Coming Home: An Interview With Tina Reynolds

by Savannah Taylor

I had the privilege of chatting with Tina for the second time for The Peak about her work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in the state of New York. My intention upon interviewing her was to chat on what has led her to where she is today. Admittedly, I expected a play-by-play account of all the brilliant advocacy work she has done. However, what ensued touched on something much more beautiful and something many of us can relate to… Family and sisterhood.

Do you wanna introduce yourself and what you do?

Tina: I am the co-founder and chair of WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling Her Story), which is a volunteer organization that is led and run by currently and formerly justice-involved women. We’ve been around since 2008, and we’ve done some phenomenal things, like changing legislation and policy and bringing about laws that impact women who have experienced incarceration. Two years ago, I began working at The Child Center of NY to develop and implement A Vision for Tele-Visiting (AVTV), a program that offers the logistical, emotional, and wraparound support to assists families in maintaining meaningful relationships during a parent’s incarceration and preparing for a successful reentry into family and community life. We provide reentry support, family support along with youth activities, leadership development and tele-visits, as well as mental health support and wraparound services, such as job placement assistance and benefits counseling. The Child Center has a powerful community presence, reaching more than 26,000 children a year. It’s located in Queens, NY, which includes neighborhoods where the numbers of children impacted by parental incarceration are among the highest.   What better place to offer services to children with justice-involved mothers?

So WORTH, from what I remember from the last time we chatted, came out of your own experiences from being incarcerated, correct?

Tina: Yes! WORTH came out of the experiences that I had and many other women had from our incarceration. We came out of prison with a feeling that there was not much ready for us to become successful and remain out in the free world. So, we began by having conversations amongst ourselves to see how we could support each other and support our sisters coming home.

Did you wanna touch more on your new program that WORTH is focusing on now?

Tina: We are focused on our partnership with The Child Center to provide services through AVTV, which in turn focuses on mothers and children within New York State Facilities, for women in NYC who are housed in Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities. We also offer tele-visiting services within Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center for women, where we offer services to families, youth, and mothers with children. There is this tele-visiting boom happening within the nation, and not all programs are thinking about the relationship between the child or family member and the justice-involved person. Here in New York, there are organizations like The Osborne Association, Hour Children, and The Child Center who always put the child first, and honour the relationship between the child and his or her parent.

It is important to offer supplemental services to physical visits–although it is very important for children to see, feel, and touch their parent through physical visits–in addition to offering families a safe space to heal and move forward with their lives. We have three sites in Queens and a tele-visit can basically be done every day. We facilitate visits in Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities, as well as Rose M. Singer centre in Rikers Island 1.


1. Westchester, Bedford, Taconic and Rikers Island are all prisons located in the Tri-State Area

It’s interesting because the program originally started out with the focus on just the state facilities, but after talking with the CEO of The Child Center, Traci Donnelly, she agreed we should offer tele-visiting to women with children because there was the possibility of continuation of services if Mom was transferred up state. She also envisioned us working with youth and opening visits up to families.

Before you were with WORTH and before you started organizing, who was Tina? What was Tina up to?

Tina: (laughs) well that’s a long time ago. I really did not know who I was; I knew who I wanted to be, though. I knew I wanted to help women and children. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I became involved in an organization and began sharing my story about my experience as an incarcerated woman. I had been home for about 12 months? I began pursuing an undergraduate degree and raising my last two children and reuniting with my other children, changing my life through the love of others and being really grateful for being out. So my primary focus was on my family because I have seven children and I’d been out of their lives for so long. In the first 5 years, my efforts were to basically reunify with my own children. To establish a relationship with them or assist them with establishing a relationship with each other. They were raised by various family members throughout the tri-state area…so they were pretty much dispersed throughout New York and New Jersey. Reunification is difficult and challenging. I had to swallow my pride, be strong, give voice to my emotions, and remain humble. My main focus was for my children to have a relationship with each other, grow and live happy lives. I am happy my family stepped in and supported them through my incarcerations.

It sounds like you had a very solid foundation of focusing on your family unit. Did that carry over to your advocacy work and WORTH?

Tina: It certainly carried over. My family experiences through my incarceration and the unification process with my children certainly intersected with my work. I often found myself speaking with sisters who had experienced the same situations and the challenges of unification with their own families and children. They were facing the challenges of the choices their family members had made who were taking care of their children in their absence. So, I always wanted to make sure I focused on those issues in regard to reproductive health but also family stability once Mom came home. Because it’s so important! Mothers tend to think about their children during their incarceration. They think and wonder about their safety and who their friends are and whether they’re faring well and things that they have missed as far as conversations–as well as, the “firsts” in any child’s life; regardless of how old they are, there are always “firsts” that happen in your child’s life that you are definitely missing if you are incarcerated and you can’t get those times back. So, I’ve always been about doing the work but also realizing that there are challenges around re-establishing relationships with those you love. And continuing to strengthen those relationships as you are out, being true to yourself and asking your children to be true to themselves and coming up with some specific guidelines of how you would engage with them and how to be with them. Since you being there physically is such a big missing in their lives during incarceration, even if you see them regularly, speak with them regularly during your incarceration, you are still not there. Each one of my children are different people and each one of them have/had different needs. While they wanted me in their lives, there were certain things that they wanted from me and I had to realize my own limitations. Not always monetarily, but emotionally, because as I was growing through my process of being home, I was also growing through my process emotionally   of being the person who I am today. I hadn’t really spent that much time learning who I was, and so I could do things but I wasn’t attached to the emotion behind the things I did.   I wanted to be attached to the emotion; those were the most difficult challenges because I had spent so much time without feelings in order to survive in a very selfish and selfless world.

