Although a little later than I expected to be posting this; I present to you, a tiny glimpse of the 2015 International Drug Reform Conference, through the eyes of someone who hopes to regain some hues after an upbringing of color-blindness.
The Drug Policy Alliance’s International Reform Conference, which I had been anticipating since 2013, has finally come to an end. After spending those few days with over 1,000 attendees representing over 70 countries– I can say that I have never felt so proud to be a part of the drug reform movement. Being surrounded by activists from all walks of life; every person I spoke to had so much to teach, insight to provide, perspective to gain and passion to admire.
After getting back to Florida, I received a phone call which during the conversation, I was asked “what was your ‘break away’?” by a friend and former member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Central Florida. We had attended conference in Denver, Colorado two years back so he was excited to speak to me about my experience.
Pondering my ‘break away’, I interpreted the question as “what did I take home from DC and what plans did I have regarding the implementation of what I gained?”
I interpreted his question this way because that is essentially the reason as to why every two years, thousands of drug policy reform leaders, activists, and organizations come together from all across the world for those four or five days. To network, attend educational sessions, teach, train, combine ideas, share stories, promote campaigns, and obtain that motivation and that passion needed to continue fighting for the causes we believe in.
Refuel, replenish and refocus of energy was my goal in attending. The idea was to learn as much as possible, become empowered by all the amazing people and energy, and bring that back with me. To channel all the energy and education back into my community so that I may be a stronger, wiser, and more effective advocate and educational leader for Speak Up Florida.
The conference consisted of breakout sessions, with each following the topics of the named categories. These included: Youth Policy, Media and Culture, Academic / Scholarly, Trainings, Psychedelics, International, Movement Building, Health and Harm Reduction, Marijuana Reform, and Criminal Justice Reform.
The two categories I focused on were Youth Policy, and Health and Harm Reduction— however I managed to attend three very influential sessions which focused on topics and issues that addressed The New Jim Crow; which aligned perfectly with the foundation of Speak Up Florida.
The first two memorable sessions, “It’s Time for a New New Deal” followed by the Live National Town Hall event, “Connecting the Dots: Where the Drug Policy Reform and the #blacklivesmatter Movement Intersect.” Not only did I have the opportunity to hear my new social reform hero speak at these events, Deborah Peterson-Small, I also was able to witness people who were passionate, progressive, and empowered as the discussion shifted from drug reform to the reform of society due to the lack of social and economic balances, and simple basic human rights– which are not so simple when looking at the system of oppression that the drug war creates. After obtaining the momentum from those first two; I attended the Anti-Racist Organizing for Social Justice training session. This is when I realized that there had been a gap between my personal understanding, and I was able to see a bigger picture come to life as opposed to focusing in on the parts I already was aware of.
There are going to be people– or groups of people with the purest intentions, perhaps with a strong background in research and sincere concern for a topic or a population within the community and these people may still cause a negative impact on the issues they advocate for. This is because without first-hand experience of the environment, the culture, the conditions, and the struggles which a different population operates within, it is impossible to know the approach to take to help. Being humble enough to receive this message as one applicable to myself, I open my eyes to the idea. Although it was a tough fact to accept, I didn’t lose heart. Communication is the key to all instances where the existence of outdated and negatively grounded policy take place and are in need of major restructuring. The training was nothing short of mind altering, and I ensured to let the two facilitators, Rachael Ibrahim and Monica Dennis, hear my gratitude.
Among many other amazing, and mind altering, universe cracking experiences– I write about this to answer the question of what my ‘break away’ was: I broke away from all that I thought I knew (or thought that I had known). I am humbled, and not afraid to say I am still learning. As I grow, I believe that I can help others grow as well.
Knowledge can only get one so far, but it is the experience which must be the catalyst for change. As Co-Founder of Speak Up Florida, it is not a proud moment for me to admit all the avenues of the Movement to End the New Jim Crow that I am not equipped to walk down—not alone anyway.
For this reason, and to ensure my effectiveness within this movement, I personally will be hosting events which will bring people together to discuss the issues which I have come to realize are not just of importance but are imperative to remain fresh in knowledge and understanding of, in order to remain in the loop, humble and not subjected to the notion that knowing something and understanding something are necessarily one in the same.
I encourage anyone and everyone interested in volunteering or attending these sessions, to contact me. As said previously, I cannot do this alone! Together however, the effectiveness of efforts and the amount of personal growth could be substantial. I look forward to having these talks, panels, debates, and community collaborations.