People Doing Interesting Stuff (PDIS) is about just that.

Host Samuel Kelton Roberts talks and thinks out loud with special guests, including activists and organizers, writers, artists, social entrepreneurs, public figures, and others about what they do, and how, why, and where they do it. From the streets to the suites, they're everywhere. We're mostly serious, often humorous, and always interesting. (Adult language and themes)

PDIS Episodes

Episode 09: The "Whole Neighborhood Stopped in its Tracks" edition, with Tracie Gardner of the Legal Action Center

Episode 10: The "Body(.com) and Soul" edition, with Kenyon Farrow, senior editor of TheBody.com and TheBodyPro.com

 

 

 

 

 

In the "Body(.com) and Soul" edition of PDIS: People Doing Interesting Stuff, Samuel Kelton Roberts sits down and talks with Kenyon Farrow, the senior editor at TheBody.com and TheBodyPro.com. A writer, editor, and strategist, Farrow has worked on campaigns of all sizes on the local, national, and global level and in issues related to criminalization/mass imprisonment, homelessness, LGBT rights, and HIV education and empowerment. With expertise in public health, social policy, and health care, he is a sought-after speaker, facilitator, and strategist.

 

Prior to joining TheBody.com, Farrow served as U.S. & Global Health Policy director with Treatment Action Group (TAG). He is also known for his work with organizations such as Queers for Economic Justice, Critical Resistance, and FIERCE!

 

In addition to his political work, Kenyon (twitter: @KenyonFarrow) is a prolific essayist and author. He is the co-editor of the book Letters From Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out. His work has also appeared in many anthologies including Spirited: Affirming the Soul of Black Lesbian and Gay Identity, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough, We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America, and Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call. His work has also appeared on websites and in publications such as The Body.com, POZ, The Atlantic, TheGrio, Colorlines, ReWire News, The American Prospect, and AlterNet.

 

Kenyon’s work has been recognized by many institutions including Out Magazine’s “Out 100” and The Advocate magazine’s “40 Under 40.” He was also named a “Modern Black History Hero” by Black Entertainment Television.

In the superheroes' pantheon of African-American HIV and harm reduction activists and workers, you can think of Tracie Gardner was one of the Golden Age figures. In this episode of PDIS, we learn about Tracie's origin story, what it was like to watch the HIV/AIDS crisis unfold in Black America in the 1980s and 1990s, why she got involved in the work, and how she came to harm reduction.

 

As the Legal Action Center’s first Associate Director, Tracie plays a leading role in the overall growth of the organization and creating strategic partnerships that will support LAC’s mission. As a senior member of the policy team, Tracie spearheads major initiatives to advance the Center’s federal and state priorities. In addition, she also plays a key role as part of agency management in staff development, administration, fundraising and strategic planning.

 

Tracie has worked more than 25 years in the public health, public policy and not-for-profit fields as a policy advocate, trainer and lobbyist. She has led advocacy campaigns that won substantial increases in funding for substance use, HIV and alternatives to incarceration and reentry services, landmark HIV confidentiality and testing legislation, and landmark criminal justice reforms. From 2015-2017, Tracie served as the Assistant Secretary of Health for New York State, where she oversaw the state’s mental hygiene agencies, including the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the Office of Mental Health, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, and the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. Prior to her appointment by the Cuomo Administration, Tracie was a key member of the Legal Action Center for over fourteen years, serving as LAC’s Co-Director of Policy. Tracie received a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.

Episode 08: The Women With a Vision edition

In this episode of PDIS: People Doing Interesting Stuff, I talk to Deon Haywood, the Executive Director of Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV). Founded in 1989 by a grassroots collective of Black women in response to the spread of HIV/AIDS in New Orleans, Louisiana, Women With A Vision is a social justice non-profit which focuses on the most urgent issues faced by women, especially women of color, vulnerable to criminal justice involvement. Originally focusing on health promotion and community outreach, Women With a Vision over the years has expanded its activities to include policy-level initiatives to address various forms of structural violence that negatively affect women and communities of color within Louisiana and elsewhere. Today their major areas of focus include Sex Worker Rights, Drug Policy Reform, HIV Positive Women’s Advocacy, and Reproductive Justice outreach.

