By Alice Kim
“Greetings, these words travel to you over a great distance of time and space for I write to you all live from planet Stateville, a dark place physically made to mentally break men by oppressing their bodies and shackling their minds to a sinking depth of hopelessness.” This is how one of my students aptly described where he is currently incarcerated.
By Alice Kim, Editor
In Chicago, the #LetUsBreathe Collective has transformed a lot adjacent to the Homan Square facility, exposed as a Chicago Police Department “black site” by The Guardian last year, into a beautiful organizing space aptly called Freedom Square. While the city continues to divest social resources from our communities, this site of torture has become a site of freedom and visionary love in a neighborhood that is over-policed and over-incarcerated. According to Million Dollar Blocks, North Lawndale committed nearly $241 million to incarceration in 2005-2009.
By Alice Kim, Editor
Louva Grace Bell was one of the pioneering mothers who helped their sons organize the Death Row 10 campaign. When I met Louva in 1998, her son Ronnie Kitchen was on Illinois’ death row for a crime he did not commit. The story of the Death Row 10 is little known to the public: how a group of Black men who had been tortured by former Commander Jon Burge and a ring of white detectives, courageously organized from behind bars to fight for justice.
By Alice Kim
Last week, the city of Chicago made history when the City Council unanimously voted to pass a reparations package for Chicago Police torture survivors, specifically a group of African American men who were tortured by former Commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command. The culmination of decades of struggle against Burge torture and a more recent #RahmRepNow campaign led by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Amnesty International, Project NIA, and We Charge Genocide, this marks the first time in the United States that a municipality will provide reparations to African Americans in response to police violence.
The package was based on the Reparations Ordinance introduced to the City Council in October 2013 by Aldermen Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins. One year before this, the ordinance had made its first public appearance on the walls of an exhibit called “Opening the Black Box: The Charge is Torture.” Curated by CTJM, a collective of artists, educators, activists and attorneys, this exhibit illustrated the power of art as a call to action.
“Artists are here to disturb the peace,” James Baldwin said. And that was the intent of our collective. Preceding the exhibit, we put out a call for proposals asking justice seekers to unleash their radical imaginations and create speculative monuments that memorialized the brutal history of Burge torture and the struggle against it. Our call for proposals was not a juried contest, instead we promised to showcase all proposals received in an art exhibit or a dedicated website. Over 70 artists from around the world responded with submissions, and one year after we put out our call for proposals, we produced the “Opening the Black Box” exhibit at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Gallery.
Compiled by Alice Kim, Editor
“Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.” Gwendolyn Brooks
“I stood back and said ‘What have I done?’ and I cried. I was blown away and was in awe. This is the a piece of mine that I will say is powerful and I rarely say that with any of my pieces. It made me cry.” Patrick Campbell interviewed by Luvvie Ajayi
Compiled by Alice Kim, Editor
Photos submitted by FM Supreme, Bill Ayers and Martha Biondi
To protest the decision by a Missouri grand jury not to charge Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing unarmed teen Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri, members of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) gathered outside of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office on the 5th floor of City Hall on Tuesday, November 25. All day long, the group led die-ins, chants, songs, education and healing circles then marched down Michigan Avenue and streets in the Loop for several hours into the evening.
Charlene Carruthers, BYP 100 National Coordinator, told the Chicago Tribune that the group wants Emanuel to take a leadership role in talking to other politicians “to stop being complicit in the destruction of black bodies.”
Internationally renowned poet and activist ‘Bra Willie’ Kgositsile passed away on January 3. In his loving memory, Praxis Center is republishing this interview with Kgositsile that took place while he was visiting Kalamazoo for the 2014 Without Borders Conference.
A note from Senior Editor, Lisa Brock:
My dear Willie. You were so smart, so witty, and your poems just blew us away. Pablo Neruda, Richard Wright, and Amiri Baraka were some of your muses. It was your poem entitled “The Last Poets” that inspired the 1970s Afro-futurist group to take that name. Red Song by Vusi is based on another of your poems. So happy we were able to hang out in Kalamazoo and in South Africa over the last few years. I’ll never forget you and Pedro Perez-Sarduy at the old Hothouse in the 1980s reading poems of liberation. I’ll always remember being in your car in Jo’burg with Muddy Waters blasting through the speakers. l’ll never forget the comedic rumba you and Gloria Rolando [Magaly Rolando Casamayor] acted out at the Arcus Center. I’ll never forget you telling my students that English is actually a commercial language that one had to tame to make beautiful. And then there was Nikky Finney and you talking about being black and colonized and writing, on stage. And so much more. My students in 2009 and faculty from K in 2016….u greeted them in South Africa. My condolences to Thebe and the rest of your family. You were clearly a man of the people and of the Pan-African Left. Apartheid forced you into exile, yet because of that you blessed us with your presence You were family. Go well Comrade.
By Alice Kim, Editor, Praxis Center
James Thindwa is a long time labor and political activist who is currently the Great Lakes Community Engagement Coordinator for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Prior to that, he was the Executive Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, a labor-community coalition.Here, he talks to Praxis Center about the possibilities of organizing for workers’ rights and a more just world.
Alice Kim: First let’s get some background on you. Tell us your political history. How and when did you become politicized?
James Thindwa: My early political experiences were really almost by osmosis, growing up in a politically charged environment in Southern Africa. I grew up in Zimbabwe and at the time there was an anti-colonial struggle going on with major political parties – black political parties – taking on the struggle to dislodge the colonial rulers. The short history is that Zimbabwe was Rhodesia and it was under British rule. In 1965, the British were in the process of liberating, of conferring independence to its colonies, and the white people in Zimbabwe decided they didn’t want that, they didn’t want to give up the country so they declared their own independence from Great Britain, which essentially made them the new colonial masters. So it became this white ruled country outside of Great Britain that declared the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).
I was 10 years old when UDI was declared. Almost immediately a black liberation struggle was formed. All the political parties that had heretofore tried to engage in contact and dialogue to gain independence, they felt they had no choice but to declare war. So there was a war from 1965 to1979. These were formative years. I saw black leadership step up to take on the struggle for independence. I watched, as a kid, a lot of the violence aimed at political leaders, assassinations, and police firing into crowds of people who were peacefully protesting. It was very difficult to avoid being affected by those events. So I would say that more than anything else put me on a course to become active.