Tag Archives: sanity

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

My Layered Love for Kanye the Artist

Post written: January 5th, 12am.

Sooooo I was supposed to be editing my essay right now but instead i am following Kanye’s epic rant currently occurring on Twitter.  Why is this more important than editing an essay on the community organizing of African Diasporic women in Toronto as part of my application to Graduate School (deadline in two days)?  It’s not.  But I’m caught up.  And Kanye has inspired all of this creative energy that academia cannot currently satisfy.

The magic and twisted sickness of social media that allows you to feel connected to someone you have never ever met and probably never will…is scary…yet…boundary breaking.

It is so crazy that Kanye is ranting like this hours after I started and then deleted a post I was preparing to write about my love for him (instigated by my avid fascination with his VOYR video diaries – a behind-the-scenes look at the Watch the Throne tour).  This is a love for Kanye the Artist, not Kanye the Man.  I cannot speak on Kanye the man, because I have never met him and  maybe never will, which is totally ok. I am not particularly interested in speculating on who he sleeps with, how he feels or why he does what he does, in a gossip-column/reality-tv style which although sometimes entertaining (I am definitely guilty of watching more than a few segments of Wendy Williams’ Hot Topics) often leaves me feeling as though I lost brain cells between the time I started and the time it ended.

But I do retain the rights to my initial intention for posting.  I love Kanye.

I think it is a generally agreed upon fact that he’s a love him/hate him kind of figure in pop culture.  But I know that a lot of people – especially people who try to create simplistic categorization in Hip Hop like “conscious vs. mainstream rap” (which I hate – maybe that’s a rant for another post) – generally assume I would be on the hate him bandwagon due to my affinity/identification with Black feminism, community activism, alternative education, critical analysis, etc.

Nope. Wrong Assumption.  I love him.

The adrenaline is running…I don’t know if I can even get to sleep now…from Wall St. to the London riots to Chicago murders…I sit everyday and ask what can I do to make a difference…” – Kanye

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is a critical love.  It is a turbulent love.  It is a love that comes with pain and sometimes…a little embarrassment.  But it is also an inspiring love.  A love that can sometimes provide me with motivation.

And that to me is what makes Kanye so special.  He invokes sooo many feelings inside of me because he brings such a layered, nuanced, complex and raw way of being that I cannot compare to anyone else in current Hip Hop/popular culture. 

I mourn the departure of College Dropout Kanye and recognize with sadness that he will never and can never return to that person again.  I also screamed and rhymed along with every song until my voice was hoarse for Watch the Throne Kanye two months ago at the Air Canada Centre.

His video for Monster made me cringe and hurt inside, wondering why he would conceptualize female bodies as lifeless props and reflecting on where all of this twisted misogynistic hatred for women inside of him derives from.  However his performance of Power on Saturday Night Live left me speechless; captivated by the beauty, brilliance, passion and simplicity that he created utilizing the female form through ballet.

His infamous interruption of Taylor Swift made me embrrassed inside for him as I saw him stumble and stutter.  His interruption of Mike Myers during Hurricane Katrina made me raise a fist in the air nodding encouragement through his stumbling and stuttering and whispering affirmations of “Yes Kanye…tell them!” at my TV screen.

Kanye’s 2009 short film made with director Spike Jonze “We Were Once a Fairytale” left me feeling so sad and disturbed me for days wondering about his mental health and the risks of creating on the edge as an artist.   His 2011/2012 VOYR video diaries leave me with energy and inspiration that make me forget small things like my need for sleep as I become more comfortable answering my desire to create, create and create…

I’m on a pursuit of awesomeness.  Excellence is the bare minimum.” – Kanye

What is the purpose of an artist if not to invoke feeling? To challenge? To push? To go to the uncomfortable places and expose the beauty and the ugliness and everything in between? So much of Hip Hop and mainstream media in general is boring because it is about superficial commercial nothingness – it sold out to the institutions that continue to demand the dehumanization of the population in order to maintain our acquiescence to the status quo.  As a result FEELINGS – real feelings, real expression of the layered and raw feelings we all have all the time, feelings that push us into action and movement – they are not given space to breathe…they are dismissed as crazy…maybe it is crazy to want to feel in this world.

It’s crazy and its delusional before it comes to fruition. You always gotta see the end goal. Everything else, just fill in the blanks.” – Kanye

So yes.  I love Kanye.  It was at the Watch the Throne concert in November as I watched him run from one end of the stage to another in a black leather kilt that I realized I could no longer deny our love (yes I said our love not because I’m crazy but because I believe he has put love out and I am returning it into universal energy…and maybe because I am crazy).  Jay-Z is  a legend.  His following is cult-like and his swag is out-of-this-world-undeniable as only someone with his story can own and wear.  But Kanye…he just had me going WITH HIM.  He invites everyone to come with him on the epic emotional rollercoaster of raw creativity that is his artistry – for better or for worse.  As Shad K said on Kanye in a recent Watch the Throne Concert review: “He just cares more.”  ❤


Filed under Poetry

Excerpts from “nOTES oF a cOLOURED gIRL: 32 sHORT rEASONS wHY i wRITE fOR tHE tHEATRE” by Djanet Sears

I have never formally met Djanet Sears.  I have stared at her from a distance and smiled shyly at her…but I have not yet found the courage to approach and tell her how much her writing and her work have meant to me.  I have not yet had the privilege of seeing her work on stage, but I have read Harlem Duet and Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God.  I have few words to explain what those plays meant to me.  At the end of reading both, I felt changed – something which I always seek but rarely find in artistic experiences.  I also proudly own Volume II of the anthology she edited: Testifyin’: Contemporary African Canadian Drama, a collection which I searched for in vain at local bookstores and online (it was no longer in print) until coming across it one day when looking around a UofT bookstore under a Drama/English course that had it assigned (I have found so many out-of-print gems this way! Yes, yes I am a book nerd that spends hours searching shelves of bookstores looking for gems).  Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day grinning to myself and feeling so excited to have this incredible collection in my possession.  I still haven’t had much luck with Volume I, but I am sure it will come in due time…

These excerpts come from an introduction she did at the start of her published edition of Harlem Duet. Re-reading the play today, I was reminded of the sometimes irrational urge I feel to stifle my desire to write…why? I don’t know.  Reading and writing are the only forms of therapy that I have ever remained committed to….the process of reading and writing affirms my sanity within this (in)sane world.  It casts out the linear boxes that push me to the edge of cliffs and reminds me of circles and connectivity to deeper parts of self and soul.  It grounds me past concrete to earth, root and spirit.  In this introduction Ms. Sears’ reminds me of the urgency to follow this calling…

Excerpts from “nOTES oF a cOLOURED gIRL: 32 sHORT rEASONS wHY i wRITE fOR tHE tHEATRE” by Djanet Sears

7 She (djanet’s niece) must have access to a choir of African voices, chanting a multiplicity of African experiences.  One voice does not a chorus make.  And I will not wait.  8 I harbour deep within me tales that I’ve never seen told. 9  I too must become an organ and add my perspective, my lens, my stories, to the ever growing body of work by and about people of African descent.

12 An old West African proverb states that, as a people, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.  13 Lorraine Hansberrry is my mother – in theatre – and she accompanies me wherever I go.  14  I have been known to drop her a few lines, now and then.  15 Yes, she responds.  16 As a woman of African descent, and a writer for the stage, I stand on her shoulders.  They are a firm and formidable foundation on which to rest my large and awkward feet.

17 Acting is a craft that I have been called to by my nature.  Writing is a craft that I have chosen to nurture.  18 As a young actor, I soon realized that a majority of the roles that I would be offered did not portray me in the way I saw myself, my family, or my friends, in life.  I became consumed by my own complaining.  19 Complaining, imploring, and protesting only served to disperse my energy.

23 I have a dream.  A dream that one day in the city where I live, at any given time of the year, I will be able to find at least one play that is filled with people who look like me, telling stories about me, my family, my friends, my community.  For most people of European descent, this is a privilege they take for granted.

26 My good friend Clarissa Chandler, a business consultant, educator and motivational speaker, shared with me a process for using my nagging mind and raging heart, as a way to get back in touch with my innermost knowing and creative desires.  She identified three steps of transformation that I could use like footprints leading me back home.

27 First: identify the place of complaint (This can sometimes be evident in the complaining we do in hiding, in conversation with friends and/or in the privacy of our own minds.)  Second: Say it out loud.  Create a mantra out of it.  (Give it room in the world).  Third: locate a creative point of expression for this mantra.  28 Paint it, dance it, sculpt it, or write about it.  Why limit yourself?

30 For the many like me, black and female, it is imperative that our writing begin to recreate our histories and our myths, as well as integrate the most painful of experiences…Writing for me is a labour of love, probably not unlike the experience of giving birth.  In a very deep way, I feel that I am in the process of giving birth to myself.  Writing for the stage allows me  a process to dream myself into existence.

31 In a recent clinical study at Duke University researchers found that racist comments can not only lead directly to an overworked heart, but the internal stress caused by racism was found to tear the lining of blood vessels.  I must write to save my own life.

32 There are a great many times when I forget.  I forget why I’m doing this.  Days when the blues move from a deep cerulean to icy cold pale.  So I have the following words by Langston Hughes from “Note on Commercial Theatre,” on my wall, just above my desk, for those times when I most need reminding:










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Filed under Poetry, Theatre