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Defining the Future 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: Last summer Amanda Alexander and her friend Mo Connolly were at a protest together. It was led by students calling for Police free schools in Detroit and as they were leaving the rally, Mo asked Amanda...

MO: In the wake of everything that's going on, how do you stay focused on joy and possibility and liberation? How can I raise Fiona with that sense of possibility?

ZAK: Fiona is Mo's daughter. And though Amanda and Mo aren't actually sisters, Amanda is Fio's honorary aunt. And Mo's question got Amanda thinking a lot. She compiled her thoughts in a letter to Fiona. It was published in the Boston Globe recently and all week, Amanda and I are talking about it and the advice it contains. Like this...Define the future worth fighting for.

AMANDA: So, this is one where I try to stay very clear on what is a question worth fighting for? What is at stake? I say in the letter that there are so many well meaning people in the world who would have you believe that the question of our day is how do we end cash bail? Or, how do we keep police from shooting black people? And I think the powerful thing that our movements have shown in the last few years is it's not about demanding scraps or the basics of what we think we can win but staying focused on what is the future that we're truly fighting for. Like, what does it actually gonna take for black people to thrive and be free and so I say it's not these other questions about cash bail or police shootings, it's the same question that freedom movements have posed for generations which is how do we expand black joy and liberation and ensure that all people on the planet can thrive?

AMANDA: And lately I've been thinking of it in terms of, how can we have all the elders that we're supposed to have? I am tired of losing people in their 40s or 50s or 60s and I think it's going to take a lot for us to create the conditions where we can just delight in watching each other grow old, you know? I want to be 80 and 90 and watching each other. And I think if we stay focused on that vision and what it's gonna take in terms of the whole shift in society to get there, that to me is what it means to define the future that we're fighting for and it also means being able to define what victory is and isn't so that we know that we're not settling for something that's less than that. Or a vision that's too small. And so I shared in the letter to Fiona that, you know, Rosa Parks has been painted as an integrationist and she was always clear in her time that if wasn't about integration. That wasn't the point. It wasn't about getting to sit next to white men on the bus. The ultimate goal was to discontinue all forms of oppression against everyone who is weak and oppressed. And so when she was black listed down in Montgomery after the bus boycott, she couldn't find a job. Her husband couldn't find a job. She came up to Detroit and she spent the never several decades working on housing and economic development here in the city and building up things like the first Black-owned shopping center in the country in the early 1980s. She knew that the work was to cultivate Black freedom and to create the conditions that we would need for all us to thrive and it was simply about integrating the bus system. And I think it's that clarity of vision that probably kept her focus on the long haul of the struggle.

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