Tag Archives: Lost Lyrics

Dying of Thirst

“When the lights shine off and it’s my turn to settle down my main concern, promise that you will sing about me.  Promise that you will sing about me.” – Kendrick Lamar

I don’t have kids.  My closest understanding of the depth of love, responsibility, vulnerability and strength that comes with parenting is teaching.  In the first years of Lost Lyrics I often felt like a very young and very nervous parent…i made a lot of mistakes, I over-thought everything, I second-guessed all my decisions, I took things way too personally and I was overwhelmed by the amount of love I felt for these little people.  Some of those things haven’t changed much.  The kids in that first year who trusted this program that didn’t have a name, didn’t have catered food, didn’t have bus tickets, didn’t have a curriculum but came each week anyway and helped us build all of those things things have a very special place in my heart. I can easily say that I probably learned more from all of those early kids than they learned from me.

I made so many mistakes.  I thank the universe for their trust as they taught me about patience, about creativity, about consistency and commitment, about the need for fun and silliness.  They also challenged my understandings of community, my respect for the wisdom of children and the way I conceive discipline and practice justice.

Today is one of those days where I can easily drown in an ocean of regrets.  Thinking the impossible thoughts of if I had done this differently, then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be here right now wiping the tears from my cheeks.

I regret that I didn’t keep calling the students who stopped coming, keep checking on them, keep letting them know that I was there…after a while I stopped saying I was there because it would have been a lie.  I wasn’t and couldn’t be there for everyone and I wasn’t and couldn’t be there all the time.  I  was burned out and wanted to be selfish for a while.  “For a while” got longer and longer.  I stopped teaching in Jane-Finch and let funding determine whether programming would and could continue because I was tired and didn’t want to be broke anymore. I regret the reality that kids who at one point were my little homies who would easily share the dramas of their day, their dreams of the future, their quirky mannerisms that made them individuals and their fear of the unknown, later became acquaintances because the distance between us got larger without the space of programming to connect us consistently.  I regret that I do not give more support to the people in my life who do this work on levels that are unfathomable to me because for them it is not work, it is life but I see that life weighing  down so heavily and without reprieve and I worry about their health – physically, mentally and spiritually. I regret that I feel this overwhelming amount of responsibility because we are still not investing in building communities where this responsibility is shared between all members.

I could easily drown in this ocean of regrets.  But then I recall that a very wise Lost Lyrics parent once told me that regret is the most useless emotion in the book.  And  so I quickly swim back up, taking deep breaths as I break to surface.

My eyes are sore from crying. One of those students was shot last night.  He did not survive.  He was 15 years old.

His death is the 5th death in my life in the last year. I am trying slowly to develop strategies for healing during these really challenging times and also strategies for healing when the times are a little better but the trauma still sits in various spaces within my body.  Ongoing practices of self-care are helping.  The structured life that the return to school initiated has been incredibly positive as I balance intellectual life with gym life and more recently my creative life as I return to writing.  Time to teach, time to be with family, time to be with my partner, time to be with friends…still figuring it all out…but it’s getting better.  However in these unplanned, unscheduled moments of intense pain…I haven’t figured out too many strategies.  Today Natasha mentioned the importance of rituals in our healing process. I told her and Obie that over the past year I have slowly and unintentionally begun developing a playlist of music for these times.  From Nina Simone’s cover of “Here comes the Sun” to Lola Bunz’ “So Sick of all the RIP’s” playing this soundtrack of passing, pain and healing as I sit, cry, pray, reflect and meditate is one very small ritual that I am creating.

I agree with Tasha.  More rituals are needed.

