My Abuelita, Nelly

aerial illustration of a family gathering eating and sharing food.

By Aemilius Milo

“Bini’s Momo Party” Illustration by Jennifer Bloome

Stepping into my Abuelita Nelly’s home was always a special kind of aromatic experience. One I never realized I’d have to go without one day, or at least couldn’t fathom that day would come so soon. It’s been a few years now since she stopped cooking for our big family occasions, mostly because it’s a big job y ya’stá cansada, so the adult kids and grandkids have taken up the duties. But also because bit by bit, she started forgetting her recipes and began missing ingredients here and there.

Helping my Abuelita in the kitchen at 8 years old is one of my earliest memories of cooking; witnessing how raw ingredients became nourishing and delicious meals for 10 or more of us at a time. People often ask me how I gauge the amount of ingredients I need to cook large meals. Of course, cooking requires plenty of calculating and measurements, but – for me – a special part of preparing food, is harnessing my intuition and the knowledge  I learned from my Abuelita (as well as my father, and my ancestors too). I remember one of my main jobs, as her little kitchen helper, was taking the sweet green peas out of their pods; my tiny hands carefully picking them out one by one. As a kid, this wasn’t a task I was excited about but it’s remained a special memory I cherish now and certainly don’t take for granted. A fun fact my Abuelita recently shared, is that it wasn’t until she emigrated here from Peru in her early 20’s, that she taught herself how to cook—for survival. I have no doubt the ancestors were flowing through her as she created what came to be her menú. She made sopas, y caldos, y guisos, y tallarines, the best garlic rice ever, and my absolute favorite dish she would cook for me on my birthday: escabeche de pollo. I’ll also never forget her desserts, on the rare occasions she made them, mazamorra morada and budín, goodness in your mouth like nothing else. She would make so much more than just this shortlist.

I miss her cooking. When I eat or smell something that reminds me of her food, my eyes well up, and when I make something and hit those flavor notes she was so good at creating, I can’t help but feel like she’ll always be with me here, in every kitchen I step into. 

One dish she was especially good at was Papa a la Huancaína. Recently it hit me that I no longer follow her recipe, and I can’t even describe the sadness that came over me with this realization. I’ve had to develop my own take on it, either for meeting specific dietary requirements, or achieving a higher-yielding recipe, yet, hers will always be my starting point and foundation for flavor and taste. My abuelita’s Papa a la Huancaína was perfect and I now want to share it with the world, so it lives on forever.

(yields 6-8 appetizer-size servings)

equipment necessary
blender, stove top, medium/large boiling pot

sauce ingredients
1 cup of oil (vegetable, or another light tasting oil of your preference)
1 egg (raw)
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp of ají amariilo, paste or fresh/frozen
(Peruvian hot pepper, can be measured to taste/spice level)
Salt and Black Pepper, pinch of each or measured to taste
½ - 1 lime, squeezed fresh
1 tub/500g light ricotta cheese, fresh and water drained

complete dish and garnish ingredients
6-8 yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced
3-4 hard boiled eggs
*iceberg lettuce and Kalamata olives optional

In blender, pour in the cup of oil and cracked raw egg, blend to a mayonnaise consistency.
Next, in the same blender with the now whipped base, add the garlic, half of the cheese,
and the ají amarillo – blend to smooth/creamy consistency.
Squeeze half of the lime in the blender into sauce, add the remainder of cheese, with salt and black pepper-
blend again to the same smooth/creamy consistency.
If sauce requires more liquid to reach smooth and creamy, squeeze in remaining half of lime and/or add a small splash of either
milk/cream/evaporated milk/nut milks of your preference – continue to add as needed to reach that final consistency.
If sauce gets too thin, blend with small chunks of a boiled potato at a time. 

Once sauce is complete, line dish/plate/bowl with lettuce if desired,
place potatoes (boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced) and pour sauce over top. Garnish with half
a hardboiled egg, and 1-2 Kalamata olives, and enjoy my abuelita Nelly’s specialty – Papa a la Huancaína.  

