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How a Drug Policy Activist Spends Her Sundays

Kassandra Frederique was delighted with the passage this spring of New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which decriminalized …

How a Drug Policy Activist Spends Her Sundays

Kassandra Frederique was delighted with the passage this spring of New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which decriminalized recreational marijuana use in the state. After all, she worked to make it happen. “It was a chance to be a Black New Yorker changing New York policy,” she said.

Last year, Ms. Frederique was named the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which focuses on human rights issues as they pertain to drug culture and current regulations across the country. The nonprofit takes on anything from addiction to working toward reparations for those who have served or are serving prison sentences because of drug laws.

Ms. Frederique, 35, is a first-generation American. She lives with her parents, who immigrated from Haiti in the early 1970s, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

REACH FOR THE PHONE I usually wake up a bit before 6. My body just wakes up, I don’t need an alarm clock. The first thing I do is check my phone. I check for text messages from my friends and then I check Twitter and Instagram. Twitter is where I get my news. It gives me the latest on issues I care about. I go to Instagram for the Shade Room. That’s pop culture stuff, mostly Black pop culture.

STAY ON THE PHONE I have an array of Black girlfriends I call in the morning. These girlfriends serve as my journal. I’m more of an orator as opposed to a writer, and so I talk. I have these really strong phone relationships. For example, I might call my friend Marlena to talk about the week that just passed, our challenges and the things we’re excited about. Another girlfriend is Haitian, and we talk about what’s going on. It’s an emotional time to be Haitian. Our question is how can we support the self-determination of our ancestry.

“I have an array of Black girlfriends I call in the morning,” said Ms. Frederique, right. Sometimes they end up at brunch.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

DREAMS, FEARS I talk with my friend Stephanie about my aspirations, like what do I want to do? Who do I want to be in the world outside of work? And I talk to my friend Shaquinah about my fears. One of my biggest fears is connected to work. There’s a lot of hope and excitement around what I do. Sometimes I think, What if it doesn’t work? What if we don’t get the follow-through we need? There’s no silver bullet when you’re dealing with complex human behavior like addiction and ending the drug war.

POLITICAL SALON Gabrielle is a girlfriend I like to talk with about politics. We do a lot of testing and interrogating of political ideas. With Gabrielle and a few other girlfriends, it’s a political salon. I run a Sunday political salon on the phone. Except sometimes we end up at brunch instead. If we go, we go in Harlem. I like B Squared, Lido and BLVD.

A “political salon” of sorts with her friends one Sunday in Harlem.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

SOUNDS OF NEWS Before I go anywhere, I do some stuff around the house, like laundry. My mom is usually preparing food and listening to Haitian news, and my dad will be listening to Haitian political radio and watching American news on CNN at the same time. That’s part of the reason I’m so political. Those are the sounds I grew up with.

PART OF A WHOLE I play music in my room, a mixture of R&B and gospel. I always listen to Jazmine Sullivan and Tasha Cobbs. It’s really anchoring because they’re speaking about things like love, which is super complicated. The music centers me because it makes me feel like I’m part of a whole. Like everybody’s navigating this stuff. That’s also a theme that comes out with my girlfriends: No one actually knows all the answers. We’re all just doing the best we can, trying to figure things out.

PARK IT If I’m not going to brunch I’ll go to Central Park with some friends and lay out. I used to go to church pretty regularly, but I haven’t in a while. Less because of Covid than because I’ve been traveling a lot for work. The church I go to is St. Charles Borromeo, a Black Catholic church. It’s a little like “Sister Act.” At Central Park, we’ll bring snacks and a blanket and speakers so we can play Spotify. We find a spot that has adequate sun and shade, and we people-watch. Covid has really deepened my appreciation for Central Park. I’ve always lived down the block. I used to go there for birthday parties when I was a kid.

At the park: “We’ll bring snacks and a blanket and speakers so we can play Spotify. We find a spot that has adequate sun and shade, and we people watch.”Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

GETTING STEAMY I’m out all day, but before I go home I will have eaten, either at brunch or at Malecon, a Dominican place in the neighborhood. I try to get home by 7 so I can do a facial. I bought a steamer during the pandemic. I like to steam my face. Sometimes I’ll also do a deep condition of my hair under a heated bonnet. During my beauty evening I might watch something on Netflix. I just learned about Lily Tomlin by watching “Grace and Frankie.” I love her. She’s hilarious.

CONTAINED Because I spent the morning talking about the important stuff that’s on my mind, I work hard to create a container for myself on Sunday nights where I’m not thinking about all that, where I’m regenerating. By nighttime, I’m all talked out. I fall asleep before 10 p.m., usually in the middle of a text message conversation with a friend.

Readers can follow Ms. Frederique on Twitter at @Kassandra_Fred.

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