Minorities have had a difficult time in getting established in AA from the very beginning. Protestant in philosophy, the Oxford Group (forerunner of AA) accepted members from other religions, but only on their terms. Early in 1939 there were still but two AA groups-one in New York, the other in Akron, Ohio. Irish Catholics who traveled with Clarence S. from Cleveland to Doctor Bob’s meeting in Akron were not comfortable with the Oxford Groupers. On 11 May 1939, they broke away and started their own AA group in Cleveland.
I came into the program in 1959 while stationed with the Air Force in Germany. At that time there were only a couple of dozen AA groups in the country, and all but one were either American or Canadian. The one German-speaking AA group was in Munich, numbering a dozen members. When we AAs tried to carry the message to the “natives,” we were told that the Germans had no problem with alcohol, that it was a French disease.
During my three-year assignment at a base in northern Maine, Basia and I were the only two military who were in attendance at the Presque Isle meetings, the only group within reach of our base. There were more Indians at AA meetings than military. In their case, they too hardly- represented a proportional number of the population.
While in Japan, it was the Japanese alcoholic who was in the minority. Still, a few found their way to American-speaking AA meetings. Once a couple of Japanese AAs traveled a few hundred miles from Osaka to attend one roundup near Tokyo, having by word of mouth heard of the event.
When we arrived in the Orlando area, we were not too surprised that only one black person attended AA meetings regularly. That was Blanch R., a school teacher. Eventually there came a married couple, Arvilla and Louis B. But there it stood for some time, despite the existence of 35 groups sponsoring 71 meetings.
A concerned Steering Committee decided that long-standing members of the fellowship should visit the black community to carry the AA message. In response to our offer, Louis’ brother, who was a minister of a church on Parramore Street, invited us to visit his congregation. The plan was for the Public Relations Chairman to bring along a projector, the film “Chalk Talk,” and a few AAs to answer questions. On the appointed day, only Basia and I showed up. We hurriedly recruited Jim P. of Union Park and put on a program. Church officials and attendees found the movie and the individual talks both interesting and enlightening, but the visit did not bear fruit. Our three black regulars were still the only ones showing up at meetings.
Another time, Basia and I accepted an invitation to appear before a church group at an Eatonville home to talk about the AA program. It was an all-women group. To open the meeting, they sang a hymn. We would have been happy to listen to their hymns for the entire evening. The singing was that good. There was one politician who wanted it to be known by everyone present that it was SHE who was starting AA in Eatonville. Basia and I knew the politician had the wrong picture of AA. The other ladies, however, were patient with the politician and taken with we AAs about the problem of alcoholism in their community. Again, this effort did not bear fruit.
Today the black population has become more representative. Whereas a dozen or so years ago only three black AAs collectively could be found in three counties, it is not unusual to find twice that many at any single meeting.
Have you noticed that there are three Spanish-speaking AA groups in the area? (1990) It took some time before the Spanish-speaking AA population took hold and conducted meetings on a regular basis. In fact, next Thanksgiving they will conduct a Spanish-speaking Alkathon.
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