Last fall while attending a funeral I witnessed a moment of one kind of healing and ritual that I am yearning for.  Following a very dramatic sermon describing Jesus’ crucifixion and the last words of the men who were crucified on either side of him, the minster asked the young people in attendance to step forward if they would like Jesus to remember them.  At first there was a stillness as no one moved.  However that stillness was broken when one young man in a fitted cap and sunglasses took the initiative to step forward. He beckoned to his friend, “Let’s go.”  That was all it took for what felt like hundreds of young men and women to leave the pews and move forward, encircling the coffin as they approached the altar.  As they congregated, elder parishoners surrounded them, put their hands on their shoulders, on their backs, on their arms and on their heads and prayed for their souls and sang for their spirits.  And as they sang it was as though a tidal wave burst forth as young people rocked and fell and lowered their heads and cried and cried and cried, bodies of young men and women shaking while the elders continued to hold them…still singing, still praying, not letting them fall.  The moment ended abruptly when the minister awkwardly attempted to take this time to increase his membership by circulating a church sign-up sheet.  The young people scattered as quickly as they had come, wiping their wet cheeks and exiting a room pulsating with pain and vulnerability exposed.  The moment ended but the moment was witnessed. And it stays with me.  I think of it each time I hear Maya Angelou’s voice at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s “Dying of Thirst.”

I wonder if these same elders were to see these young people in the street if they would feel compelled to go to them.  I wonder if those young people if approached on the street would be open to receive them.  We are struggling to deal with all of this trauma.  I know I am struggling.  We need our elders.  We need them to not judge us but to hold us up.  We need a laying on of hands.  And it cannot only be in the church.  And it cannot only be at funerals.

To end, I want to share a Facebook status that my friend Rakhi Mutta put up on January 23rd of this year.  Her sincere public affirmation and acknowledgement of a very under appreciated community of people is yet another ritual of healing that I have witnessed and truly appreciate.  Let’s keep developing these rituals:

“Community workers/child n youth workers/artists/activists/educators/change seekers & change makers …

For answering calls at all hours and for never turning off your personal cellphones because you know your “clients” lives don’t shut down at 5pm. For waiting in emergency rooms and jail waiting rooms. From courtroom visits to psychiatric ward visits. For every funeral you’ve ever attended and for every weekend 7am conference you have ever attended. For being over worked and under paid. For working contract to contract with no benefits because the gov’t doesn’t deem your job valuable enough. For every grant you’ve written that wasn’t funded, every article you wrote that wasn’t published, any art you created that wasn’t celebrated because it wasn’t mainstream enough. For not turning away participants who didn’t live in the catchment area and for not discarding participants from programs at the one year mark because some funder told you to do so. For running programming from the overdraft of your bank account and for struggling to find a way to be fed and to do the work.

For cradling victims of abuse and victims of violence in your arms, for listening to countless stories of hurt, pain, anguish, abuse, violence and discrimination. For feeding hungry children and youth when you live paycheck to paycheck. For letting young people seek shelter in your homes because the city has waiting lists. For the countless nights you have stayed awake worrying about your participants because everybody knows that your feelings don’t shut off when you step off work property. For every tear you have ever wiped, every hand you have ever held, and for every smile you brought to someones face. For all the thank you’s you never received, for all the vicarious trauma you silently dealt with and for all the broken hearts and broken bones you helped heal. Finally for all the sleepless nights you laid awake wondering if the work you were doing made any difference at all …

This is my thank you to you. For making the world a better place then you found it, for being the change you want to see, for providing opportunities that were never provided to you. For your labour of love not labour for paycheck, for being on the front line of the movement not the arm chair revolutionary. Our approaches to our work may be different, our philosophies may not always align and our lenses unique but it is the diversity of the colours in the rainbow that makes it beautiful. You are the true soldiers of change, and for that I salute you.” – Rakhi Mutta

For Auntie Marie. For Curlz. For Kim.  For Tyson.  For my student.


Filed under Personal

Knowledge is Power: Asking the Right Questions

Knowledge is Power is a mobilized and conscious attempt to combat and re-articulate the stories of communities that have been targeted, vilified and simplified by mainstream institutions of power in the city of Toronto.  We recognize that our work is part of a larger attempt to address the violence, trauma and need for healing.  We are young people, elders, artists, activists, students, educators…human beings…demanding accountability.” 


