Winter Stands for Revolutionary Growth

By Njoli Brown

“For every century there is a crisis in our democracy, the response to which defines how future generations view those who were alive at the time. In the 18th century it was the transatlantic slave trade, in the 19th century it was slavery, in the 20th century it was Jim Crow. Today it is mass incarceration.”

– Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP –

 

I know that most of us have entered into this work of social justice because we have a general concern for the welfare of our youths and for our society as a whole. We work to design relevant programming that provides skills that are translatable in real world situations. In order to better understand better those situations it’s important on our part to develop an understanding of the historical dynamics at play.  For, as positive a message as we desire to bring into educational institutions, we have to remember that the specter of prison  still looms large in the minds of our parents as a track which statistically competes with the likelihood of college for our students.  How do we combat this? How do we engage in the conversation?  One of the first things we can do is to well acquaint ourselves with the issues so that we can provide empathy and mindful, intentional and action based programming.

Look for community meetings, lectures and literature to enlighten you on, not only the current happenings in your communities, but the legacies within which these communities have evolved.  The Schomburg  offers a tremendously educational range of events, the Unitarian Universalist Association website is on my reading list this month.  Make winter the time to check out an exhibition or round up your squad to engage in some coffee and real talk or to redefine your role in the justice structure, investigating ways to empower your own level of engagement with Restorative Justice Initiative.

Let’s get you started…

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, speaking at University of Chicago.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, speaking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Question. Resolve to be an advocate of progress.  Engage and act.

Engineering Change: Youth Create

By Njoli Brown

One of the most powerful things we can give to our youth is IMG_20171025_140618the realization that they have an actual capacity to effect change.  In my autumn projects in Brooklyn and the Bronx I decided to utilize concepts from civil engineering to develop 

a sense of the importance of design in the nature and timbre of a community.  But even more importantly, the objective was to mature the capacity to critically evaluate our environment to recognize ways in which it could be changed and/or supported.

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The process was collaborative and grounded in the work of establishing leadership skills, common values and collective empathy.   Through discussion, writing, movement and art we dove deep into the most difficult work of putting language to our ideas, debating and, at times, compromising.

We concluded the project by creating an interactive public gallery wherein participants could post questions as a pathway to research and activism.

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Forum for Community Action at FICA Seattle

By Njoli Brown

I was graciously invited by FICA Seattle to facilitate a conversation on how cultural orgs can effectively engage in social action.  In Seattle there are a large number of groups which participate in the ethnic/cultural arts of Latin america, Africa, central – SE Asia and so on.  But, aside from the artistic endeavor, how many make the determination to actively and positively effect, in profound and long term ways, the communities within which these arts were sustained through centuries of struggle and an infusion of intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy?

The first thing that came to mind for me was a discussion on the spate of ongoing disturbing events throughout our communities, but it seemed that the first step needed to be a deep dive into “identity.”  One of the most common falsely held presumptions in groups is that, “if we’re all here then we’re all ‘down.’ ”  But before getting to the “what” we’re doing, there’s a lot of figuring that has to go into the “why” so that when it becomes difficult and laborious there’s a foundation that we’re working from in common.  I give FICA a lot of credit for often trying to provide opportunities for critical evaluations of itself by its members.

How does this collection of people see itself?  Does the collective mission align with each individual’s personal mission?  Are we willing to lose members if we determine the mission is of tantamount importance? From where are we garnering vital information and through what lens are we evaluating it? Do the actions we hope to take stay true to the missions we’ve established for ourselves?   Etc, etc.  There is a lot to be said for a group which decides to wrestle with itself and deal with the discomfort of recognizing the failings, doubts.. the humanity of all its members.

There is a long history of misdirected actions which can often times do more damage than help. Often times these are a result of not establishing all the predetermination that will provide you with the fortitude to stay in the process for the long haul.  Simultaneously, there are advocates who have, at times, been discarded without a dedication to the difficult conversations which provide soil for effective growth and leadership.  I hope to hear more from the participants of this recent forum, to hear if they found worthwhile takeaways, if there are plans for next steps, suggestions.  I also hope that other groups will make use of the currently aroused energy to figure out how they can utilize their organizations as nuclei for positive change.

*Gratitute to co-facilitator, Jabali Stewart, and to Mestre Silvinho (FICA Seattle), Leika Suzumura and Chelsea Rae for getting the ball rolling.

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