December 14, 2018

By CHRIS HUSSEY
CH_humanlibrary

Jake Reay was sitting on the couch at his house, when all of a sudden he came to. The last thing he remembered was getting a pack of cigarettes as his two friends waited for him in his car. One of his friends told him that Reay had driven them home. That was when Reay realized he had blacked out for that entire journey.

“It hit me in a way I had never felt before,” he said.

Reay said it was terrifying for him because as he was blacked out, he could have hurt or killed somebody, including himself. He said the idea that he wasn’t in control really affected him.

“The not being aware part is really what hit me, and so, in that moment, I took all my alcohol and poured it down the sink,” he said.

That was in 2013. Reay said this moment was significant for him because he was and is still an addict. In fact, he started smoking weed when he was 18 years old and that eventually led to him using more lethal substances, such as cocaine.

Now, after three years of sobriety, Reay is using his experiences to help others. He demonstrated that willingness to give back by being a part of the fourth annual Human Library event on Feb. 10 at Conestoga College. The event, which was held in the Library Resource Centre (LRC), was a unique experience where people could borrow a human “book” for 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, people had the opportunity to ask the “book” questions and hear their story.

Laura Black, a Student Life programmer for community initiatives at Conestoga College, said the event is intended to encourage meaningful and positive conversation.

“In 15 minutes you can learn a lot about someone,” she said.

The event is just one of many in the Respect Campaign at Conestoga, an initiative which focuses on promoting positive behaviours on-campus. Black said the event has been well received by both the college community and the human “books” alike.

Although the event has proven to be successful at Conestoga, the concept traces its roots to Copenhagen, Denmark, and has evolved into a worldwide movement. The Human Library website, www.humanlibrary.org, describes the concept as, “a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.”

This year’s event may have done just that. Black said throughout the course of the day, she saw a wide spectrum of emotions, ranging from tears to literally jumping up and down in excitement. She said although there were many of these memorable moments, the most powerful moment for her was during a one-on-one conversation with a “book.”

As the two talked, the woman told Black how much this event meant to her and how it’s benefiting her as well. Black said it reminded her that although these “books” have stories to tell, these stories aren’t necessarily finished. The Human Library may play a big role in making the stories more meaningful.

“To see the stories growing from year to year is really the most rewarding thing from my point of view,” she said.

Reay echoed this statement and said the way he has approached the Human Library has changed since he first did it. He initially registered to be a part of the Human Library for his own personal benefit and to put his story out there. But now, after several years of signing up to be a “book” at the event, he wants to give back.

“It’s important to me to let this big portion of my life not go to waste,” he said. “I want to use those experiences and those stories to benefit others in any way I can.”

Reay said there are many places to go for support, no matter what the situation.

“I really feel like (helping people not feel alone) is the most important thing I can convey because I did a lot of what I did on my own, and if I had taken or sought help, it would have made my recovery a lot easier,” he said.

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