Ep31 – Ifetayo Harvey (Part 1)

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Tonya Pinkins: Hi, this is Tonya Pinkins and you're listening to my podcast, You can't say that; the show where you can on the Broadway podcast network. My dad used to always call me a square. That was because I was like a square. I was a total nerd. I like to read. I spent all my time reading. I didn't go to parties. I didn't drink, I didn't smoke. I think I didn't drink, or smoke cause my mother was a five pack a day smoker. And I didn't like how people acted when they were drinking. And I just assessed myself at a very young age as being someone who had had an addictive personality. So I was like, if I start that, I'm going to do it so much that it's not going to be good. So I never did. So I didn't hang out with people after school or ever go to the clubs. And in fact, I was married with children by the time I was 25 years old. So two years ago when I had my first [02:16 inaudible], which is the new word for psychedelic experience, it was fun. And before I did it, I did all this research. I was reading because I was like, you know what, if I do this, I could die. I might go crazy. And I won't even know I’ve gone crazy and I will never come back. So it was very scary for me. So I did all this research and the people like Terence Mckenna and Michael Pollan and South American mushrooms and just all this stuff, it was like, I couldn't find any black people who were talking about entheogens or psychedelics like none. And it was very white male. And so I just started the search trying to find where were the people of color who were doing entheogens and it was really, really hard. I found one man online and he's going to be on one of my podcasts. [03:06 inaudible] but the first person [03:09 inaudible] is my next guest. So join me in welcoming from the drug policy Alliance. And I'm going to let you say the other name, POC, psychedelic collective Ifetayo Harvey. Welcome Ifetayo.

Ifetayo Harvey: Thank you Tonya. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Tonya Pinkins: So why are there no people of color in entheogens? Why don't we have any books? Why we can't find any research about us.

Ifetayo Harvey: Wow. Well, how much time do you have? Well, I would say the simplest way to say that, the answer to that question is because a lot of our practices around, Oh, a lot of our practices around entheogens, existed all throughout the world for centuries, but because of things like colonialism, the war on drugs, a lot of these practices were taken from us. And so it's particularly for black folks, African descendants. We come from cultures that were mostly oral history base. So a lot of our practices were taken from us and we have, it is really hard to find any written documents.

Tonya Pinkins: And I imagine it, as you say that, I think about the native Americans that I know who say that there are stories that they have never told and will never tell the white people that they only pass orally to one another. So I think that there's probably some secrecy involved in it. I think of that biblical quote for him who has ears, let him hear. And so there are things that just are not shared because if you are called to it, the message will get to you. Like I found you.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yes, yes. I was so surprised when you found me, I was like, wait, who is this person? How did they get my email? And I Googled you and you're an actress. I was like, wait, this can't be right.

Tonya Pinkins: Well, I was on a mission to understand, cause I also had read a lot about melanin as a neurotransmitter and the way melanin and DMT interact. So I just reasoned that whatever the experiences Terence Mckenna and Michael Pollan and these white guys were having, it would not be able to compare to the experiences that people who have more melanin, which is a neurotransmitter that interacts with DMT would have. So I was like, I want to know what people of color are doing with this. And I want to experience this with people of color.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yes. That's something like Kalindi, he's very big on is the melanin and DMT. I don't know a ton about that, but I do know that in my experience, being in drug policy, working with psychedelic organizations, there's not a lot of folks who look like me when you go to events and conferences, there's no talk of how the war on drugs impacted black and Brown communities, or even indigenous folks. There's really no consideration for race at all. And if you bring it up, you're being seen as divisive and not really enlightened or whatever, BS. So that really motivated me to create my own space because I felt like if white folks can't understand our trauma and our pain and our ancestral pain that we carry with us, then how are they going to help us heal from that? And it was really important for me to be able to create a space for folks who really need this type of medicine. Black and Brown folks, we are so traumatized by this country's history that we don't even realize all the stuff that we're carrying.

Tonya Pinkins: I had taken a class in indigenous focusing oriented therapy, which is therapy for people living in genocidal cultures, which we are all living in genocidal culture. So I read, and it's your story to tell that you came to being interested in drug policy because of a personal drug thing in your life? Would you tell us what that was?

