Al-Duha Chase, 55, director of drug and alcohol clinic

February 24, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Al-Duha Chase, a former drug addict and director of Tai Sophia Institute's Penn North Clinic, where he helped those suffering from narcotic and alcoholic dependencies reclaim their lives, died of lung disease Feb. 14 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 55.

Mr. Chase's descent into his own personal "hell," followed by years of addiction, began in the city's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where he was born and raised.

Born Stephen Chase, he later dropped his given name and adopted the African name of Al-Duha.

He was a graduate of Carver Vocational-Technical High School.

"He was 15 or 16 when he got involved with using drugs, as did the rest of his family. He had a very hard time, which led to crime and imprisonment," said Bob Duggan, the president of the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, which operates Penn North Clinic in the 2400 block of Pennsylvania Ave.

"About 12 years ago, he got scared straight and spent three years living in the woods of Pennsylvania studying the martial arts, tai chi, fasting and cleansing his body. And then he came back to Baltimore, and he was afraid that he might go back to his old life, so he came to Penn North where he started answering the phone and eventually became a tai chi teacher," he said.

"I am one who has suffered the sorrows of 24 years of active drug addiction and the hell that goes along with it including prison and other institutions," Mr. Chase wrote in Meridians, a publication of Tai Sophia Institute, in 1998. "I even considered death on more than one occasion, nevertheless, I am here standing today drug free and a productive member of society."

"He told me he knew he was recovered when he no longer ran when he heard a car door slam. He considered himself no longer an addict in recovery and would say, `I am now a tai chi teacher,'" Mr. Duggan said.

"He was a royal presence dressed in his African robes, which he wore to Penn North every day," said Harvey Schwarz, secretary and special projects administrator at Tai Sophia Institute.

At Penn North, addicts attend 12-step meetings, undergo acupuncture, study tai chi or find friendship with others trying to put their lives back together.

"He had a phrase, `Heroin is a very faithful friend, and if you want me off my heroin, build me a friendship community, a place where people can come and be welcomed,'" Mr. Duggan said.

"He was an extraordinary guy and an incredibly positive force. Having been through so much himself, he was able to offer his own testimony daily to support people in a community in recovery, and also to demonstrate that the simple courtesies and kindnesses - including a well-cooked and nourishing meal and conversation around a dining room table - were incredibly important anchors for people trying to make it back from prison or drugs," said Stan Heuisler, former editor of Baltimore magazine and fundraiser for Penn North.

Mr. Chase taught an after-school program in tai chi to students at Pimlico Middle School and, when the weather was agreeable, often took his Penn North classes onto city streets, drug corners and nearby playgrounds.

"He'd drive the dope dealers away. You could see the lookouts signal as he and his group came down the street and all the dealers [would] disappear," Mr. Heuisler said. "The sight of people in recovery also physically recovering their community - even briefly - was hard to forget."

Last autumn, Mr. Chase played a pivotal role in helping Penn North receive a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its Threshold to Recovery project.

"Before we got the grant, we closed at 5 p.m. and saw about 60 people a day. After the grant, we were able to stay open from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m., and we were seeing over 400 clients," said Natalie N. Mercer, a Penn North intake and educational coordinator.

"Al-Duha was a wonderful spirit and a remarkable healer, and he touched the lives of so many people in the community," said Karen H. Kreisberg, director of the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Foundation. "He knew how to create relationships and was a change agent. He got clean and devoted his life to helping others create new journeys for themselves."

"He was a Pied Piper that people followed. He had a certain glow," Ms. Mercer said. "That brother is leaving a good legacy behind, and we're going to miss him."

Services were Feb. 18.

Surviving are his wife of four years, Shavonne Chase Muhammed; a sister, Wanda Boston of Baltimore; and many cousins.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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