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We are 

The beginning and the end of time 
And each sweep of willow shadows on river banks
Second hands on watery moon-ruled clocks.

String theory decrees 
That we are the joy and the pain. 
The scotch and the hangover.
The risk, the loss, and the reward. 

We are a collection 
Of streets
Florissant and Compton and 125th.
Of songs
Whale entreaties, mushroom lullabies, and  Prince serenades. 
Stars on wind currents and bass on 20-inch rims.

We will be. Have been. Are.

— Elissa Sloan Perry

Black August is a time for reflecting on the movement leaders, activists, communities, and organizations who have come before us, paving the way for Black freedom, joy, and safety, and for standing with our ancestors on behalf of our descendants. First commemorated in California by incarcerated Black freedom fighters, Black August began by honoring those who have lost their lives in the struggle for Black liberation.

To this end, this August members of Change Elemental’s Black Caucus have collaborated to create an inspirational map that holds some of the places, people, and cultural touchstones that continue to guide us as we work to build a more just, equitable, and joyful future for us all. 

Collage by Monica Tyran & Naima Yael Tokunow

In creating this map, we asked ourselves: What do we want to pull into the future to live on our magical map? What don’t we have that we need to thrive? We identified that we need well-resourced community spaces, alternative justice systems with community-built healing and restoration processes, food education and security, and a connection to ancestral ways of knowing through food medicine. We want safe and welcoming outdoor spaces, as well as access to unbiased and culturally appropriate health care. In this future space, we will be connected to our ancestors and ancestral homes, have agency in the telling of our stories, and all hold the expectation that our lives will be joyful (instead of just hoping for it).

So, where and to whom do we turn to conjure this world in ours? From the future and the past, Octavia Butler reminds us that “the only lasting truth is change,” and that our flexibility and adaptability will (and has) created pathways (both literally and neurologically) towards liberation. bell hooks knew that “love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust,” and that through loving accountability, community care, and holding generative tension, “love is an action.” 

On righteous accountability, James Baldwin calls us back to reflect on the intersections of responsibility and belonging—“I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Stormé Delarverie knew that how we talk about (and historicize) revolution matters, as she reminds us, Stonewall “was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience—it wasn’t no damn riot.” We chose four queer leaders and thinkers, makers of all the best kinds of trouble, because our queer and trans foreparents are cultivators of magic, power, and wisdom, and we gain so much when we turn to their gifts and legacies. 

Our map includes the silhouettes of streets from Atlanta, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and Black Wall Street to commemorate some of the actions and communities that raised movement leaders and culture shifters. We also included streets unknown, the roads that we pave together as we build the future, now. There are echoes of our ancestral foods—black-eyed peas, yams, okra and peppers, and other dirt-borne medicines that call us back to the seeds our ancestors smuggled here.  

As Black August closes, we invite you to reflect on what a Black liberated future looks like, and how the work you do supports the flourishing, love, and joy of Black people and communities. What streets does your map contain and where does it take you? Who’s words and works lead you? What ancestors will we be for future commemorations?

Collaborative mapping collage by Deborah Berry, Naima Yael Tokunow, & Monica Tyran

Project design by Change Elemental’s Black Caucus (Delia Allen-O’Brien, Deborah Berry, Elissa Sloan Perry, Naima Yael Tokunow, Monica Tyran, & Tamitha Walker-McKinnis)

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