My mum made me write this.  I came home last week exhausted and tired telling her about the traumatic cartoons and the insensitive mayoral comments that were being tweeted and retweeted on my Twitter news feed and how people were calling, calling, calling for a response.  My mum just looked at me and said, “Well yeah.  You better respond!” In that look and in that statement she called me out.  Called me out of the lethargy and complacency and ego-tripping I often nestle myself into where I think I am already doing so much, and I don’t have energy to do this right now or feel inadequate or wary of the celebrity-ism that these incidents can create in the individuals that do choose to speak.  My mum made me remember that this isn’t a question.  I have the privilege of literacy and education and critical awareness and leverage and platform and space for reflection that many of my ancestors did not have before me.  This is not a question.  It is a responsibility.  For all of us.  They have silenced us through Facebook and Twitter and BBM to believe that activism can be summed up in a 4-sentence status or a 140 character tweet.  It can start there…those places can move things…but it cannot end there.

On Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 Lost Lyrics celebrated our 5-Year Anniversary across the street from the Eatoncentre at Ryerson University.  As our incredible keynote speaker, Dr. Darrick Smith wrapped up the final answer in a Q&A that had the entire audience pulsating with energy, inspiration and belief in revolutionary change…

…I received a text that there had been a shooting at Eatoncentre.

It’s funny what those messages do; they so rapidly impact your mind, body and spirit.  Breathing either stops or becomes short.  All the hundreds of thoughts whizzing through the mind slow down and focus to those words facing you on a strangely lit LCD screen.

This feeling was replicated one too many times last week as I got the phone call, read the text, saw the tweets and re-tweets of each shooting and act of bloody violence that has occurred in this city.  And just as my breath starts coming back and my body realizes that it can still move, and I start shifting into information-gathering/support/coordination/retreat/distraction mode, I am hit once again.  This second hit comes from a press conference with the police chief or the cartoon section of the newspaper or the statements made by the mayor, or the tweets made by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, or articles on Hennessy and Hip Hop’s intimate connection with Toronto gun violence or angry editorials published by irresponsible publications.

In order to shoot someone, I would imagine that there has to be a capacity of silencing humanity – your own and the potential victim.  This capacity to silence the layers and complexities and nuances of humanity is strangely replicated in the “official” responses of mainstream media, politicians and police officials and the general public as they forget the human beings behind the stories.

Contrary to the stories we are being bombarded with, please know: It took A LOT to get us to this place and it will take A LOT to get us past it.

I can confidently say that to move forward, what we do not do is comfort ourselves with falsehoods.  In his first public statement following Monday’s shooting in Scarborough, Mayor Rob Ford declared that Toronto is the safest city in the world.  To this I ask, “to whom is this city safe?”  Perhaps if you are a straight, white, heterosexual male with economic privilege and political power, this city is the epitome of safe.  However there are thousands of folks – women-identified, racialized, LGBTQ Spectrum folks, persons with disabilities, youth, newcomers, Aboriginal people and more – who walk these streets feeling unsafe every single day.

I also have a strangely familiar feeling that radio debates and “city-under-fire” news specials with city police and apparent leaders of the “Black community” will lead to little more than a scavengers grab for any crumbs that may emerge as pressure rises.  Don’t get me wrong: telling our stories from our voices is so incredibly and vitally important.  Responding to the garbage that is disseminated everyday by mainstream media is very very necessary and some amazing work has already been done in this regard by writers such as Simon Black, community mobilization in response to the Toronto Star cartoon and interviews with frontline workers who give layered and complex responses by the CBC.  But this is just reflex. It is a reaction (and defense) to the bullshit.  It is not transformative.  And it cannot be.  Because it is limited by a structure of storytelling defined by sound-bites and segments and word counts that too often ask the wrong questions in the search for the quick (and sensational) answers.

Things are not going to get better if we keep asking the wrong questions and looking for quick and fast responses.

