ACTIVISM & ORGANIZING
CATALYST: YOUTH VOICES RETHINKING THE WAR ON DRUGS
In 2017, I co-founded Catalyst: Youth Voices Rethinking the War on Drugs, the first program to bring together youth from across the Americas to think critically and transnationally about drugs and drug policy. We have a full scholarship policy and aim to recruit students from those communities that have been most impacted by the War on Drugs. We have developed a comprehensive drug education curriculum that covers everything from the neuroscience of drug use through to the history and geopolitics of drugs and drug policy in the Americas. Premised on the notion that the personal is political (and vice versa) our curriculum is designed to help students connect their personal stories both to the larger histories of genocide, colonialism and oppression and to the rich traditions of resistance and resilience that have grown in response to this legacy. Through arts programming and creative workshops, our students learn tools to tell their stories, start new conversations and launch community initiatives aimed at addressing the fallout of the War on Drugs upon their return home.
Catalyst grew out of a series of conversations between a group of friends from across the Americas. Albeit for different reasons and from different disciplines, all four of our university careers had lead us to study drugs, drug users, drug policy and drug related violence. Looking back on the drug education we had received as teenagers, we shared a common frustration about the lack of information and space we had been given to grapple with the full complexity of the issues that surround drugs and drug policy.
Why had it taken us getting into university to access the histories and the critical analyses of the War on Drugs that had finally helped us begin making sense of the ways in which drugs operated within our different communities? Why did our drug education focus purely on considerations of individual use without including analysis of the sociopolitical dimensions of drugs, drug users and policies that govern them? Why had we not been encouraged to think about the transnational drug supply chain and the effects of our governments' drug policies upon different parts of the world?
We thus set about imagining the drug education curriculum we wished we had been taught when we were in high school--a curriculum grounded in social justice; a transnational curriculum that provides students with a framework to understand connections seemingly disparate phenomena in different parts of the world as connected; and a curriculum that moves beyond moral dogma and taboo to give young people a space to ask honest and difficult questions about a topic that is often off-limits. The result was Catalyst.
For more information about the program, please visit: www.catalyst-catalizador.org.
GRANT HOUSES COMMUNITY GARDEN PROJECT
The Grant Houses Community Garden Project began as a partnership between Grant Houses residents, the New York City Housing Authority, the Columbia University Food Sustainability Project and the Columbia University Center for Urban Research and Policy. I assumed leadership of the project from 2010 until I graduated in 2012. The goal of the project was to turn a large space behind one of the Grant buildings into a community garden and outdoor classroom. The garden was designed to be a space where neighbors could come together, get to know each other, discuss the tensions being created by Columbia University’s gentrifying and expansionist plans and develop new forms of community and resistance. Despite severe bureaucratic complications, both students and residents fought to cut through the red-tape of institutionalized segregation to see the construction of the garden in 2010. What began as a small garden of just four beds is now a self-sustaining, vibrant community garden with 24 beds (and a long waiting list), run entirely by local residents.
Panelist, "Food Movements in the City" hosted by Dissent Magazine. NYC Left Forum, March 20, 2011.