Ifetayo Harvey: Sure, sure, sure. So I came into drug policy because my father was convicted of a drug offense when I was about four years old and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served about eight of those years and was deported in 2004 back to Jamaica. So that's where he lives today. But growing up as a kid, I always, it was like a secret that I was holding in myself. I didn't feel like I could talk to many people about it, really only my mom. And there was just so much stigma around prison and folks with criminal records. So I carry a lot of shame throughout my childhood and didn't really know how to articulate all of that. And so when I came across the drug policy Alliance, I was like, Whoa, this is like amazing that this organization exists. And I was really lucky that I was able to get an internship with them. And as soon as I told my story to my would-be supervisor, he was like, Oh yeah, I want you here, like immediately. So I felt super-duper comfortable at DPA. It's a very unique place because...

Tonya Pinkins: What do they do?

Ifetayo Harvey: Well, we do advocacy and policy work around drug laws and drug policies, mostly in the US, but we do some international work. So we do everything from legalizing marijuana to policies around preventing overdose and enacting harm reduction. So it was the first place that I came across that spoke about folks who use drugs, folks who were involved in drug economies with compassion and without judgment and stigma. And so it's really, it's challenged my own perceptions of folks who use different drugs. I come from a family where, you know, alcoholism was common. And even though alcohol is not that Stigmatizes of a drug, I still have had to unpack a lot of my own biases towards folks who drink. Kind of how you were talking about your mom and the five pack a day thing. That's definitely something that, when you see that in your childhoods, it stays with you. And you're always like it's in the back of your mind that, Oh, that could be me or something like that. So being at DPA was really, it was a healing experience to be able to talk about, my trauma about being separated from my dad.

Tonya Pinkins: Now, you call it drugs. And I tend to mostly call it medicine. Plant medicine, fungi medicine, animal medicine. I've done combo, which is the Brazilian green tree frog and some other plants. And so in fungi, the psilocybin. So I like to call it medicine because I think they're teachers. So coming with this background and this shame, how do you overcome that internal stigma shame to even ever try a drug?

Ifetayo Harvey: That's a really good question. I think growing up, I was kind of like you, like, I didn't go to parties. I read; I had a part time job. I was super involved in all my clubs at school because I thought that, well, maybe if I'm super obedient and stay out of that stuff, then nothing bad will happen to me. And that's kind of I guess a control thing or trying to feel in control. So I stayed away from drugs for the most part in high school, alcohol. I stayed away from that. There were some moments here and there. And one of my friends senior year, it was like, Oh, let's smoke this bowl. And I was like, what is this? And I had a really good experience.

Tonya Pinkins: What is a bowl? I don't know what that is.

Ifetayo Harvey: It's a smoking pipe for weed. So it was like the glass pipes you see in the bodega. So we smoked that, and I was just laughing the entire night and I had a great experience, but even then, I wasn't really trying to seek it out until I got to college my freshman year and going from South Carolina to Massachusetts was a big adjustment for me. And I was met with more anxiety that I was used to around my schoolwork and just acclimating myself to being in a very white elite campus. And so I started smoking weed again probably like my second semester. And it actually helped me a lot.

Tonya Pinkins: It was an anxiety reliever; it was a stress reliever from being in this hostile environment.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yeah. I was able to write my papers better. I was just able to focus on my work and not get bogged down by my anxiety. So I started smoking regularly with my friends. It was like a ritual we had, like at the end of the day, we would just go smoke and kind of bitch about our lives. And we feel good after that. That was our thing. And I did, at some moments I’ve definitely felt judged by certain classmates.

Tonya Pinkins: For doing marijuana.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yeah. They would be like, like stop being high all the time.

Tonya Pinkins: Do you get good grades?

Ifetayo Harvey: I maintain my 3.0, so that's all I want. I got good grades and I was actually, I was awarded student leader of the year, my senior year. So I would say that...

Tonya Pinkins: The pot didn't hold you back.

Ifetayo Harvey: Exactly, exactly. So yeah, it was also complicated being a leader on campus and dabbling in this, I did actually get in trouble once. I got caught on campus.

Tonya Pinkins: What happened?

