On Safety

black and white heart with small checkered inside

By: Micah Hobbes-Frazier

“One of the most difficult impacts of trauma can be a split between two essential needs: safety and connection. On the one hand people become the place of danger that you need to protect yourself from, and on the other hand people are exactly who you need to be connected to for contact, relationship and often survival and safety.”
– Generative Somatics

I think about safety a lot, both as a survivor of violence and as someone that is regularly called upon to support transformative justice interventions into violence, and community accountability processes. These are some of the things I find myself thinking about: what does real safety actually mean? what is it exactly? How do we create safety in the midst of ongoing violence? How do we maintain it over time? Especially in a world that is inherently unsafe, where violence happens all the time, and where we often don’t have access to the resources that help create immediate or long-term safety. And most pressing, what does safety actually look like when we don’t believe in throwing people away or locking them up in prisons?

Safety is one of two essential needs for us as human animals, the other being connection, and both are necessary for our continued evolution as a species. If a person giving birth does not feel (or actually isn’t) safe the biological process of labor and birth will stop. And if we are not connected to other people we won’t have the opportunity to procreate and pass on our genes. The need for safety and connection are so strong in us that pretty much everything we do is about navigating and trying to get these two needs met, especially after experiences of trauma/violence. Ideally safety and connection can exist together, meaning we are able to be safe in our connections and relationships, however, so often that is not the case. Most incidents of trauma/violence happen between people that know each other, and have some sort of connection and/or relationship. That very connection and/or relationship can also complicate the need for and attempt to gain safety.

What does safety look like if the person that was abusive/violent to you lives in the same house or same neighbourhood as you do, is in the same movement or organization as you are, or is a respected and active part of a community you are also a part of? The need for safety doesn’t disappear, however, what safety looks like in those circumstances becomes much more complicated. It is easy to think about safety as sending someone that is abusive/violent away, removing and/or banishing them from community, or putting them in prison. That is our current idea and usual practice of creating safety. However, Transformative Justice asks us to imagine what safety might look like without expulsion, without banishment, without prisons, and most importantly, in conjunction with accountability. Most studies show that accountability rarely happens outside of relationship and connection. It’s the relationship and connection that provide the support, leverage, and motivation usually necessary for real accountability. If that is true, how do we hold accountability thru connection while also holding and maintaining safety for victims/survivors? Especially if what they want and need for their safety is to not have any contact or connection with the person that was abusive/violent.

Transformative justice (TJ) and most other community accountability models, hold safety as both a core principle and a core practice of any intervention or response. TJ defines the principle of safety as “liberation from violence, exploitation, and the threat of further acts of violence”.  All Transformative Justice interventions and responses seek to create safety on three mutually reinforcing levels; individual (safety from immediate and/or future violence), community (establishing norms and practices that challenge and prevent violence, and state (shifting power dynamics and systems of oppression to prevent violence).  However, we are also forced to acknowledge that absolute safety on any of these three levels is not a static place, can never be guaranteed, and may not be possible to ever truly achieve. The reality is that given the current state of our world where abuse/violence is at epidemic rates on all three levels, especially in response to challenging power dynamics and resisting abuse/oppression, being completely liberated from the possibility and/or threat of violence may be impossible. I believe, however, that while the possibility of violence may always remain, we can create spaces where the threat of violence does not exist. I believe that safe spaces on all three (individual, community, state) are possible and necessary, although sometimes difficult to create and maintain over time.

Questions around safety force us to practice holding contradictions. However, even though the questions are sometimes complicated and we may not have all the answers, our transformative justice practice must still focus on establishing safety as a main priority for victims/survivors, and additionally for those that have perpetrated abuse/violence. This means that even in our pursuit of safety (and accountability) we will not engage in abuse or violence against those that are perpetrators abuse and violence. How we do this will depend on what is happening and/or has happened, what resources we have access to, our principles and values, and the level of accountability those that have been abusive/violent are willing to engage in. Somatic healing works with safety as being “self-generated”, meaning that our focus is on building the internal capacity for safety instead of looking to the outside world or external forces to create and maintain our own safety. Our typical reactions after trauma/violence are to seek safety by controlling our environment and/or by controlling other people and their actions.  Our survival thinking becomes: “if this person wasn’t allowed to be in this space then I would feel/be safe”, or “if that person would act in this particular way then I would feel/be safe”.  As real as this might feel and as true as it might actually be, the problem is that we don’t actually have control over other people and what they ultimately choose to do, or control over the external environment outside of our own homes (and often we don’t even have complete control over our homes, especially if we live with other people). We can make requests, and sadly those that have been abusive/violent and/or the broader community may ignore or say no to those requests. Unfortunately people that have been abusive/violent to us may continue to be in the same spaces we frequent, and may also continue to behave in ways that make us feel (and actually are) unsafe. Especially if they denied what happened, are still engaging in abusive/violent behavior, and refuse to engage in accountability. If we tie our own safety to other people and external factors that we have no real control over we may never feel and/or actually be safe. Thus we have to build and cultivate the capacity to generate safety for ourselves, or as Somatics would say we have to become “self-responsive”.

This does not in any way mean that victims/survivors are responsible or to blame for the trauma/violence they experienced. Whatever happened is not their fault, and it is crucial that we always understand that fact. Victim/survivor blaming does nothing to ensure future safety, and in fact actually detracts from it making us potentially less safe. If we focus on blaming the victim/survivor we don’t have to think about the very real issue of safety because our thinking becomes: “if the victim/survivor caused or is in some way to blame for their experience of abuse/violence, then as long as I don’t do/say/wear/act like that it can’t/won’t happen to me. Therefore I am safe”.  This type of reaction is completely normal because it provides a protective mechanism that shields us from feeling the fear, uncertainty, and lack of control that trauma and violence bring. It keeps us from having to confront, feel and acknowledge that absolute safety cannot be guaranteed, and may not even exist. Additionally it keeps us from having to accept and be with the fact that no matter what we do or how hard we try to create safety, the very real possibility of trauma and violence still exists.

So then what does it mean to be self-responsive and self-generate safety? It means building the capacity to make centered decisions and take centered actions that are aligned with and promote our own safety on all levels (physical, sexual, emotional, economic, political). It means building the capacity to make centered choices about who and what we allow and bring into in our lives towards creating the safety that we want and need. This of course means that first we have to know what it is we want and need for our own safety. It is this process of self-reflection that brings us deeply in touch with ourselves, which is the core of being self-responsive. Secondly, we have to have the capacity to make decisions, and to take actions that are aligned with our own safety. That capacity is both internal and impacted by the conditions in which we exist, and are making decisions and taking actions within. For example, a person may know that their safety would be best served by leaving an abusive/violent situation whether it is a living, employment, or other situation. However, if they do not have the resources necessary (financial, emotional, legal, etc) to leave or sustain themselves in a safe way once they do, it becomes difficult to actually take that action towards safety. Thus an important part of our Transformative Justice work is to support and increase the capacity of victims/survivors to be able to take actions towards safety, because self-responsive and self-generated doesn’t mean alone. Similarly to accountability, real safety is rarely possible outside of relationship and connection.

So that brings me back to the original question; what does safety look like in a Transformative Justice context? Well, there is no set or single answer because the circumstances and conditions of every situation are different, and every victim/survivor has different wants, needs, and capacities around safety. Instead of focusing on a static destination or single vision TJ works to develop a set of practices that are relevant to the situation (and conditions), and that align with our principle of safety; “liberation from violence, exploitation, and the threat of further acts of violence”. As we develop these practices we prioritize both the immediate and long-term safety of victims/survivors. What safety looks like for me as a part of a TJ intervention or response is supporting the capacity of victims/survivors to end immediate abuse/violence, and live free from the threat of future abuse/violence, always taking my lead from them and what they want and need. It looks like holding the complexity of creating short-term and long-term safety without needed resources (including alternatives to prisons), inside of shifting conditions, and often without accountability from the perpetrator of the abuse/violence. It looks like holding the belief that accountability and transformation of perpetrators is possible, while still being with what is currently happening, real, and true. And it also looks like holding safety in ways that don’t sacrifice connection, while also holding that it is not the victim/survivor’s role or responsibility to do that work (unless they want to). As a survivor of violence safety looks like and means always making decisions and choices, and taking actions that support, create and maintain whatever it is I want and need for my safety. It looks like being supported in those choices, decisions, and actions by people that I am in relationship with and connected to, and choosing to only be in relationship and connection with those that will support my safety. And it looks like accepting that my safety might not always look how I want it to because I can’t control other people. Ultimately it looks like and means remembering that even though others may not respect or agree with what I want and need for my safety, that I still have the right and the capacity to be safe and liberated from abuse, trauma, and violence. For me, that’s what safety looks like.

Black and white portrait of Micha

Micah Hobbes Frazier is a Black queer mixed-gendered facilitator, coach, healer, doula, dj, and magic maker; living, loving, laughing, and building community in Oakland, CA. In June 2012 he founded the living room project, an accessible healing justice & community space serving black & brown queer and trans communities. Micah is a talented and experienced somatic coach/bodyworker working primarily with queer and trans people of color (qtpoc) wanting to heal and transform their histories of trauma/violence. He is a commitment to creating spaces where healing and transformation are possible, and to using his magic to help interrupt, heal, and transform the cycles of trauma and violence in our families and communities.

