fire dreams: making black feminist liberation in the south
In production, Duke University Press, February 2024; Collectively-authored with Women With A Vision; Foreword by Deon Haywood.
Fire Dreams opens among the still-smoldering embers of a 2012 arson attack in New Orleans, Louisiana that was intended to destroy the organizing efforts of Women With A Vision (WWAV), a more than thirty-year old Black feminist collective. As all of us at WWAV reflected on the significance of this attack, we knew that fire had long been a tool of terror in the South, but it could also be a powerful force for rebirth. Through a richly polyvocal and experimental text, Fire Dreams moves with WWAV as we resurrect the deep and enduring theories for making liberation––our fire dreams––that have been steadily sheltered and protected in the land we call home. Together, we craft new analyses for understanding the lethal violence that the “racial capitalism playbook” has long wrought in our communities, and we track the ongoing labors of our region’s people to live and thrive, not just survive. Our work extends into WWAV’s own organizational history, where our foremothers pioneered groundbreaking methods of harm reduction and mutual aid for doing the work with their people in a country swept up in HIV panic and mass criminalization. And it reaches deeper still into the generations of southern Black women who have steadily organized in counter-purpose to white supremacist and misogynistic terror to build the world their people needed. The current generation of WWAV carries these histories forward unwaveringly and unapologetically: growing them in and through the movements for racial justice, reproductive justice, abolition feminism, climate justice, and others rising up around the world. In so doing, we present the community knowledge that WWAV has constructed about Black feminist persistence in the South and offer methods for transforming that knowledge into praxis. This means Fire Dreams is not simply a book to be read. It is a toolkit for making knowledge to serve the liberation of our communities, and it enjoins readers to ensuring that these otherwise worlds can take place and have a space.
We have published portions of this research in Southern Cultures (2021), the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2020), Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (2018), and Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society (2017). Oral histories and porch talks recorded through this project are part of the Born in Flames Living Archive.
abolition is sacred work
Expected manuscript completion December 2024.
The U.S. has long been particularly zealous about two things: worshipping its gods and punishing its criminals. These two things are not unrelated. To get a handle on our nation’s collective obsession with punishment, my second book project is animated by two seemingly contradictory claims: (1) Without the religious ideas and practices that give them meaning and support, prisons as we know them would be unthinkable and impracticable; (2) Religious ideas and practices also offer tremendous possibilities for imagining abolition and realizing a world without prisons. Using historical, geographic, ethnographic, and narrative methods to uncover the intersections of religion and abolition in U.S. history, this book engages readers in the practical work of imagining more just ways of doing justice. It attends first and foremost to the many and often conflicting ends to which religious ideas and practices have been put in the assemblage of our prison nation. In so doing, it also opens space for readers to feel, imagine, and reckon with the very different religious practices that everyday people––inside and outside of prison––are using on the ground to create abolitionist futures in real time and the implications of their work for us all.
I published the essay “Abolition is Sacred Work” with The Immanent Frame in 2021 to honor the labor of southern movement organizers dismantling our prison nation. It was among the top ten most read articles that year.
creating the world anew
How can we amplify work that can actualize a world otherwise? Where do we see glimmers of this world taking shape?
“Creating the World Anew” is a collaborative, public humanities project, which I have co-dreamed with Elayne Oliphant (New York University) and Daniel Vaca (Brown University). Through it, we aim to open a committed space of practice and study for exploring the role of religion in building worlds and economies beyond the violence of racial capitalism in our present. Amid new and ongoing crises, we know that mutual aid is always present. We seek to explore how religion can serve as a creative force against the violence and destruction we currently face. We take inspiration from the movements for mutual aid flourishing globally and the deep traditions in which they are rooted. We undertake this work in relationship with one another and with the understanding that the world we seek is one we must make together in real time.
making abolition archive
Launched in memory of formerly incarcerated AIDS activist, John Horace Bell, the “Making Abolition” archive is a collaborative project to grow the Florida State University Libraries’ rare books collections at the intersections of freedom, confinement, and abolition. We are focusing on zines, posters, art books, campaign materials, workbooks, and other media produced by BIPOC women, queer people, transgender people, and gender nonconforming people in prison. This archive will guide a series of political education workshops with FSU students and the broader Tallahassee community for reflecting together on what abolitionists actually do and imagining new horizons of struggle here in North Florida. Our first donation was a collection of zines and toolkits from Mariame Kaba.
a wall is just a wall
My ongoing collaborative research with the communities building abolitionist futures in real time buttresses the work of the making abolition archive. “A Wall Is Just A Wall” is a study of religious practice, forced migration, and social transformation, which moves with Chicago’s Rev. Doris Green throughout her more than three decades of work to hold together the relationships that mass incarceration would sever. Against academic portraits that rehearse the quotidian terror that our nation’s ballooning prison empire has wrought, this project asks: Why has mass criminalization not been able to destroy the communities it has been wielded against? Rev. Green’s spiritual labor to organize multigenerational Black liberation study groups with the incarcerated and their loved ones provides a migratory map of community connection, meticulously and deliberately stitched against the violence around them. Assembling these stories into a monograph and multimodal archive is work I undertake for scholars, students, and activists alike.
Portions of this research have been published in a CrossCurrents special issue on “Religion, Political Democracy, and the Specters of Race” (2019), edited by James Logan.
refusing to vanish
This project explores gender, faith, and justice in a time of AIDS through the witnesses 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 AIDS epidemics in their countries, and both have gone on to transform their personal struggles for treatment, care, and support into public lives of meaning for thousands. As such, Waheedah’s and Faghmeda’s lives and work not only shed light on the complexities of resistance in the midst of extremis; their stories also illuminate the complex interplay between HIV vulnerability and forced removal, between Muslim women’s leadership and traditional religious authority, between public figures and private selves.
A preview, “Refusing to Vanish: Muslim Women’s AIDS Activism,” was published by The Revealer for World AIDS Day 2017. Foundational research for this monograph was included in Islam and AIDS: Beyond Scorn, Pity and Justice (Oneworld Press, 2009).
the war on drugs is a war on relationships
This project examined 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 took a community of HIV-positive formerly imprisoned 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 engaged and spoke 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).