 

Their mission statement says "We envision an environment in which there is no war against women’s bodies, in which women have spaces to come together and share their stories, in which women are empowered to make decisions concerning their own bodies and lives, and in which women have the necessary support to realize their hopes, dreams, and full potential."

 

Haywood became WWAV's Executive Director soon after Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, and in 2009 oversaw the launch of Women With a Vision’s NO Justice Project, an ultimately successful campaign to combat the sentencing of cis and trans women arrested for street-based sex work under Louisiana’s 203-yr-old “crime against nature” felony-level law. This resulted in a federal judicial ruling and the removal of more than 700 women from the sex offender registry. She was also the representative from the U.S. South to the 2013 Frontline Defenders Dublin Platform, has testified in front of the United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law and been honored with numerous awards by groups across the United States in recognition of her leadership at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, harm reduction, LGBTQ rights, reproductive justice and anti-criminalization and ending mass incarceration.

 

I was passing through New Orleans in December, 2017, and Deon was gracious enough to spend some of her holiday break with me and to tell me about her work, how she got involved, how she and Women With a Vision define Reproductive Justice and make the distinction between that and the politics of Reproductive Rights, and how RJ principles intersect with harm reduction practices and philosophy.

Episode 07: The "We have ARRIVEd" edition (with Howard Josepher and Joe Turner, of Exponents, Inc.)

In the late 1980s, Howard Josepher and Joe Turner met in New York City and began the program now known as Exponents. Their goal was deceptively simple, to establish an outreach and recovery program for people returning home from prison with a substance use problem. But it was actually more complicated than that. Although they had some federal funding to run a limited three-year program, when that money dried up they were left with a program which had promise but few resources. Furthermore, there really weren't that many existing models for this kind of work. Many of their first participants had been recently diagnosed with HIV, and all were at some risk for contracting the virus. Meanwhile, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, neither the formerly incarcerated nor people who used drugs were viewed with much sympathy. Parole programs weren't always that helpful, and addiction programs required drug abstinence above all else in exchange for services. Howie's and Joe's vision of harm reduction-based recovery -- emphasizing stability and wellness first, not abstinence -- was well ahead of its time. So, too, was the program model, which is an 8-week course of classes (three courses a week) on how to begin one's recovery.

 

They called it ARRIVE, which originally stood for AIDS Risk Reduction for Intravenous Drug Users and Ex-Offenders (that language is a little dated, and the program todays does much mx`ore than the title implies). ARRIVE isn't a "28-day cure," and they don't even require participants to always be sober while they're in the course. Instead, Exponents (self-described as "a client-driven organization rather than program driven") focuses on providing participants the tools to re-build their lives and the network (currently some 10,500 Exponents alumni) of other people in post-incarceration recovery. The theory is that if you welcome everyone and just get them in the door to commit to 24 classes, that constitutes a major first step for individuals who have a long road to travel. 75% of enrollees complete the course and most of those go on to get into recovery, get their health back on track (a major challenge, especially for people with HIV and substance use problems), and to rebuild their lives. Most of the staff are ARRIVE alums, hired under the theory that, as Howie explains, "the person who's been down and out, and just getting out of prison, and may be on his way or her way to getting strung out again, looks at that person and says, 'if they can do it, I can do it, too'."

 

The ARRIVE program is the nation's oldest harm reduction program, and is Exponents' flagship program. Over the past three decades, however, they also have developed a range programs and services in support and counseling, homeless services, addiction treatment, peer training, HIV testing, HCV services, outreach to sex workers, recovery support services, GED training, and pre-release and re-entry services for returning citizens.

 

Nearly thirty years after Howie and Joe started their work in the basement of a church, they sat down with me in one of their conference rooms to explain to me how they put the whole thing together.

Episode 06: The "Standing at the Corner of Harm Reduction" edition, with Joyce Rivera of the St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction

Welcome to PDIS. A week after the Trump election of November 2016, Joyce Rivera, the founder and Executive Director of the St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction, joined me and my students at the PDIS studios. This was a few days after the federal election of 2016, which put Donald Trump in office, and Joyce explained to me why she's optimistic about the future. A lot of her optimism for the future stems from her work in the past. Rivera was an early researcher and activist in harm reduction and drug use policy, working in the 1980s and 1990s, a time when we knew little about the lives of people who used drugs, and when most people didn't care to know. In comparison to thirty years ago, Rivera believes, doing harm reduction in Trump's America won't be nearly as difficult. She also talked with me about what it was to do that work in the first decade of HIV, how she got into the work, and her perspective on why so-called "tough love" so often fails as a therapeutic and recovery strategy.