I just finished reading Andrea Smith’s book “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide” and my mind feels like it is going to explode with understanding of the layered web of context that has brought us to this current place.   The young people directly involved in this violence are not “things.” You cannot silence their humanity by calling them “thugs” and “gang members.” They are individuals who consciously or unconsciously are manifesting the mess that has been created by a culture of violence, power, capitalism, conquest, genocide, exploitation and rape.  Our entire global economic order and particularly the economic order of North America is built upon a legacy of violent death and exploitation.

Yes I did go there, because that’s where we are.  And people don’t want to read this answer.  They want to hear that this can be solved by more police, or more programs, or deportation, or banning guns.  Sorry.  It took a lot to get us here and it will take a lot to get us out.  It took a global economic system that normalizes exploitation, a military industrial complex that naturalizes a permanent state of war, a prison industrial complex that locates certain bodies as permanently criminalized and an education system that (as Darrick Smith reminded us) has lost the root of it’s very essence.  The root of the word education is “to educe” – to bring out – but in our current system, education has become mired in a web of inculcating and “inducing” young people into passive, non-critical and non-resistant individuals.

There is a contradiction in relying upon the state to solve problems it is responsible for creating.” – Andrea Smith

The answers cannot be found through the same channels and mechanisms that brought us here.  Whether it is state-funded police or state-funded programs, the state cannot and will not bring us social transformation. Let’s be clear: Social transformation is what we’re talking about.  And how can the state fund a transformation that will fundamentally question its very existence and mode of being?

Although I appreciate the mobilization this banner can bring, the core of the issue is not banning guns.  If it’s not guns, it’s a machete as was also evidenced this past week.  The Stolen from Africa movement articulated it succinctly: “Banning guns won’t stop violence.  Changing mindsets will.” We have to ask, how did we get to this place where a person’s humanity can be reduced to nothing?  And we can ask this question to all who dehumanize: the shooter that pulled the trigger, the Toronto police that fill out profile cards, the judge that moves robotically through case after case, the elder watching the television demanding that they lock up all these thugs who look like their grandsons, the mayor who brings up ludicrous calls for deportation, the cartoonist that creates work geared to traumatize under the guise of freedom of expression, the journalist who bombards the funeral with insensitive and triggering questions, the contributor who writes an editorial that labels human beings as things.   Society has normalized dehumanization and so society needs to be transformed.

My personal politics is based on faith in the capacity of education and art to truly move and transform.  I believe that art can inspire and education can transform and together revolution can be built.  I am not sure what Mayor Rob Ford was referring to when he described his disgust for “hug-a-thug programming.”  But I do know that the non-profit industrial complex can make it easy for activists to become bureaucrats.  It is easy to get caught in the cycle of twisting and contorting what was once a dream into the narrow and confined objectives of a funder and convince yourself that change can occur through “teaching skills” and teaching our young people how to participate in society – conveniently pushing aside the inconvenient knowledge that this society is built on violence, exploitation and individualistic and oppressive conceptions of power.  Nothing will fundamentally change with this strategy.

As my bestie and the co-founder of Lost Lyrics, Natasha Daniel is always telling me: “We have to think outside of the box…”

Lost Lyrics Students at the Angel March

…I am interested in teaching young people how to recognize, critically analyze, resist and create.  I am asking myself, with the privilege I hold as a facilitator, an educator, a writer and an artist – what type of human beings am I trying to help create through my work?  Who am I sending back into society, into our communities when they are done with my class? With my program? Watching my play? Reading my essay?  How am I working every single day on this goal of transforming society?  What capacity to change society do you possess in your everyday roles?  How do we strategically mobilize under this shared intention?

Let’s start asking the right questions.



Filed under 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.


Filed under Politics

Reflections on Hip Hop Authenticity: Giving Props to the Jane and Finch Female Cypher

When my best friend Natasha Daniel and I started Lost Lyrics back in 2007, we described ourselves as an “alternative education through Hip Hop” movement.  Since then we have expanded our scope to include a variety of arts-based tools of learning.  However when we were using that tag line, we would get challenged left, right and centre over whether we were “authentic” enough to be leading a movement that was based in Hip Hop. Countless numbers of men would approach us all the time and “test” our knowledge of the culture, creating all of these universal benchmarks that if we did not reach, then we were not “allowed” to name ourselves as part of Hip Hop.

