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.

Lessons & Reflections

illustration of a moon with floral inside

On Learning and Teaching Healthier Relationship Skills

By Erics Horenchka

I have no fucking idea what it means to be in a relationship and I’m pretty sure most people I have ever been in relationships with don’t, either. The last two years of my life have been all about learning what that fact means. I’m learning that the implications of this fact  are huge, and the reasons for that lack of knowledge are many. I am not an expert on relationships, in fact I have had some really major failures in relationships. Having cheated on almost all of my partners, being involved in several (and counting) emotionally abusive relationships, and having many friends whose relationship with me is defined by hurt, I know the only thing I am an expert in is failing, crying a lot, learning a bit, and trying again.

I am a white (Ukrainian on one side, and have no access to knowing the other side’s lineage), high (both in terms of my heels and drug use) femme, cis, manipulative, relatively charming, learning disabled, student, eating disordered, mentally unwell lady. I currently volunteer doing Partner Assault Response (PAR) counseling through a formal agency. I run 12-week groups and individual counseling sessions for people (mostly cis men) who have been convicted of domestic violence/sexual assault. These are folks who have abused and/or sexually assaulted their romantic partners and have been mandated by the courts to attend each session, usually to avoid (sometimes more) jail time, have their charges lessened or be released from custody. Obviously I hold a tremendous amount of power in these spaces, where at the end of the 12 weeks I write a letter to the crown stating what I believe their chances of ‘re-offending’ are and recommendations (i.e for more resources, such as drug treatment). The work I am doing of intervening with folks who are perpetrators of domestic violence involves teaching/learning the skills involved in being in healthy relationships. It does not feel as radical as I thought it would. It is much more human in its form. I try to tell myself and those around me that if you can’t trust how and why learning  basic relationship skills is important radical work, and inherently involved with transformative justice; that is okay, but it’s your truth and way of being. This isn’t to say the best way of doing this is through a formal agency/through court mandated programs, and for sure I am not always the appropriate person to teach this stuff. I often feel  that in our communities we use words like ‘Transformative Justice’ as catchy, sexy words and our heads go to this amazing, big work where we get to use such phrases and radical sentiments. However, I think my experience has been a key element of this radical transformative work: I’m just learning/teaching some basic shit (which I struggle to apply in my own life) and having conversations about being in relationships with our self, the world, and others and hoping that will lead to less hurt in this world.

There are all sorts of lessons I have learned from my work with these men. Confusing and unsolved questions and ‘facts’ have arisen inside me and have made me question some of my earlier simpler radical ideas, that I once thought set me apart from the average person. I am learning the complexity of trusting the police’s accounts of an event more than the people I am supporting (men who abuse), the therapeutic value of humanity, self worth and accepting contradictions in both my own and other people’s stories and beliefs.

Anyways what I do is talk with people about some very basic relationship skills. These lessons  would be learnt if in a different, non-colonial world from elders, family, teachers, the land, and from ourselves rather than a nice, business-casual-wearing white women in a place where people find themselves in to avoid jail.

Reasons for unhealthy relationships and abuse:

The work I do is a product of colonialism. The work I do is a product of jails, of schools with curriculums that ignore the most important lessons and stories. It is a product of a world where people, like me, do not know how to interact with and be in relation. Furthermore, the reason I get to be the one doing this work is a result of white supremacy. I think there is amazing, powerful and useful stuff to be said (and being said) about colonialism and a lack of ability to be in healthy relationships, I am not the guy to be saying that stuff. I do have to be honest though that it guides some of my work.

It is common in many traditional ways of being in the world, that learning to be in relationships comes from the land, it comes from family, the work done in day to day life. The lessons/tools for relation comes from all around us, the basis of being in this world, is relationship. It is the heart of self. As I learn about my peoples traditions and the way they relate to each other and the land, I’m seeing the ways capitalism/globalization has ruined being able to foster healthy relations and the negative impacts that has caused through domestic violence.The ancestors that I know of create beautiful eggs, which at one point symbolized the sun, and the way the sun creates and sustains life to give thanks to the sun and celebrate their relationship to light. Nowadays though, the creation of these eggs, and the reason it is done is lost; it is about creating ‘art,’ it has been commodified and de-spiritualised and is no longer a ritual of relationship. Many acts that support relationship have been lost. The stuff that makes up our day to day life no longer fosters a sense of relationship/self in relationships. Instead of harvesting potatoes with my grandmother I am anxiously glued to facebook awaiting more likes. I have no time or energy to reflect on who I am in relation to the creations around me; I don’t know what the content of my relations are. It is ironic, as we live in a world/culture that holds romantic partnership up as the most important thing(see any romantic movie, tv show, etc), yet never teaches us how to be in healthy relationship.