How do you feel like your communication/unification process has changed since you started your advocacy work to now?

Tina: Well, basically, so much has happened in my advocacy work in relation to my children. I’ve been an editor in an anthology, Interrupted Lives: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States, where I shared a story about my last daughter and reuniting when she was 20 years old. Now, some 9 years later, she is in my life and she has three children and is married. My other children have gotten married. My daughters were married first and have strong and stable relationships with their husbands. My sons are not married yet. My children and I have always communicated, and my communication is unique to each child. I speak with some more than others. However, we have always communicated. It has transformed over the years into a relationship of dignity and respect and love. My advocacy work is all my children see and know I do, they observe my commitment and dedication to others.   They are an integral part of my growth. Advocacy is an integral part of my growth, sisterhood is a big part of who I am.

Do you feel like WORTH is a place for women to come and rebuild things that have been lost or forgotten while they were incarcerated?

Tina: So even WORTH has transitioned and transformed into something different. We closed our office in Manhattan a few years back and now we’ve been working specifically on this tele-visiting. . Our mantra has always been “once you’re a member of WORTH you’re always a member of WORTH” because it’s a volunteer organization. Women were inspired and moved towards gaining employment and seeking a higher education while volunteering at WORTH. It’s always been a volunteer program and because of our movement women have gone on and done different phenomenal things for themselves in their lives. They come back and touch base and we end up being in certain spaces together. We were able to join as a group of women to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. It is always inspiring to meet so many women across the nation who have been impacted by incarceration and gone on to do phenomenal things. So, WORTH has grown as I have grown, and it hasn’t looked like something that I wanted in the beginning, but when things transform, it’s just like relationships with your children. You have this idea of how this relationship is going to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna turn out like that. So, how do you adjust to the ways in which it does turn out and how can you keep moving forward knowing that that’s your position in the world and that’s the purpose you’ve been placed here for? So, through the transition of WORTH, in many ways, it’s not where we were before, but what can we look like in the future? So working within the prison now, we’re looking at it from a perspective of having leadership coming out of the facilities we are offering services in. Having the women come in and join us in this process and guide us from that place (because we’ve been home a lot longer) where they see the impacts of incarceration on themselves and their families being different within this world of social media and technology. We have to give folks that are coming out a safe space and a chance to be fully self-expressed.

How would you describe WORTH now then? Is it still a sisterhood?

Tina: It is still a sisterhood! It is always and will always be a sisterhood of women. There are so many women who have been a part of WORTH that it will never not be a sisterhood. Because of our experiences–some of us have experienced incarceration together, gone through education together or organized together. So, it will never not be a sisterhood… We are continuing the work moving forward, we’re just doing it differently. It’s sort of transformed into something else.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.

Project Future is Now

by Savannah Clarke, Alana Siloch and Kaya DeCosta

                  We would like to give thanks to having the opportunity to work on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. The territory was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island.

Project Future is a six-month mentorship program run through the Children’s Peace Theatre, that celebrates the voices of Black and Indigenous artists while offering mentorship and tools for a new future. Working with an incredible line up of leading artists from multidisciplinary backgrounds (i.e. music, theatre, visual arts etc.), Project Future offers land-based creative development and permaculture earthwork. With mentorship and teachings from their elders, the young artists are given tools to grow both as individual and socially conscious artists. As the program culminated this past September, we sat down and reflected on a few of the workshops and teachings we experienced.

Permaculture with The Stop

The Stop Community Food Centre contributed permaculture teachings throughout the duration of the program. Joce Tremblay shared teachings on seeds, food justice and re-indigenizing food growth in the city. Joce also led members through The Stop’s extensive greenhouse, sharing knowledge about how to care for plants as well as how to interact with them. The Stop also led Project Future in an onsite planting project. Joce and Melisse provided seeds of the three sisters, corn, beans and squash, for us to plant. Over the course of Project Future, we watched the sisters grow and thrive. It was very much a reflection of our own growth as a collective. We cultivated land around Children’s Peace Theatre, which was the base of the program. Space was made to plant many different species indigenous to Tkaronto. While we planted, we learned about caring for plants through a more holistic approach and how to treat colonial plants that may be invasive but also have purpose.

