October 1, 2022

Aja Monet on Robin DG Kelley and the Continuing Fight for Black Liberation ‹ Literary Hub

When they say that literature liberates, they were surely talking about dreams of freedom.

Maybe it was love, maybe it was their dimples dancing, the way a girl rapped her words around us like a loose embrace, our bodies transformed by the beat. Or how a few organizers lay in the hammock swaying as another’s guitar dripped with calloused fingers. In the honey-damp June heat, a mango tree with open, waving arms was deeply rooted in our Little Haiti backyard. This is where a dream became freedom.

Shades of sweat gathered under bright copper-green leaves, people singing, catching the breeze like a spirit. We were timeless and no longer fighting. A premonition or an image that seemed familiar to me came like a nudge in the eye of my heart. We gathered there to hang and rest after a community organizing meeting. Everyone, for more than a moment, was present and alive and forever. It was sacred ground. We weren’t arguing, we weren’t tripped, we weren’t overwhelmed with grief. A smoke signal of possibility, a place we could smell, touch and see. I found a new way to write a poem or, as Kelley writes, a way to take us to another place.

I was sculpted in the flesh and blood of black people who breathe poetry.

Where power seeks to obstruct and exploit language, Robin DG Kelley creates space for the unlanguageable. This book is a profound testimony to the lasting dimension of our imaginations and the poetry of our organization. Twenty years later, the revealed truths remain relevant and necessary especially in the thick crippling despair of a global pandemic. Many are disconnected from each other, a people socialized on social networks constantly inundated with gross injustices all over the world and the last frontier of our movements becomes the spirit. We are introduced to the visions of those who have fought before us: abolition, universal health, global solidarity and environmental justice. We are the dream.

dreams of freedom is a book that documents and contextualizes the political power of our shamanic ability to sense and embody the medicinal methodologies of our resistance. In the cadence of courage, these words are my belonging; it reflects the life I have made without knowing it, a surrealist blues poet stuck in the movement for our being. Fueled by the radical movements of those who came before us, Kelley evokes the legacy of Barbara Smith, Jayne Cortez, Aimé Césaire, Queen Mother Moore, Amiri Baraka, Paul Robeson, Sun Ra and so many others.

We are what we fight for. At present. As we demand presence and awareness, we are liberation. Who are we without war, poverty, violence, police and prisons? Who would we be if money wasn’t our concern? If love was our currency, how would we distribute it? How do we value the invisible? I have spent my life crossing the times of time, the literate language of the heart and the mind. As our movement is occupied with the struggle for our material conditions, I have been obsessed with the immaterial needs of our people; poetry is where I went to meet the limits of myself. Touching the currents and vibrations of our experiences and perceptions. I was sculpted in the flesh and blood of black people who breathe poetry. The pain of being here and nowhere. A cause to live our most intimate lives.

We are the dream, an intervention organizing through presence. Years later, under the same mango tree, I saw Ntozake Shange glow in an old wicker rocking chair with a cigarette between his wand-like polished fingers. Her smile was a legacy that we all carry close to us. The Last Poets sipping a cold beer flirting with the past, bent into the groove of the present. DJ Rich Medina spins the soundtrack to a dream manifesto that drives light into our hips and hands. People were nourished and full of imagination. Sonia Sanchez teaches love in our living room with movement lessons. Inspired by the stories of African and Indigenous ancestors who were hunted in the swamps and developed sovereign communities during the horrors of American slavery, we facilitated a collective of young poets who were also the organizers of the creation of the Maroon Poetry festival in Liberty City, Miami.

I had no idea we were rehearsing for Kelley’s final chapter vision. We built a temporary stage out of wooden pallets in Tacolcy Park with the aim of designing a solar-powered amphitheater. Elders and young people together in harmony. The event was free and accessible, with on-site medical professionals taking blood pressure, hand care giving massages, morning meditation and yoga, barbers donating their skills to cut children’s hair. Tire swings wrapped around our trees, there was a huge North Star flag waving above the children’s gym in the jungle.

