Co-founder of Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice speaks about War on Drugs

Students participate in group discussions about The War on Drugs and mass incarceration following a lecture given on the subject. (Ryan Murace/The Daily Campus)

Since 1969, when President Richard Nixon officially declared the War on Drugs, the buying and selling of illegal substances has taken great precedence in the world of politics. Based on statistics from drugpolicy.org, more than $51 billion is spent annually in the U.S. alone on the war, but in 2014, one in every 111 adulta was incarcerated, the highest rate in the world.

This alarming reality is what lead Lorenzo Jones to get involved in drug-related policy work. Jones is the co-founder and co-executive of Katal, which is a center for health, equity and justice that aims to promote policy changes.

Jones travels all across the country to talk at universities on topics pertaining to criminal reform, drug policy reform, community organizing and advocacy work.

“I’m here every year to keep the relationship,” Jones said. “[Universities] are the factories pumping out people who are going to be responsible for this work for the next 30 years.”

Jones focuses heavily on grassroots campaigning with college-age students specifically because he feels they have the most energy and passion to promote real change in their communities.

“Grassroot organizations are extremely important to colleges,” Ruth Decosse, third-semester urban studies and African studies major, said. “We are in such a concentrated setting and we see people every day. That’s how information is spread.”

Jones explained how students, through Katal’s promotional grassroots campaigning, can do research on topics from drugs to incarceration and take their findings back to their neighborhoods.

“I believe that the pushback on the War on Drugs has really allowed us to bring back the intellectual capital of the college through the students,” Jones said. “The faculty needs to bring that intellectual capital to the neighborhoods.”

For those who are interested in the realm of social policies, Katal provides internships and volunteer opportunities to provide them with an outlet of change. The applications can be found on the organization’s website here.

Katherine Farrelly, seventh-semester urban community studies major, said she felt Jones’s discussion helped her understand her demographic’s ability to promote activism.

“College students are a very transient group and we develop a spirit of activism,” Farrelly said. “This discussion made me want to have those conversations on the War on Drugs with those close to me.”    

While Jones pushed students to spread their intellectual capital with those around them, he also asked for students to go one step further.

“Students need to focus on the work that keeps them up at night, not the work that helps them sleep better,” Jones said. “You’ll sleep better if you do the work that keeps you up at night. But if you do work that helps you sleep better, you won’t sleep for sh*t.”


Lillian Whittaker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at lillian.whittaker@uconn.edu.