Peer support is a cornerstone of the Fireside Project, a support line helping people minimize the risks and fulfill the potential of their psychedelic experiences. Co-founder Hanifa Nayo Washington joins us to explore the values of equity, power sharing, and belonging that underpin Fireside’s work in offering support, educating the public, and furthering psychedelic research.
Getting to Know Hanifa Nayo Washington
Hanifa Nayo Washington (she/her/hers) is a social entrepreneur, cultural producer, and healing justice practitioner with 20 years in nonprofit leadership. Hanifa, a facilitator, reiki master practitioner, and creative, works at the intersection of mindfulness, place making, and social justice to create organizations, gatherings, spaces, and experiences rooted in the values of beloved community.
As the co-founder and the Chief of Strategy for Fireside Project, Hanifa supports the design, facilitation, and communication of Fireside Project’s mission, vision, strategic initiatives and future goals. Hanifa Nayo is also the Co-founder and Organizing Principal of One Village Healing, an online BIPOC centered healing, resilience, and psychedelic wellness space and is in her 4th year as a lead facilitator of the New Haven Community Leadership Program whose mission is to equip, support and inspire the practice of values-based collaborative leadership.
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This Moment in Psychedelics
Hanifa sees this as a pivotal moment in the psychedelic field. “We are in a place of a lot of curiosity and possibility, with opportunities for an extreme amount of bridge building and development, many bubbles and sectors popping up…what one might call the psychedelic ecosystem. It’s interesting how collaboration and partnerships can be happening across these different sectors and bubbles. When I think about psychedelic risk reduction, I think about education, about research, about the actual care and application of medicine and treatment. I also think about the traditions which many of these medicines come from, and the people who held and hold those traditions, how bridge-building and reciprocity are important. I see in this time, there’s this incredible potential to get it right, and potentially to get it wrong. I see many people coming together and asking, how can we do this? There’s a lot of collaborative conversations and visioning happening and building up. It feels really special and enlivening to be part of it.”
For our resilience in this world, we must have practices and spaces where we can collectively rest, be seen, and transmute poisons. We believe in creating these spaces so that we can maintain our strength in this work of change.
A Look into Fireside’s Origins
“I am the co-founder of Fireside Project, along with the founder Joshua White. We met at Burning Man in 2019 and a year or so later, we came back in contact with each other and began to think about this concept: How do we provide care for people who are actively in a psychedelic experience, and how do we provide care for people afterwards? How do we do this for free? How do we give access to as many people as possible? How do we create equity and beloved community and safety for all people?”
“I come from a background of wellness and healing, community organizing, non-profit development, and healing. I’m a Reiki master practitioner. I also started a project in 2019 that’s called One Village Healing. It’s about providing space for healing and wellness for BIPOC folks. It’s now all online because of the magic of pandemic. I have this deep reverence around healing spaces and access to healing spaces that should be available and free to as many people as possible, and particularly to those who are most impacted by systems of oppression historically and currently. [Founder] Joshua White comes from a background as a lawyer, but also worked on a support line for many years in San Francisco and is a deep psychedelic research nerd. I’m using words he uses! We were deep into thinking about this work and what it could be and how it could work. We realized we work really well together and have such different approaches – super skills, superpowers. We’re able to bring that together to create this amazing space that’s literally founded in the idea of a loving community, conscious co-creation, and equity. It also upholds the importance of the practice of vigorous research, as well as providing peer support to people who can be in really vulnerable states, while ensuring that it’s free and accessible.”
Ecosystem of Peer Support
Fireside’s core values reflect a commitment to building equity, power sharing, and belonging in the psychedelic movement, and their mission makes these values come alive. “Peer support is a people-to-people practice, setting aside our credentials and our place within the system of capitalism and systems of oppression. We focus on empowering people. That we as individuals – as humans, friends, neighbors, family members – are the dear ones, we have a lot of power, and we can use that collectively to support each other. The peer support experience brings people together with others who may not necessarily understand what it is like to have a psychedelic experience or to be in a space of needing holding as they reintegrate. There’s empathy there, and there is a relating that can happen. It’s also this grand gesture of loving thy neighbor – it’s actually doing it. It’s saying, ‘I’m going to volunteer my time for a year, four hours every week, and hold the space.’”
“We know that this can be really important in someone’s psychedelic experience, and we know it can save lives. We know the importance of being a part of a beloved community. As we’re moving into 2022, we’re launching our Equity Initiative. We’ve been open since April of 2021, and we’ve received over 1800 calls and counting. From the very beginning, we thought about how we could offer more choice within the experience for our support line callers. We know that choices are about sharing power. It’s about understanding differences that need to be honored. [This is different than the medical model] where someone is diagnosed and told what their care plan is going to be. Instead, it’s offering choice to someone to be part of that healing plan. We are beginning to answer that question in our Equity Initiative.”
“We are launching our affinity peer support positions that will start in June of this year . This service will start with a focus on the BIPOC community, military veterans, and transgender people. We are going to train them to be on the peer support line. We’re going to bring on about 40 volunteers to launch this initiative. Every week, they’ll have a shift. You’ll be able to call or text the line to integrate with someone who shares that part of your identity on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday from 3PM – 7PM Pacific Time. We know that representation matters and choice matters.”
