Category Archives: Politics

Lost Visions and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

Re-curring thought over the past 3 years: “This non-profit world will take me over the edge one day.”

I feel so far away from the inspired, optimistic, 19 year old who travelled to Caracas, Venezuela for the World Festival of Youth and Students and learned about the work of activists and organizers around the world…individuals involved in indigenous land reclamation, freeing political prisoners, labour union organizing and Hip Hop activism.  I wanted to be a part of these movements that were recognized in that space to be so interconnected and inextricably tied to spirit, soul and ancestry.

That was where it started…but I don’t know how I ended up here…

Somewhere since then…I think it was somewhere in this youth-sector/non-profit/charity based monopoly that I found myself in, the vision was lost and replaced with time-consuming, spirit-draining, imagination-sucking obsessions: meetings, programming, service delivery, grants,  evaluations, collaborations, steering committees, stakeholders, de-briefing, funding reports, spending reports, monthly reports, budgets, staff meetings, board meetings, finance meetings and more meetings….bureacracy strangled the vision…

Don’t get me wrong.  Over the past few years, I have grown immensely and experienced some of the greatest joy anyone can ask for.  I have met some of the most incredible individuals whose words and stories, art and actions have altered my entire worldview.  I have had the PRIVILEGE to work with young people – build with them, challenge them, be challenged by them, trusted by them, trust them, cry with them, laugh with them, dance with them, eat with them, build community with them.  Rich memories have been built that I will hold for lifetimes:

Photo by Nabil Shash

my students being moved to tears while watching a documentary on Mumia Abu Jamal; sitting in a low-lit board room located on 110 Sudbury Street every Monday at 2pm cracking jokes with T-Rexxx, Drex, Gavin, Brian and 40; working with Hagler on his final assignment of high school on the couch in my office; doing cartwheels at the airport in Durban, South Africa with Kyauna while Sinotra posed in his grey track suit and Logik faithfully documenting every second (check video for proof);

telling secrets with Dahab and Muna when the electricity went out in our house in Nairobi; dancing till marks were left on the walls at the SWB AGM; writing curriculum while sitting in the grass at Christie Pitts park; burning marshmallows and telling stories around a fire at a retreat centre up north following a game of Lord of the Rings with Muginga and Nayani; re-enacting talk-show dramas with Khadra and Andrea in a hotel room in Oakland; singing “We Can’t be Friends” at the top of our lungs with the ladies of EOTO as we drove to Kingston; watching my student Kalin jump off the stage at our first show at York University; my talks with Kamiya and Isiah as I walked them home after class; freestyling ciphers after watching d’bi’s play with the OG’s…

So many experiences.

And now I am wondering about purpose, wondering why…I am here.  I have the richness of these experiences but I also am left feeling drained and cynical and a little lost.  And on top of that…I’m broke.  Why am I broke when I work this hard?  Where is all of this energy going???

In 2011, I wrote 11 grants.  11 grants.  Even if I was successful in every single one of those grants (which I was not), I still can’t believe I clocked that many hours of my life explaining why these movements should be invested in.  I spent hours explaining and contorting and re-articulating rather than doing and imagining and reflecting and creating.  When did I get stuck in the Non-Profit Industrial Complex?

I thought I would have to choose between the corporate world and the grassroots world, but my grassroots world has been co-opted by corporate culture and corporate frameworks — without the accompanying dollars.  This way of working makes me feel like a punk.  So why am I doing this again?  Why am I broke again?  How can I afford to be broke when I am currently going through a quarter-life crisis and have Ricky Neckles‘ words repeating over and over again in my head:

“Failure is not an option when you are your mother’s retirement plan.”

Real talk.

Failure is not an option when your mother and your grandmother and your grandfather travelled across the ocean to create a better life for you.  When my grandparents STRUGGLED and worked in factories and cleaned buses to create a better life for me.  When my mother sacrificed the discovery of her own dreams for a better life for me.  When I saw my mother struggle and get back up, struggle and get back up – when she personifies the layers of painful and enduring strength that it took to allow me to be in this place in this moment.  Failure is not an option. I promised my mother that I would take care of her when I get older.  Failure is not an option.

So now…how do my 19 year old activist self and my 22 year old educator/coordinator self and my 24 year old artistic self and my 26 year old don’t want to be broke and feeling like a punk self re-define what it means to be successful?  What is the new vision?

***Recommended Reading: The Revolution will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, Edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence***

Dedicated to the era created in the city of Toronto by a visionary group of young people.  There will be books and movies inspired by the era we created.  I am sure of it.

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“I Never Knew There Was A Love Like This Before”: The Politics of Imagining Love

The other night I was speaking to one of my best friends about the politics of how we understand and see what love and loving can look like when it comes to romantic relationships.

I began reflecting on how challenging it is for me to consider the diverse ways that love can look because I feel consistently bombarded with 1 or 2 “ideals” and subconsciously get stuck in these boxes.  My love of R&B as a pre-teen left me bombarded with memorized lyrics that told me with unwavering repetition what love definitely looked like:

“I’m saving all my love for you-it was love at first sight-you’re my wifey-you’re all the man i need-There’s no air, no air-I can’t live without you-Ain’t too proud to beg-I have nothing, nothing, NOTHING, if I don’t have you-I’ll never tell a lie-I’m down on bended knees-I’m all cried out-to the end of the road…etc., etc.”

