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Putting Us Back Together Again: Home & Reparations

By 651 ARTS on May 15, 2017

This blog post is written by DeeArah Wright, Co-Director of JACK.

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze….  I’m not sure when I first heard this line as child in my Tennessee home, or whether it was Nina Simone or Billie Holiday whose voice I first heard utter this memory, this brutal, poetic witnessing, this steady warning.  I do know that it stuck to me…stuck to my skin.  Any time I hear this line or replay it in my mind, I feel that she, the courageous black woman singing—Nina, Billie, or my inside self—is daring me to feel the complicated truth of who I am and where I Be.  My ancestors and I, we the people of the sun, the people who could fly…our beauty and power inspire awe.  And, the broken people have worked to aggressively and passively silence us in their inability to see and heal themselves.

It is therefore paramount and a perpetual act of liberation for me to be at home in my Black female body, in my family, and in whatever places and spaces I choose to be and thrive. My lifework is rooted in Black self-determination, vision, objectives, and practice. Yet, I also move with faith in collaboration and cooperation.  For the good of all peoples, it’s up to a critical mass of us to look at ourselves and the strange fruit that is born of broken people as a call to individual and collective action.  This call to action requires us to be willing to embark on wholeness.  Reparations, or atonement and amends for the past and current atrocities toward peoples of African descent, is one of many endeavors that, in process alone, can model healthier ways we can co-create wholeness and home.

Since 2016, Alec Duffy and I, as Co-Directors of JACK, have been collaboratively shaping and developing Reparations365—a year-long immersive series that launched in February 2017.  Through the series, we explore how we, a small and mighty group of people who show up, can work together to decide what reparations means to us, what our next steps involve, and how we plan to move through those steps with attention to creativity, accountability, and healing.  The series includes performances, interactive arts experiences, community conversations, residencies, workshops, and a People’s Think Tank—a pop-up research initiative that will gather, assess, and synthesize through the course of the year in order to creatively offer insight and tangible next steps.  Reparations365 is a guided unfolding—a risky collaboration of the willing to see what happens when we create, dialogue, be honest, challenge, vision, and move forward in “mixed company” in the direction of reparations.

to make ready again
Dancers Italy B. Welton and Courtney J. Cookie in “to make ready again” by Marguerite Hemmings as part of Reparations365, February 2, 2017. Photo By Ed Forti.

The terrorism against black and brown bodies, minds, spirits, homes, families, communities, cultures, and civilizations has been fueled by a toxic standard of perceived rightness as Whiteness, and it permeates many ways we all seek to define home.  JACK, and therefore, Reparations365, is based in Brooklyn, where the reality of being and feeling at home is a daily trial for many folks facing displacement or cultural erasure due to gentrification.  For Black folks particularly, staying in Brooklyn has required a plethora of survival tactics not so unfamiliar to earlier generations, such as: space re-negotiations, stealth responses to prohibitive costs, outsmarting deed thieves, and resilience in the face of discriminatory housing practices.  Many are implicated in the both intentional and neglectful disregard for black people and Black culture in Brooklyn.  Reparations365 public offerings have so far yielded visioning and prospective steps that usher in as well as affirm the development of new, yet ancient, examples of exchange and cultural agreements. I am encouraged by these prospects and other aligned works that open up the possibilities for reparations on multiple levels and within various scopes, such as person-to-person or place matters.  Further, given that most of the participants so far are Brooklyn-based, there is great possibility that these works will contribute to sustaining a Brooklyn that is rich with Blackness.  Even so, I am also encouraged by what may lie within and beyond our relationships to place as we stay open to this experimental process of reparations.

So, what do you cling to?  Whiteness? Capitalism? Distrust? Brokenness?  Clinging ferociously to that which plagues us ties up our hands and compromises our ability to do the good work.  Reparations365 is an invitation to release something in the service of planting whole seeds and bearing fruit that is no longer of a strange and bitter crop.  It is an opportunity to face personal truths and examine collective beliefs, all while engaging in a process that honors who we are as individuals, what we need to release, and what we need to learn to be better together.

As a proud Black American woman of African and indigenous descent, born and raised in the American South and currently creating home in Brooklyn, New York, I will continue to define home for myself and with my kindred people by any means necessary.  And, as a spirit here on this earth that is unbridled by body, place, and time, I’m also invested in the liberation of all peoples, our wholeness, and our right to be truly at home—in our bodies and in whatever places and spaces we choose to be.

Reparations365: From Memory To Movement

Reparations365: From Memory To Movement is JACK’s year-long series of performances, workshops and discussions around the topic of distributive justice for Black Americans. Beginning in February 2017, the series will consist of at least 12 public offerings featuring a convergence of scholars, artists and activists. Through the series, participants will discover multiple ways to engage with the topic, all with an intention of offering tangible take-ways for participants and a concrete movement forward.






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