“We think it’s important to not only provide our caller’s choice, but also to deepen the pathways into the psychedelic space for folks who come from these communities, who are underrepresented and underserved within the psychedelic space. As a part of our Equity Initiative, we’re also launching the Fireside Equity Fund. This is a fund for our volunteers who come from marginalized communities and underrepresented communities to apply for grants and direct funding to support their advancement within the space. It can go toward education, business development, and any sort of professional development that folks need support for to establish themselves. We are also collaborating with educational and training organizations, like Naropa University, MAPS, Fluence, the Psychedelic Support Network, to offer low-cost or full scholarship training programs. [We also want to support] them being able to work with some amazing researchers and clinicians in the field to offer internship opportunities for who we’re calling our Fireside Fellows. After they ‘graduate’ from the line, they can be placed in an internship, [for example] working with Robin Carhart-Harris at the University of California San Francisco at his lab, working with Chris Stauffer, or with Monnica T. Williams. That list is going to keep growing, and it’s amazing to see how the leaders of the psychedelic community are responding to this invitation to create these pathways in. Over generations, we’re going to help seed and deepen spaces for folks to get rooted and flourish in the psychedelic field. People from these communities will also be part of the research and policy making. This is part of our larger vision of really creating a psychedelic community that is equitable and safe.”
We know that representation matters and choice matters. We think it’s important to not only provide our caller’s choice, but also to deepen the pathways into the psychedelic space for folks who come from these communities, who are underrepresented and underserved within the psychedelic space.
Peer Support and Healing Justice
Hanifa is also the co-founder of One Village Healing, a place-based wellness and resilience initiative in New Haven, CT creating spaces, gatherings, and programming rooted in the values of the healing justice movement. “There is a braiding between what peer support is and what healing justice is. What this boils down to is individuals saying we actually have the power to support our individual and collective healing. We are not going to give up or forget about that power in lieu of other systems that have been created to for us, and to place our healing centrally and first. Healing justice is a direct response to systems of oppression. These practices come from the Black community and African American community deep in the South, and for ages from bushwomen and people doing medicine in their kitchen – it wasn’t systematized. It’s not necessarily ignoring all that Western medicine can offer, but it’s about remembering the collective power of individuals and our community within healing. That healing is a birthright that all should have access to. Healing justice centers people, power, and remembering your individual power and responsibility to your healing journey and practice.”
“One Village Healing was founded out of the absence of something like this existing in our community – where could I go in New Haven where the practitioners of the yoga classes or the meditation classes or the talk groups were people who look like me or who I could identify with, and there weren’t any. There’s something really significant about being in a vulnerable place of healing, where there’s affinity and your culture is represented. We brought a bunch of people together to create this space because we needed it. We had an overwhelming response. A few of us came together as the founding practitioners. We opened up a physical space in April 2019, and we celebrated our anniversary in lockdown because COVID. We are online now, offering sessions pretty regularly. There are at least four or five regular sessions each week. We sometimes bring in other practitioners or have other events. And folks don’t have to pay. There are particular sessions that are affinity-based. There are some sessions that are open to the whole community. Every day, as much as possible we are offering a place of release, a place of clearing, a place of laying down the burdens of the day – because we know that that matters. For our resilience in this world, we must have practices and spaces where we can collectively rest, be seen, and transmute poisons. We believe in creating these spaces so that we can maintain our strength in this work of change.”
More than Peer Support
Fireside Project offers more than peer support – the project is a hub for public education and research. The team is working to develop a public training on how to be a good psychedelic citizen. “We feel that as many people as possible who have these basic skills, the better. [For example], we’re sort of all encouraged to learn CPR, because you never know when that skill might come in handy to save a life before. [We want people to] have the skills to hold space for people during and after their psychedelic experiences. With more and more folks engaging in the practice, finding these medicines and substances, we feel like it’s important….From the very beginning of this project, part of our mission is about culturally-attuned peer support and public education, as well as research. We have been working with Dr. Joseph Zamaria at the University of California in San Francisco to do a study on the effectiveness of the peer support line as a risk reduction tool. We have amazing findings. After each call or text on the line, we send the caller or texter a survey and say, ‘How do we do? What did you notice? Can you please take a few minutes to fill out this?’ We have a 25% – 30% response rate, which is great.”
“From that, we’ve pulled the data that’s going to be shared into [an upcoming] report. About 60% of our calls are people integrating – so folks processing from a previous trip – and a little less than 30% are folks who are actively engaged in a psychedelic experience. We also know that 92% of [respondents] say they felt seen and supported. 60% are saying that they felt deescalated. We also know that we are diverting people from unnecessarily calling 9-1-1 or going to the emergency room. 30% are saying that they would have called 9-1-1 or gone to the ER, if it wasn’t for Fireside. The findings of this initial study point out that our service, intention, and mission is doing what it’s set out to do – it is having impact. It is saving lives and saving tax dollars. It is making people feel seen and heard and connected.”
Connect with Fireside Project
Hanifa and the team invite you to connect with the Fireside Project at firesideproject.org. “I also suggest to people to join our mailing list and receive our monthly bulletin. It has all the updates of what’s happening internally – if we’re hiring, when certain initiatives are kicking off, news about the project. Also follow us on social media: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Twitter.” Interested volunteers can learn more at the website as well.