Keeping our Sisters Safe

woman in all white swimming underwater

by Naomi Sayers

Above: Untitled by Brendan Stephens 

Last October, Canadians across the country voted. The Liberals won a majority. If Canadians voted for the Liberals, the Liberals promised to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons (MMIWG2S). Canadians voted, the Liberals won, and now, the party has initiated the first steps to launching a national inquiry.

As I write this piece, Cabinet Ministers just completed the inquiry design meetings in British Columbia. The Cabinet Ministers present at the meetings include the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Status of Women. Since the Ministers announced the first steps into the inquiry, many people were confused. How did they start the process so quickly? Who is involved in and how they are involved?

For me, as a survivor of colonialism and all of its violence including state/individual violence, I prefer to ask questions about how this inquiry process will change the system which imprisons Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies at alarming rates. How do we move beyond a system, the criminal justice system, which responds to the violence that causes the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons to persist? Conversely, how do we seek justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons without validating or legitimizing a system which continues to imprisons Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies at shocking rates? Can we imagine a world without continued policing of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies through criminalization of same? And, can we imagine a world without prisons which continue to inflict harm and violence in on Indigenous, Brown, and Black peoples’ lives and which continue to benefit white settler society?

Whenever I hear the police say they are seeking more funds to help protect the vulnerable, I know they are not thinking about Indigenous women, girls or two-spirit folks. Whenever I hear representatives of various levels of governments or representatives of non-profit organizations say they need more funds to help protect victims of violence, I know they are not thinking about Indigenous women, girls or two-spirit folks. When discussions of violence take place, oftentimes we forget about the people who exist within violent systems—the prison system.

For some people, justice translates to retaliation, an eye for an eye. For many families and friends of MMIWG2S, it means seeing people imprisoned away for life. A life for a life. The families/friends of MMIWG2S have every right to decide what is justice for their loved ones. Yet, in Canada, life does not life. Life means twenty-five years. And, sometimes it means less than that, similar to how white settler society values the lives of MMIWG2S: less than…less than human.

For me, as someone who has been in the system, justice means making a change to support the lives of those women, girls and two-spirit folks still living. Justice, to me, means responsibility. What are our responsibilities to each other? To our families? To our neighbors? To our communities?

Whenever another Indigenous woman, girl or two-spirit person is reported missing or found murdered, we tell the stories about how they were a family member or a community member. The media articles often quoting loved ones, “She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend…” True. We all belong to a family or a community in one way or another. But how do we move beyond a system, the criminal justice system, which responds to the violence that causes the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons to persist? Often times, it is this same system which allows the violence to exist. So, instead of telling stories, Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks are keeping secrets. Secrets of police violence. Are these the secrets we want to keep?

One way we can move beyond a system which responds to the issue of MMIWG2S is the very simple act of believing. Believe the stories that Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks tell you when they are experiencing violence, including the stories of police violence, or after they experienced violence. Also, create the space for Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks to tell their stories. A space free of judgment, shame and a space filled with love and trust. Trust that one will not tell their stories without their consent.

While I acknowledge that some people see a criminal justice response as the only response, because as it exists today, it is the dominant response. However, I cannot agree that it is the only response to the issue of MMIWG2S. I think there are many actions that communities and individuals can take tomorrow to help fight for MMIWG2S.

For instance, similar to justice, safety or keeping safe means many different things to people in different contexts. In one context, being safe may mean staying alone for a few minutes or a few days. In another instance, being safe may mean having a telephone conversation with a loved one, letting them know you are okay. So, safety can mean many different things and we can help keep each other safe in many different ways. When I think about safety, I think about what has kept me calm, breathing. It is the system who prefers I stop breathing, so I breathe.

Both individuals and communities can do some of the following to help keeping Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks safe:

  • Offer to give someone a ride or bus fare, if they need to get somewhere (if possible)
  • Offer to pick someone up or pay for a cab, if they need to get back home (if possible)
  • Offer to cook a warm meal, if they have been away for a long time
  • Offer a warm shower/bath
  • Offer to attend an appointment with them
  • Offer to help with groceries for a week
  • Offer to go for a walk with them

Even though these suggestions are not systemic changes to the criminal justice system which will end violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks, I know that the small things have helped me get through the day and kept me safe—however, I chose to define safety for me in that moment. For members of over-policed/over-criminalized communities (i.e., sex workers), safety means not calling the police which often invites more violence into our lives. So, safety means never engaging with the criminal justice system. Ever. It is literally a life and death situation when our lives are threatened for simply existing.

It is no accident that the bodies who occupy the spaces in prisons are predominantly Indigenous, Brown and Black. It is not an accident that the bodies who are over-policed/over-criminalized are predominantly Indigenous, Brown and Black. So, how do we imagine a world without policing of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies and without criminalization of same? And, can we imagine a world without prisons which continue to inflict harm and violence in Indigenous, Brown and Black peoples’ lives and which continue to benefit white settler society?

The people who work within the system are predominantly white settlers. They benefit from the imprisonment of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies. They make a living off of the continued policing or criminalizing of same. So what if we asked questions about how the inquiry process will make change which prevents the continued imprisonment, or the continued policing or criminalizing of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies? What if we asked for an investment into our communities, the same communities whose mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and family members who continue to go missing and murdered? What if we asked for an investment into our communities, the same communities who continued to be targeted with police violence? The same communities whose Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks keep secrets instead of telling their stories? The same communities whose same members occupy prisons at alarming rates? I want to begin to create the space where our people can tell stories instead of keep secrets. I want to begin to create the space where our people can feel safe, without judgment or shame. I want to begin to create space where our people can not rely on the system that continues to benefit white settler society through the imprisonment of our families/friends and that continues to benefit white settlers while they live and work on stolen Indigenous land. O’ Canada, our home on native land. Stolen Indigenous land.

If you believe the change is too hard to make, let me remind you that it’s simple: create the space, believe our stories, and realize the potential for a world without prisons. And, that should be our responsibility to each other and to our communities. 


Portrait of Naomi in a white blazer with her hand on her hip looking down

Naomi Sayers is an indigenous feminist and an Anishnaabe-kwe who writes at www.kwetoday.com. She is currently studying law at the University of Ottawa. Naomi is frequently asked to write about issues relating to missing and murdered Indigenous women. She is also regularly asked to speak on issues relating to violence against Indigenous women and sex work related policy. 

School – to – Prison Pipeline

illustration of the school to prison pipeline complex

How does the education system and the school-to-prison pipeline contribute to the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice system?

by Chinwe Nwebube

The school to prison pipeline is a term used to describe the push of students out of schools and into prisons and represents a failure in our current education system. Black students are disciplined more harshly and often achieve lower marks due to disparities in teaching and treatment. Therefore, the school to prison pipeline can be considered a leading factor in the overrepresentation of black folks within the prison system. At its core, the school to prison pipeline is a result of the education system’s inability to meet the needs of its students. Specifically, the presence of anti-black racism in the education system has resulted in the large flow of the pipeline. Anti-black racism is global, insidious, and pervasive. It is the hate and fear of black people which in turn, drives national politics. This increases the representation of black people in prisons. Due to a system that is fundamentally driven by the dehumanization and exploitation of black bodies, there is a lack of effective and unbiased systems within the school. Ultimately there is a disparity between the degree of discipline between white and black students. A school system rooted in anti-black racism, discriminatory discipline and discrepancies in quality of education are factors that will be further examined in order to understand the role the pipeline plays in moving black youth directly to juvenile facilities and prisons.

School System Rooted in Anti-Black Racism

Critical race theory states that racism is a “normal and ingrained feature of our landscape” because racial privilege and related oppression are deeply established from both our history and our law (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The legal formation of race has produced systemic economic, political and social advantages for whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The abolition of slavery did not abolish the hidden racism in the law, but rather, created new methods of redirecting the law in favor of whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008).

The ideal instructor in society is one that has the ability to teach without bias or influence from the educational systems; One that would provide equal and substantial instruction to all students. Evidently this is not the case, as societal hierarchies and power dynamics based on race play too strong of an influence. The majority of instructors today in the United States are white women. These instructors often enter the education system with preconceived notions regarding students of colour and of low socioeconomic status (Irizarry 2010). Their curriculum reflects this idea and reinforces these stereotypical identities rather than challenge concepts of discrimination and oppression (Irizarry 2010). Due to this traditional Western mindset, many teachers are aversively racist. Aversive racists claim that they do not hold prejudice based on race however subconsciously feel unease towards people of colour (Irizarry 2010). Since instructors are unaware of their ineffectiveness in the classroom, it is difficult for change to occur in these institutions. The products of aversive racism in the classroom are disparities in the discipline and teaching of white students compared to students of colour.