Savannah: “One of the most beautiful things for me was talking to the plants, asking permission and giving thanks. We built such an intense relationship with them. Also, I was pleasantly surprised at how much learning about the land and caring for the land informed my writing process. We are so similar! Learning about these plants, their history and life force really grounded me and reminded me how small we are in this world.

Alana: “The Stop was beautiful, full of information about plants and seeds, the greenhouse they have is amazing and very well taken care of. As soon as you walk into the greenhouse the air is so pure and full of life. We got our hands dirty in the fresh soil, tasted some of the plant’s leaves, and connect with the plants. The staff made an amazing meal for us and the ingredients all came from their garden”.

Kaya: “I loved going to The Stop and receiving teachings on tobacco. We learned about how ancient of a plant it is and how plentiful it’s seed pods are. We also got to interact with corn that came from seeds passed down through many generations of selective planting. Being able to interact with a product of such ancient technology was quite spectacular.

Talking Treaties with Ange Loft Talking & Treaties Rehearsal and Performance

Project future first met with artist Ange Loft for her facilitation on Talking Treaties; a combination of history, visual arts, and an audio collage. First, we listened to some audio clips of Indigenous elders from the Tkaronto community speak on the One Dish One Spoon Treaty. While listening to the clips we made associations with symbols and words to later use when we created stamps. These stamps were a representation of what stood out to us, and they were used as a contribution to a prop in the Talking Treaties production. Through Ange’s facilitation we learned how to reuse someone else’s creation and transform it into a new creation. By tying all our creations about the disparities and betrayal with the Treaties put together, Ange used it as a symbolic prop in the Treaties production.

Project future also had the honour of being a part of the production and joined Ange and the production crew during rehearsal sessions. We were taught the choreography and performed the piece at Fort York for the Indigenous Arts Festival.

Alana: “It was amazing opportunity to learn how to create through the concept of recycling art. The concept of using everyone’s thoughts on the Treaties to be represented as one big symbolic prop speak to the audience.”

Savannah: Coming into the program late I was not able to take part in the first workshop with Ange Loft but I had the opportunity to be an extra body during rehearsals. It was such a privilege learning about the Dish with One Spoon treaty through the means of theatre. I thought a lot about how stories of this treaty are often told, what aspects are left out and who are usually telling them.

Kaya: The Talking Treaties production was so immersive and collaborative. It really inspired me to think more about community based projects and the diverse ways of storytelling. Being able to work so closely with such a powerhouse in the Indigenous arts community was a privilege.

INTRODUCTION TO DRAMATURGY WITH JILL CARTER

Jill Carter is an actress, performer and professor at the University of Toronto. She led us in several different performance and story weaving based workshops. Jill also led us on a walk around the UofT campus where several buried rivers are. On this walk, she shared the buried history of how colonization affected that area, as well as how it continues to thrive. She posed this history in relation to how Tkaronto is built on a system of rivers, which continue to run under it. In her workshops, Jill asked us to reflect upon our relationship to our bodies and land. She shared techniques for harnessing different energies in our body, and kinetically connecting with other bodies. These activities challenged us to abandon insecurities around using our voices and bodies to express our ideas. Jill also shared her extensive knowledge on story weaving and invited us to engage with each other’s ideas to strengthen them. Jill really helped us gain confidence in our ideas for the culminating festival.

Kaya: The rivers that are still running underneath the monstrosity of industrial Tkaronto give me hope. They to me are metaphors for the spirits of the land protectors and land warriors that remain strong against the colonial regime.

Alana: Walking around Tkaronto and listening to the knowledge, and answers to what was here before. This land has deep history from Indigenous nations. It was an honour having Jill shed her wisdom and knowledge on what the colonizers have buried. The rivers continue to run, if you listen closely you may hear them.

Savannah: In terms of our story weaving workshop, I remember leaving feeling so rejuvenated and reflected a lot on what it means to listen to my body when telling stories and what weaving means when collaborating with other storytellers. What aspects of our own stories we have in common? What  is different? How do we interpret each other’s stories? Also, I really wish I was there for that tour. I remember seeing a map of Tkaronto pre-colonization and being absolutely amazed at how many rivers had been built over.

Writing while Black/ Indigenous w/ Whitney French

Writer Whitney French facilitated two-part futurities, racialized writing workshop with Project Future. In our writing pieces, we reflected on connections with our ancestors, the land, and futuristic thoughts. We did different writing exercises, first Whitney would read out a word and we would have to write one word that pops into our head, after writing down a couple of words we chose 3 and made a sentence out of them. The second exercise we did was with the sentence “there are pyramids in my backyard”, it was interesting to see how everyone’s piece turned out. We also played a storytelling game where Whitney brought in a list of different fantasy plot settings and we rolled a die to create our own world where our stories would take place. We then all created our own stories based on this futuristic /fantasy world.