Aemilius Milo is an accomplished performance artist, organizer, and social entrepreneur. Following a decade involved in Queer/Trans performance theatre spaces in tkaronto, in the fall of 2018 Milo officially launched Comiditas; a small food business/catering company specializing in Peruvian food creations, with a focus on community engagement. They hope to continue expanding Comiditas sustainably and mindfully, in a variety of ways and directions, remaining active in communities for many years to come. IG:@foodbycomiditas

Lost Seeds

black and white illustration of maple pods

By Vanessa Ong

Illustration by Thaila

ma ja.
(good morning Grandma.)

peeping through the blinds,
I see the hazy morning skies,
a bowl of sweet black sesame oatmeal,
little sips of delight.

ma wuo keu takjeu
(Grandma, I’m going to school.)

unwrap the sticky plastic,
chả on white bread, no crusts,
“what -is- that?”
hold back the tears,
wrap, wrap, wrap.

jo ni leu bho jiat?
(why didn’t you eat?)

carry two extra chairs to the dinner table,
arrange six pairs of chopsticks,
delicately engraved red and green characters all lined up,
call everyone to jiat beung,
grandma’s pride written on her face.

ha kiang.
(So good.)

egg tarts are a sweet treat,
flakey crusts and a buttery custard,
share a taste with your school friends,
spat, spat, spat.

wuo bho toe kuong.
(I’m not hungry.)

silent meals,
chowing down as the chopsticks click clack,
three generations in one another’s presence,
we were peace.

ho jiat, bho nang jai!
(If it were tasty, nobody would know!)

cycles of attachment and of shame,
hiding your language and hiding your food,
your culture’s a memory,
now, who are you?

wuo mzai.
(I don’t know.)

Vanessa Ong is a Teochew-Chinese- Vietnamese-Canadian WOC, living and working in Kitchener, Ontario. She is a sometimes-poet, gardener, and interdisciplinary researcher, currently exploring connections between food, gentrification, and sense of place in Downtown Kitchener. As cofounder of Littlefoot Community Projects, she is interested in building a decolonized food justice movement, which addresses difficult topics like affordability, just sustainabilities, land sovereignty, intergenerational trauma, and cultural loss. She spends her time overthinking and curling up in bed when the too-muchness of life takes hold.

Matter & Molokhia

illustration of Egyptian Molokhia Food

By Basmah Ahmed

“Egyptian Molokhia” Illustration by Yaansoon

I remember vines of tomatoes, cucumbers and baskets of eggplant but my favourite was always the Molokhia; a tall leafy green that grows on thick stalk. Although resembling spinach, when used by Arabs to make warm soup it is adored by children (the toughest food critics). 

I remember those stalks being brought into the backyard from the back of Amu’s (Uncle’s) truck after he visited the farm. They were almost as tall I was in 4 foot piles. I would help pull each leaf off, stem by stem for hours. My friends and I would compete with each other on who could remove the leaves the fastest before they’d be cut into even thinner pieces by our mothers’ knives that rocked back and forth at speeds that seemed too dangerous – even for adults. Some saved for now, and most stored for later. I remember this from my childhood, my mother and other families in our little Arab community in Hamilton growing food in the 4 months of the year that the weather here would allow. They would share vegetables and fruits that they had grown, swapping tips and humbly bragging about whose crops turned out the best. 

It mattered that I could watch and see how food grew, how it could be cut and torn and used in ways that would nourish our communities. That miracle is one that never gets old. You cannot tire of watching the magic of your people and the earth connecting together. 

In his book Divine Governance of the Human Kingson, Ibn Arabi, a Muslim poet, philosopher and scholar says the following: 

“As the whole universe is created from the primary elements of earth, water, fire, and air so is the body of persons. 

The Creator says: 

“They it is who created you from dust” (Quran 40:67) 

“We have created them from clay” (Quran 37: 11) 

“We have created the human being of formed dried mud” (Quran 15:26) 

The separation between us and the land is not one that is natural. It is not one that is sacred, and not one that is held in almost any ancient tradition especially not those of our indigenous land protectors. 

Yet colonial and capitalist policy will tell you that some bodies are made of matter that makes their belly unworthy of filling, that land belongs to some, and should be ripped away from others. Yet the land defies, and is dying to warn us that it is unsafe to continue this way. In the hands of capitalistic endeavors, white supremacy, and systems built off the backs of colonial theft, we were taught that plant beings are nothing but resources, water is nothing but a means of production, people are not worth much – you are not worth much. 

We know that under this model some life is preferred over others. Some bodies are preferred over others. Lightness over blackness. They have blocked, barred, pillaged, and destroyed. That clay matter did this, and yet it is only through a return to our essential being and our natural connection with the land,  that we can even begin to undo what we have been programmed to believe is right.  