Discriminatory Discipline

The school to prison pipeline flows in one direction. When black students are involved in the criminal justice system, it is difficult for them to re-enter the education system. There are policies set in place that encourage police presence at schools as well as harsher tactics, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions (Teaching Tolerance 2015). These “tough on crime” policies are large contributors to the flow of the pipeline (Teaching Tolerance 2015). Studies show that African Americans have a higher chance of suspension, expulsion and arrest than white students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Black students only make up 16% of the overall juvenile population in the United States yet make up 45% of juvenile arrests (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). When students of colour and white students commit the same offence, students of colour have a higher chance of being suspended, expelled or arrested for committing the same act (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, in 2006 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Native American students claiming discriminatory discipline towards these groups of students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). They alleged that it is was three times more likely for a Native American student to be suspended and twelve times more likely for them to be reported to the police, than a white student (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The ACLU found many instances in which discriminatory discipline occurred (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, a Native American student was arrested for putting a white student in a headlock and stating “he would break his neck”. However, a white student told a Native American girl that he wanted to “kill Indians” and see her “blood all over” and was not arrested (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). In another example, regarding the case of Sherpall v. Humnoke School District No. 5, the federal court found that the Arkansas school district discipline system was racially discriminatory (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Teachers in Arkansas referred to black students as “niggers”, “blue gums”, and “coons” (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). It has been argued that higher rates of expulsions for students of colour may correlate to high rates of bad behaviour in school (Skiba et al. 2002). If so, the disparity in punishments would not be of racial bias (Skiba et al. 2002). Since there have been no such studies investigating this theory, one cannot argue that high rates of disruptive behaviour is valid reasoning for the disproportionality in punishments (Skiba et al. 2002).

The aversive racists placed in a teaching position, though subconscious, feel unease towards students of colour. These teachers have preconceived notions of blackness being threatening and dangerous due to an inherent fear of black people. This has been reinforced through a singular narrative that describes a monolithic black experience. They have a deep rooted fear of black students: a result of our country being built on the foundation of anti-black racism. In order to eliminate the threat of black students in the school permanently, they are lead into prisons by any means possible. As previously discussed, this includes more tough-on-crime policies and harsher disciplinary action. The close surveillance of poor black neighborhoods by police is a strategic way to target these communities and schools. As a result of white supremacy, black folks live in conditions that have made them more vulnerable to criminal activity and arrest. Discriminatory discipline can be considered a leading contributor to the school to prison pipeline ultimately resulting in a higher incarceration rate of black individuals. Discriminatory discipline is only a factor because of the creation of aversive racists due to an anti-black racist rooted education system. If anti-black racism could be eliminated from the education system, it is possible to greatly decrease the overall flow of the pipeline.

Discrepancies in Quality of Education

Higher incarceration rates are a combination of “tough-on-crime” policies in the criminal justice system and a lack of quality education that provides needed skill for employment (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Hirschi’s control theory states that society is a set of institutions that act to control and regulate rule-breaking behaviour (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). If an individual is bonded to society and conventional activities, they will not engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). People abide by the law because they are tied to conventional society by social bonds; Social bonds are the degree to which an individual is integrated into the ideals and social ties of the community (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The weaker the social bonds, the more likely an individual is to engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The lack of involvement in conventional activities results in a higher chance of crime participation (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Unemployment due to a lack of education will decrease the degree to which an individual is involved in these conventional activities (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). As a result, one is more likely to engage or be exposed to criminal activity (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Studies have shown that schools with large populations of black students have fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Minority students are often segregated within schools and are targeted more as a result (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Many of these schools are so overpopulated that they have a more complex schedule that shortens school days and school years (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Exclusion from the classroom disrupts the student education and removes them from a structured environment, which can increase the likelihood for deviant behaviour (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The most unequal education system lies in the United States as it provides students with significantly different learning opportunities based on social status (Hammond-Darling 2005). For example, Goudy Elementary School in Chicago which served mainly African American students, used fifteen-year-old textbooks, did not have any science labs, art or music teachers, and had two working bathrooms for 700 students (Hammond-Darling 2005). In the neighbouring town of New Tier that is 98% white, they provided its high school students with superior labs, up to date technology, multiple gyms and an Olympic pool (Hammond-Darling 2005). Also in 2001, students in California’s most segregated minority school were five times more likely to have under qualified teachers than those in predominantly white schools (Hammond-Darling 2005). Attention to these systematic differences is vital to improve the overall education system. If people do not recognize that students have different realities based on their social status, policies will continue to be created on the notion that it is the students, not the school circumstances that are the root of the unequal education.

White supremacy is the belief that white people should control society due to the belief that they are superior to all races. It is critical to also note that this belief of superiority is upheld by different systems of oppression such as patriarchy, capitalism and heteronormativity1. As mentioned previously, racial privilege and related oppression are ingrained features of our history and therefore are ingrained features of our present. White people dominating our society includes them dominating our education system.

1. A worldview that promotes heterosexuality as normal or preferred sexual orientation. The way in which gender and sexuality are separated categories based on a hierarchy.   

As a result, it is predestined that whites should have a better education than all other races. This includes better teachers, teaching facilities and materials. Education lays the foundation for the direction of people’s lives; it is necessary for social, political and economic participation. Since the system is created in order for white people to have the best education, they are technically the only race “fit” to participate in society. That leaves the rest, namely the black population, uneducated and therefore unable to participate. With this criteria, only one system is deemed “appropriate” for black individuals to contribute to: the prison system.

The school to prison pipeline is a main contributor to the over-representation of black people in the prison system. There is a discrepancy between the degree of discipline and quality of education between white and black students. Programs are being put in place in order to abolish the structure of the education system. For example, the Cradle to Prisons Pipeline is a campaign to reduce detention and incarceration by increasing support and services that are a necessity for children (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). This includes access to quality early childhood development, education services and accessible health and mental health programs (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) also aims to dismantle the pipeline through education by expanding programs like Freedom Schools designed for black students (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Lives Matter movement also inspires communities to fight against the school to prison pipeline as an example of structural racism (Rethinking Schools 2015). When oppressive power structures that are structural and institutionalized are ignored, the over representation of black people in prisons is normalized (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). When the law ignores racism, black people continue to be abused, manipulated and exploited while the structural persistence of racism is ignored (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). In society it is important that we aim to establish equity as opposed to equality. Equality disregards power dynamics that are prevalent in society (ie. white supremacy, anti-black racism, etc.) and seeks to treat everybody the same. We must learn to recognize and navigate through these relationships. Ultimately the school to prison pipeline is rooted in anti-black racism. This must be fully addressed and eradicated to fix the system permanently.

References

Brewer, Rose M., and Nancy A. Heitzeg. 2008. “Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex.”American Behavioral Scientist 51(5): 625-644.
Children’s Defense Fund. 2015. “Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.childrensdefense.org/campaigns/cradle-to-prison pipeline/?referrer=https://www.google.ca/
Gender and Education Association. 2011. “What is heteronormativity”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.genderandeducation.com/issues/what-is-heteronormativity/
Hammond-Darling, Linda., Joy A. Williamson., and Maria E. Hyler. 2007. “Securing the Right to Learn: The Quest for an Empowering Curriculum for African American Citizens. The Journal of Negro Education 76(3): 281-296.
Hammond-Darling, Linda. 2004. “The Color Line in American Education: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement.”Du Bois Institute for African American Research 1(2): 213-246.
Irizarry, Jason M. 2010. “Redirecting the teacher’s gaze: Teacher education, youth surveillance and the school-to-prison pipeline.” Teaching and Teacher Education 26(5): 1196-1203.
Kim, Catherine., Daniel J. Losen., and Damon T. Hewitt. 2010. The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform, 34-50. New York: New York University Press.
O’Grady, William. 2011. “Classical Sociological Explanations of Crime”. In Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies, Second Edition, 88-115. Oxford University Press: Toronto.
Oxfrod Dictionaries. 2015. “Heteronormative”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heteronormative
Rethinking Schools. 2015. “Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline.” Last Modified November 2015. http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_03/edit293.shtml
Skiba, Russel J., Robert S. Michael, Abra C. Nardo., and Reece L. Peterson. 2002. “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment.” The Urban Review 34(4): 317-342.
Teaching Tolerance. 2015. “The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Last modified March 2013. http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison

Black and white Headshot of Chinwe smiling

Chinwe Nwebube is a second year Nigerian-Canadian student majoring in Human Kinetics at the University of Guelph. She currently acts as the Communications and Promotions Officer on the CJ Munford Centre Collective, a center for racialized students on the University of Guelph campus. After witnessing the outburst of racism that took place after an on campus rally in the fall, she was motivated to further investigate institutionalized racism. This resulted in her writing this essay about anti-black racism within the education system and its contribution to the over representation of black people in the prison system.

When We Grow Together

by Jamie Holding Eagle

Food culture can be a road to health and healing. However, work cannot stop there.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition disproportionately affecting poor, of colour, and Indigenous communities. In the Upper Midwest of the US, the prevalence rate of Type II diabetes is almost twice as high in the Indigenous population (13%) than in the white population (7%). However, the death rate is six times higher (North Dakota Diabetes Report, 2014). The rates are similarly high among Canada’s First Nations (Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada, 2013).