Alana: “I tend to stick to Westernized genres and plots (not on purpose), this workshop opened my mind to exploring new themes and ideas consisting of non-human shapeshifters”

Kaya: Whitney’s writing activities re-lit my fire in terms of writing. She reminded me how important it is to write, especially if it something you do to heal. Regardless of what you are writing, just start! Through writing, we can construct alternative narratives, futurist ones, that are often excluded from the canon.

Savannah: There is something so beautiful about envisioning a future separate from our current reality. In writing and Afro-futurism or Indigenous-futurism it can look like so many different things. These workshops affirm that our stories are relevant, important and essential. Even if we just write for fun and nobody but us sees our pieces, it’s still relevant.

Savannah’s Project Future Journal Entry                   July 13

I am the plant that adapts but needs to be very grounded to do so. Like a vine. It takes them a long time to get to where they need to be but they get there. They spend their whole life span getting as close to the light as they can (like in the tropics). The light for me is divinity and actualizing. The energy that drives me is to better understand myself. I must admit I’m not as hard bodied as my vine friends but like them I will “grow” and learn to adapt.

My roots

It grounds me

I swirl around the base

As i move towards the divine

We share so we can survive

I help others but my journey is my own

I need others but my journey is my own


 

Savannah Clarke
Savannah Clarke is a young performing artist. She has recently graduated with her undergraduate and is an alumni of the Watah Theatre. She is now currently growing her art form. Her art has always been attached to her identity as a black queer woman and she strongly believes that storytelling is essential for the movement of black liberation.  While she continues to unearth what her artistry can look like, she stays committed to connecting and understanding the integrity of its roots.

Kaya DaCosta
Kaya DaCosta is a mixed Black Indigenous multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores themes of identity, femininity and land connection. Her visual work draws inspiration from nature, hip hop and fantasy, providing eclectic styles from which to work with. Using bright colours, mixed media and obscure character design, Kaya’s work is a reflection of her experiences as a young woman of colour navigating through the world. Kaya is currently completing a Bachelor of Design degree at the Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Alana Siloch
Alana Siloch is an upcoming artist inspired by her Caribbean ancestors who constantly call to her. She sleeps, eats and breaths her Jamaican and Trinidadian roots. Alana is currently completing her undergraduate studies at Ryerson University in the Child and Youth Care Program. Alana see’s the potential the future generations have and hopes to be ally in fighting against social injustices for all people.

Transformative Communities

A Conversation with Tina Reynolds

By: Savannah Clarke

Tina Reynolds was in Guelph on February 24th to speak on a Transformative Justice panel to explore the work that herself and other Black women are doing in their communities to keep each other safe, to resist police violence, and build alternatives to prisons. She took some time to sit down with our interviewer Savannah and share some knowledge.

Savannah: Can you start off with your name and some background on what you do and who you are?

Tina: My name is Tina Reynolds and I am a social worker, a junk-lecturer, I live in Brooklyn, New York. I teach at York College in New York City in the behavioural science department and I’ve been doing that for ten years. I have experienced being in prison and I have been an activist and advocate for over twenty years. Advocating for women, children and families and specifically changing the perception of women as they’ve been impacted by the criminal justice system

S: So what is the importance of meaningful relationships in the work that you do?

T: In 2004, we started an organization called Women on the Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH). One of the things that we did for our first strategic meeting was to make an agreement amongst ourselves that our relationships as women who have been impacted by the criminal justice system mattered and had to be put first. That we were stepping out and doing something that was very unique. We were collaborating with our sisters whom we had left behind. Within our own lives we were making a way for them to be able to have some stability once they returned. So, our relationships in establishing those conversations moved towards a co-creative, inclusive, collaborative vision of the organization and the way at which we would do our advocacy work. We knew many people working within the human services and criminal justice services. Some of us had gone back to school and received our degrees. We saw that the resources that were most valuable were ourselves and that we could actually leverage some opportunities for our sisters coming home through our positions in the work that we were doing. The relationships we established in these organizations and amongst ourselves became really important and vital in us assisting women and being there as a resource for when they came home. So relationships are really important.

S: It sounds like it sort of builds the foundation for your organization?

T: Absolutely. We built a foundation and moved through our relationships differently. We’ve all had our experiences that were different from our prison experiences. Within those prison experiences that we had, we came with our own individual passion around the impact and effects of our own prison experience. WORTH was never a mono-issue organization. We always held up and offered opportunities for women and saw that there was an need for dignity and for understanding for how every women served their time and how it is that they came home and what it was that impacted them the most and what drove them to do this work from a passionate place. Usually it was an issue that impacted them terribly during their incarceration that they fought really hard and adamantly for when they came home.

S: Earlier you mentioned your sisters and doing work for those that have been left behind, how do center the voices of those who have been most marginalized in our communities? More specifically from your perspective on working with women in prisons.