When I think of this stuff I think of the way one may relate to a tree, you may walk past it every day, you may or may not have thoughts about that tree, you may or may not have big feelings about that tree. Regardless though you are in some kind of relationship with that tree, whether you acknowledge it or not. And if you are not aware of the content of that relationship, who you are in it, the dynamics of it; it is unhealthy one. If you never sit and own and chill with those feelings it/the relation created inside of you; it’s not healthy. Maybe it is a giant oak, that is trying to teach you a lesson in forgiveness, or a struggling willow reaching out to you for a little help, or to convey its anger at you. Maybe the tree reminds you of a abusive ex partner or a time of death, maybe your people use to make baskets out of that willow in order to carry eggs or medicine in them. You may or may not know what feelings that tree triggers in you, it may be rage, love, abandonment, excitement. That tree provides you with oxygen, toilet paper, calmness. You may trigger huge feelings in that tree or deep dark resentment. But in the context of this world, all you know about your relationship to that tree is that it’s there and maybe that it does some good things for you, and maybe its given name. The fact is though, you and that tree have a history, a relationship. You have conflict and needs but without learning to hold that in yourself, unpack it and acknowledge it, you will never be able to be in healthy relations with the tree or to learn the lessons you have in order to glean from the relationship. You will also not be able to be in healthy relationships with others. 

Things to understand before talking about being in healthier relationships

It is often said that in order to love others, you must love yourself first. Or that the most important relationship is your relationship with yourself, as it guides all of the other relationships you’re in. I don’t think the sentiments behind these thoughts are untrue, however they are very individualistic, and colonial in their form. The fact is, in the absence of a relationship, it becomes impossible to answer any question. It is our relationships that helps us grow and be human. A lot of being in a relationship is learning how to deal with the growth and self-talk/thoughts that relationships bring up. It’s true that the work we do outside of relationship is important and inherently tied to our ability to be in a good relationship. And it’s true a lot of being in a healthy relationships with others is based on our ability to understand and process our emotions and reactions internally. I find it an important line to tow; to own that your relations are what build and create you, but that you are also responsible for the content of those relations and how you are in and outside of them. 

            A key part of being in a relationship is listening to and understanding how someone else experiences us, but how could we possibly do that if we don’t experience ourselves? The same goes with our own gifts, if we can’t enjoy our gifts, no one else can either. Know your limitations, so when they are pointed out to you, you won’t explode. You also won’t experience co-dependency. This does not happen in a linear fashion though as (the abliest and kind of fucked up) sentiments like: ‘ove yourself before you love others’ implies. 

            Relationships often lead us to a place where we see contradictions that is important. I have found in my relationships where I hear and learn things that I believe to be true that I don’t fit within who I am currently. This leaves me needing to expand my ideas of who I am and what beliefs I carry. It is the space, and time you spend within that space, between my two selves that is important and transformative. When we’re in relationships we have to learn how to come home to ourselves and interact properly inside the home we create in ourselves. What are your house rules? How do you follow them?! We have to learn to become a container big enough to hold our own shit. We need to create a container (a space) within ourselves that has the capacity to reflect, hold, challenge, cradle, smash and love our emotions and reactions; building this is the work of stopping abuse. We need to be able to take a step back from this container and look at it. When I think of my own container I try and locate it in my body. For me it lives in my guy, just below my naval. I can close my eyes and picture it, splash around in it, and ideally expand it as needed. Which allows me to examine the stuff inside it. This is part of learning how to come home to ourselves. We need to be able to have a space to bring our lessons to that is comfortable and safe and not full of traps and distractions! 

            These are just a few of the things I have learned along my path to building better relationships. 

For practical tools to help build. healthier relationships see: “Relationship Tools

Erica Horechka

Erica is a high femme white queer lady living her days out in Guelph. She spends her time navigating her too big feelings, learning to support folks in unhealthy relationships/folks with abusive tendencies and trying to get to the bottom of things people say, do and think. You can find her nattering about joy, deep pain/unwellness and how cool it is that people have capacity to find new stories for themselves!

Harm Reduction and Rittenhouse

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Joan Ruzsa Interviewed by Hannah B

Joan Ruzsa is the coordinator of Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse is an abolitionist organization that promotes community-led alternatives to incarceration, as well as providing support and advocacy to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.