Type II diabetes is a preventable disorder. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, where the body destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type II occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to break down sugar in the body. Over time, the body produces less and less, leading to long-term issues like kidney, eye, and nerve damage (North Dakota Diabetes Report 2014). Type II is influenced by diet, whereas Type I is genetic. Diabetes was relatively rare among Indigenous populations. Satterfield et al. wrote, “Many elders remember a time when there was no word for diabetes in their language because the disease was almost unknown… A word pronounced SKOO yah wahzonkah, which links words for ‘sick’ and ‘sweet’ can be found in a Dakota dictionary published in 1976” (Satterfield, 2014).

The increase in diabetes is associated with a number of factors, including land displacement, boarding school trauma, and poverty. For generations, Indigenous communities hunted, fished, and gardened. The fresh food combined with the physical activity associated with such practices served to promote health. The shifts in community structure from villages to reservations, than reservations to urban areas disrupted family connections. Children sent to boarding schools returned to their families, speaking different languages and preferring different foods.

Food is another major factor, whether related to access, education, or resources. If you know you should eat better, is there an affordable source of fresh produce nearby? If you know how to cook, do you have the utensils and dishes to do so, as well as a refrigerator in which to store leftovers? Many people now live in what are called food deserts, which refers to an area with a lack of grocery sources.  Often, a convenience or liquor store may be the closest store, neither of which generally stock fresh produce beyond bananas or apples.

Food insecurity is the term used to refer to the issues impeding the ability to access affordable and healthy food. The World Health Organization defines the converse, food security, as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. One step further than that is food sovereignty, which refers to culturally appropriate foods as determined by the community. Food sovereignty values the connection between community health and food. Food justice is an umbrella term that incorporates all levels of the food system, from farmers to chefs to families and servers.

It is estimated that food travels an average of 1500 miles, which can be an uncertain variable when oil prices fluctuate, as well as contributes to carbon emissions. Building a local food system can help assure that access is more reliable. It also reduces environmental impact.

 

Current food initiatives across Indian Country are focused on rebuilding food systems in a way that draws on culture. Dream of Wild Health, in Minnesota, teaches young people how to grow and culture traditional foods. The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, is a chef out of Minneapolis who cooks using pre-colonial foods. Rowen White, a Mohawk seed keeper, grows ancestral seeds through the Sierra Seed Cooperative and uses sustainable practices, which she passes on through a series of classes.

I have worked with a volunteer-run group dedicated to building community through gardening. Volunteers and New American families work together during weekly meetings. All work is done by hand, no chemicals are utilized, and it is an intergenerational effort, with whole families attending.

The families are refugees from various areas of strife around the world, from Iraq to Rwanda. The Upper Midwest, with its extreme winters, can offer a sort of culture shock. Just those two factors alone, let alone language barriers, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the very stress from displacement, can have a negative effect on mental health.

The gardening program has been successful. It has grown from one garden to four within the city. Thousands of pounds of produce are grown each year. Many families participate and more attend each year.

Access to land and access to gardening can do wonderful things for the health of a community. Gardening promotes physical health, it can help make new friendships, and can provide families with fresh food. With diabetes at epidemic levels, healthy food can make a major difference in health.

However, in the long-term, a major paradigm shift will need to occur. Community gardens cannot fill in the gaps left by violence, income inequality, and inadequate access to resources. A community garden can help bring a community together, but not if neighbors are afraid of police violence. A community garden can help a mother make new friends in her neighborhood, but what about the mothers fleeing their own community gardens?

And so, if you are a food justice advocate, we cannot separate ourselves from Black Lives Matter. If we care about how people eat for community health, we must care that they are dying. Similarly with the Syrian refugee crisis. As Native folks, we are living through the generational reverberations of land displacement, violence, and family disruption, as is reflected in our high rates of diabetes. We can help rebuild our own community’s health while not turning a blind eye to suffering elsewhere. It should never be one or the other. We know firsthand that crisis we experience impacts our grandchildren. My grandmas taught me that all elders were to be respected like grandparents, and so right now, there are children like our children in danger, and there are grandmas and grandpas in danger, too.

I will end on this note. I am from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. We have been through some interesting times, to say the least. We lived through several waves of smallpox in the 1800s, killing many, sometimes in hours. The accounts are nothing short of horrific. One of the things that haunted me the most was the isolation and sense of abandonment. I feel a sense of grief for them for having gone through that, as I do for other incidents. But, I don’t feel a sense of vengeance. The strongest feeling I get is the one that says, no one should ever go through that alone, ever again. When I see other people living through that violence right now, as their homes are destroyed and their children are dying, it’s the same feeling: no one should ever go through this alone, ever again. We all deserve to eat healthy food and we all have the right to be safe in our communities and to live free of fear.

References:

Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada

North Dakota Diabetes Report

Satterfield, D., Debruyn, L., Francis, C., & Allen, A. (2014). A Stream Is Always Giving Life: Communities Reclaim Native Science and Traditional Ways to Prevent Diabetes and Promote Health. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 38(1), 157-190. doi:10.17953/aicr.38.1.hp318040258r7272

World Health Organization: Food Security 


 

Jamie Holding Eagle
Jamie Holding Eagle is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. She is completing a Master’s of Public Health and is specializing in American Indian Health. She has worked in food science research and believes cultural connections are a vital part of food and public health.

Work Hard, Stay Bumble

two men cutting down small trees and plants

by Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey

Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey are the power couple bringing buzz to, the city of Detroit in a pretty sweet way. What started as a cold, has transformed into a social enterprise, as the two playmakers are making bold strides with their nonprofit.

Together, the pair create urban bee farms, where the community is able to experience, firsthand, honeybees, conservation and their role in our ecosystem. Visitors to the hives, also have the incredible opportunity to see the inner workings of a honeybee hive, and even sample raw honey from the hive. Located on the eastside of Detroit, Michigan, The Detroit Hives is purposed to bring diversity and cognizance to bee awareness and rebuilding inner-city communities, introducing Detroit as a great place for honeybees.

Since launching in 2017, the urban bee farmers have been revitalizing the Detroit community through operating hives on vacant lots. The Hives’ team saw an opportunity to not only beautify the city but create health alternatives for the community. By housing honeybee hives in recently vacant lots, the organization achieves a Triple Bottom Line Solution (TBL) with environmental, social, and financial gains towards the sustainability of the community, the organization, and the environment.

Typically ridden with trash and debris, vacant lots are key contributors to common allergy issues as well as the negative stigma on the city. Although this was a challenge, Paule knew the risks and found it important to own the land utilized, to put it to good use. With all of the new traffic coming into the city, there is an importance in remaining localized. With assistance from the Detroit Land Bank, Paule and Lindsey were able to acquire their first land plot. Being a part of the city, the two know exactly where the city needs development. Encouraging others to invest in the community, the Hives’ team thrives on the importance of localization.

In occupying vacant lots, the organization is able to provide a healthy home for bees. For over 20 years bee researchers have reported massive bee die-offs, starting in the 1990s. In spring of 2013, the issue gained national buzz when a study showed that by spring, the average beekeeper loses about 45% of their bees. The widespread use of pesticide, climate change and the advent of extraneous pests, diseases and loss of habitat has caused the huge declination in bees. Most plants rely on bees and other natural pollinators to produce natural foods.

As bees require ongoing care season to each season, the team checks on them frequently, but observing their needs and fulfilling them. Monitoring the hive activity takes up a good percentage of the beekeeping process. They organize beekeeping tasks by the season, setting the bees up in spring to harvest honey, and preparing the hive for winter. This cyclical process ensures that the bees are healthy and happy to do their environmental duties.

As the environment changes, it is imperative for Paule and Lindsey to remain abreast of new information and education in beekeeping. They strive to spread this knowledge with the community, aiming to shift deep rooted fears about bees. For many people, honeybees are associated with wasps, often confusing people, perpetuating fears of the extraordinary creatures. The team continuously aims to cultivate a new outlook on bees. By educating the community on honeybees and their importance, a familiarity and appreciation can potentially be formed uprooting the fear of bees and their negative connotations. By spreading this awareness, the benefits of honeybees and their delicious honey are also emphasized.

Honeybees are amazing for the environment, the insects pollinate the plants and produce that we consume regularly. By pairing with other local businesses and nonprofits in environmental development, like, Detroit’s Peace Tree Parks, the bees are able to pollinate the plants and produce of these local gardens, producing food free of herbicides and pesticides. Dedicated to sharing the fruits of their labor with the community that they serve, the Hives’ team passes out the produce to their neighbourhood, providing healthy alternatives to the snacks/foods, normally, accessible in Detroit.

Honey itself has a plethora of health and healing uses that, when localized, leave astonishing results achieved in health issues such as pollen allergies, diabetes, and even weight loss. The honey is also great for skin, hair, healing wounds, and is an excellent source of antioxidants. To expand their reach, The Detroit Hives has partnered with, Detroit restaurant, Slows BBQ. The local staple uses a percentage of The Detroit Hives’ honey to create a signature Honey BBQ sauce. As both entities expand, the opportunity for reach expands as well.

The team is also working with the Detroit Land Bank for expansion. The goal is to purchase an acre per year. As they buy more land, the green land will be transformed into an environmentally stable space. For a larger impact, the Hives’ squad is currently transforming a vacant parking lot into a community greenspace. Partnering with the local beekeeping associations, The Detroit Hives are bringing the first ever beekeeping workspace to Detroit. Inviting other beekeepers to space, the social enterprise creates a hive of it’s on, sharing responsibility, resources, and profitability allowing for longevity across the board.