T: The organization is called Women on the Rise Telling Her story. It’s our her-story, it’s our linage, our story. Our stories are so important and they can mean different things for different people. What we’ve done with centering our stories is allow ourselves to be seen as experts and to see ourselves in dignity. We’ve been able to see ourselves as women who have had the prison experience and most importantly are not those experiences that we’ve had. We’ve taken our experiences, shaped and molded them to be shared with other people in ways that could be used for presentations, literature, journals, books and poetry. We make sure that we are in the centre of that and how we get that place is an understanding that it is necessary to be fully self-expressed. Full self-expression comes about in many different ways. We’ve centered our voices through full self expression, the dignity offered through others and it’s putting the story in the center.

When we use to open up our office in the morning, we would come in and the first thing we did was sit around a table that was in the middle of the kitchen, in our office in Manhattan. Now our office in is Queens but that Manhattan office was so special to the needs that we had as women. There were times when would come in and we would sit around the table and debrief from the day before of our organizing efforts or whatever it was that we were working on. Often times we didn’t start working until after noon because we just had the need to be in conversation, to hear each others voices and opinions. To find out about what mattered, our children, our challenges and barriers. From one issue to the next, we committed ourselves to doing better and dedicate ourselves to the issue and what is of our passion. They were really great times.

S: So, you mentioned earlier that you own your experiences and that you get to shape and decide how they are used. How do you work to change the narrative of how people see prisons in our communities?

T: For myself, I think that the narrative of prisons had to change from a place where I felt like I was being rescued when I sought out resources after prison. The idea that I had was that prisons were a place of punishments and that notion stands today. It is within our society that we rely on this particular environment to punish people, rehabilitate people and a place where it is politically entangled within various things in our society. It is part of a system that takes the freedom away from people. [However], it is also part of a system that takes the freedom and life of those that are in our communities. It makes [people in our communities] bound to that particular system. If there is a person they love within, they cannot live their lives as if it does not exist. The prison narrative, for me, is looking at it from the context of what has been done to brown and black people throughout our history.This is an environment, a place and a space specifically for those same things to happen under the guise of punishing because someone has committed a crime. Often times the idea of crime is one where there has not been a crime committed at all. There has been more of an issue of criminalizing of people. So, when we think about the things people do and the reason why they were arrested for things that they do is because we have not held our systems of the way in which we are policed, the department of corrections and other systems that prohibit us from being full human beings – have not been held accountable. We have not asked them questions, taken lead or held our power. As long as we continue to not take our power we have a narrative where we feel it is necessary to have prisons within our community and within our lives. I believe in prison abolition. I think there is a way for us to end incarceration. I believe there are ways for us to heal and have difficult conversations. I believe that there are people who commit crimes and I think we should have equality around that. If the rules bend for one, we have to understand that they are stronger and more stringent than the other. So we have those two paradoxes to look at. The conversation around punishment is more important in our society, I think, then the narrative of prisons and what they stand for.

S: What are some challenges that you’ve faced in the work that you do and how did you overcome these challenges?

Tina: The challenge of the work is being at peace with women. Working with women, for me, was the biggest challenge. It was one that I did with joy and I still do with joy. It is that humility that needs to be full and in the center. It is checking ones’ self and your intention. It’s the debriefing and being able to listen to others. As well as, truly being inclusive. It is being able to apologize, rededicate and recommit yourself to being a stand for what it is that you are doing and for those that you are doing it with. Knowing that you need to be a good follower as well as a good leader.

S: My final questions is, do you have any advice for our generation when working on this movement? We’ve talked a lot about exchange of knowledge, how do we build this movement that is intergenerational?

Tina: When I first started college, I always thought about the intergenerational impact of mass incarceration. Now I know that there is an intergenerational impact of mass criminalization of a people, on black lives specifically. When I first heard of #blacklivesmatter, I thought about how it was that all lives mattered and I was excluding myself again. [This is because] Inside, around the trauma that I’ve experienced it’s always been about exclusion of self and inclusion of others and not looking at myself, specifically as a black woman, as my life mattering. I’ve had to take that on in many instances that I’ve had to do this activism work where I’ve had this internalized fear. So, the intergenerational aspect of moving this movement forward, because it’s not a new movement, is including all black and brown people. It is the inclusion of all black lives. It’s the inclusion of all women, trans and queer women. It’s the inclusion of all folks that have been oppressed and dehumanized. It’s the inclusion of trans folks, queer folks, youth and their voices. It’s the inclusion of having folks being able to create and imagine, what it might look like that’s different. It is not being ashamed of what it is you’ve done as a person [ but instead] having it propel you to be fearless of the shame and the guilt. And to understand, especially young folks, that these conversations are happening with all people. Showing up in different spaces is not something that is thought about or planned…it’s happening. The universe is answering and offering. It is creating a space for these conversations, meetings and connections to be made because it’s really important. A friend of mine has always said to me what is very integral to activism are the three C’s. They are to have clarity, remain capable, and maintain compassion. So, the three C’s, for me, are those things. To be really clear and to sit down and be still and to think about what it is that I need to do next and how it is that I’m transforming… as well as other things are transforming around me. Being patient, loving, kind, consistent, available, flexible, a person that is listening, a person that is hearing and involved. Just being.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.