We built temporary libraries, benches decorated with free books. We transformed the community center’s children’s workroom into an art gallery featuring local artists and vintage black national treasures. We registered community members to vote in the upcoming national elections and discussed local politics of our time. We asked our people to help restore the franchise to 1.4 million Floridians who were previously incarcerated. Huge poster banners of Emory Douglas floated on the grounds as he discussed the revolutionary function of art with the people. It was surreal. We were more than our competing identities; we were organized in deep relationships with each other.

Poetry offers us a method and a path through the world; the way we organize each other shows who and what we are for.

“Surrealism is not a lost, esoteric body of thought yearning for academic recognition”, Kelley writing. “It’s a living practice and it will live on as long as we dream of it. Nor is surrealism an atavistic romanticization of the past. Above all, Surrealism sees love, poetry and the imagination as powerful social and revolutionary forces, not as substitutes for organized protest, marches and sit-ins, strikes and slowdowns, matches and spray paint.

We are one of many echoes of Robin DG Kelley’s words resonating around the world. We are proof that his vision and arguments are not only practical but essential to the possibility and power of our movement. We were there, Defenders of Dreams, supported by a small group of lawyers, the Community Justice Project, poetic language workshop for our political vision of another Florida a few years earlier. We called our socialist vision for our people the Freedom Papers. It was an unconscious nod to the emancipation papers given to fleeing Africans upon their arrival in the Spanish colony of St. Augustine.

Over 250 years later, we conjured Fort Mose, the first free black settlement in America, right in our backyard. Except that we have defined freedom for ourselves – the freedom to imagine and fight for alternatives: freedom from the police, from prisons and from poverty, freedom of movement, freedom of mind, freedom to be, etc We have spent many years using our Literal Home to facilitate workshops and encourage organizers to decolonize our imaginaries. Language and the way we use it are crucial to the vision of our lives. Kelley’s book offers us our history so that we can create with a clearer vision of our future. Sometimes we stumble in our past while enduring the present, but freedom is always there.

As our society is hyper-focused on the technical and material developments of nation states, as we resist the patriarchy of colonialism, rising sea levels, burning forests, lack of hospital beds and the violence of poverty, we must not lose sight of the deep emotional expressions of our hearts. We are in a battle of ideas. We are in a battle for our minds. There have been many developments and evolutions in the mechanics of our technology – Kelley reminds us, every movement requires evolution and transformation of heart and mind.

The ability to dream, cultivate and facilitate the collective as self-determined visionaries is how we demand the alternative.

He writes, “By revolution of the mind, I do not mean simply a refusal of the status of victim. I’m talking about an unleashing of the most creative capacities of the mind, catalyzed by participation in struggles for change.

It wasn’t easy at first to convince the movement’s organizers and advocates that poetry could organize our people into the revolutionary world we want to see, or that imagining a vision together was actually the work we desperately needed. need. But like dreams of freedom demonstrates, we were not the first to fight and we will not be the last. Poetry offers us a method and a path through the world; the way we organize each other shows who and what we are for. We used June Jordan’s breakthrough blueprint and focused on the poetry workshop as a way to access and cultivate our radical visions.

Our ability to rethink and transform our society is what radical social movements are made of. We must return to the root, which is always love. So many of us have become victims of doubt and fear; remembering is our medicine and imagining is our heritage. It is much more difficult to organize triggered, traumatized and indifferent people in our struggle for liberation. Therefore, our movements must rely on our radical imaginations for the strategy of social poetics to take hold.

dreams of freedom is a dedication to the continuum. To create, we embody what we imagine. Freedom is not illusory. It is not beyond our reach. It’s in our hands. The ability to dream, cultivate and facilitate the collective as self-determined visionaries is how we demand the alternative. This book is not an answer but an invitation to ask questions; it is a prompt and a roadmap. Robin DG Kelley is a cartographer of a past present future. We are the poem. As we imagine, so we remember.

wherever we go
We are here
whoever we are
We have been

–Aja Monet, Fall 2021


Extract of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Robin D.G. Kelley. Copyright © 2022. Available from Beacon Press.