Furthering the importance of localization to the sustainability of the organization and community, Paule and Lindsey partner with local businesses to create revenue for all. Forging genuine relationships, as The Detroit Hives grow, the opportunity to create jobs becomes possible.

With all of the successes of the organization, Paule and Lindsey remain incredibly down to earth, continuing to place their focus where it’s most needed; the community. Their motto, “Work hard, stay bumble” epitomizes the efforts of this team, proving that their philosophy works. Knocking out goals left and right, The Detroit Hives’ team is single handedly improving the state of Detroit ecosystems, literally, from the ground up.


 

Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey
Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey are the power couple bringing buzz to, the city of Detroit, in a pretty sweet way. What started as a cold, has transformed into a social enterprise as the two play makers are making bold strides with their nonprofit. Together, they create urban bee farms, where the community is able to experience, firsthand, honeybees, conservation, and their role in our ecosystem. Visitors, to the hives, also have the incredible opportunity to see the inner workings of a honeybee hive, and even sample raw honey from the hive. Located on the Eastside of Detroit, MI, The Detroit Hives is purposed to bring diversity and cognizance to bee awareness and rebuilding inner-city communities introducing Detroit as a great place to “BEE”.

I Believe Survivors & Tent City Actions Merge: What Community Healing Can Look Like

by Eddie Jude

On March 24th, 2016, the day of the verdict for the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto, I was at the Black Lives Matter occupation, Tent City, outside police headquarters. The fifteen day occupation sought justice for Andrew Loku, a Black man who was shot and killed by Toronto police. The person next to me read out the live tweets of Ghomeshi’s acquittal and judge’s comments on the (lack of) integrity of the witnesses. When I heard that he wouldn’t be convicted, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. I literally felt nothing. At one point I said I didn’t want to hear anymore and so the person stopped reading out loud and we both went on with our day. I knew from the start that Ghomeshi would never be charged, because if most ordinary men never get charged let alone convicted for sexual assault, then what were the chances that this B-list celebrity would?

A month prior, singer Kesha was told by a judge that she’d have to fulfill her recording contract with her label, which meant continuing to work with producer, Dr. Luke, who was also her rapist. A week before that the vocalist of a punk band called Bleed the Pigs put out a public statement saying they’d been assaulted by their bandmate, who, once confronted, dipped out of the band and ghosted off to tour with another one of his projects. Back in January, the world erupted into arguments over whether or not David Bowie was a rapist for having had sex with a teenager.

Every day my online news feed is filled with more and more breaking news about men in various entertainment scenes and industries who assault women, femmes, and gender nonconforming people. What stays the same with every story is that people will say or do almost anything to hold up the reputations of these men no matter how many survivors come forward. Over thirty women say they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, each having an almost identical story, and yet people still believe that these women are corroborating. I never really understand what people think survivors have to gain going to criminal court because literally the only people making money are the lawyers and pretty much the only people on trial are, well, seemingly the survivors.

All this goes to reiterate, that the day Ghomeshi was declared not guilty, I felt nothing. It all unfolded exactly as I had expected it to; the survivors were humiliated, their stories discredited, their privacy breached; Ghomeshi never took the stand once, and then he walked free. Rape culture ran its course and subsequently, no justice was served.

That same day, survivors and protesters alike congregated at Old City Hall to express their support to the trial’s witnesses at the ‘I Believe Survivors’ rally. At first I was stunned that these women would show their faces after what they had just gone through, but then I remembered that when I was raped, I got up the next day and life continued as usual. The world doesn’t stop when your abuser walks free. You just try to avoid them and hope that you don’t get raped again in your lifetime. Maybe you see a counselor or a therapist. Maybe you become an advocate for survivors everywhere. Maybe you develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by your assault, or re-traumatization from your trial. Maybe you seek an accountability process from your community and they react with indifference or silence. Maybe you write about it. Maybe you do nothing.

Healing is an ongoing, messy, and non linear process that often feels lonely and isolating because of people’s unwillingness to accept the experiences of survivors as truth. Many survivors choose to heal alone and in silence because when we do speak out, we are rarely believed. Sometimes healing alone is not a choice, but the only actual option.

During the I Believe Survivors rally, we began to march from Old City Hall up Bay Street to Tent City in the rain and sleet, where Black Lives Matter TO (Toronto) were waiting to greet us. The police officer who killed Andrew Loku had also been acquitted of all charges. So our two causes joined forces and Tent City became a cacophony of hundreds of echoing screams and chants, ‘we believe survivors’ intertwining with ‘Black Lives Matter’. Alexandria Williams of BLM TO screamed over and over again that she believed us; her yells hitting a pitch that caused her voice to crack, as if the spark ignited inside her was erupting into flames. Having someone repeatedly say they believe you while you stand with hundreds of other survivors is a magical and transformative moment of healing. The combining intersections of racism, colonialism and patriarchy; misogyny and rape culture in this space felt like an important moment in history, and I was honoured to be able to witness and heal from its energy.

The merging of these two actions demonstrated that solidarity within our movements not only bring us closer to justice, but also shape our ability to heal in public, and as a community. There is transformation in healing together because capitalism wants us to remain solitary and alone. We break that silence by recognizing our own voices and the voices of others; in believing each other. By telling the stranger next to you that you have their back; by crying on the shoulder of the friend standing next to you. To feel mother nature’s rage alongside you, as she showered the city in days of endless rain and snow while Tent City and the Ghomeshi trial proceeded.

In the moments that these actions physically merged, space was carved to hold and cradle our collective grief as the rain showered us, and I felt truly nourished. With gratitude, I would like to thank Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizers of the I Believe Survivors rally for providing us with such an exemplary example of what community healing can look like.



Eddie Jude
Eddie is a writer, musician, community artist and educator living in Toronto. They write zines under the moniker Late Bloom and are a collective member of the Toronto Queer Zine Fair. You can find more of their work at www.eddiejude.com.

Within & Beyond The Sugar Bush

by Jayal Chung

Over the years, through participation in a few sweatlodges, ceremonies, and in paying attention, I have learned about the practice of offering semma (tobacco). It has been foundational to my sense of being grounded, my connection, and understanding my relationship to this land as my birthplace in Thunder Bay on Fort William First Nation Robinson-Superior Treaty territory as a Chinese Canadian woman. It is being in friendships, and connecting with resilient Indigenous women who have shared generously with me that I witness and find so much healing and community with.

I have learned to set down semma or give it as an offering to say meegwetch, especially when loved ones?? or something feels hard in the community. I offer it when traveling or when I’ve returned, for myself or for others. I ask questions, I ask for guidance when especially when I do community-based work around sexual violence, like campaigns such as Take Back The Night. I remember once, Helen Pelletier put it so clearly, “Tobacco connects you”. From medicine walks and being in ceremony with Jazmin Romaniuk and with folks participating in Walking With Our Sisters, I feel a tremendous sense of community and connection. There is exciting momentum for Stephanie, Helen, and Jazmin. Their personal growth since the time that I have met them is profound, seen and felt, and physically tangible in the healing work they do and what they share in creating community.

These relationships, the stories, my memories and reflections layered upon each other in my mind’s eye, fully before me as I joined classmates in the Indigenous Governance and Leadership class to visit the sugar bush in April.

To give us context for our visit to the sugar bush, Damien Lee came to speak to our class. He disclosed that he was adopted and claimed by the community of Fort William First Nation and acknowledged his whiteness, giving us as students the opportunity to accept what he was sharing with us as bullshit or a perspective to work from. Stephanie MacLaurin was our guide, as we stepped gently along sticky snow to arrive and be part of the sugar bush process. Before this, Damien’s mother met up with us at the top of the mountain (anemki wajiw) to give us bannock and tea. In class, we discussed some initial thoughts as a class when it came to approaching the sugar bush and I shared that my question is: “How can I prepare?” “What are my responsibilities?”

This is a question I keep returning to, beyond the classroom. I think about it when consultations with stakeholder groups of people are discussed in media. As Damien highlighted, Europeans believed that Anishnaabe people had no laws, no governance. Anishnaabe have been seen as ‘inferior’ and ‘savages’. Christians themselves broadly viewed that their mission was to save.

This past year, I thought about my responsibilities as a student and the space I would take as for most students, this was their first experience in the sugar bush and I have a connection with Stephanie and Damien prior to this class.

With Damien, our class openly discussed how we approach the sugar bush and he offered us history, theory and a perspective to really help us understand the sugar bush as a form of governance. I reflected on our class discussion, my intentions with taking this class, and my friendship with Stephanie and reminded myself that if I make mistakes, I would hold myself accountable. I brought a tobacco offering; Stephanie shared about the mother tree that is wrapped in cloths of different colours, which ceremony took place for the tree and trees being tapped. She showed us how to tap and the collecting process. I allowed myself to be present, and I appreciated the morning as it unfolded.