We cannot mold this new story by shaping it off a model that has betrayed our most vulnerable.

In Arabic, the word for the people of Paradise is Muflihoon ( Moof – lee – hoon), which  comes from the root word Falah, which means farmer. This word is used to describe the winners who have achieved paradise It is the same word used to describe the farmer who tills the land; who waters it and harvests it only to see the fruits of their rewards after months of patience or who may only see it grow for generations to come.

 I know not everyone will agree that Paradise exists, or will even agree on how to get there but we can agree that gardens grow wherever seeds can find moisture, and can hold on to soil long enough to grow. If we are the earth as Ibn Arabi suggests, we must then also be the farmers. 

They cannot stop us from entering paradise despite continuing to build the gate that locks us from it. As farmers we can build paradise with our bare hands, extending ourselves into the dirt to excavate and create space for new. Remove the weeds, plant seeds collected from our ancestors and bury them firmly into the new soil that we’ve cleared. 

I know I am not just on the earth but I am of it, made of its same pieces, with all the nutrients I need to nourish my community. I am a pile of stalks  that will have young hands reaching for each leaf , mothers’ rocking them back and forth at speeds that seemed scary even for adults, yet transforming them into the meal that fills up a stomach that was told it was not worthy. Some saved for now, and most stored for generations to come. 

We’re not too different from those stalks of Molokhia. So I ask, what would it look like to know that the earth has enough to feed us? That we can put ourselves in the dirt and come out stalks that can nourish each other? What would it look like to believe the world can provide for us because we are it? I for one will be fighting to find out one garden at a time.  

Basmah is standing amongst forestry in a green long sleeve sweater and one-shoulder overalls on.

Basmah is a writer and poet who
is passionate about the urban food movement and loves getting her hands dirty in projects focused on access to food and connecting people with nature in unexpected places. She is most inspired by how spirituality/ancient traditions tie into the fight against climate change.

3 Poems

Poems and artwork by Kamika Peters


He slinks away in the night
And returns in his home on wheels
Bedding made of the devil's wrappers
A woman took an axe to his knee
He cut a woman's face
A scar across her eye
I stayed invisible
when I went to school with her son
He wants to see me
He says he'll pay
with cash
But he can't afford time wasted
I used to fight through her to see him
Arms soft like fresh bread
But strong
I would sing my song at the door
Pools for eyes
She's not in today
I would cry
Sit tight
I will be back
as quick as peanut butter
In a garage parking lot
during an Algonquin winter
He puts a lime in the cash box
For the wicked people dem
Bad mind people
be aware
But don't mind
He is going in
I might be 26 or 29
He might be 49 or 52
Either one of could be dead
More for me for him to miss
More of him for me to forgive
More of me for myself to forgive
During the time

Lily of the St. Micheal

She throws her napkin at me
I don't need to see inside
I know
It's filled with the usual
Chewed grape skins
She laughs at me
Soft lips over hard gums
Hard knuckles in the air
She asks me if I want a sandwich
And sticks out her tongue
I shriek for her
I laugh with her
I am a cackling hen
I love her
She calls me monkey
In any other context
Other than her love
I would be upset
She sings me a song
About a brown skin girl
She laughs at the end of the song
After she's gone I realize
She changed the ending
As sweet as the sugar spoons
For her Orange Pekeo
To me
I miss her everyday


Your mother twisted your words as if it was her tongue
Wove a narrative for you to be a saviour of which you never asked
Couldn't hold you unless she was upheld
Couldn't kiss you unless it was a spell
I am rooted in an understanding that I must convey to your foundation
To illustrate my love in words you should have learnt from birth
Nisam Mama

Portrait of Kamika

Kamika Peters
Kamika Peters is an odd, twenty-something years old budding multi-disciplinary artist who happens to be a black, queer, femme with disabilities born on Algonquin territory to West Indian guardians. Predominately self-taught and interested in exploring  complex truths in their identity, their trauma, and the oppressive paradigms that exist in their world using many mediums.

Together & Alone: Recovering Family Histories of Healing

a photo of small area of greenery on a beach with small human statue

by Tina Zafreen Alam

the dead
stand stark and defiant
among the living
twisted, pale
limbs stretched skyward
in seas of lush green
naked, bare
together and alone

I ask questions. If I were to think of the most notable thing about me, it’s that I ask questions and that sometimes, these are the questions that no one else around me thought to, decided to, wanted to or was prepared to ask.