Hannah: Let’s start with some basic definitions so that everyone can be on the same page! What exactly does Transformative Justice mean to Rittenhouse?

Rittenhouse: From a very young age most of us are taught to defer to authority. As kids this means when we have conflict, we go to our parents or teachers or other figures who are seen to hold power, rather than building our own capacity to find solutions. This primes us to buy into our current legal system, which replaces parental figures with the police, courts and prisons. Social harms are seen as crimes against the state and dealt with through punishment and exclusion. Laws and institutions are designed to protect some communities while targeting and criminalizing others, which is why our prisons are disproportionately filled with people of colour, Indigenous people, people living in poverty, people who use drugs, queer and trans people and people who disrupt the state through political and social action. Our legal system does not allow for meaningful involvement of victims; on the contrary it marginalizes and re-victimizes them. It is reductive: perpetrators of harm are called “murderers”, “rapists”, “thieves”, without looking at the context and circumstances that led people to where they are, or acknowledging that many people who perpetrate harm have also been victims of harm. It falsely equates punishment with accountability and community safety. It does not make a distinction between crime and criminalization.

Transformative Justice is about finding community-based solutions to social harms. All of the processes with which people might be familiar: sentencing circles, mediation, community conferencing – are all based on Indigenous justice practices. Transformative Justice (TJ) brings together the people most affected when a harm/conflict occurs to talk about 1) what happened, 2) the impact of what happened and 3) collectively coming to decisions about what to do moving forward. Critiques of TJ often are based on the belief that engaging in this type of process means that people don’t have to be accountable for their behaviour, but sitting in a room with someone you have harmed, looking them in the eye and hearing about how your behaviour affected them requires a huge level of personal responsibility. Transformative Justice is based on the premise that community members, not state institutions, are in the best position to resolve harm in ways that strengthens communities and makes them safer.

H: Can you define what Harm Reduction means to Rittenhouse?

R: Harm reduction is about supporting people to manage the risks associated with sex, drug use and other behaviours that potentially have harmful consequences. Unlike abstinence-based models which impose a one-fits-all approach (stopping the behaviour), harm reduction practices are on a broad spectrum and are focused on meeting people where they’re at instead of telling them where they should be.

In regards to drug use, harm reduction can take a lot of forms in the community: providing harm reduction materials like clean needles and safe crack kits to individuals who are using, to outreach workers and to dealers who can distribute them to customers; sharing information and resources about safe use; training people to use Naloxone to prevent overdose deaths; and the creation of safe consumption sites like Insite in Vancouver where people can use in a safe environment. On a systemic level harm reduction can involve working to raise awareness of and to change laws and policies that criminalize people who use drugs. Drugs laws, who they target and the ways in which they are enforced can cause much more harm than drugs themselves.

H: Where do these two things meet up for Rittenhouse (why are they connected for you)? Are there times when these two ideas come into conflict with each other?

R: The majority of people in prison in Canada are there for convictions related to drugs or property, and eighty percent of prisoners are drug users. So harm reduction, including the decriminalization of drug use, is definitely an abolitionist/transformative justice strategy. We also found that community organizations, even those which are mandated to work with marginalized populations including drug-using communities, were often replicating punitive and exclusionary practices through the use of barring or service restriction

In 2013, Rittenhouse surveyed people who use drugs who had been barred from community agencies.They identified issues including increased risk of unsafe drug use and violence; lack of access to harm reduction programs, health services, and other important services; and increased contact with the police and the legal system. These factors increase the risk of HIV transmission and lead to the over-incarceration of people who use drugs. People in prison have had little access to the social determinants of health (including proper health care) prior to incarceration, and the prohibition on harm reduction materials in prison has resulted in rates of HIV that are fifteen to twenty times higher than in the general population. Given that the vast majority of prisoners will be released into the community, this situation has serious public health and safety implications.

In an effort to address/reduce some of the risk factors identified in our research, Rittenhouse implemented a Transformative Justice/Harm Reduction Pilot Project which was funded by the City of Toronto Urban Health Fund. The goal of the project is to build the capacity of drug-using communities to resolve conflicts – within both community agencies and the larger community – in order to reduce the risks identified above. The project involves three phases. The first phase is a 6 six week arts group with the goal of building community relationships and introducing conversations about justice and harm reduction. The second phase involves recruiting and hiring service users/members of community agencies who have been targeted by the legal system and who have used drugs currently or in the past. Participants are trained to be TJ facilitators, using a circle model and learning specific skills like the iceberg model of conflict, de-escalation and open-ended questions. The third phase involves the trained facilitators implementing these conflict resolution strategies in the agency and in the broader community. We ran the pilot at St. Stephen’s Corner Drop-In and WoodGreen Community Services, and we are now part-way through the training phase at the Parkdale-Activity Recreation Centre. Many people and organizations have been fundamental in developing, implementing and supporting this project to be successful, including Molly Bannerman, Sarah Ovens, Cara Fabre, Sarah Prowse, Jill Robinson, St. Stephen’s Corner Drop-In, St. Stephen’s Conflict Resolution and Training, WoodGreen Community Services, PARC, the Toronto Urban Health Fund, the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, and all of the current and former participants of the program who are practicing transformative justice in their communities.