‘The Land Is Ceremony’—Erin Marie Konsmo, Native Youth Sexual Health Network. This quote sums it up for me. The land tells us stories. The maple trees, as Damien and Stephanie share, tell us when they are ready and show us; there is natural law if we acknowledge it. Leanne Simpson references Basil Johnston and windigo stories to talk about hunger for natural resources and over-exploitation. With the sugar bush, it’s so amazing to see that this is a grassroots, community-driven initiative. Leanne Simpson captures this when she says that the “real gift was in the making, and that without love, making just wasn’t possible”. Resurgence.

This year, visiting the sugar bush felt even sweeter. I see the women and two-spirit teachings and leadership. I hear about and see how collective is growing, how the process is in making mistakes, owning up but giving yourself kindness, how skills-sharing is constantly happening and how dedicated and caring people are and all the gifts of the sugar bush within, and beyond it. With leadership, as Damien shared—its’ an emergent style. No one person is the leader. Each person has opportunity to learn, practice and acquire ongoing knowledge and sap is medicine.

Through individual and collective effort, the work of chopping, collecting dead wood, values, teachings, stories and ziiwaagmide— sweet brown syrup is possible and is shared. It is undeniably good, as Damien said. This was the starting point for him—its goodness.

It felt really peaceful, relaxing and good to go to the sugar bush as a class. For me, I had visited prior with invitation from Damien Lee to assist him in collecting. I also visited during the boiling process, on a few occasions. For example, one time I remember Ash had taken two fat Canadian geese and he started to process the geese by taking feathers, scraping the skin, revealing the roughness and roasting a bit. I heard stories about Ryan and Stephanie hunting geese and then folks with knowledge of roasting, sharing that in very organic way. I also recall from Damien’s blog Zoongde where you can find his writing piece titled “Indian in a Jar” on settler colonialism and about boundaries being broken between an instructor, Damien and Gail who had been working hard in the initial stages to revitalize the sugar bush and sap production for future generations.

As Damien makes the point, writing sugar bush as just culture negates the leadership and governance of what I observed, participated and experienced over the two years. Damien sharing his framework was a powerful moment that I felt in my body. Treaty constitutionalism: he drew a diagram and posed what kind of permissions, process, protocol would one go through when it came to mining or fishing as examples.

In this moment, as he drew – I could sense in an unexplainable way what he was referencing. e.g. drawing information from the land, the wisdom of ancestors, from clan, from Aadzookuazag sacred stories, from Confederacy, Creation and observing natural laws versus hunting and fishing regulations which would start with regulatory assessment, consultation, land, education training, sector agreement/direction, ministry of mines, Parliamentary province of Ontario section 92 constitution jurisdiction and the Canadian state.

There are dimensions beyond the page and the economical system that is different from the Anishnaabe way of governance. Competition doesn’t work. Being present is paramount to relationships and requires work and commitment. Values and intentional decisions matter.

What is a community? How did I come to feel so connected and why did I take this course? Some of the answers came through as I read Chapter 4 of Leanne Simpson’s Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back. I think I will start with learning the ‘nish word, mino bimaadziwin. Living a good life.

How do we do things in a good way?

How do we take up more space?

How is sugar bush source of governance?

I have shared my reflections, observations and personal experience at this time. I feel like through creative process like making art with other people I will learn next, Chibimoodaywin – spiritual visioning. Leanne Simpson highlighted Nishnaabeg mobilization. What part can I play in reconciliation? What individual commitment and actions going forward can I step into even though I might mistakes? What vision can I tap into?


Jayal Chung
Jayal Chung is a queer and Chinese woman, born and raised in Thunder Bay, ON. A self-taught visual and spoken word artist, she is passionate about arts, community organizing and community building, advocacy, making zines, and co-hosting Queer Radio Hour on CILU 102.7 FM.

At the End of a Beginning

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Mina Ramos

Content Warning: Abortions 

For the last year, most conversations with my friends have been about babies. I mean let’s be real, we spend our fair share of time talking about dismantling white supremacy, the dreams we have for the future and making a ton of jokes no one else thinks is funny. In between though, it always comes back to babies. Who is having them, who we are having them with, when we are having them, and how we will raise them.

 Up until pretty recently, anytime the conversation turned to baby talk I would shut off. Even though I loved to play with kids, the thought of having a child made me feel sick; uneasy. I remember when I was dating someone who wanted to be a doula. I wanted to be supportive, but when she would talk about how excited she was, I would change the subject. I felt bad, but the thought of her helping deliver a baby made me panic. Any talk about childbirth made me panic. I was set on the idea that I would never give birth. Instead, I would be everyone’s favourite Auntie and I was okay with that.

I had been pregnant once. When I was 19 years-old. I got an abortion only days before the average cut off point which is twelve weeks in Canada (some clinics will perform abortions up to twenty-two weeks though). Although at the time, I knew it was okay to have an abortion and had the support of my immediate family; it was an experience that haunted me for several years.

I will always vividly remember the night I found out I was pregnant. It was my first year of university and I was living in residence. My boyfriend was still living in the town we grew up in. The night I found out, I had only been in school for three weeks. Our residence was small; three floors to be exact. I lived in a “Living Learning Centre” called International House. You had to apply to get in and it was supposed to be a house of “diverse cultures.” It ended up being mainly white students studying International Development or what I call “white people wanting to save People of Colour.” It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The night I found out, someone on the first floor was having an, “I wear my sunglasses at night” dance party in their room. I was sitting on a toilet, in the washroom on the second floor. I could hear and feel the music from the party. I held the little plastic stick in my hands and stared at the two blue lines.

|| = Positive.

The stick in my hand made it that much more real. I remember crawling into bed, not bothering to turn on the light and starting to cry. Someone knocking on the door and asking why I wasn’t downstairs. I tried to make my voice sound as natural as possible and told them that I was just tired. The reality is that I had already known the moment my boyfriend pulled his dick out from inside of me and realized that the condom had broke. We had spent the whole day drinking and I remember laughing and saying; “Well, let’s hope it’s too drunk to know it’s way.” As soon as the words left my mouth I knew. As if the statement had started the process.

|| = Positive.

The plan had been to take the morning after pill but when I woke up the next morning I remembered it was a holiday and the pharmacy in my neighbourhood was closed and the busses were not running. We lived in a suburb outside of town and my mom didn’t understand why I needed the car. I was too ashamed to tell her why.

|| = Positive.

I started to notice pregnant women everywhere I went. Pregnant bellies in the foods that I ate; pregnant bellies as shapes in buildings. I remember my dad, who has an incredible gift of knowing when things are awry in my family asked if everything was okay. I told him things were fine. He said he had awoken from a dream that morning and knew something was wrong with one of our family members. He wondered if it was me. I told him not to worry.

For the first time I felt anxiety. Like a pile of bricks had fallen on my chest and I didn’t know how to take them off.

|| = Positive.

The next few weeks were a mixture of ups and downs. At the time, I was so excited to be in university; something that hadn’t felt real to me at the height of my drug use in high school. I wanted so badly to fit in. I was used to being around drug users and dealers. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people who had never thought about using drugs. People who talked real nice, wore Birkenstocks, were vegetarian and wanted to “change” things. I had this warped thing going on where I wanted to be like them but already felt like I was different and had this big secret I didn’t think they would approve of.

|| = Positive.

When I told my parents they were surprisingly supportive but told me to keep it a secret until I made a concrete decision. They were still ashamed. I told them that I would be keeping the baby. My boyfriend and I had quit using hard drugs together and I felt that our bond was strong enough to raise a child together. Although I was scared, I felt a weird exhilaration. I would smoke weed and lie in bed and talk to my baby. I couldn’t believe I had a little human growing inside of me.

|| = Positive.

I started to go home for appointments. Started getting morning sickness. My new friends wondered why I was going home so often. I told them I had an ulcer to explain why I couldn’t party and why I was sick so often. My boyfriend couldn’t handle the stress of it all and started using again. The day he took oxycontin with my brother after we went for my ultrasound, I started to feel small. He would show up drunk on weekends and wanted to have sex. I would push him away. Told him that I needed him to be sober. That only made things worse.

|| = Positive.

One morning I woke up and realized I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t picture myself in my 600 student classes with a pregnant belly. Couldn’t picture myself having a child with someone who was still a child. To be real, I still felt like a child too. I didn’t know myself yet. As much as I had grown to love the being inside of me, I wanted to know how to teach it about the world. I didn’t think this was possible when I didn’t even understand myself, let alone everything else.

|| = Positive.

The day before my abortion, my boyfriend’s mom called me and begged me not to go through with it. She said my boyfriend loved me and wanted to have the child with me. She said that she would help us raise it. That was the day I stopped loving him. I couldn’t love someone who didn’t understand where I was coming from.

|| = Positive.

At the clinic, the nurse asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to go ahead with the abortion. I wanted to slap her. As if I hadn’t thought about it thoroughly. Waves of sadness swept over me as I layed on the operating table. Faces with eyes poking out from behind surgical masks stared down at me. I didn’t know these people. The room was too white, too sterile; devoid of emotions. Didn’t my baby and I deserve a better ceremony to say goodbye?

[DEATH]

As soon as they took my baby out of me I felt empty. Like the shell of a human. I went home and smoked with a friend who didn’t have a clue. When he left I curled into the fetal position and whimpered, alone.