Added to the R&B indoctrination was the same story being told by Hollywood, Bollywood AND Nollywood…and corporate advertisements and magazines and family members; the expectation that everyone desires a particular kind of relationship.  This relationship more often than not happened only between young people, (if you were older than 40 you were definitely already married – “old” people don’t date!) was rooted in monogamy, eventually would lead to a bended knee proposal, which would result in an over the top wedding, and some kids (maybe a dog) and lasted (fingers crossed) “until death do you part.”

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this concept of love.  There can be so much beauty found within elements of what I described above and the truth is, I do desire and imagine many of them (in my own version) for myself.

However the thing that troubles me is the assumption that this “formula” is what everyone “should” want.  And worse, is the bombardment that compels so many to believe that this is the ONLY form that love can exist within – thereby limiting our capacity to imagine all the many ways that love can look and blinding us from potential opportunities of love.

I wanted to share some of my recent inspirations of love and processes of loving that generally don’t get described in R&B songs or included in the advice columns of Cosmopolitan:

Example #1: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

“I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life. And would continue to be, up to the moment she died, 27 years later.” – Diego Rivera

I am fascinated by the legendary love between Mexican visual artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  Tumultuous? Definitely.  Passionate? Beyond. They were married, divorced and re-married.  They possessed a powerful and passionate love for each other but also inflicted a lot of hurt on each other.  Challenged with the concept of monogamy as a pre-requisite of marriage, Diego and Frida both had affairs throughout their relationship; Frida had affairs with men and women that include artists such as Josephine Baker and political activists such as Leon Trotsky.  Diego had affairs with numerous women, including Frida’s younger sister (hence the divorce). They also supported each other in their artistic growth and nurtured a strength that both recognized was a result of their love. They lived in a home divided into two buildings (one for each of them) that was connected by a bridge; recognizing early on the space that each individual needed (see image below).

Love as passion. Love as intensity.

“I cannot speak of Diego as my husband because that term, when applied to him, is an absurdity. He never has been, nor will he ever be, anybody’s husband.” – Frida Kahlo

Example #2: Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell

“With you Mary,” he said today “I want to be just like a blade of grass, that moves as the air moves it – to talk just according to the impulse of the moment.  And I do.” – Khalil Gibran from Mary Haskell’s Journal, January 10th, 1914

I am reading Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet like it is a reference manual for life right now…and my curious mind took me on a journey to investigate what brought him to these reasonings and revelations.  It was through this investigation that I learned of Mary Haskell.

Kahlil Gibran.  The internationally renowned philosopher and artist. Mary Haskell.  The lesser known headmistress and lover of art.  Two individuals who  never publicly expressed or defined a love that lasted a lifetime. For over 20 years they wrote intimate letters to each other documenting a relationship that was rooted in artistic and intellectual support and growth.  He made her the inspiration and muse to many of his written and visual works and she invested money, ideas and editing skills to support his artistic development.  Later in life she chose to marry another individual, but the intimate letter-writing correspondence between she and Gibran ceased only upon his death.

Love as intimacy.  Love as inspiration.

“…if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Example #3: Gail Marquis and Audrey Smaltz

“She said, ‘I have a marvelous new person!’ ” said Eddie Alfaro, Ms. Smaltz’s longtime hair colorist. “I said, ‘What’s his name?’ And she said, ‘It’s a her!’ I said, ‘Are you happy?’ She said, ‘I’ve never been happier!’ ” – from the article ‘Vows: Gail Marquis and Aurdrey Smaltz’

This third example is a lot more contemporary and a lot less famous.  I read an article about this couple in The New York Times and I simply loved it.  In my life, I am surrounded by single Black women or unhappily married Black women. Reflecting on this has led to recent repetitive ranting about how much I wish we lived in a society where love was not defined in a tiny box so that these women could open themselves up – even for a moment – to the possibility of exploring other potential forms and experiences of love.  Stories like this give me hope:

Two African-American women.  Both successes in their own right.  Both over 6 feet tall. One is 57 years old and the other is 74 years old.  One identified as straight and one identified as queer.  They met with little expectation.  They connected with open energy.  They fell in love…and went with it.  Beautiful.

Love as faith in the unexpected. Love as “never too late.”

“She’s my life partner, my lover, my Sweetheart Gentle Giant,” – Audrey Smaltz

Please share your examples (if any) of love that challenges the “formula” 🙂

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Revolutionary Love, Revolutionary Courage and Revolutionary Joy

The roots of rap music can be found in numerous locations and one them is definitely in the church: that pastor-on-the-pulpit style of oration that is found in so many churches rooted in the African American community has the rhythm, cadence, rhyme and style of so many Hip Hop freestyles. Dr. Cornel West takes that style and spits so much knowledge in this recent speech made on the 30 year anniversary of Mumia Abu Jamal‘s incarceration.

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