Celebrating 20 years of sobriety

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Where were you this St. Patrick’s Day? Were you out getting drunk? Well, you should have been at the Palladium Theater celebrating Senator Darryl Rouson’s 20th anniversary of sobriety. St. Patrick’s Day 1998, he started down the path of recovery, one step at a time.

Musical guests Cleo Hart, Shawn Brown, Alex Harris and Siobhan Monique tore…down…the…house! You missed out.

With three hours of some of the best music you’ll hear in Tampa Bay, this was a celebration of perseverance and resilience. The audience was full of people from all walks of life. From judges and politicians to clergy and recovering addicts, all were there to celebrate the journey of sobriety.

“Addiction is baffling not only for the addict but for the person or persons who try to support them,” said Mistress of Ceremony Lelia Wilson. “People with the worst past oftentimes end up with the best future.”

Wilson, who has worked for Rouson for 15 years, couldn’t help dishing about her boss. One such story she told was when he stormed into the office and fired everyone, except her. Then called them up and made each one interview for their jobs again.

She’s got a million and one stories of Rouson and his antics and would have told more if he had let her. “This is the best man that I have ever worked for.”

Mayor Rick KrisemanMayor Rick Kriseman presented Rouson with one of many 20-year medallions he received that afternoon. Having worked with him for close to two decades, he considered it an honor to present him with a “medallion that I think reflects not only 20 years of being clean, but a lifetime of service to our community.”

Chairman of the Pinellas County Commission Ken Welch spoke of Rouson’s legislative work not just in Pinellas County but throughout the nation, securing funding for addiction programs and working on judicial reform so that people are not arrested for being an addict.

“To whom much is given, much is required and Darryl has been given a trial, a test, victory and a testimony,” said Welch.

Ron Dock, who has been in recovery for 25 years, said the first time he met Rouson some 20 years ago, he kicked him out of his house.

Dock said he was held hostage for an hour listening to Rouson brag about his law firm, house and cars, but didn’t once mention recovery. After that day, the two became friends and he was there Saturday to present him with a medallion.

“He’s my brother in recovery and my brother in Christ.”

In 1987, Rouson was homeless and living in Chicago. This did not sit well with Father George Clements. He offered him the basement of Holy Angels Catholic Church until he started smoking crack in the rectory.

“Needless to say, he prayed for me and encouraged me throughout my journeys in treatment,” said Rouson.

Now 86 years old, Father Clements made a trip down from Chicago to present Rouson with a medallion.

“You know this gentlemen form being in Florida, but I knew him year after year in Chicago,” said the father, who had a made-for-television drama starring Louis Gossett Jr. made about his fight to adopt a troubled teen and save him from a life on the streets. “Having been here tonight, I can tell that he has a lot of friends who love him, and that’s great, but I just want you to know that in Chicago, we all thought he was just a straight out fool!”

Altogether he received seven medallions, but the one from his children brought tears to the audience’s eyes.

Darryl Rouson’s children: L-R, Jared, Aaron, Danielle, Sakeisha, Emmanuel, Daniel Rouson. Not pictured Giselle Rouson-Battley and Antonio Winston.

Darryl Rouson’s children: L-R, Jared, Aaron, Danielle, Sakeisha, Emmanuel, Daniel Rouson. Not pictured Giselle Rouson-Battley and Antonio Winston.

“I’m so privileged to be your daughter and the life that you have walked has really shown me resilience, perseverance and commitment,” said his daughter Danielle Rouson-Ayodele.

Through all of his years in recovery, his wife Angela has been by his side. When they married, she had a seven-year-old daughter who also had a front-row seat to his recovery process.

“I have seen both sides of you and loved you as a father figure through them all,” said SaKeisha Winston. “I am happy and so pleased to see you come out on the other side of the rainbow.”

Daniel Rouson revealed that when he was 17, he showed his father his first brand new shamrock tattoo. “I didn’t know if he was disappointed or honored.”

Approximately $100,000 raised form the 20th-anniversary celebration will be donated to Mt. Zion Human Services and other faith-based ministries wanting to offer recovery programs and services.

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