In early pandemic times, what feels like years ago, I helped lead a pod-mapping exercise with chapter members. I think of pod-mapping as identifying T-Mobile’s “MyFaves” — the top people who would show up, should you need help in a crisis. By now pod-mapping has been circulated outside of TJ projects from its structuring in the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective to help people develop crisis-specific plans to meet their basic needs. Foundationally, pod-mapping seeks to become more specific when discussing “community” and “community needs,” and acknowledging actual people who show up for you.
The unidentified “community” is an ongoing issue of non-profit organizations of all kinds when trying to discuss efficacy or their impact on the people they serve. For my project, I associated community with fellow artists and arts organizers who had a stake in developing safety plans for local communities dealing with high levels of police brutality and incarceration. The measurable goal for my project was based in whether I could build a relationship between artists who support our understanding of safety through art and training.
Over the process of this fellowship, my community became my collaborators, family, and conspirators. Within my pod labeled “Q/T organizing,” I have specific people who inspire me to continue planning and assisting with social and educational events. Obviously, the scope of this project changed over the months and I am now working at a local level which has provided me opportunities to support others in their art builds and public actions around policing and abolition. Even more specifically, our goals are to provide Black people in Durham with a space to reimagine and explore in a way that is queer affirming.
In short, my organizing pod during this fellowship expanded. This was surprising as I found myself closer in association to the Durham (performing and visual) arts scene than I had expected as a Duke student and someone who has only been in Durham for about two years. This expansion has been challenging in other ways because most of what we do is foregrounded on grief or discussing violence already committed. However, my collaborators’ and I focus, and likely how this project will continue to develop, is taking seriously the urgency in rest and recouperation that moments like liberation zones or all Black spaces provide. By providing ourselves space to relax, we were able to embody liberatory politics. Remembering the prompt from my last post, what does freedom taste, smell, sound, and feel like for you? How do you move when you feel free?
Moreover, my most recent reflection into our de-escalation practices with a colleague (thanks, Nhawndie!) recognized that to center learning about safety we also have to feel safe. One way to do that is encouraging bonding outside of spaces that talk about harm or grieving—this is where we found art pop-ups to act as a bridge to safety. Later this month there are a few community art builds happening in Durham to discuss abolitionist work and prepare for actions around policing in NC. There is also an opportunity to develop a Durham action around Juneteenth (June 19, 2021). Our Juneteenth action will hold space to talk about abolition as the concept that “we are not free until all of us are free” by reflecting on the process of slave emancipation along the Gulf Coast years after the Civil War. This will also be a place to practice my form of harm prevention by encouraging people to show up together, digitally and in-person, in a way that allows play and imagination around hard topics.
In a larger context, Black and queer cultural spaces are often flattened into a sort of hyper-personal project or workshop that often depoliticizes what is at stake for participants. Yes, it is personal…and, these are the spaces where people share news and plot for our desired world. As a BYP100 member, focusing initially on how arts should be injected into the space of political education I learned how visual and performance art can be the more radical form of education by allowing people to live in free states. Often trying to find space for Black queer people to imagine freedom is itself an act of creation. This became apparent to me while witnessing the simple pedagogical tools between dance and social justice education. Further, the tools we build in those spaces to deal with the world should be made accessible and as we move out of the pandemic. As I continue the project of creative placemaking, I hope to include the importance of supporting accessible places for Black queer people to rest and recuperate.
For current abolitionist projects in NC, see information on SB100 and related bills:
Also More information on NC anti-TLBGQ+ house bills proposed earlier 2021: