Multi-purpose tools for Activation and Rest (Feeling Ready for Action)

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:


Local Politics and Hyper-Local Embodiment

Following the cohort check-in in March we readjusted our expectations. During the month of March there was a transition in leadership for the cohort and we reassessed the priorities of the cohort members before June 2021. We considered taking time to assess what safety is in our respective chapters and how we could develop education around that value. Similarly, the most recent ask in the national campaign meetings was to reconsider our safety, security, and comfort before committing for larger actions. A proposed method was to start a read-along to the collection of essays in The Revolution Starts at Home Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. As we move into the spring, committee members will sit with this text and develop curriculum along with this book. The cohort will also move their timeline to hosting trainings by June 2021.

The exciting promise of this project was to be able to understand how BYP100 members’ artistic practices connect to political values at a local level. In the realization that we had varying relationships to our art practices as public and teachable, I was encouraged to start with what publics I am most in conversation with in my practice. I rededicated my intentions over this month to examining the arts environments in which I consider myself “local” and their actions during the current exacerbation of public health crises.

A portion of the community-based art in Durham supports local efforts for abolition and mutual aid through creative placemaking. Creative placemaking, as explored by Robert Bedoya, are practices whose “aesthetics of belonging contribute and shape our person, the rights and duties of individuals crucial to a healthy democracy that animate the commons. It should also animate Creative Placemaking not as a development strategy but as a series of actions that build spatial justice, healthy communities and sites of imaginations” (2012). Groups like Durham Beyond Policing, Art Asylum, and SONG (Southerners on New Ground) host events like community art builds in Durham around the times of vigils, marching actions, or car demonstrations. These events provide time for Durham residents to reflect and process their feelings through crafting, yoga/meditation, and sign making. Thinking of these events as liberation zones where goers do not require a certain amount of political knowledge to participate and facilitators organize relatively safe spaces makes these groups’ events essential contributors to creative and political placemaking Durham.

And what of my own discipline, performance? The idea of live performance may seem antithetical to the circular experience of a community art build (thinking of circles referenced in the last post). Much performance culture has been restricted to expectations in the entertainment industry of a stage or theater production that asks audiences to sit and listen. Thinking of queer performative cultures that have become increasingly visible in the US, like ballroom and drag pageantry, or the spaces of traditional African dance in a Baba Chuck performance, our expectations of spectatorship change. What if instead of performance being stage-based and centering-virtuosity, we better understand the values in performative cultures of minoritized people? I am first suggesting that live performance provides an undeniably political moment when the minoritized performer requires audience or witnesses to shift understanding of theater decorum and passive spectatorship. Within this question there is a critique of how we interact with Black and brown bodies or people of the global majority, particularly when audiences expect a certain type of performance or way of relating to the performers.

At this point in 2021, we know art that engages political thought will continue to be made. Considering performance spaces that make art through the body provides way to see how political movement can encompass a range of actions. As a step further, I encourage readers towards embodiment which may include somatics-based reflection or even dressing up to go to a digital drag show. By practicing self-reflection through movement practice, we can radically change how we act in spaces which are uncomfortable for us due to a particular kind of hypervisibility or vulnerability. At the end of this blogpost there are some resources on somatics. I will also leave readers with these questions: what does freedom taste, smell, sound, and feel like for you? How do you move when you feel free?


Bedoya, Roberto. 2012. “Creative Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-Belonging (R. Bedoya).” Arts in a Changing America. September 1, 2012. https://artsinachangingamerica.org/creative-placemaking-and-the-politics-of-belonging-and-dis-belonging/.

To learn more about

SONG: https://southernersonnewground.org/chapter/sample-chapter-one/

Art Asylum: https://durhammentalhealth.wordpress.com/about/

Durham Beyond Policing: https://durhambeyondpolicing.org/

Queer Wrath: https://www.instagram.com/queerwrath/?hl=en

Somatics (and tools for embodiment): http://somaticstoolkit.coventry.ac.uk/

BEAM (Black Emotional Mental Health Collective) on Black Somatics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcnpqusaYSQ

Generative Somatics talk “Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice in the time of coronavirus” on Staci K. Hines book The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3eR-6OAc24

Imagining Circles and Spaces for Reassessment

Most recently, I had the joy of being in a Restorative Justice (RJ) Imagination & Practice Space hosted by Project NIA that allowed me to better understand the praxis of abolition. I attended this training to also practice discussing how BYP100s de-escalation training fits within larger safety and transformative justice (TJ) discourse. The trainings we lead are adapted bystander intervention trainings developed in part with CASS (Collective Action for Safe Spaces; DC) to focus on interacting with patriarchal violence in environments that may test your personal and physical boundaries. In a larger scale of TJ, I consider de-escalation training as a way to build up our social skills to prevent harm that is predicated in imbalanced power dynamics held up by social markers of identity. That is, we are preparing to identify and stand with someone when we notice they are vulnerable.

The main action of RJ that we focused on in the training was practical application of a “circle” to readdress and develop values and community agreements. Jodie and Bijon, who lead the training, discussed the circle being developed in indigenous cultures to address conflict. It serves to hold a delicate time for people to readdress their aspirations in community. Presenting to a circle is something that is not accidental or taken lightly, and often requires deep preparation on behalf of all the participants. The circle is a crucial moment in situations where harm has already happened and requires the dedication of members to continue addressing the hopes, actions, and reactions the circle contained even after it is done.

After considering how circles are foundational in my own teaching style in contemporary dance, I was reminded of Paolo Freire’s culture circles which provide circles as a way to embody dialogic problem solving. I placed this alongside of ciphers in hip-hop culture which provides time for everyone to work out their inspirations and concerns in real time through movement in a large dance circle (this is, importantly, not always equate to a “dance battle”). What struck me so plainly is the use of a physical formation to encourage participants to reassess the power dynamics. Although these spaces are not designed to directly address harm and change, it makes me take a step back to consider how pervasive the need to have genuine sharing spaces are and how movement can be a gateway to bringing people together.

Further, my project makes me consider how the art I produce (dance and intentional embodiment) can be used to activate spaces in a way that directly addresses structures of power at play which may cause patriarchal violence. As such, this training provided a moment for me to consider which tools I have to encourage an open circle feeling. This seems particularly pertinent in a time where Americans in the US are physically distanced, and we need clearer intention with how we gather online as we have limited capacity to do so. The formation these spaces digitally presents as an important question that I had following the Imagination & Practice Space.

To reassess how this has happened in the Triangle area seems pertinent for this project, because the clarity of the Imagination & Practice Space encouraged me to be more specific about how trainings are people centered. Previous de-escalation trainings were taught to very diverse groups like election poll workers and volunteers who may only share space for a few hours during an election. Ideally, we would bring intentionality of a RJ circle as inspiration for our working relationships for safety trainings as a way to help encourage strangers to work together. Luckily, we already have a main priority during training to identify people that can help with confronting potentially harmful situations so that the idea of being supported can be associated with actual people.

Like much of the world has realized by now, we also only have so much physical capacity to engage each other over a computer. The week of March 8th we, the cohort leads, will host a check-in for cohort members to see how the training fits into their chapter goals. Currently, the major actions reported from chapters are ongoing mutual aid actions and responses to policing in our respective areas. The need for safety trainings may be more urgent in some places than others, and ideally this meeting will allow us to start necessary discussions on the reality of how safety is talked about in our respective chapters.

More about Project NIA:

Project NIA is a grassroots organization that works to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices. https://project-nia.org/

Further readings on TJ/RJ:

The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation by Fania E. Davis

Colorizing Restorative Justice: Voicing Our Realities edited by Edward Charles Valandra

We Are Each Other’s Harvest

Ayan Felix will be working in Durham, NC with peers to research how art can influence trainings on harm reduction and prevention.

“We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Gwendolyn Brooks’ phrase is the grounding in every de-escalation training hosted by Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) Durham Chapter since I joined in January 2020.  BYP100 was founded in 2013 by youth organizers who gathered with Cathy Cohen and the National Black Justice Coalition at the Beyond November Movement Convening near Chicago. Upon hearing of the news of George Zimmerman’s verdict, members of the convening decided to collectively work against anti-Black institutions in the US using grassroots and relational organizing techniques. Since then, Black youth from metropolitan areas around the U.S. joined with the intention of sharing resources and knowledge towards the liberation of all Black people. The organization in 2018 gained 501(c)(3) status, and is now a coalition of 9 chapters and a Squad (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Durham, Jackson, Milwaukee, New York, National) united in principled struggle under a Black Queer Feminist lens. The Durham chapter, founded 2017, in its first few years joined into the Durham Beyond Policing coalition to support policies that divest in policing institutions and invest in public health and safety resources. When I entered this group of people, the chapter finally saw a win after the city accepted proposals for the Community-led Safety and Wellness Task Force.

BYP100, a Black-led and Black-liberation-focused non-profit provides a wealth of information for me, a researcher of Dance at Duke, to learn how art and activism can be approached virtually. My project aims to examine how artists engage their practices in facilitation of spaces like our de-escalation trainings or transformative justice circles. This is inspired by my own experience at BYP100 as well as my peer’s experiences as artist activators, engaging community in ways that centralize Black LGBTQIA+ people and their political engagement. This project is a growing aspect of my larger MFA thesis that examine how to create more equitable dance spaces through Black feminisms. My experience as an independent artist in a gig-based industry has led me to focus on the idea of itinerant safe space, which community organizations like BYP100 help create by hosting political education seminars, trainings, and book clubs.

Importantly for this project, Durham chapter members have developed and facilitated a series of bystander intervention trainings. Our most recent de-escalation-focused event was a national training-for-trainers this past November, where the Durham chapter and Community Action for Safe Spaces DC (CASS DC) joined to share de-escalation and transformative justice skills with people from 8 other chapters. Our November 2020 training started a toolkit and facilitation manual to allow people to then lead bystander intervention training sessions in their respective cities during 2021. In principle, this training aligns with previous efforts of BYP to decrease policing within marginalized communities by encouraging more Black people to be confident in their conflict transformation and harm prevention skills. One of the goals in de-escalation is to increase awareness of situations that would often end in calling the police, determine how participants feel comfortable responding, and identifying local alternatives (if any) to policing. We found de-escalation and resource sharing to be particularly urgent during a time where we are isolated and experiencing an increase in intimate partner and family violence (Critchfield, 2021).

A prominent component of the training is embodiment and knowing that safety can be felt much like danger. As a dancer, there was no doubt that body language plays a large role in my social environment, but often times we are not asked how do we feel physically when we are safe or unsafe? Asking this question during the training required me to lean into my prior creative work. Maybe I did feel unsafe that time I called the cops? What about it? During trainings, I had a group of people who were able to take my situation and connect it to a larger frame of what resources I had available to me in that moment. My shame in that situation was transformed into knowledge and eventually steps for me to take should my situation happen again. And it almost has, even though most of my daily interactions are virtual.

In the scope of transformative and restorative justice projects in Bay Area, California or even New Zealand, this training is small and hyperlocal. In the wake of M4BL campaigns, BLM demonstrations, and the thousands of other grassroots orgs moving action in the summer of 2020, the virtual training provided a way for me to settle and reconsider my own reliance on hyper surveillance of Black communities. Yes, I have called the cops on someone. And prior to these trainings, I have only admitted this in my art. As I continue developing these trainings, I imagine what my home community would look like if everyone there had the time to critically analyze their personal relationship to hyper surveillance and policing like I have. I know that by sharing this training, I am taking a step towards that community.