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Practicing Freedom with Amanda Alexander

Amanda Alexander is the founding Executive Director of the Detroit Justice Center. How Black women have built movements and cultivated joy by Amanda Alexander


ZAK: One of Amanda's nieces is named Fiona, or Fio. And Fio is the inspiration for all the advice Amanda is gonna share this week.

AMANDA: S o this was last summer when people had taken to the streets in the wake of the calling of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor and Tony McDade and Elijah McClain and so many people. And I had gone to a rally that was called by some brave, young organizers here in the city of Detroit and they were calling for police free schools. So they were demanding that all of the funding for police be cut by next here. And Mo and I were there with her daughter, Fiona, who is now almost 2 years-old and we were leaving the rally and Mo turned to me and just said, you know, in the face of everything that's going on. All of the misery and trauma and everything that we're up against, how do you stay focused on joy and possibility and liberation? And the second part to her question was, how can I raise Fiona with that sense of possibility? And I certainly can't give parenting advice. I'm not a parent. I wouldn't presume to do that. But I did think there might be some things I could share with Fiona directly. So I decided after giving her what felt like a throwaway answer, I promised to give it more thought and sat down and spent some time with old journals thinking back on what are some of these practices that feel second-nature to me now that are so part of how I live. What is there that I could pass on to Fiona as she's coming up? And what could be useful to her and to folks in her generation.

ZAK: Amanda's letter to Fiona was first published in the Boston Globe on February 11th. The headline is, How Black Woman Have Built Movements and Cultivated Joy. And so all week Amanda and I are gonna dig in to that letter and talk about some of the advice that she shared with Fiona which I think is also very relevant to you and me. Today's advice, practice your freedom.

AMANDA: So this one I wanted to let Fio know that even-though we are fighting to be free, we also have to practice our freedom now. Most weeks I'll take a tech Sabbath so I just put my phone away and laptop away and I sit down in the morning at my dining room table and I write out a list and at the top of the page I write, TODAY I WANT. And then I listen. I want to make it clear this is not a to-do list. This isn't a list of things I should do but it's a list of things that if I really listen deeply to my gut and to my intuition, it's what I want. Today I want to be by the water or I want to take a walk through tall trees or I want to hear my friend's voice. And it keeps me in the habit of being guided by my intuition and making sure that I know what I want and I know what it feels like to practice my freedom and making sure there's a distinction between that and the imposition of someone else's will. And I got this idea after reading Lorraine Hansberry's list she had written back in 1960. She would write a list of her likes and hates. Things like, I love Mahalia Jackson's music. I like my husband most of the time. I like dressing up. And what stuck me was how well she knew her interior world. As a Black, queer woman in the 50s and 60s and I just really admired that and I wondered, do I know myself that way? Do I know how I feel most free? So I wanted to challenge myself to do that every week and to stay in that practice and to know what feels good to me. How I want to move through the day and by knowing that I can then communicate what I feel, what I want and what I need and it helps me show up in my relationships better.

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