‘THIS DAY, WE USE OUR ENERGY FOR REVOLUTION’ (dissertation, defended July 13, 2017)

“I want and I’m calling for a revolution, not in a very violent way. And I want to make sure people understand that. Sometimes when you say revolution, in this country, we fear that in some way that means violence. What it means is to have a plan…
Tell me six months from now that you’re still supporting this event. Tell me a year from now you are still supporting this moment. That you wake up! I like putting things out in the universe… This day, we use our energy for revolution.”

– Deon Haywood, Executive Director, Women With A Vision, Inc., Solidarity Rally for Trayvon Martin, July 14, 2013

IMG_0158“This Day, We Use Our Energy for Revolution” is a collaborative ethnography of activist persistence, which I have conceptualized, researched, and written alongside the leaders of Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV), a quarter-century old, black women-led health and social justice organization. Grounded in eighteen months of fieldwork and nearly a decade of engaged partnership, this project interrogates how two easily overlooked events have shaped the lives and organizing potentialities of WWAV’s membership: (1) On March 29, 2012, WWAV litigation successfully overturned a statute for prosecuting sex work as a “crime against nature;” and (2) On May 24, still unknown arsonists fire-bombed and destroyed WWAV’s Mid-City headquarters. By centering the continuities of struggle amid modalities of violence, this research documents WWAV’s decades work for mutual aid and social transformation, retracing their genealogies to black women organizers in the Deep South.

Interviews completed through this project are part of the “Born in Flames” oral history project, which is rebuilding the archive destroyed in the 2012 arson attack on WWAV’s offices as a resource for scholars and activists.

Committee Members:

  • Courtney Bender, Professor of Religion, Columbia University
  • John Lester Jackson, Jr., Richard Perry University Professor of Communications, Africana Studies and Anthropology, Dean of School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania
  • Josef Sorett, Assistant Professor of Religion and African-American Studies, Columbia University
  • Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought, University of Pennsylvania
  • Elizabeth Castelli, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Religion, Barnard College



faghmeda-waheedahThis project explores gender, faith and justice in a time of AIDS through the lives of two HIV-positive Muslim women: Faghmeda Miller from Cape Town, South Africa and Waheedah Shabazz-El from Philadelphia, USA. Both women were diagnosed at dire moments in the HIV/AIDS epidemics in their respective countries, and both have gone on to transform their own struggles to access treatment, care and support into public lives of meaning for thousands of others in the African diaspora and throughout the global Muslim community. As such, their stories illuminate the complex interplay between HIV vulnerability and forced removal, between women’s leadership and traditional religious authority, between public figures and private selves.

An article-length piece was published as part of Islam and AIDS: Beyond Scorn, Pity and Justice (Oneworld Press, 2009).

A peer-reviewed monograph co-authored with Farid Esack is forthcoming.



bwcThis project examines the community-level systemic dislocation caused by mass incarceration, its historic and contemporary intersections with the domestic AIDS epidemic, and the citizen movements to address these twin epidemics. As a grounded ethnography of borders, vulnerability and social death, this research takes a community of HIV-positive formerly incarcerated activists in Philadelphia as its guides, moving with them as they worked to repair the tenuous threads of communities neighborhood by neighborhood. Its interdisciplinary conclusions engage and speak back to the fields of public health, critical prison studies, and gender studies.

A peer-reviewed article-length piece was published as part of Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Cages (University of Georgia Press, 2012).