In March, I went to a free workshop on herbal medicine for stress and anxiety in hopes of finding ways to cope with a violent and oppressive school environment. The facilitator/knowledge-sharer spoke about traditional and Indigenous practices in general and gave us information about Ayurvedic traditions in particular.

I left the workshop with questions. Though I have a very limited and basic understanding of Ayurveda, I didn’t know if it was the practice that my ancestors in Bangladesh would have been connected to. So, I asked.

First, I asked my Mamoni (term of endearment meaning mother, dearest and what I call my mother’s second sister) and she told me I had an ancestor that was a herbalist. I then asked my Khalamoni (term of endearment meaning dearest maternal aunt and what I call my mom’s third sister) and my mother about it and everyone gave me different answers. Finally, I asked my Nannoo (my maternal grandmother) and she told me about someone who practiced traditional healing. It wasn’t until I checked back with my Mamoni that I realized that they were speaking of two different relatives. I set out looking to learn about one healer in the family and ended up hearing about two!

What follows are interviews with two family members on my mother’s side, my Nannoo and my Mamoni. I sent them both the same questions:

What is your name and your relationship to me?

Nannoo: My name is Hasna Begum and I am your maternal grandmother.

Mamoni: I am your maternal aunt. I have been very close to you, having lived with your family in Canada for a couple of years. And you lived with my family for a couple of years, your junior and senior years in high school, in Montreal and in New Haven.

What is your personal relationship with traditional healing practices or traditional medicine?

N: I have almost no personal relationship with traditional healing practices or traditional medicine. I am science oriented.

M: I have no formal connection to herbal or traditional medicine. I do usually have a tube of Arnica that I apply to myself and offer to others for minor aches or bruises. My maternal grandmother used to have an old wooden chest of small bottles of liquids and sugar balls that she would open to treat our minor cuts and bruises when we were kids. I found this chest very intriguing and was distressed to find it gone when my grandmother passed away.

Is there a particular name for traditional healing practices and traditional medicine that is practiced in the area now known as Bangladesh?

N: Yes, traditional medicine is still widely trusted and practiced in rural areas.

M: Yes, there are terms for traditional medicinal practices in Bangladesh. The first is Kobiraji, strictly speaking, herbalism, and the second would be loosely termed as Ojha, who engages in “jhara/pura,” or spiritualism mixed in with some herbal prescription. This is when the medicine man or woman would do incantations as well as a blow on people as part of the cure. Probably more to it but I have not actually watched one. I would say that about ninety-nine percent of Bangladeshis will have gone to one or other form of herbalist/spiritualist in their lifetime (just guessing here).

I heard that we have a family member who was a healer and herbalist, can you tell me her name, how she is related to us and what you know about her practice?

N: Her name was Zohra, my mother’s youngest sister. She was a healer and herbalist too! She often visited my mother, Rabeya, sometimes along with one male healer. They sat on a mat. Lit candles in the middle and meditated for hours before starting any treatment. They chanted some unrecognizable words and brought out herbs from their bundles for treatment of the patient in front. My response to these activities is skeptical!

M: My paternal great aunt (my grandfather’s sister) was such a person. I know very little about her except that when some member of her family was really ill, some herbs were revealed to her in her sleep by an angel and when she procured and prepared these, it is said to have cured the patient. My understanding is that this happened more than once.I do not know her name but, she was supposedly very spritely and smart and picked up lessons when her brothers were being tutored. As a girl, she would not have been tutored. She married and had four children, three boys and a girl. She died at childbirth after her last child, the daughter, was born.

Did you ever receive treatment from her or through her direction? And if so, can you describe what your initial concern was, what the treatment was and how you responded to it?

N: I, myself ever received any such treatment.

M: She was gone long before I was born.

Can you let me know how her practice was received or perceived by the rest of the family?

N: Most of the family members thought that the whole affair was fake and senseless.

M: I believe her family appreciated that her herbs helped her family member. Also, I do not think that it bothered anyone that this was ‘alternative’ medicine. I believe she was very well loved and I get the impression that she was what we would call an engaging and happy young girl/woman.

