March 30th, 2021
Greetings community members,
This week begins my tenure as the new Executive Director of the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction. I have been involved with The Center since January 2020, starting as a volunteer and moving my way through the organization as the Syringe Service Program Coordinator and then the Assistant Executive Director under Lasara Firefox Allen’s mentorship. I always knew that I wanted to work with people who use drugs, but felt moral dilemmas with the way traditional “recovery” or “treatment” options tended to be punitive and unrealistically strict. Lasara and Wil (our former Director of Programs) gave me the opportunity to learn and ask questions about harm reduction in a way that will never leave me. It is with these lessons that I continue onward with dedication to serving our community with humanity and deep care.
Harm Reduction, as a philosophy, is a simple, but powerful message that centers people who use drugs as the experts of their own experiences. Harm Reduction is radical love and unconditional support. It is the ground-work of transformative justice, because, unlike the messaging we get about the criminalization of people who use drugs, harm reduction seeks to understand the actual needs and requests of everyone who is traditionally living in the margins. I come from multiple generations of criminalized people who use drugs and I was taught from an early age that drug use is a moral failing and that willpower is the only answer to avoid chaotic drug use patterns. Shame and guilt were the main textures of my experiences. Needless to say, this does not work. Philosophies like “Just say no” only cultivate the inability to explore other options of reducing harm for yourself and others. It has been incredibly healing to break down those internalized stigmas and learn how to help others fight those stigmas within themselves — especially those who are not directly connected to the prison system or substance use and those who hold positions of power and leadership in the community. We all have a responsibility to face our beliefs and be aware of the messaging that we are receiving about people who use drugs.
If you live in Humboldt County or any other rural part of the country (and even non-rural parts), you are well aware of how hard it is to access healthcare in general — let alone good quality and unbiased healthcare. It is for this reason that my mission with The Center is to continue doing the work that we are best at. Our peer-led organization is a direct connection point to the real needs of people who use drugs in Humboldt County, a place where people can get referred to trusted medical partners for treatment, healthcare, mental health support, and more. We will continue to prioritize the opinions of people who are experiencing preventable harms associated with drug use like limited access to Syringe Service Programs, and create a judgement-free place where people can feel comfortable advocating for themselves without fear of being shamed or told what is best for them.
I am deeply grateful for all of the hard work that was put into The Center before my time. There have been so many people that poured their dedication into carving out a space for marginalized people to feel welcomed and accepted. I plan to continue cultivating that ethos and prioritizing our peer-leadership’s demands that will shape the future of the organization.
Thank you all for your support and partnership over the years. I look forward to working with all new and existing community partners as we move into a healthier and more equitable future for all of our community members. Keep an eye out for a meet and greet Zoom event in April (Date TBD)
The Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction