Happy Birthday to Jamii!

Happy One Year Anniversary to a sisterhood that always leaves me feeling full!

Jamii’s mission is to “create a safe and innovative space for Black women in higher education in prison through expert professional development and community building” and if you ask me, they do just that. Part of the beauty in this sisterhood is that it also welcomes Black women like me, who work in the nonprofit world and are looking for a group of our sisters to support and share space with. 

The JET (Jamii Executive Team) hosted webinars that centered on the experiences of Black women – educators, mothers and otherwise, their challenges in higher education in prison (HEP) and what it means to be resistant in carceral spaces. And if I am honest, I was not sure if I knew what I was getting myself into! We came together for five different sessions and signing onto the first session and hearing a selection by Kendrick Lamar should have been my first clue that I was getting ready to be educated by women who stood firm in their Blackness, unapologetically.

There was so much that I walked away with after these sessions, but I’ll spare you my notes line for line and only share a few takeaways.

Black women’s very existence is a form of protest. A statement that I have been carrying with me since that first session, Black Women in Higher Education in Prison. It became etched into my mind and serves as a reminder while working in family and community services. When the conversations about race and equity, bias and access are danced around, it is my existence and my presence in and of itself that is a form of protest in that space and I lean in using it as such. To understand how you are showing up for your students, asking whether you are doing this for them or for yourself and really diving into authentic engagement are all transferrable. Changing the language from students to family, youth and community makes it applicable to community work outside the walls. The work to decolonize should be the same, the only thing that really changes is the location of the community.

A necessary reminder given in the After the Revolution is Televised webinar, the love of a Black woman is not always kind. The way we hold our brothers, sisters and peers accountable, the way we teach, the way we advocate, none of that is always kind. Love is not a soft act, but an important one and it takes work and intention. If you are not doing it with such, then you need to take the time to evaluate why you are doing this work at all, inside the classroom or out.

Black women are in academia, in advocacy, in community organizing – we fill all of those spaces. However, the narratives about us have historically been written with whiteness at the center. A few pieces of advice given by the panel in the Tell Them We Are Not Monsters session was to push back and to work to put Black women in the seat of the theorist. We’ve heard enough of the negative stories, it’s time to use the experience and expertise of Black womanhood and its impact to tell our stories. Thank you to Dr. Tonique Mikell for letting us know “White folks have a place and it’s not in our business.”

“Black women bring the soul to the classroom. Soul being intellect, love and peace bound with strength.” A quote from panelist Kenyatta Hughes during the fourth session: We Have Time Today: Racist Theft, Erasure and Disrespect in Higher Ed in Prison. The intentional efforts made to move Black women out of carceral spaces as educators is an attempt to erase the connections and bonds between sisters, brothers, mothers, aunts, etc. Black women have always been educators that do their teaching from a place of love. That love is a language that is felt and heard and not simply read and replicated. When that is disrupted, whether it’s by pushing Black women out, or restricting or delaying student access to classes taught by Black women, it puts a strain on those bonds. But Black women don’t give up that easily when teaching and fighting for our own. As Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad said, “If they never come, I’ll still be here waiting for you.”

Before taking some time off, Jamii opened the space for Black mothers in Dear Mama: Stories of Black Mothers with Incarcerated Children. I am usually prepared to be taking notes straight through, trying to catch all of the gems that are dropped while keeping my edges from being snatched. But when Black mothers are speaking, you don’t focus as much on taking notes – you listen. A common theme we heard was that there is a silencing and shaming of mothers who claim their incarcerated children – “think about your other children/husband/family,” etc. But the mothers on the panel proudly claim their children with love because as Dr. Kim Wilson informed us, “to claim your incarcerated children is an act of resilience and defiance.”

And just as boldly as every other topic was addressed, we jumped right into whiteness and white supremacy, how they show up and impact the work and what white allies can do to proactively support Black women and people in the fight for liberation. If Whiteout is at all an indicator of what year two will give us, Jamii, I AM READY!

I am so grateful to have found this community of Black love, Black resistance and Black experience hosted by the phenomenal women of the Jamii Executive Team.

Happy One Year Anniversary!

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