 

Joyce A. Rivera is the founder and Executive Director of Saint Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction (SACHR), and an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, teaching a course on drug use and abuse. She has over thirty years of experience in program development and social services delivery, and has worked in harm reduction since 1990. As a consultant and grant writer, her expertise in HIV prevention and harm reduction has made her a local and national leader in the field of AIDS and drugs. She is a founding member of the National Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), the North American Syringe Exchange Network (NASEN), and the Harm Reduction Care Network of New York (HRCNNY). Joyce frequently presents and conducts training on drug policy, harm reduction, women, communities of color, and social justice. She has chaired the boards of HRCNNY and the Latino Commission on AIDS. Joyce holds a bachelor of science degree in health administration with a specialization in healthcare planning and a master’s in comparative political science.

Episode 05: The "culturally competent harm reduction" edition (live from #reform17)

At the Drug Policy Alliance's October 2017 conference in Atlanta (#Reform17), I got the chance to speak with four harm reduction and public health activists and researchers, including Lyn Ayala (Condom Program Coordinator at Washington Heights Corner Project), Zina Age (Founder & CEO, Aniz, Inc., in Atlanta, GA), Carrie Ann Lawrence (Director of the Indiana School of Public Health's Project Cultivate), and Sasanka Jinadasa (of Reframe Health and Justice, in Washington, DC). We took a beautiful Saturday morning to talk about how to define "culturally competent harm reduction," and to discuss what it should mean in a racial justice context. We also discussed the challenge of confronting structural inequality, the problem of white privilege within the harm reduction movement, and what it means to have a liberationist frame and mission in harm reduction.

Episode 04: The HRC North Star edition (with Monique Tula)

Formerly the Vice President of Programs at AIDS United in Washington DC, and a twenty-plus-year veteran of the AIDS and harm reduction movements, Monique Tula in the summer of 2016 became the Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, one of the nation's foremost organizations in the field. On August 1, 2017, Tula dropped by the PDIS studios for a cup of coffee and to talk about the Harm Reduction Coalition's new North Star statement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsWmvQ7JxL8) emphasizing the harms of racist drug policy, and the role harm reduction can and should take in the wider movement for racial justice. To Monique, a knowledge of history is important, especially the unrecognized grass-roots and leadership positions black people have taken in the movement since the very beginning. Along the way, we also discussed her journey into harm reduction, the challenges of being a bicoastal activist, and (eleven days before the events in Charlottesville, Virginia) the potential for race war in Trump's America. On a lighter note, I asked her about "the moment I feared" (shout out to Slick Rick), when Monique revealed how she overcame her aversion to public speaking.

Episode 03: The Invisible Men edition (with Flores Forbes)

Born and raised in San Diego, California, at age sixteen Flores Forbes joined the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The Panthers had been formed in 1966, and Flores rose through the ranks to become a high-level operative in the Party's military wing, called the Buddha Samauri. As one of the Party's principal armorers, Flores was responsible for maintaining  the Party's gun supply -- at any given time, he was one of a very few people who knew the location of most or all of the weapons stashes. He also participated in several military operations, and served for a time as a bodyguard to Huey Newton, the Panthers' charismatic leader.

In 1977,  a botched operation to assassinate a testifying witness ended with the death of one of the assassins. Flores was gravely wounded and had to go underground while undergoing reconstructive surgery and hiding from the authorities. Presumed to have been killed either in the original operation or in a later assassination, for three years Flores lived in safe houses and under assumed names in Chicago and New York. In October 1980 he contacted his family and lawyer to tell them he was alive, and to announce that he was surrendering himself to stand trial.