Ifetayo Harvey: Me and a bunch of friends were in a room smoking and someone called the campus police on us and he's like banging on the door and my friend is kind of has a smart mouth. He's like, what's that I smell? And she's like, candles. So, we got, we had to write a letter to the house community there telling them how we impacted, negatively impacted their house community and blah, blah, blah. So it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was still something and some shaming. And so I did my internship with DPA.

Tonya Pinkins: And that's while you were in college.

Ifetayo Harvey: My junior year. And then when I got back to Smith, I actually got diagnosed with depression by, I was seeing a therapist throughout my four years at Smith. And during my senior year, my mental health kind of was like dwindling a bit. And then I got diagnosed with depression and it was almost like a confirmation bias where I was just like, Oh wow. I knew I was depressed, but it's different to hear it from someone else. So I felt like I kind of went down like a rabbit hole with that. And then I got invited to speak at the drug policy alliance's, international drug policy reform conference in Denver. So I was doing the keynote opening plenary as a senior in college. And I was, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. They just asked me to speak it. I was like, Oh yeah, sure, no big deal. And then I get there and they were like, Oh yeah, you're going to be speaking from 1100 people. And I'm like, Oh, okay. Oh my God. I was so nervous, but I went up there and did it. And it was really, again, very healing for me to have that talk and very cathartic because there were so many people coming up to me afterwards saying like, wow, like I really relate to your story, it is folks who were, men who had gotten out of prison. And they were feeling my story from the perspective of a parent or people who were working with kids who had parents in prison. So it was really, it was a really good feeling I got from in that moment. And I made it a lot of connections, but at the same time, I was still dealing with this depression of mine. And so later at that conference, I had the chance to go see a panel where it was a bunch of psychedelic researchers and they were talking about end of life treatment with psychedelics. So folks with terminal illnesses, things like that. And it was really fascinating and insightful for me because a lot of the things they were saying about folks who were facing death, I kind of, it resonated with me a lot. The anxiety, like the constant anxiety and stress and things like that. So when I got back to school, I started asking my friends. I'm like, so if I wanted to do mushrooms, how would I do them? Sorry, asking them for tips and stuff, because they had all done it before. And I was kind of the one who was just like, like I don't really feel the need to, so I'm not going to. And then I finally was like, okay, I need to do this because the other option was to, they were going to prescribe me antidepressants and my mom's an herbalist. So that was something she always like wanted me to avoid growing up is like, I don't want you to get hooked on those things and not to stigmatize people who do use those and do need those. But for me, that was like a really big step. And I wasn't sure if it was for me. So I was like, I'd rather try something else. Cause I went with mushrooms and I got my hands on some and I remember getting one of my friends to be my sitter with Mesa. She was sober and I cut them all up and put them in a peanut butter sandwich.

Tonya Pinkins: How much did you have?

Ifetayo Harvey: I took three and a half grams.

Tonya Pinkins: Three and a half grams your first time, [17:47 inaudible] says seven grams is the heroic dose. You took three and a half. Most people, I know they buy an eighth and they share an eighth. You took three and a half grams your first time. Okay. Tell us about the first journey.

Ifetayo Harvey: Oh man. So yes. Oh man. So Smith's camp is really great for tripping and journeying because it's an Arboretum. So it was really beautiful in the fall. And so one Saturday morning, after I eat my peanut butter sandwich.

Tonya Pinkins: So you did it in the daytime. You didn't do it at night.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yeah. I didn't do it at night. I didn't know about [18:25 inaudible] method at this time. I was just like, okay, I want to do, have some time in my day to kind of recover. So we went on this nature trail that was really beautiful around this pond.

Tonya Pinkins: You're walking on mushrooms? Did you get the nausea? Did you get the chills, or did that skip you?

Ifetayo Harvey: I did. I did. So we're walking and I start to notice the leaves and the plants are like glistening and I see the water like glistening and moving and everything's breathing and I'm telling my friend like, Oh, I think it's kicking in. And she's like, okay. And so we go and sit down in this field and I just start feeling like overwhelmed with the nausea. I was like, Oh my God, I'm going to have diarrhea pretty soon. I asked my friend, I was like, will you judge me if I go take a shit right now? And she's like, no, no I won't. I mean, God bless her.

