last two contestants still standing after a series of smaller competitions held under the umbrella of “Recovery Idol” — a concept created by Derrick (Rick) Ford; more on him later.
“I recall the days in the past when I used to sing in crack houses for change, but on August 23, I’ll be singing my heart out on center stage at The Dell Music Center as I go after the top prize in the Recovery Idol competition,” Anderson, a recovering addict, now 21 years clean, said.
Their individual stories and those of the other 21 contestants who went after a spot to perform at the Dell are similar in that they are all recovering addicts from drugs or alcohol. Some of the contestants also deal with mental health issues. Bottom line, all are in recovery.
“I first heard about Recovery Idol about three years ago, but every year I would miss the deadline when you’re supposed to sign up to compete in the Recovery Idol process,” Anderson said. “This year, I made it on time. I’m in recovery and have been for the last 21 years. I came through Narcotics Anonymous and that’s how I’ve gotten the help I needed to get clean.”
“I’ve been performing all my entire life,” she continued. “Ask my mother, my sisters, my brothers, even my daughters. My daughters will say, ‘Oh God, she’s not singing again, is she?” I can be in the supermarket, I can be anywhere. I’m always singing. I’ve always been comfortable on stage. I’ve been on stage all my life, growing up with drama club and things of that sort.”
Vivian Lewis, the other final contestant in the competition, explained how she got involved with Recovery Idol.
“Well, what happened is I go to a place called The Wedge Recovery and Mental Illness Center,” she said. “I have a bi-polar disorder. I saw a flyer about Recovery Idol hanging on a bulletin board there and I took down the information, saying to myself, ‘let me give it a try.’ I’ve been singing in Philadelphia all my life, everywhere. What got me started singing is when I was younger and still to this day, I listen to WDAS. Singing along all the time with such groups as The Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, and Phyllis Hyman I think, helped me to develop my voice. Through the process of singing along with artists I would hear on the radio, I learned that I could really sing.”
“My secret to staying calm, cool and collected between now and the final competition August 23 — I try not to think about it,” she continued. “That will make me nuts. I’m looking forward to the show [on] August 23. I’ve been singing for a very long time and sometimes I’ve wanted to give up. But this experience with Recovery Idol and making it to the finals, I can’t give up now.”
Derrick Ford is the person who created Recovery Idol eight years ago, and yes, he admits the name is a spin-off of “American Idol.” However, the overall concept is to help people in recovery build up their self-esteem. Ford shared how he was moved to start Recovery Idol.
“People ask me, ‘what made you start Recovery Idol?’” Ford said. “What happened was I put a young lady in a drug recovery treatment program [who] I knew really needed some help. Unfortunately, she had relapsed when I ran across her one day and I saw her sitting on the street. Out of nowhere, it just seemed like I had to help this woman again. I had left after I first saw her sitting there, looking lost and sad. I drove around the block and then I just had to come back to her and talk to her to see what I could do to help her.”
“I said to myself, ‘What can I do to help her to get her back on track with her self-esteem?’” he continued. “The answer came from God. God said, ‘You need to do a fashion show.’ I thought about it all that night when I went home, [wondering] how I was going to make a recovery fashion show become a reality. The next day, I started calling top designers from Lane Bryant and Men’s Warehouse and other clothing outlets, asking for clothes for a fashion show I was hosting, using models who were homeless. The spin off from doing that fashion show turned into Recovery Idol. Like American Idol, Recovery Idol is a competition for singers. The only difference is that all the singers are people in recovery.”
“I’m proud to say that Recovery Idol is a big hit every year and every year, in terms of the talent, the talent has gotten crazy, (good),” Ford concluded. “We have some world-class musicians backing the artists, with Philadelphia’s own Johnny Crooms leading the way as my musical director for the show.”
Sponsors for this event to help make Recovery Idol possible are: the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities, (DBHID); the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences(PARR); Eagleville; The Wedge; One Day At A Time; Gaudenzia House; Stop and Surrender, and several other provider agencies.
Ford is a very special brother with his own special testimony of recovery. When he finally allowed himself to hear God and truly say, “I don’t want to ever be high again on drugs, or alcohol, in my life,” his life changed for the better. He went from being someone addicted to crack, living on the streets of Philadelphia, chasing his next high for a number of years, before he finally got it, walked into a tough love recovery program and worked his butt off to kick his own addiction.
Now 28 years drug free, Ford is a positive contributing member of society, a father connected to his adult daughter, and married to the love of his life. Ford says he understands how blessed he is to be in the position he’s in today, as the community liaison for the Pennsylvania Alliance of Recovery Residences(PARR). He credits David Jones, commissioner for the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities, Roland Lamb, also with DBHID, and PARR director Fred Way, for giving himself and others at DBHID and now at PARR the tools and power to make a difference for the many citizens in Philadelphia who need their services. It’s Ford’s passion to do the job he does.
One thing about Derrick Ford is this: When God puts something on his heart to do something, he listens.