Example: “Real talks, if you don’t know the lyrics to every single track on 36 Chambers, then I don’t know if you should be teaching the yutes about Hip Hop.”

It became even more consistent when I started working at The Remix Project .  I was the only woman working in a full-time position at this organization that at the time was dubbed “the old boys club”.  Since then, other women have been hired and the organization has grown immensely in a variety of ways, but that first year was all about testing: testing from fellow staff members, participants, graduates, mentors…testing to prove that I was “worthy” of occupying this space.

I have never named myself as a Hip Hop Head…but I am definitely invested and lay claim to this culture; this culture informs my politics, my art, my way of life.  The very fact that me and Tash had the audacity/courage/ovaries to believe that we can build a movement from the ground up based in our own stories and the stories of our students IS HIP HOP.  I am now confident enough to refute the attempts of any individual to define what my authenticity within Hip Hop is – regardless of how many albums they own, concerts they have gone to, articles they have written, or “temples” they have created.

I hold my own…but there are still spaces that remain elusive for me.

I am thankful that I grew up in the Queen Latifah-TLC-Aaliyah-Foxy Brown-Lauryn Hill generation. I know that the swag of these ladies helped me to shape my own layered and complex construction of femininity in Hip Hop and the world at large.  I consistently borrowed from their who you calling a bitch-crazy, sexy, cool-age ain’t nothin but a number-Il Na Na-Ex-Factor-sensuality  as I tried to navigate and define who I was in my style, my relationships and my sexuality.

BUT it still took me 8 years after high school to break my freestyling virginity and step into a cypher for the first time.  Even (or perhaps especially) as an adult, there remained so much anxiety around whether this was a space I was allowed to/able to access and whether I was “authentic” or “skilled” enough to hold it down.  That anxiety still exists to some degree.

I really wish that when I was in middle school, or high school or that even in 2007 when we were first starting Lost Lyrics, that I had seen footage like this: basement garage footage of really young ladies just a few blocks away from my home not proving themselves but BEING THEMSELVES, holding their own space and telling their own stories, without apology…and doing it with so much swag 🙂

Thank you to the ladies of the Jane and Finch Cypher: I’m definitely inspired.


Filed under Poetry

Amandla’s 2011 Recommended Holiday Gift Guide!!!

***[NOTE: This post was featured in the December 22nd, 2011 Sway Magazine Online Article, Think Outside of the Gift-Giving Box]****

This post is inspired by the “Favourite Things” episodes Oprah used to do (yes, I do love Oprah) and a recent Facebook Status made by my friend Kim Crosby encouraging people to support community artists when shopping for the holidays.  I am borrowing some of Kim’s ideas plus adding a few goodies of my own based on the amazing experiences I have had and artists I have connected with over the past year (and change).  It is a blessing to say that I know and am connected to each of the spaces, businesses and artists on this list.

Whether you are looking for a majestic signature art piece for the bestie that just moved into his new spot, self-help tips for that rebellious teenage niece, a quirky statement accessory for your off-the-wall homegirl, burlesque classes for the aunt who suppressed secret dreams of being a dancer or music to add to a personalized mixtape for a loved one…i feel like this list has something for you!

Included in this Image: Stolen from Africa t-shirt, Lost Lyrics Revolution Street Mixtape, San Myguel Mixtape, Quentin Vercetty print "Tikar Elder", One Day Soon by Ian Kamau, Be More Than Just a Dime by Odeen Eccleston and Africa ring by New Nostalgia

What do these all share in common? Everything on this list is connected to the Tdot, they are all rooted in communities I identify with, and they all emanate beautiful energy in some form or another 🙂


Odeen Eccleston's Self-Published Self-Help Book "Be More than Just a Dime"


Without Further Adieu by Ashton Martin





Burlesque Classes with Dainty Smith


Filed under Personal