I couldn’t sleep. When I did, I had nightmares. I was anxious all the time. I felt like I had to confess something to the universe but I was choked for words. I thought I felt this way because of what I had done. That I had selfishly killed something I loved. I dreaded my boyfriends visits. Made excuses not to see him. Got closer with the girls on my floor. Started to talk a bit about my abortion. Always in a veil of secrecy. One friend who was particularly close suggested I sleep beside her. That it might help with the nightmares. She would leave the door of her dorm unlocked and I would stay with her. I always felt safe in her arms. I broke up with my boyfriend and my abortion became a distant memory.

[HEALING]

Years passed, and I thought I was fine but something nagged at me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. My life had changed drastically. I came out as queer. My “close” friend from residence had awoken something inside of me that had always been there but had been dormant. I began to surround myself with queer people and started to explore my relationship to being racialized. Made more friends of colour. Friends who had beliefs I had always felt at the core of my heart but never had the words or the space to express what I felt.

[HEALING]

I started to talk about my abortion. Realized that some of these friends had also had abortions. It dawned on me that if I respected these people so much who had gone through the experience of abortion I might not be the monster I thought that I was. I also noticed that some people were not traumatized by their experience like I was. Our conversations helped me to understand that so many things impact the way that you feel about your experience with pregnancy and abortion. My experience had been one filled with stigma and a fear of judgement. Even when I told people it was always in secret. I realized my experience at the clinic was radically different than clinics like Planned Parenthood. Although they offered the service, they were not trained to support someone emotionally, through an abortion. Because of this, my procedure had been one of anxiety and stress. I also learned that there were other ways of undergoing abortions that didn’t involve a clinic at all. That herbal abortions were a very real option that some friends had either done by themselves or with the support of a herbalist.

[HEALING]

One day I was sitting in a workshop by Robin Rose Bennett, a white herbalist from New Jersey. The workshop was focused on the plant commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot. Queen Anne’s Lace is an incredible plant because it can act as a contraceptive but can also help with getting pregnant depending on how it’s used. During that workshop she said something that I will never forget. She was talking about abortions and said that they are always difficult for the body because bodies that have vaginas are still biologically geared to have babies. That it is a shock to the system when we are forcing our bodies to do the opposite of what it was intended to do and that we need to soothe our bodies so we can trust ourselves to open up to an invasive procedure like an abortion.

She also talked about unborn babies in a way I had never heard of before. Bennett explained that all souls in the universe exist indefinitely; because they are souls. If you choose not to birth that soul into the human world that soul does not die. However, for some who create a connection with that soul it can cause trauma because there is no process of grieving to acknowledge the connection that was lost through the abortion. I had never thought about it that way. Immediately a weight had been lifted. My baby was being held by the universe; waiting for the right time to be born on earth by whomever it was actually destined to be born by. The conversation I had felt choked for words was one I was supposed to have with that soul. To say goodbye on my own terms.

[HEALING]

A year later I had the opportunity of also hearing Loretta Ross speak, an incredible Black woman who lead the reproductive justice movement in the 2000s. In 2004, Loretta held the largest march in US history with over one million people called the March for Women’s Lives.

Hearing her talk about openly about her abortion and her experience organizing had an indescribable effect on me. Her presence was one of strength and confidence; she was unashamed. In fact she was proud that she had been able to make a choice over her own body. It dawned on me that her abortion had paved the way for her destiny to speak publically about women’s rights to having supportive bodily autonomy. I started to think about my own abortion. How differently my life would have been if I had proceeded with the pregnancy. Although it was the hardest thing I had ever gone through, I realized my experience with pregnancy and abortion had actually been a blessing. A blessing. Through my abortion a different life path was created that actually brought me closer to myself. Brought me closer to my ideas, values beliefs. To a friend group I consider family and a community where I am daily inspired amidst the struggles.

Sometimes I wonder if my baby who knew I loved it from the very beginning brought that path to me knowing that if I did choose to have a child in the future I would be ready.

After Loretta’s talk, I started to have the ability of talking publicly about my abortion in conversation. I started to warm up to the idea of parenting although I did not want to have a child. It was an interesting experience as I sat in a queer parenting planning class with a former partner as we watched a home birth video. As I heard her half joke that she was re-thinking the whole pregnancy thing I had a strange thing hit me. I realized I did still want to give birth. That almost eight years later, my body is starting to feel ready; that I am starting to feel ready. I’m not entirely sure when this will happen, who it will happen with or how it will happen. I know that I am still growing, that I still have a lot to learn. That so far this experience has brought me closer to faith, to truly believing in higher powers and the ability to heal in ways I had never imagined were possible. Amidst my little doubts and fears that linger in my insecurities, when I am the most grounded I have a deeper sense of excitement for what is to come.


Mina Ramos
Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina based out of Guelph, Ontratio. She is a radio broadcaster and is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that center on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.

Black Mental Health & Self Determined Futures

by Louise Boileau

A friend went to a youth shelter when it was cold. He was in distress, having a mental health crisis. He was told firmly to leave, or else they would call the police.

In July 2015, police arrived at subsidized housing unit at Eglinton West and Gilbert Ave, and murdered Andrew Loku within 20 seconds of seeing him. His house was a block up the street from Horizons for Youth, a shelter where my friend was living at the time.

The question has come to my mind helplessly many times: Where does a Black person in a mental health crisis go when they need help?

Left Illustration by Eli WiPe 

There is no safe place to go in this city when experiencing crisis where a black person will not be treated as a threat; including in one’s own home, be that a shelter or a private residence. It is a tired fact and one that requires urgent attention, that Black youth are treated as a problem in Toronto, on many institutional levels.

If reproductive justice is the ability to raise children in a community that is free from violence, it must also encompass mental health, and our ability to receive culturally relevant supports without being isolated or removed from the community, whether it be by child welfare, push out from school, incarceration or institutionalization.

 In the school system, Black youth experiencing anxiety, depression and trauma (which can manifest in many ways), are often summarized as having behavioural issues and are discarded. Expulsions as early as grade one show the incredible reach of anti-Blackness – that a child could be considered not worthy of an education and so lacking in hope for their potential that they should be isolated from their peers and “expelled” from opportunity. The treatment of Black students, and the problematization of Blackness at early ages is consistent with Black overrepresentation in the criminal system.

 Although Black communities represent 3% of the general population in Canada, we represent 9% of the prison population. People with mental health challenges are overwhelmingly filtered into the prison system. So, the chances of a Black person with mental health challenges spending timae in prison at some point in their life is extremely high. Furthermore, mental health challenges such as psychosis and paranoia are so extremely stigmatized, those who experience these symptoms are ostracized and isolated especially when they are most in need of support.

A Punitive Model Across The Board

When you begin to look at the methods of management in the education system, prison and hospital systems, the approach to Black students, youth and adults are very coordinated.

It seems that each uses a punitive approach to trauma, where Black people are being punished, ostracized and further traumatized for needing support, expressing anxiety, depression or distress, even though we are experiencing some of these things as a direct result of the hostile environment we are in.

In psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, there seems to be a chronic issue of overuse of force and restraints. On paper, restraints are meant to be used as a last resort measure. For those who are unfamiliar, to place someone in restraints is to secure them to a bed using straps. First, however, the person is forcibly sedated, sometimes by as many as 8 people (as a friend recounted), and then have their pants brought down so that they can be injected with a sedative in the buttocks. Then they are transported to a bed, and secured with the restraints for an unspecified period of time. A friend recounts being placed back in restraints whenever a nurse who didn’t like them would come back on shift. When she left her shift, they would be released. This is against standard protocol which dictates that restraints are to be used only in extreme situations, where staff either fear the “patient” will harm themselves or somebody else. So their discretion on using restraints lies on their perception of whether or not the “patient” is a threat. It is unreasonable to assume that anti-Blackness never plays a role in their decisions.

Placing a person in isolation is another approach, on paper, used to maintain “patient” or worker safety. However, I have also known it to be used in reaction to something a “worker didn’t like” about a patient, where the patient was then placed in isolation for a period of weeks, and was disallowed from contacting family or advocates. The use of isolation has drastic negative mental health impacts on any person, as has been documented in relation to the use of solitary confinement in prison and remand centres, where most of Canada’s imprisoned population are kept awaiting trial.

Remand facilities receive no resources or training in terms of caring for a person undergoing mental health challenges. Their primary go to, for the “safety” of the person imprisoned (the inmate), is to place them in solitary confinement. Furthermore, people are often denied their right to healthcare, medications or otherwise while in remand. The numbers and demographics of solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons and remand centres is not publicized, similar to the numbers and demographics of deaths inside both prisons and psychiatric institutions.

A Picture of The Mental Health System in Ontario

The mental health system in Ontario is a network of services and institutions, that follow two models intended to work together. The first is the the community based model which is meant to allow people access to support while staying within their communities. and The second is the institutional or medical model, which includes both inpatient and outpatient programs such as CAMH. The community model of mental health services is relatively new and certainly not perfect. Many services are rarely accessed by youth of colour, or and present services are often not culturally relevant.