Tonya Pinkins: Are you still friends?

Ifetayo Harvey: Oh yeah. She's amazing. Oh my God. So I went to try to go and nothing was coming out. So I'm just like, okay. And then I see this, like this bunch of roots like wrapped up. And when I was tripping, it turns into a face and it's like, talking to me, it's like, give me your vomit, give it, like, telling me to like throw up basically. It's like, just give it to me. Like, you're going to be okay. Just like, give me your vomit. So I was like, okay. So I just vomited, and I felt better, but I still was like, I want to just lay down somewhere. So me and my friend, we went back to my dorm and I was, we were in my room and all of this, I just felt really great for a while. I was feeling really happy and giggly and, and that's when it really started to kick in. And I remember, kind of expecting the depression stuff to come up, like something like a memory or something to come up, but not a lot was coming up. I do remember I picked up a bookmark that my dad had given my mom. And it was a poem called footsteps. And I don't know if you've [20:42 inaudible].

Tonya Pinkins: It's really beautiful.

Ifetayo Harvey: Do you know it?

Tonya Pinkins: I don't know [20:47 inaudible].

Ifetayo Harvey: Well, I know the gist of it. So basically the guys having conversation with God, and he's saying, I am seeing these footsteps in the sand and you were with me through all these tough times, but through my hardest time you left me, I'm only seeing one set of footsteps. Like, why did you abandon me? And God responds. He says, I was carrying you. And I just broke down crying. I was like, Oh my God, like, I want to be carried. I want to be held. And it was a kind of a cathartic moment for me there too. And I just like cried and it was good because I felt like I couldn't really cry in a long time. And then five minutes later, I'm just giggling again. So my emotions were just like, I was really surprised with that. I'm like, wait, how can I go from being sad to laughing again? This is so weird. But now I realized that mushrooms kind of make you process things a little bit easier than...

Tonya Pinkins: I think of all of the entheogens as really intense psychotherapy and you're doing it with yourself. Whereas most of us spend our lifetime working our stuff out on other people, projecting it on them, working as if they are the problem, when you're doing an entheogen, you go right into your stuff and you are facing it. And there is no one there but you and you either are going to fight that where you're going to be like, okay, like for the first couple of times I did mushrooms. I went through a couple of hours of self-loathing and it was like, I wasn't resistant, like, okay, let's be self-loathing. How self-loathing are we, how awful are we? And I just, because I had read that it was important not to resist whatever came, like if it was death, you had to go with the death. The most important thing was to not fight it. And I don't want to interrupt you, but I want to say that I had a friend who was an alcoholic and I wanted to introduce him to mushrooms and his experience of mushrooms. He's a Brit and he's very polite and [22:50 inaudible] important. And all I could say is, it just always felt fake to me. And when he did the mushrooms, what came up was murderous rage. And for me, it was like the first time I truly saw him, I could see the spirit of him as a warrior spirit who was born to die for causes that he believed in it. And so I was like, come on, who do you want to murder? Come on, come on, come on. And once it was over, he was like, I don't like that. [23:25 inaudible] comes from. I mean, I'm not going to do that again, if that's what's going to happen. And I'm like the mushrooms didn't do that to you. The mushrooms just got rid of all the masks that you cover it up with. So if you haven't dealt with all that murderous rage, it's going to come up again until you process all of that. So back to you and you were laughing and crying.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yeah. So, yeah, I was just laughing and crying and then the rest of my trip was pretty relaxing and just very light and fun. I was expecting to be more heavy than that. And after that one moment where I was crying, it was just, I felt very light. And I also felt like I was reminded why I'm alive because I saw all the plants and stuff breathing. And I was just seeing so much life around me. I was like, wow, there's a reason to live. There's so much beauty in the world. And I feel like when you are, depressed or dealing with other mental health challenges, you have like these glasses on that kind of make, you see the world through like gray. Like, there's a cloud over your head, like everywhere, it's cloudy and gray. And then when I took mushrooms, I felt like I was taking those off and seeing everything and like Technicolor all of a sudden. And so it definitely, it was like a boost, like a reset button was hit with me. And so that was my first mushroom journey. And so I’ve since then have journeyed and experimented with different doses, I haven't really gone higher. No, no. But that said, I’ve had some experiences where I’ve taken smaller doses, I guess the mushrooms are more potent and it was the visuals I was getting was like, like crazy. And then I’ve also had instances where I’ve taken smaller doses, but I felt like the lessons that I was getting was more impactful.