Have you yourself ever felt any personal connection to her practices or have any of your children (or grandchildren)?

N: My children received such treatment and sometimes got healed!

M: Strictly speaking, I cannot say that I have. My experience has not been medicine oriented. I have had strange dreams and urges to call home when there was no particular reason to but I have not sought out any of it.So here are two or three stories when my connection to my family seems to have driven me to make phone calls to my family only to find that there was grave news awaiting me. The first instance was in 1986 when I was away in Harare, Zimbabwe, doing field research. I lived in Montreal and was a graduate student at McGill University. Most of my family lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In Harare, my then husband and I were renting a room in the suburban home of a Mrs. Jackson. She had a phone, but it was not one that we had access to. Also, this was a time when people wrote letters and phone calls were difficult – especially as it was still required to go via long distance call assistant to make the connection. Also, it was a relatively costly venture.

Anyway, I felt the sudden need to call home to Dhaka. Mrs. Jackson was reluctant. She only rarely used the phone to make long distance calls herself. In the end, she gave in when she saw how desperately I wanted to make the call. Also we gave her about Zim twenty dollars in advance. This was way more than the call would end up costing her.

When I called, my father answered the call and told me that a shadow had been detected  the x-ray of his liver the day before.

The second story was when I called my mother in Dhaka from New Haven on the same day that she found a lump on her breast. This turned out to be benign.

Do you feel it’s important to pass down and chronicle these stories and traditions?

N: My ignorance is responsible for not giving much importance to this particular method of treatment. But I think, it may be important to pass down and chronicle these stories and traditions for the knowledge of social and cultural heritage of a particular region.

M: Yes, I do feel that these stories are good to relate to family and let them deal with them in their own terms. I know my ex-husband completely downplayed the spiritual aspects of my dreams but my sisters do seem to value them.

How do you feel about discussing and sharing this information?

N: I find this discussion and sharing interesting enough!

M: I do not usually tell these stories to people other than to close family. Since these are about my close ties to them.

My Nanoo had aunts on either side of her family who were practicing herbalists, though she only knew of the one she told me about, Zohra.

My Mamoni only knew of the other aunt, whose name we don’t know, because her grandfather (my great grandfather, who I called Senior) told her stories about his sister. But, my mother and my Khalamoni didn’t know about these stories and thought I had misheard or misunderstood when I asked about them. So, I wonder if she, like me, was asking questions no one else was asking. I know that she, like me and like our ancestor before us, receives messages in her dreams.

The very process of trying to find this information has been a painful example of how I personally have been forcibly and violently disconnected from direct access to my ancestral knowledge through colonization, assimilation, loss of language, genocide, displacement, migration, and the valuing of certain man-made ways of understanding the world (science) through simultaneously devaluing other ways of understanding the world (everything else). Yet, traces of those traditions live on in me and in my Mamoni, and maybe in other family members as well.

Whose knowledge is positioned as truth and fact? Whose knowledge is revered? Whose knowledge is taught? Whose knowledge is passed down? Whose knowledge is shunned?

The barriers I am facing might have started out as overarching structural forces, but they are being perpetuated by many factors on a personal level as well.

The information that we are given is often directly tied to the questions we ask and who we ask them of. If we want ties to our cultural knowledge, especially as Black, Indigenous, People of Colour or diasporic people that might mean a lot of digging for clues and work as these disconnections are here by the design and intent of white supremacy. The traumas and traditions of my family are buried somewhere beneath the surface and I am trying to uncover them, one question at a time, following the wisdom that already lives in my bones.

Tina Zafreen Alam
Tina Zafreen Alam is a poet and a member of the Bangladeshi diaspora living in Toronto. She looks to name and illustrate the ways that transgenerational and intergenerational trauma have marked her life, while also affirming the wisdom that has passed down along with it.

Words of Wisdom from the Grandmothers in Three Movements: Past, Present and Future

watercolour of cotton flower

by Karen L. Culpepper 

(With a Lyrical Soundtrack from Jill Scott)

Content note: This Article discusses sexual violence and abortion 

Past: Once upon a time…

To the indigenous grandmothers of African descent that survived the middle passage, to the Black women and girls who endured the horrors of slavery in the US and to the grandmothers of the Jim Crow era, like Recy Taylor, who did not receive reproductive rights or justice, we welcome your presence. You endured the burden of physical cruelty, mental torture and psychic attacks, a resonance that is coded, and sometimes expressed, in the present day by way of intergenerational transmission of trauma. May you continue to share your stories from the other realm, so that we may continue to acknowledge your experience in this realm

“Tell me how you feel if I was, if I was gone.