Only two services in Toronto, that I am aware of, provide services focused on racialized people, and there is only one that provides counselling specifically for Black people in all of Canada. Across Boundaries, and The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) which runs as a program out of CAMH.

The SAPACCY program began in 1996 from community concerns over the amount of Black youth incarcerated for drug related crimes. It was proposed to the ministry and then amalgamated into the CAMH Queen and Shaw location. The SAPACCY program, due to lack of allocated resources is currently hanging on by a thread with only one counsellor with an unusually large caseload, and an even larger waitlist. The waitlist includes only those people who qualified for the services because they are in the catchment area. CAMH recently received a donation of $100 million. It appears they are determined to allocate these funds entirely towards “high-risk” research and the hiring of “top scientists,” in the midst of our current housing and resource crisis. What they intend to research, and how this is suppose to help anyone, I am unsure.

Toronto Police Services & The Mental Health System

The mental health system in Ontario maintains a tight relationship with Toronto Police Services (TPS). The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which is intended to respond to mental health crisis, is a partnership between Toronto Police Services and participating hospitals. The team is a mental health nurse and a police officer (who may or may not be trained by the TPS in mental health awareness). To what extent they receive any training on de-escalation is entirely unclear. The Mobile Crisis team is only available between the hours of 6am and 11pm. TPS is usually the first point of contact for people undergoing mental health crisis. Police officers may bring the detained person to a hospital, where they will be kept for anywhere from an hour to several weeks if admitted. Or they may be charged with an offence and placed in remand.

To call the police in the case of a crisis, is to risk the death of yourself, your family member or friend. But this is the only option presented in a mental health related emergency. Even if a person calls the MCIT, they are still calling the police. There is little assurance that this is in anyway a safer option. At the many times I have made a list in my head of the greatest risk to my family members’ life, police interactions was always the one I feared most.

 The only route made available to access mental health care in crisis is the trauma of police services, and the trauma of psychiatric institutionalization. If we must cope with the pain inflicted on us by those systems that we are asked to call supports than we have very few options at all within the current structure of mental health care.

Community-Led & Self Determined Futures

Because of shame and exhaustion it is often difficult to seek out community or support services. Although we must teach ourselves how to navigate systems and how to survive, there is little space to share these tools with each other.

Intercepting the Pipeline to Prison is a project, lead by Black youth, to address the intersection of mental health, anti-Blackness and criminalization. It is a project created to share survival skills and strategies and to document our experiences. We have developed workshops in three streams: Youth Justice and Advocacy, Family and Community and Creative Solutions. The workshops provide skill building on safety tools for interactions with police, getting access to advocates while in remand, daily self care and coping methods, discussing mental health in our families, the ways we do support and advocate in our families and communities and how to strengthen them, and designing the kind of supports that we would like to see gain funding. In these community conversations we will have the opportunity to pool our knowledge and skills and create take-away resources for each other. The workshops are written from a lived experience perspective, with supports from our organizational mentors such as Legal Swipe. The Project also includes a short documentary interviewing Black youth on their experiences surviving, accessing services, living and creating.

We are creating spaces where we are able to talk about things we have never felt safe bringing up in mental health care spaces, institutional or otherwise: Anti-Blackness as we see and feel it in the mental health system, Caribbean perspectives on mental health, spiritual affliction, “pray it away” and stigma in the Church, spiritual or religious supports that we need, how the option of medication can be complicated by medical trauma, self-determination and the need for supports where people look you in the eye and understand you beyond the idea that you are an impossible problem.

 We believe it is within the community; friends, family, partners and chosen family that long-term support for mental health come from. And any service or support that a person seeks along the way should strengthen their chosen support circle.

 There are many directions to work in and issues to tackle; prison reform and abolition, deinstitutionalization, and the creation of Black-focused mental health supports that strengthen the community. There are conversations and actions happening now in regards to Anti-Blackness in the Peel Board lead by community, the scrapping of the SRO program (s/o to the many people who worked tirelessly for that), the Black Youth Action Plan, and the 10 year health accord that will see $1.9 billion allocated to mental health initiatives in Ontario over the next decade.

 It is a very important time to document our experiences, demand resources, and lead solutions as we connect the conversations on Anti-Blackness to mental health and the criminal system.

 If you are interested in getting involved in the project as a youth, mentor, interviewee, creative collaborator, researcher etc., or you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch by email at interceptingthepipeline@gmail.com or by phone at 647-207-9376. We are also interested in Indigenous community collaboration on the project.


Lou Boileau
Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Eli Wipe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

Supporting pregnancy within Queer BIPOC Communites

Portrait of Kyisha in a headwrap holding her pregnant belly

By Kyisha Williams

The task of creating a just world involves many moving parts including us deciding when and how we bring life into this world. For queer people this is often a process that involves a lot of planning and support because the possibility of it happening ‘by accident’ is far less than in heterosexual communities. In racialized communities, specifically Black and Indigenous communities childbearing holds unique challenges because the way we parent and bring life into this world is heavily scrutinized and due to racism our processes are often interrupted, intervened in, etc. This limits the ability of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to seek professional and medical supports during their pregnancies, such as mental health supports for fear that the state may get involved/come into conflict with their lives.

In this context it becomes extremely important to be able to support individuals and families, (especially Black and/or Indigenous Queer people) who take on the hard work (full of physical, emotional and spiritual labour) of bearing children. Children themselves are important teachers in our movements that can push us forward with new ideas and methods to achieve the just world we dream of. We need them to survive! I’ve compiled a short list of things I have found helpful in my pregnancy and that others have shared was helpful in theirs in hopes that we can build strong communities of support for parents in our movements.

Although pregnancy is a common process in our world and not an illness or disability, as a chronically ill person I have noticed that many disability justice principles apply. Much of the support I have needed throughout my life when I’m ill and ‘lower functioning’ is quite similar to the kinds of support I’ve needed within pregnancy so keep this in mind – chances are if you’ve supported someone with disabilities, you’re familiar with these points.


  1. Offer support – don’t wait to be asked to support if you know that you have particular kinds of support you can provide.
  2. Be specific – Don’t worry that you’ll offend someone by assuming what people need. Instead offer support with a couple of specific examples of the kind of support you can provide
  3.  Try not to ask big blanket questions, like “what kind of support do you need” – brains of pregnant people at this time are pretty single focused and it can be hard to ask for support. It really helps if suggestions are made so that the person doesn’t have to think too much/deeply.
  4. Don’t make decisions for people – Often times we have a tendency to make subtle decisions for pregnant people such as “Oh, that person is probably too tired to go out to this event with us” and thus decide not to invite them. Pregnancy can be an isolating time where lots of fear come up about the radical changes coming up in the pregnant person’s life (especially if they are a new parent). These kinds of scenarios can heighten anxiety and triggers (such as abandonment) which can affect pregnant people’s emotional states so try to avoid this. Invite them to things you would otherwise invite them to and let them make the call on whether or not they’d like to go. They are the best judge of what they can and can’t do at this time. Also be flexible if they are late or need to cancel.
  5. Don’t assume support is already present. It’s easy to assume that people have support especially if they have an online presence and are sharing their story – don’t assume they don’t need anymore help because of this – if you can support it doesn’t hurt to check in.
  6.  Ask for consent before sharing stories – the pregnant person in your life might not want to hear your mom’s horrific pregnancy or labour story in which she almost died or if they are having a lot of nausea it might not feel great to hear about how your friend had none for 3 pregnancies straight. Everyone has different experiences (even the same person can have multiple radically different pregnancies) and unless they are asking they might not want to think about others experiences that are radically different from the experience they are having or they may not be ready to speak about certain things (for example: labour, c-section, etc.).
  7. When someone asks for something acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask (at the very least) especially if you can’t provide the support they are asking for. If this is the case; offer an alternative person or alternative task that might be able to meet a similar or different identified need. Many kinds of support are needed including Practical, Emotional and Spiritual (see below for specific examples). You should also ask if you can suggest other ways you might be able to support instead of just volunteering the other things.
  8. Don’t question or interrogate people’s experiences when they share them. For example “Why do you feel isolated?” – believe them, take a moment to think about how or why that may be true for them and then ask questions (preferably to other people) if you still have questions or are unclear.
  9.  Visit, check in, be present – This helps with or prevents potential isolation, loneliness, anxiety etc. that may be present.
  10. Don’t take things personally – If someone doesn’t want you to come by that day or to be in the delivery or birth room don’t take it personal – it’s their process to navigate and they deserve to be able to do that without having to navigate other people’s emotions

Don’t know what kind of support might be needed? Support can include (but is by no means limited to): Practical- Physical and Financial such as cooking, driving or getting something off the baby registry, babysitting, gifting a grocery gift card, household tasks, organization (meal delivery, care team, furniture, etc.) Emotional- talking, visiting, listening. Spiritual- lighting a candle for safe pregnancy and birth, sharing a ritual or meditation practice.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! Happy supporting!


Kyisha Williams
Kyisha Williams is a magical, Black, Queer, high femme, sex positive, artist and health promoter. working mainly in filmmaking and performing. They work around health within Black/queer/trans/racialized/criminalized/HIV positive/HCV positive communities. She is also a soon to be mom. For more information on Kyisha’s work visit kyishawilliams.com