Creating the Content We Want to See

the young writers of black girls magazine posing together and holding their black girl magazine

An Interview with Black Girls Magazine founder Annette Bazira-Okafor

By: Savannah Clarke

When I was around 10 years-old I used to collect magazines for fun. I loved the posters, quizzes, horoscopes and all the gossip. I use to love getting the free magazines from friends and different offices. The only thing was the majority of these magazines didn’t have many black folks in it. Aside from the obvious teen hip hop magazine like Word Up! The rest of the magazines I collected were just white.I would get annoyed but had to overlook this very large detail because “that’s how it was”. Even though I enjoyed collecting and later collaging because it was meditative, I had little images or stories that I could relate to. Many black teens have felt this frustration with not seeing themselves or hearing their stories in media especially in magazines, something that use to be synonymous with teenhood. While most of us accept this as fact and relish in the moments we do see ourselves, others create those moments for themselves. Founders and contributors of Black Girls Magazines is a perfect example.

BGM was created by a group of black middle school students within the GTA as a response to not seeing themselves in the magazines and apps that they used. BGM is a magazine that offers unique perspectives written by black girls for all girls. It aims to reflect the images, interests, and stories of black girls. I contacted Annette Bazira-Okafor founder and mother of one of the young contributors to learn more about BGM and how these young girls are creating the content they want to see.

Savannah Taylor: Can you let us know who you are and explain to us more about the Black Girls Magazine?

Annette: My name is Annette Bazira-Okafor. I am a doctoral student at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), University of Toronto. I am also the founder and editor of Black Girls Magazine.

Savannah Taylor: What was the moment that brought you to want to create Black Girls Magazine?

Annette: Part of my research at OISE has been on African youth and popular culture. I came across the work of Dr. Craig Watkins, and in his book he speaks about the fact the black girls are the most underserved and undiscernible demographic in popular culture. As a mother as well, I have always observed the lack of black representation in the online makeup and dressup apps that my daughter and her friends love.Creating Black Girls Magazine was a way for me to get them to create representations of themselves and write about their own interests and experiences as black girls.

Savannah Taylor: I know that the girls write the material in the magazine, what are some of those topics?

Annette: Some of the topics are stories about their hair like ‘weird things people ask about my hair’; movie reviews in our section called ‘Hollywood scoop’; recipes; sports, particularly basketball by one of the girls who is a basketball player; the girls’ travel experiences to different countries; and our last issue included a christmas section and a section on “people in black history” in anticipation of Black History month. We publish twice a year so we try to include diverse topics that cover both current and upcoming events, seasons or holidays.

Savannah Taylor: When I was younger I use to love collecting magazines, having access to this magazine would have been very refreshing for me to say the least, how do you feel like this magazine could be medicine or healing for other black girls to read?

Annette: I feel very grateful and overwhelmed that it turned out this way, because when I first started, I was simply doing this with a small group of girls, unaware of the interest that it would garner, not only in the black community but in mainstream media as well. I am so grateful that I have been a part of creating a platform for other black girls as well. In the magazine we request black girls to send us their stories, artwork or anything else they would love to see in the magazine, so we can have more diverse voices from black girls represented.

Savannah Taylor: So often marginalized youth don’t see themselves in magazines, tv shows, books, etc. how can teachers and youth workers play a role in supporting youth to create and access media that speaks to their experiences? Why do you think that is important?

Annette: Often books that represent black people and their cultures are very few or rare in schools, and often they are limited to non-fiction or slavery, basically history or social studies, and may be used only during black history month. I think teachers should include such cultural books as a daily part of student learning. Teachers should put in extra effort into making story books, magazines, and and many more reading resources that represent black people and culture a part of school curricula. Young children in schools regardless of race should have access to more picture books that represent black people and culture. Positive images and representations of black people should be normalized in mainstream institutions so as to dispose of stereotypes often perpetuated in media and schools. Youth workers and teachers create lasting impressions on the minds of black youth. Validating black youth by normalizing their cultures and representations go a long way into giving them confidence and guiding their journey to success.

Savannah Taylor: How has the journey of creating Black Girls Magazine changed yours or the girls perspective on what representation can look like?

Annette: Being able to create representations of themselves and write stories embedded in their cultures and experiences, I feel has given the girl’s confidence to speak about their stories and to boldly represent themselves through images that are normally invisible in popular culture.

Savannah: Do you or the girls have any big ideas for the future of Black Girls Magazine?