Tell me how you feel.

What if I was gone forever?”

How It Make You Feel

– Jill Scott

“I believe if slavery would lasted much longer the negro race would have depopulated because all the negro womens they had become wise to this here cotton root. They would chew that and they would not give birth to a baby. All of their Masters sho‘ did have to watch them, but sometimes they would slip out at night and get them a lot of cotton roots and bury them under their quarters. If they could just get enough that root to get one flower that was enough to do what they wanted it to do” ~Dave Byrd of Texas, an ex-slave, recounts his experience of cotton root bark, Federal Writers‘ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)

Baby I am not sure I can put into words the horrors of slavery. It was brutal and inhumane. The slave owners were primitive savages. What kept me in the midst of it all, you ask? Two things: the wisdom of the ancestors and love.

Don’t ever forget: you are the descendant of brilliant African people enslaved in the United States. Those white folks did not know a thing about the crops we cultivated in South Carolina. We were brought from Africa specifically for our knowledge of agriculture, but folks don’t usually claim that as fact. We created fertile ground for crops like tobacco, indigo, rice and cotton. While we worked the land, we planted seeds of hope, strength and possibility and watered those seeds with our blood, sweat and tears.

I give praises to the ancestors because ironically we were the growers of the very plant spirit medicine that allowed us to have sovereignty over our bodies. I was told stories as a young child about how Mandingo woman had established a deep relationship with cotton root bark to regulate reproductive outcomes such as preventing and terminating pregnancy.   Honestly, we would have had cotton in the United States whether they liked it or not because my Mama told me a story of how some of the women tucked all kinds of seeds in their hair before they were stolen from the Motherland. Who would have thought that the plant we worked with year ‘round would enable our bodies to be the site of resistance?

As a young enslaved woman, I found myself at the intersection of providing physical labor and the expectation to reproduce, literally create more property. My Mama tried to protect me as best she could. One day while Mama was off completing a task, the Master’s wife, Miss Betty, encouraged her son to rape me, which he did. I was so ashamed. I jumped up, fixed my clothes and went back to watching the youngers. I didn’t have the courage to tell Mama. The next morning when I went to the big house, Miss Betty forced me to drink a concoction of black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) to ensure the arrival of her grandchild because Mama knew all about plants from catching babies with Big Mama.

About a month and a half later, Mama witnessed the concoction routine as she prepared breakfast. She pulled me aside and without saying a word, I burst into tears and hung my head in shame. Mama knew my truth. Although she was devastated, she just held me close and kissed me on my forehead. Little did Miss Betty know, cotton root bark is a force to be reckoned with and I had seen it in action many nights when Mama would help other women terminate a legacy of suffering. She gave me a decoction of cotton root bark and cotton seeds that night and within a few hours, I delivered a huge formed clot. Mama laid hands on my womb space and gave me another tea to tone down the bleeding because we had to be up in a few hours. She was off to the river to perform a ritual and release my baby back to the Earth. Mama held me all night.

From that day forward, Mama taught me everything she knew about plant spirit medicine and had me chew on cotton root bark every day moving forward. We were emancipated a few years later. I stopped chewing on that root bark once I met my beloved. I never knew choosing to love someone could be such a beautiful act of resistance. He held my hand and treated me so gently. I had never had that before that moment. I never wanted to have a baby before meeting him. His love kept me here and he gave me something so sacred to love: your great, great grandmother.

Present: 45: A menace to society

“I wonder if I gave you diamonds out of my own womb, would you feel the love in that or ask why the moon? If I gave you sanity for the whole of humanity, had all the solutions for the pain and pollution. No matter where I live, despite the things I give, you’ll always be this way.”

Hate on Me – Jill Scott

“A BOLD vision for reproductive justice means trusting Black women to determine our future.”

– Monica Simpson, SisterSong

Matter is neither created, nor destroyed. Same script, different cast, new day. Has much changed in the realm of reproductive freedom and sovereignty when it comes to the bodies of Black women and girls? The same wicked frequency of white supremacy and privilege is alive and well today. The only thing that has changed about plantation life is that the “Last Plantation” is in the center of Washington, DC.   White men are STILL making critical decisions about women’s bodies through the creation of legislature and by eliminating funding to programs that directly impact their ability to make safe, critical choices about their own bodies.

