afropunk bk: activism row looks to the future

August 26, 2018
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On the outskirts of AFROPUNKs Black stage, tucked just behind the ornate shopping stalls of the Spinthrift Market sits the heart of the historic festival’s mission of Black persistence.

This year, the organizations welcomed to Activist Row had futurity on their minds. From wellness groups displaying public art that addresses psychological trauma to not-for-profit innovation centers wherein youth and working class people are politically activated, the strategies exchanged at the fest this year are practical, thoughtful, and wide-ranging.

We spoke with representatives from the Equal Justice Initiative, FOKUS, and the Black Futures Lab about why AFROPUNK’s theme of resistance is particularly significant this year and got their two cents on how to make sure Blackness persists into the future.

 By Tirhakah Love For AFROPUNK

photo by Florian Koenigsberger

Equal Justice Initiative: Jonathan Kubakundimana & Elliot Spillers

JK: “AFROPUNK is a celebration of Blackness that resonates with me in a deep way. I’ve lived in a lot of places and what strikes me is that you’re able to be yourself so freely.”

photo by Florian Koenigsberger

JK: “AFROPUNK is a place where we have community. In creating community we can organize ourselves around issues and push ourselves forward. I love history and the people who remain hopeful, you know. We have to get closer to the communities that are dealing with those issues most readily. AFROPUNK makes a space for that. You come into space like this and realize Blackness is expansive.” 

photo by Florian Koenigsberger

JK: “Something our director says that really touched me, ‘Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists.’ It’s very easy to feel hopeless like this won’t be something we’ll be able to do. It’s work to actually be hopeful. That’s why I love the narrative and memory work because you realize the strength is within us.”

photo by Florian Koenigsberger

Black Futures Lab: Principal – Alicia Garza (center)

AG: “We work to make Black people powerful in politics. We call ourselves an innovation lab, we don’t have all the answers. If people had the answers we’d be free. The vibe of this festival is the same vibe we’re trying to bring. The hashtag for us this year is, #TheFutureIsBlack. We work to create a place where everyone is accepted. My entire team is queer. We try to build a space where everyone feels safe and with dignity.”

photo by Florian Koenigsberger

AG: “Our first project is the Black Census project and we’re talking to 200K people and using the data to impact laws and cities in states across sex, class, gender, and disabilities. We worked with a number of celebrities like Ava DuVernay and Rashida Jones to tweet and post.”

photo by Florian Koenigsberger

AG: “Our next project is called Black to the Future where we’re training Black people to turn their ideas into legislation. We’re trying to counter the narratives that Black people are just any one thing. “

photo by Florian Koenigsberger

FOKUS: Executive Director Atiba Edwards 

AE: “The purpose of FOKUS is to use the arts to connect different identities. The idea is that art makes us human. Healing takes work. For our communities, Black and brown communities, mental health is still a scary thing. We just want people to acknowledge that this health takes work. You have to take stock in yourself and sometimes you have to be the answer you’re looking for.”

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AE: “We work with postcards because it’s an analog method. And it’s shown that people who write, you remember it more. That’s why we have these prompts, we post them publicly to make sure that we stay accountable. We want folks to be publicly accountable to their health. My approach to mental health isn’t to beat people over the head with it, we just have to be intentional.”

AE: “We have to take care of ourselves. We have to understand that offering a hand to help doesn’t mean that we receive. We have to move in love and take action. Not just change your avatar. I think it’s just acknowledging that we are an endangered species and the only way to survive is to care for each other. By any means necessary. There’s a notion of tryna help everybody else out and then protect our communities. We are under threat but we have to be ready to take action.”