Tonya Pinkins: Tell me about some of the lessons you've gotten on your journeys.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yeah. Yeah. So most recently I planned a retreat in New Mexico with five other women. And we did, this is my first time doing like mushrooms in a ceremony. So we did something called nine cup ceremony where we drank nine cups of mushroom tea. And so this was a lighter dose than I was used to, I wasn't getting the visuals.

Tonya Pinkins: Was there a [25:59 inaudible], shaman leading it or were you leading it?

Ifetayo Harvey: I Wasn't leading it. There was a woman, she's black American, she was leading it. And she's just been learning from other shamans, and [26:10 inaudible]. So she's pretty young, but she's very, very good at holding the space. And so when I was on this trip, because it was such a light trip and I wasn't getting visuals, I started getting frustrated and everyone else basically fell asleep. There's like three of us who's kind of stayed awake. And three of us who fell asleep and I had totally different expectations for the journey. I thought we were going to be running around just like looking at stuff and just having an experience and people, we just fell asleep around the fire. And in a way it was really peaceful to watch. But for me, I was getting frustrated cause I'm like, why am I not feeling anything? Even though I was feeling, I was like processing a lot of grief in my life, like processing a lot of people who had died in recent years. And that felt really good to just like, let all that go. But then after a certain point, I felt like they were off. And so I was getting frustrated. So I go up to the woman who, the ceremony leader, I was like, where are the mushrooms? I need more. And she's like, they're over there. And so I ate more, and my friend Ashley made a chocolate pyramid with mushrooms in it. And so we were melting that, and I was just eating more mushrooms cause I was like, I need to feel something. And then it started to hit me, and I had kind of a revelation and the message that I was getting was that, you don't need to have, every lesson doesn't need to be a hard one. And subtlety is sometimes its own teacher. So I kind of interpret that as meaning, every mushroom trip you have doesn't have to be super intense and heavy. And with all these visuals and I was talking to my friend who was, she was still up. And she was like, sometimes the visuals like all the hallucinations and things like that are a distraction from what you really need to focus on. And that got me thinking about a lot of my trips in the past. How, everyone's fascinated by the visuals of...

Tonya Pinkins: I don't get visuals.

Ifetayo Harvey: Oh, what? Oh my God. That's so, that's so hard to believe.

Tonya Pinkins: I don't have visuals.

Ifetayo Harvey: This is so interesting. It's so interesting hearing how different people are affected by mushrooms. I've heard people who are like, Oh I take three and a half grams, and nothing happened.

Tonya Pinkins: I had that the first time I did it, I took four grams, and nothing happened. And then the first time I had something happened was I took nine grams. But then it's from different people. So then I found someone who three and a half grams will do it for me. But then Kalindi talked about an access dose. Like no matter how much I’ve taken, I’ve never left the room that I'm in. I'm always in the room that I'm in and I'm having an experience and I'm here. I have never gone to other places. Have you gone to other places?