Can Black folks and other folks of colour in the United States truly ever feel whole and complete under the suffocating frequencies of capitalism and corruption? To be Black in America is to exist in the presence of racial and economic injustice and emotional, mental and spiritual harm. Is it possible to show up in our unique totality on a land that never considered our ancestors equal, whole, complete human beings? These are the days of truth, you know. One lesson we’ve learned from 2016 is however folks are show up these days–believe them.

Donald Trump, also known as 45 by those in resistance, is a chief teacher of this lesson. We cannot believe his word, but we can believe his intent. He is a threat to the very fabric of the United States and he is a threat to humanity, particularly in terms of Black women’s reproductive justice. Based on an article in the Huffington Post, over the course of one year, Donald Trump has restricted $8.8 billion in US foreign aid funding for international health programs that provide or even mention abortion. For young women and girls in Kenya, this means no access to condoms, no access to safe abortions (unsafe abortions are a leading cause of death), no access to family planning, no access to cancer screening and no access to antiretroviral medication in a country with a very high HIV population. The impact is swift and evident with young women in Kenya returning to clinic sites pregnant, some even suicidal and many resorting to unsafe abortions.

Here in the US, the impact of stress on Black women’s health is the root of many health negative phenomena. According to a recent piece from National Public Radio (NPR), Black mothers in the US die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health. And according to recent data, in some areas, like New York City, Black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers.

Unfortunately this phenomena was embodied and expressed through the loss of activist, Erica Garner. Erica lost her father, Eric Garner, who suffered from asthma, to senseless police brutality after a New York Police Department Officer used an unauthorized chokehold. Erica had give birth to her son three months prior to her death and had suffered from the effects of an enlarged heart. According to the New York Times, “an asthma episode precipitated a major heart attack.”

What was the “seed” that caused Erica’s death? Most likely a combination of racism, stress, grief, and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon that I have observed consistently in activist spaces where folks align themselves with the suffering of others. It often shows up as literal fatigue and can express as apathy, depression, anxiety and contributes to the erosion of vitality in activists. As a member of the Oxalis Collective here in Washington DC, we thrive to create and curate healing spaces for activists. We have worked with a reproductive justice organization to educate and introduce healing justice as a framework. This framework provides a container of principles that encourages healthy, whole activist communities and sustainable movement spaces.

Future: Possibility (For the sake of the youngers)

“When I wake up, everything I went through will be beautiful.” When I Wake Up – Jill Scott

“I am rooted in radical organizing traditions that always call on spirit and ancestors to allow us to root our political work in a much larger frame of how are we transforming on a cellular level what oppression has done to us, individually and collectively. And how will we not just survive but heal and be well and create new ideas or renew?” – Cara Page

Wise grandmothers, our elevated ancestors. We give thanks for your presence. We give thanks for the container you have created for us all. Thank you for keeping your torch lit in dark times. Thank you for showing us the way and passing along your wise teachings.

I am dreaming of a world that affirms all lives.

A world where folks can all love who we choose.

A world where we acknowledge our wretched past history and through community ritual, atone for our destructive past aggressions.

A world where folks acknowledge their privilege and leverage that knowingness to work towards justice, conscious allyship and the radical distribution of resources.

A world where the bodies of people of colour are not a canvas for harm and trauma.

A world in which access to information and economic power is not granted to the few.

A world where we cultivate a connection with all living beings, plants and creatures.

A world that encourages community and economic empowerment through entrepreneurship that is rooted in models that are sustainable.

A world where we our foods sources are fully disclosed and consist of healthy, ethically grown sources and accessible food markets.

A world that weaves in healing justice as a foundational tool to bring light and healing to our experiences, triggers and traumas in this realm and generations forward and back.

A world where we are safe in a space of our design called home.

Grandmothers, we need your guidance and protection now more than ever. May we channel your firmness and unwavering will to live. We know in our hearts that you did not survive for us not to live our best lives. May our dreams be big enough to hold us all.

Karen Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist in the Washington DC area. Karen’s unique herbalist contribution centers on the ways in which plant medicine can support deep healing. Her particular focus areas are intergenerational trauma and its impact on physiology and vitality. She can be reached at