Podcast live show in Norwich focuses on addiction and mental health in communities of color

Norwich — After journalist Maria Hinojosa gave an introduction to the latest episode of the podcast "In The Thick" at Three Rivers Community College, talking about how “the opioid crisis right now is focusing on white people,” one of her podcast guests had a quick, polite correction.

“What we’re actually in is an overdose crisis,” said Kenyatta Thompson, senior community organizer for Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice. She emphasized, “We’re not in a crisis of opioids; we’re in a crisis of people overdosing and dying from opioids.”

It was a moment that Hinojosa brought up later — bringing the conversation full-circle — when an audience member asked if she or her podcast co-host, Julio Ricardo Varela, ever found themselves slipping into misconceptions about the overdose crisis.

This question was a follow-up to a few questions Varela asked his podcast guests: What is being missed in the conversation about the overdose crisis? If you could change the media narrative, what would you do? What about media in Connecticut, specifically?

Hinojosa and Varela brought their podcast — which covers politics, culture and race through the lens of people of color — to Three Rivers Community College on Wednesday evening. The podcast is from Futuro Media, which Hinojosa launched in 2010.

She explained before the taping that the idea for "In The Thick" came after she was on NBC’s "Meet the Press" several times in 2015 but suddenly stopped being invited. Figuring that she has her own media company and could do her own show, she launched "In The Thick" in 2016.

The topic of the episode taped at Three Rivers was addiction and mental health in communities of people of color, both in Connecticut and nationally.

Joining Thompson as their guests were Kelvin Young, a sound healer and recovery coach, and Taylor Ford, statewide youth and family coordinator with FAVOR Inc.

Young spoke of his own experience as someone in recovery, who hasn’t used since March 6, 2009. Speaking of how he learned about yoga, meditation and sound healing in prison, Young commented, “I honestly thought that yoga was for rich white women, because of the way it’s marketed here in the United States.”

He talked about how trauma — a concept he didn’t think about growing up — was at the root of his addiction. Hinojosa cited toxic stress as a basis of addiction, while Varela pointed to both the War on Drugs and the actions of major pharmaceutical companies.

“People are hurting and we’re not dealing with the root causes of what is hurting people,” Thompson said, citing homelessness as an example. She also spoke of the risk to queer people and transgender youth, because of their experiences of being kicked out.

Talking about the media narratives, Ford said one struggle is that it’s all very “hush-hush,” that people “don’t want to talk about it, because it makes us look worse than what the media has already portrayed us to look like.”

Earlier in the day Thursday, Varela and podcast producer Nicole Rothwell held a podcasting workshop with more than 20 Three Rivers students. Varela said he encouraged the students to pitch their ideas to Futuro Media.

Another "In The Thick" live show will be taped at Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 22, this one about immigration and the Latino community.

The workshops and live shows are made possible through support from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut and the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund.

“For us, it was wanting to do civic engagement work, and I saw this as a gift to our community, and to our young community,” Community Foundation President Maryam Elahi said.

e.moser@theday.com

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