Hannah B is a person who lives in Guelph and works with homeless youth and LGBTQ+ youth (both at times). She loves the youth she works with fiercely and has big dreams for all of them. Big ups to homeless and LGBTQ+ youth in Guelph!

Intervention & Intersecting Experiences

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

By Kim Katrin Milan

Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to protect the ‘property’ of slaveowners. Enslaved African people were that property. “Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing (enslaved African people) who essentially were considered property.” That is still largely what they do.

I think that as Black people it is important that we set up community-based support systems so when we need help, we have places to call with people who aren’t going to murder us with impunity. Ciphers, kitchen circles, neighborhood watches and healing justice spaces are a few of the many responses that we have developed collectively. Personally, with folks that I know may be vulnerable for violence, I have been part of a phone tree of people they can call in an emergency. Structures like this are important for finding ways to navigate intimate violence while finding ways to evade the increasing levels of violence from service providers. Black women between the ages of 18 to 35 are most likely to die due to domestic abuse. Black Trans* women are disproportionately targeted. We are always the ones to take the best care of ourselves; these structures have been flexible and changing and have always been more reliable than anything external. These structures are significant for all Black people and is one of the many reasons why remaining grounded in acknowledging multiple and intersecting forms of systemic violence as we continue this work is an absolute necessity. We have so much to learn from each other, and so much misogyny and gender-based violence that will continue to plague our communities if we don’t address them.

“Here’s the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones. Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and
sometimes children…it’s possible to transcend the limits of your skin in a friendship…This kind of friendship is not a frivolous connection, a supplementary relationship to the ones we’re taught and told are primary – spouses, children, parents. It is love…Support, salvation, transformation, life: this is what women give to one another when they are true friends, soul

– Emily Rapp

So often this work that is unpaid and life-changing isn’t valued in the movements that are formed or in the institutions providing resources. Especially as Black women in this work, the violence that we navigate is not only street based but is also in our homes. I don’t think that counseling programs that are set up by these racist white institutions run by people with declared and undeclared prejudice against Black people are ever going to work to ‘rehabilitate’ our communities. They might provide a service, but they don’t provide care. When I ask for more in these situations of domestic violence I am thinking of community-based healing work, transformative justice, things that would involve our peers, that involve Black women, other Black people – I am interested in the ways that we change families, and communities and shift paradigms. As Black people we transform the world all the time! From Hip Hop to Jazz, we impact culture globally – as well as locally. I am completely convinced of our capacity when we are honest about the ineffectiveness of existing institutions. I am so interested in movements around transformative justice and prison abolition. Generation 5 has some really amazing approaches to healing domestic violence and child abuse and to healing communities via justice circles as held by Indigenous communities across North America. These processes recognize the need for healing to happen within communities and for accountability to grow, rather than to attempt to disappear social problems by disappearing people.

The things that are currently in place clearly don’t work and prison definitely doesn’t. With only five percent of the world’s population with twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population; if prison worked, the United States would be the safest country in the world. I am suggesting that things should be radically different.

We need to be willing to trust in our capacity to create the solutions we need in our own communities. We have a responsibility to make this world more ethical than the one we came in to.


Generation Five

Centre for Justice and Reconciliation

Kim Katrin Milan is a daughter of the diaspora, Arawak, West African, Indian and Dutch, hailing from Trinidad and living between Toronto & New York. Kim Katrin Milan is an award-winning internationally acclaimed artist, educator, and writer. Kim is the co-founder and the Executive Director of The People Project, 8 years in the making; a movement of queer and trans folks of color and our allies, committed to individual and community empowerment through alternative education, art activism, and collaboration. A public researcher and human rights educator, she shares over 80 unique resources and presentations as well as delivered hundreds of workshops around race, gender, power, privilege, consent, creation, food and entrepreneurship. Kim also engages in community based healing initiatives including teaching Queer and Brown Girls Yoga. Check her out here