Annette: We hope to build the readership of the magazine and invite more black girls to contribute to it. We also hope to attract corporate sponsors who can help us move the project forward. I finance the project out of pocket, and foot the all printing costs and other costs associated with the magazine. Hopefully with sponsors, we can start publishing quarterly rather than twice a year.

Savannah Taylor: Where can people go to learn more and possibly get their own copy of Black Girl Magazine?

Annette: People can buy copies and subscribe by going to our website www.blackgirlsmagazine.ca


Annette Bazira-Okafor
Annette Bazira-Okafor is a PhD candidate at OISE, University of Toronto, department of Social Justice Education.  She is the founder and Editor of Black Girls Magazi

Savannah Clarke
Savannah Clarke is a young performing artist. She has recently graduated with her undergraduate and  is an alumni of the Watah Theatre. She is now currently growing her art form. Her art has always been attached to her identity as a black queer woman and she strongly believes that storytelling is essential for the movement of black liberation.  While she continues to unearth what her artistry can look like, she stays committed to connecting and understanding the integrity of its roots.

An Interview with D’Bi Young

by Savannah Taylor

I recently sat down with d’bi.young anitafrika to discuss the importance of theatre in our digital age and to learn more about how The Watah theatre, a professional theatre company founded by d’bi.young, cultivates such a necessary space in this urgent time

The Watah Theatre – grounded in African Oral Storytelling traditions – is a crossroads where the radical performance traditions of Dubpoetry, Caribbean theatrical storytelling and Black wombanist thought, intersect with critical Pan-Africanist theory-into-practice, Ifa-Tao-Buddhist principles, balanced by the global mind-body healing modalities of Ashtanga Yoga and Qi Gong. Arts-engagement sits at the core of the organization’s commitment to providing world peoples with the tools to self-actualize, create urgent art and uncover crucial mentorship skills for each one to teach one; facilitating an ongoing exploration of our place on this planet and in this cosmos. Watah celebrates the artist as a whole human entity who mirrors society and helps to shape it circularly and inwardly. Like being in a mother’s loving womb where the child is nurtured and cultivated, Watah is a cauldron of cultivation for a new generation of storytellers.

Savannah Taylor: Can you introduce yourself ?

D’bi Young Anitafrika: My name is d’bi young anitafrika and I am a storyteller who writes plays, performs in monodramas and multi-character plays, who mentors, writes dub poetry, who plays with a band, who writes revolutionary theory and who’s a mother.

Savannah: Can tell us more about the Watah Theatre?

D’bi Young: The Watah Theatre is a professional theatre company and also training ground for emerging and newly emerging artists. It’s primarily for black artist and within that it is primarily for artist who identify as women. Our doors are open to people of colour, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people and trans people. We’ve really never turned anyone away but everyone who comes through our doors knows that we are primarily serving African Canadian artists because that is absolutely crucial right now.

Savannah: Theatre isn’t the first thing I would think of if someone asked me about media but why do you think is it still so crucial in 2016?

D’bi Young: I think theatre is media because media is storytelling and media is storytelling geared towards people and media has very specific objectives. Whatever media we’re talking about that propaganda and narrativizing storytelling is geared towards getting people’s attention in a particular way. Theatre is storytelling as well and it is also geared towards getting people’s attention in a particular way. [That’s why] I really do feel that we can say theatre is a type of media. What’s most important to me when I think of all of this is what stories are we telling? You know? I can’t help but think about what has just happened in the United States of America. A part of me feels like acknowledging that, as a black queer women, artist and mother, my reality has always been to create space for myself to be valued, to treated fairly, to be treated equally and that has been life long reality. Part of me feels like, well the world that you live in is going to continue to be the world that you live in. Then there is another part of me that can’t help but respond to the over aggression that has already begun and will continue to escalate given that the veil that was prior somewhat concealing the deep hatred of black people, indigenous people, LGBTQ people and differently abled people, immigrants, the working class and the working poor. Basically, all the people who are not the elite and who are not the upper middle class. To see the sheer disdain for us, even while I recognize that this life of struggle will continue, there is a tangible worry. There is now a tangible worry around the fact that people have been issued a renewed license to be violent. So when I think about media and I think about theatre and I think about the role that the media played in getting Donald Trump elected and the role that the theatre that we’re making plays in maintaining systems of inequality, I can’t help but think about what stories are we going to tell?

Savannah: As a student at Watah, I know that those are questions we ask ourselves and we talk about. How do you feel Watah provides tools for emerging artist to create this space that you mentioned earlier?