After serving nearly five years in prison, Flores entered a society which was not prepared or willing to receive returning citizens. Though no longer underground, and living, working, and pursuing education under his real name, Flores had to learn how to conceal his past when engaging with colleagues, professors, potential employers, and even friends. But Forbes, now an Associate Vice President of Community and Government Affairs at Columbia University, has spent the past thirty years since his release in supporting men and women like himself. This work led him to write his second memoir, Invisible Men: A Contemporary Slave Narrative in the Era of Mass Incarceration (Skyhorse Press, 2016; winner of the 2017 American Book Award), which combines searing political analysis, an urgent call for policing and justice reform, and wise insights on how today's returning citizens may prepare themselves for a world which has not quite reached the era of "post-mass incarceration."

Flores and I spoke on February 21, 2017, before a live audience of students in my course on the history of race, policing, and the carceral state.

Episode 02: New York Harm Reduction Educators (with Terrell Jones)

In late October, 2016, we sat down at the PDIS studios with Terrell Jones of the New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE). Terrell is NYHRE's Outreach and Advocacy Manager.

The organization now known as the New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE; www.nyhre.org/) began in the late 1980s as an underground syringe provision service called the Bronx/Harlem Needle Exchange. Most of its founders were members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), the dynamic group formed in the 1980s to pressure federal, state, and local agencies to improve their neglectful response to the HIV epidemic. In July 1992, NYHRE became one of the first illegal syringe exchange groups to become legal under a waiver of New York State’s drug paraphernalia laws. Today, NYHRE offers a range of services and programming with the goal of the promotion of the health, safety and well-being of marginalized, low-income persons who use drugs or engage in sex work, along with their loved ones and their communities. Along with syringe exchange, these services include overdose prevention training and distribution of naloxone overdose reversal kits; referral to voluntary drug detoxification and drug treatment programs, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, counseling, and care referral; support groups; and evidenced-based HIV risk reduction interventions. NYHRE also works in general health promotion, education, and outreach; and people seeking NYHRE services can be connected through its counselors to basic health mental and physical wellness options across the city. In its more political work, NYHRE advocates for housing and social services needed by vulnerable populations whose unstable housing situations place them at high risk for HIV and Hepatitis C.

Much of this work is performed by trained individuals -- known as "peers." Like the people they now serve, many peers once had lived troubled lives of economic insecurity, homelessness, and problematic drug use, but began their recovery with harm reduction. NYHRE’s peer-based model of operation is similar to ones found in organizations across the country which maintain the philosophy that community empowerment is best achieved by people within the community. Interestingly, this model shies away from referring to the people they serve as "clients", but instead refer to them as "participants" or "members."

After years of hard living, self-destructive drug use, and the emotional trauma of childhood abuse, Terrell Jones initiated his own recovery and began his life in harm reduction as one of these peers, working also with VOCAL-NY. Along with his work in NYHRE, today he is the Senior Co-chair of the Peer Network of New York, a newly-formed labor union advocating for the professionalization, training, and improved compensation for harm reduction peers.

Joined by students in my Columbia University seminar on Race, Drug Policy, and Harm Reduction, Terrell and I talked about drug policy, mass incarceration, the politics of stigma, and harm reduction in Black communities. Along the way Terrell described how he came to harm reduction, how he repaired his strained relationship with his mother, and how he ended up at the White House to advocate for a public health approach to drug use.

Episode 01: The "collateral damages" edition (with Dinah Ortiz-Adames)

A week after being honored by Citizens Against Recidivism, Parent Advocate and harm reduction practitioner Dinah Ortiz-Adames stopped by to give me a hard time about the state of my office and my lack of technical expertise with the recording equipment. We also talked about her work and a little-known aspect of drug policy and criminal justice: their effects on families of color. In this interview, we discuss stigma and the word "addict," and what it means to be "functional" in the eyes of the court.

 

Dinah Ortiz-Adames is a Parent Advocate at a Public Defense practice where she represents parents impacted by the Child Welfare System. During the past seven years, she has been working with and advocating for vulnerable women, the formerly incarcerated, and substance using mothers and fathers.  As an advocate for women’s rights, Dinah has served as a member of several not-for-profit organizations focusing on the education and well-being of current and formerly incarcerated women, pregnant women and mothers battling addiction. She's appeared on dozens of panels nationwide to discuss pregnant women and harm reduction. Educating Doctors, lawyers, social workers and specifically those in the child welfare arena with the tools to better service their communities at large. Dedicated to her clients and community Dinah prides herself in her activism and advocacy and gives voice to the unheard.

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