Liberation demands that we look beyond celebrities and celebrity culture for answers. Who are the people that show up every day with love and compassion, energy and commitment in our communities? The people that offer selflessly, joyfully, the care and support needed to grow and nurture liberation? Who are the people who constantly invite us in for discussion, see us in all the possibility that we hold? Who are those who have walked with us, offer in honesty, their journeys, their truths and listen to and validate ours?
Kimberly Jones has throughout her life embodied that kind of love and being. For years she has been a present and committed soul in Black Atlanta manifesting as writer, as educator, and organizer. Many of us in the Decatur area know her through her presence at community bookstores, or leading sessions at the Decatur Book Festival.
She has written a book, How We Can Win, that conveys the intimacy of of the inspired conversations she’s made possible at bookstores, community actions, urban gardens, sidewalks and park benches throughout this part of the world.
The book brings you into those spaces and conversations. It’s as if you wandered into the bookstore, you asked her “What’s up?” and she spared you a few precious moments — because she saw the humanity in you, knew what you were going through, found a quiet place, and because you asked, gave you a few minutes that became an hour to share and to listen. At one moment the conversation is more like a strategy session where you’re exchanging ideas on how to get you and your family’s money straight; the next it’s a discussion about the books that really made an impact; after a while it’s moved on to the Black Panther’s 10 point program.
It’s an amazing thing to engage in conversation with a book. The author can explain something very directly, leaving you with an ideas, observations, maybe some poignancy that leaves you with a vivid memory, or questions. Questions or positions, persisting emotions stay with you through the day, they brew like that comfort soup your mother made, to receive the finishing touch when you return. Sometimes the book will make you mad and then all of a sudden, when you catch a sunset, it suddenly makes sense and you in that instant will have literally become a different human. More human perhaps. It’s a gift when the writer leaves you with words that call up that kind of change. They call it revolution.
In the conventional “topics and themes” view of this book you’d probably say that the book is about finding and creating economic justice for Black folk. She goes into these are sweeping ideas (revisiting Reconstruction) and but also weaves in practical offerings — what I would call “everyday empowerment” that includes how to put together a plan for support when you’re just trying to get on your feet.
In the deeper sense though How We Can Win is about opening larger possibilities about empowerment and justice. Black people are trying at each minute on some level to imagine, to build, to strive toward a world that does not yet exist. A someplace absent of trauma, precarity; a somewhere secured in justice and peace. Most times that process borders between a level of consciousnesses that can’t be articulated. The magic of this book is pulling out that process, about giving people a permission in which to conceive of unbounded Black possibility.
You can’t build a future if you don’t believe that a future can exist. Unless you even give yourself the right and space to dream about it.
I’m thinking about a chapter in her book as an example. She writes about a new kind of Reconstruction — “Reconstruction 2.0”,
The fact that we are now talking about reparations, prison abolition, defunding the police, and more is an expression of a greater number of Black folks with access to power, and greater outrage at the treatment of Black people by systems, such as policing. I want to take this conversation one step further. Equity across all of America’s systems. Every. Single. One. I want to see reparations fund a ground-up overhaul of what this country is and how it operates.
then providing a framework to think about reparations
When we talk about Reconstruction 2.0, it’s imperative that we move in two directions at the same time. It won’t be enough to create new systems intended for greater equity. We also have to think deeply about dismantling old, entrenched systems that have marginalized us, impoverished us and kept us out of equal participation in the American economy.
As her discussion goes naturally from the what-could-be to the what-is to the what-was, she brings up the Freedman’s Bureau. During the reconstruction of the 1890’s this was a organization set up during the Civil War to provide resources to the millions of escaping and freed Black people who had nothing. It eventually took on a more expansive roll in the years after slavery ended, providing food, job placement,
training, education, and supporting nascent Black communities. Freedman’s Bureaus throughout the south were the incubators of many Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
There was an office of the Freedman’s Bureau in Atlanta at least into the 1920s. It existed literally in back of the house my grandparents moved into when they moved to Atlanta in 1920. What did it mean to my folks in that Atlanta to have that level of support? What would it have meant to have something like it through the 1930s during the depression? What would it mean to today’s communities in the Peoplestown and Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Atlanta?
Many of us get scared when people say “Defund” or “Abolish” the police. But when Kim puts it together with the Freedman’s Bureau, or schools that actually work, the concept takes on a new meaning. When you’ve gotten to a conversation when you’re weighing off the alternatives for creating strong and safe communities, then you’ve transitioned to a space of liberation from a space of fear, despair and resignation. You have entered a place where you now understand what it would mean to play a different game.
I leave you with Kim in her own words