D’bi Young: More so now then ever, I am deeply appreciating Watah and the work that we’re doing here. Sometimes you get confirmation about the choices you’re making. More so than ever, I am reminding myself and saying, “d’bi just stay focused. Just stay focused”. What we are doing in here is absolutely revolutionary and simple. It’s not high-inaccessible science or intellectualism, it’s actually pretty basic. Our premise here is that each one of us has been born into a birth right that says we deserve to self-actualize. It’s that simple. So, colour, race, ethnicity, gender, social standing, all of these ways that we create these walls that people have to climb in order to prove their humanity, In this space we say we don’t actually believe that narrative and we’re going to try to practice what it looks like to not believe in that narrative. We’re not even working in counter-narratives; we’re not even working in opposition to those narratives. Actually, we’re centering ourselves and saying those narratives are not the focal point, the focal point is us. This, more than ever, I’m so deeply thankful for and we have a set of real tools to support us through doing this. They are real and tangible tools that when we sit down and we dialogue about self-knowledge; about the stories we’ve been told and orality; and the rhythmic rituals of our lives; and the politics of our own power and the language of our own bodies and mouths; and about what is urgent and sacred to us and how we embody our integrity. That is not intangible. That is not theatrical mumbo jumbo. It’s so important that as we work through these ideas around self-actualization that we have tangibles. My physical body, my mental body, my community body, my economic body, my emotional body, these are real pieces that we experience every day and I am so bolstered by the fact that this is how I spend my time. As I look around at the shear madness that is going on, I am like how do I spend my time? What do I spend my time doing? It feels like a daunting time but it also feels like, right here inside of me are the tools I need to move through these times. You know? That’s a really rounding feeling.

Savannah: Can you explain in more detail self-actualization and the S.O.R.P.L.U.S.I Method is?

D’bi Young: Here at Watah we really encourage each artist to define for themselves these ideas. Because we’re unique, because we each have a particular framework and way or lense through which we see the world you’re never going to get any two people, at least here, defining something in the same way. Which is brilliant because it means that if you have a definition and I have a definition it means that together we can sit and look at all our definitions and learn from each other. That’s really crucial. Other models out there tell us that there is one way and one direction. One, phallic white, male, patriarchal framework but what we come from as black people and women identified people is that we come from the circle, from the collective. In that model, these are indigenous models, in the collective each point on the circle is crucial. So, in defining self actualization, I feel for me it could the ability to grow into the deepest version of one’s self. What’s the deepest version of one’s self? I feel like it is where one gets to explore and expand into one’s most profound integrities. What is one’s most profound integrities? Well, I feel like that is the ability to truth tell without self-deception to the best of one’s ability in each and every moment. I feel like the idea of self-actualization is both at once extremely dynamic and complex but also simple.

In terms of the Anitafrika Method, the method is essentially a distillation of all the mentorship that I’ve received over a lifetime. What I’ve done is taken those life lessons and highlighted what I feel are eight crucial principles. Four of those principles directly come out of my mother’s work in theorizing dub [theatre] in Jamaica. The four principles that directly come out of her work are politics, language, performance and music. I tweaked them a bit and so language is language of communication, non-verbal communication; music became rhythm, rhythm as ritual; politics became politics and political context; and performance became orality. Then I added four other principles self-knowledge, urgency, sacredness and integrity [ Which creates the acronym S.O.R.P.L.U.S.I] . That then forms half a system that is balanced with eight bodies [some I mentioned earlier]which includes the physical, mental, emotional, creative, spiritual, economic, community, and beyond body. So together with the principles and the bodies we have a series of questions we ask, per principle, and also a series of meditations that accompany these questions. It’s really such a beautiful thing. Of course I’ve had the pleasure of being in the lab with all of you who teach me every day what the method actually means.

————————————————————————————————————————–

The Watah theatre currently has a funding campaign online in order to continue to provide the mentorship discussed above. Will YOU help SAVE Watah? Visit www.gofundme.com/savewatah to read more on how you can help.


d’bi.young anitafrika
d’bi.young anitafrika is a queer Black feminist artist, United Nations speaker, Canadian Poet of Honor, InkTalks/TED speaker and YWCA Woman of Distinction. The internationally celebrated African-Jamaican dubpoet, dramatist, educator, director and dramaturge is also a 3 time Dora Award winning writer-performer for her epic triptych of plays The Sankofa Trilogy and The Orisha Trilogy. anitafrika’s groundbreaking creative praxis – the Anitafrika Method – uses the Sorplusi Principles as an intersectional anti-oppression human development framework, which is studied and practiced globally by artists, instigators and policy-makers. d’bi is the founding Artistic Director of Watah; Canada’s only professional theatre company that offers year-long tuition-free artist residencies to Black and diverse artist-instigators. She is also the founder and CEO of The Sorplusi Institute and Sorplusi Publishing, a research-based social enterprise with a micro press extension producing and publishing works by Black and diverse creators. Author of 7 plays, 6 dub albums and 5 books, d’bi has toured nationally and internationally.

Savannah Taylor
Savannah Taylor is a young performing artist. She has recently graduated with her undergraduate and  is an alumni of the Watah Theatre. She is now currently growing her art form. Her art has always been attached to her identity as a black queer woman and she strongly believes that storytelling is essential for the movement of black liberation.  While she continues to unearth what her artistry can look like, she stays committed to connecting and understanding the integrity of its roots.