I attended and participated in my first conference ever last Friday May 4th and had a blast!! We had been working on it for the last three months and it was worth every second of every meeting every single week! Of course we cannot take all the credit because we were just a small part of the whole thing. The Harm Reduction Coalition and the Peer Network along with the Aids Institute and several other awesome organizations deserve our praise too. This was the second PDSE conference to be put on and the first was in 2010. That actually brought about the Peer Network which is a collection of peers from all of the different drop-ins and syringe exchanges. The 2012 conference was an all day event from 9am to 5pm and then an after party from 6pm to 8pm. I honestly was worried I would be bored and tired and want to leave halfway through the day but I never even thought about it once ! It was a bit hot so I needed a few short outdoor air breaks but I stayed the entire day and seriously stayed afterwards hanging out in front of the church where it was held!
The theme was the past, present, and future of PDSE and the Peer Network. Hiawatha Collins was the MC, Terrell Jones was the host for the past, Liam Gibson was the host for the present, and I was the host for the future. And I DO NOT LIKE PUBLIC SPEAKING!! But they asked me and I agreed because I really believe in the cause and I know that I need to get over my fear especially since I am back in college now. It went great though and I am so glad that I did it! We also put on a 5 minute skit about overdose prevention and from the audience response I would have to say it was a great success! The idea for the skit was from a fellow peer from Users United named Louie Jones. Ian Jernigan and I wrote the actual skit with some outside help from Ty Webster, a good friend of The Space. I was the director while Andrea Stella was the peer on outreach and Ian Jernigan, Kathryn Villaverde, and Cindy Gindin were users. Eric Dorris was the one who overdosed right after being released from Rikers and Manny Gonzalez was our EMT. Everyone was AWESOME and I am so proud to have been a part of it!!
During the conference we heard from a number of important players in the harm reduction community. I learned how PDSE came to be and where we hope it will be in several years. Evan Goldstein spoke about the Good Samaritan Law which is such a wonderful law that protects those who call 911 during an overdose from being charged with possession of narcotics, which is the main reason people do not call. Moshey Moses, Terell Jones, and our own Andrea Stella about how they each began as a peer and moved on to a career in the harm reduction industry. I could go on for pages about everything I learned and those who spoke but I will just say this…thank you to EVERYONE that had a part in the 2012 Bi-Annual PDSE Harm Reduction Conference and especially to Narelle Ellendon from HRCo and to Anika Archip who was the event coordiantor that made sure EVERYTHING ran smoothly!! It truly was a memorable experience and I am already excited to help with the next one in 2014!