Ifetayo Harvey: Somewhat. I would say yes. I've definitely got in; I feel like I’ve been transported sometimes. Not for like the entire trip, but just for a brief moment. I remember one of my times I was in my hometown or Charleston, South Carolina, and we were out on James Island, which is one of the sea islands. So we were watching the sunset on the Marsh does it after we ate three and a half grams. And I start seeing like King Tut and Nefertiti and all this, like Egyptian imagery in the sun. And I was just, just like in a daze, like I could not stop staring at the sun. And I was just like, Whoa, this is really happening. Then we walked back to the house and everything is fine, but then I started feeling nauseous. So I'm like, all right, guys, I need to throw up. So I go to vomit and I start like hallucinating looking at my vomit. And then I get like this vision of a woman, like I guess it was Cuba. I don't know. That's what I'm guessing. But she was like wearing one of those like big flowy dresses, like, and I see other people with her and they're like wearing red and white and she's kind of laughing at me. She's like, like she was like speaking Spanish. So I didn't know anything that she was saying, but the vibe that I got from her was like, Oh, like you feel sick now, but you'll be fine. Like, you're good. And so that was kind of, I was just like hugging the toilet bowl, smiling, okay, this is good. I feel better now. My friends were kind of worried. Like, do you need some water? And I was like, no, I'm good. I'm good. But I kind of took that, sometimes I wonder if that was like some of my ancestors because my great grandma was born and raised in Cuba. And so I'm like, maybe it's some connection there. Maybe it's just someone else who knows. But that was one of my experiences with like being transported just to totally different plays, hearing the music and the drumming and the dancing and seeing this woman who's like really vivacious and kind of just like laughing at me, but like not in a mean way, but just kind of like, Oh girl, you'll be fine. Don't worry. So I always have instances like that on my trip where I get a message from someone like you're going to be okay, don't worry.

Tonya Pinkins: It was making me thinking about, you're speaking about the traumas that you've experienced. And one of the things they talk about in indigenous focused oriented therapy that they don't think of anybody as being broken. If you have survived a trauma, you are considered someone who has indigenous wisdom and you are someone that we have to learn from because you survived it and you are here to tell the story. And I often think about that about the peoples of color of the world, the ones of us who were weak died. So the ones of us who are here, we are the strong, we survived it. We have something in us to pass forward. We know something about surviving trauma.

Ifetayo Harvey: Oh definitely. And especially us black folks, I studied history in college, and I grew up in Charleston where we still have plantations and stuff up and running. And sometimes I really, when I be studying in college, I would really try to place myself in the shoes of my ancestors and it was really hard for me. Cause I was just like, I cannot imagine I know the things that happened to them, but I cannot physically put myself there in that time, in that mindset. It's just so, I really think that, we've only scratched the surface in terms of like our ancestor stories and how they resisted and survived. So I'm just always in awe of how their sacrifices made it so that we're here today.

Tonya Pinkins: And I feel one of those things for me, one of my pet peeves, I have many pet peeves. One of my pet peeves in the way we choose to tell the stories, even in the way we as black people choose to tell the stories, I am so sick of seeing slaves in these beautiful costumes, in these beautiful cotton dresses, cotton was King. You was working to pick some damn cotton. They was not dressing no slaves in no cotton dresses. There was no dye. You was wearing burlap and potato sacks and you were half naked and you were barefoot and that's why they could rape you all the time. Cause you was just walking around half naked. And so that to me is part of the thing that makes it hard for us to know the truth of our story because they purify it and it's like, it doesn't even make conscious sense that you're going to think that these people had on petticoats. And I was like, no, maybe when you were in the house and you had to serve people, but no, for the most part you were half dressed and they walked us across the country barefoot through snow as they move just from Virginia into Texas. And so I think that that is a place of where we don't even realize just how much strength we had because they've covered over what the circumstances that we actually endured were.

Ifetayo Harvey: Yes. I think it's so empowering for us to be able to talk to our elders and read testimonials from folks who were in enslaved. My mom has a book series called I was a slave.

Tonya Pinkins: Your mother wrote it?

Ifetayo Harvey: Oh no, she has it in her house. But it's testimonies written by black folks who were formerly enslaved. And it's really powerful to redirect from this also really powerful to hear from folks like my grandma, who's 83. And I grew up with my great grandma and she passed in 2009 at the age of 97. But even before she passed, she was like, Oh yeah, my grandfather was a white man. And we didn't really, we knew there was some white ancestry there because she was one of the few lighter skin folks in my family. But it was like also surprise. So I think there's a lot of power in being able to share our ancestor stories and to talk to our elders and help keep their memory alive that way.

Tonya Pinkins: That was part one of my conversation with Ifetayo Harvey from the drug policy network and people of color psychedelic collective. Come back for part two.

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After my first “Journey,” I read everything I could about psychedelics and everything was written by white man like Michael Pollan and Dennis and Terrence McKenna. So I scoured the web for people of color and their research and experience with entheogen. Fortunately for me, I found Ifetayo Harvey , founder Of People of Color in Psychedelics.

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