like to hear about it, talk about it? Here it go (En Vogue)
Although not an even split, I devote my awake working hours to two very different kinds of institutions: the academy and a grassroots education for liberation organization. Higher education is a hierarchical institution, in which people, schools, and programs are openly. and not so openly, ranked based on criteria such as social capital and selectivity and less opaquely, ‘fit’ with the organization as it is. Organizing for liberation has the criteria that anyone may join, should participate in political education and praxis, and work horizontally rather than vertically as a way of interacting. These two type of organizations, are, to put it shortly, diametrically opposed. Each one uses the word, ‘community,’ in compelling and sometimes problematic ways. The other holds to heart, to quote Thomas Nikundiwe, in organizing “people show up because of relationships and purpose.”
In the academy, for the past 16 years that I’ve been part of it, people, neighborhoods, public areas are often lumped into and referred singularly to as “the community.” Communities are never singular, nor are they fixed and static. Referring to “the community” reifies Said’s well-known writings about how the other is created, intentionally or not. I have the great fortune to work with many university-based professionals who have built relationships beyond the hallowed halls of the academy, in order to know the nuances and be answerable to changing needs of various urban neighborhoods. I have also heard and witnessed many instances in which academics refer to “the community” in the singular, a unit of something and a group of somebodies out there. I detail this not as an indictment of academics and their use of ‘the community,’ but rather to trace how a hierarchy built on admission granted by those at the next higher rung might unsurprisingly be removed from the more idiosyncratic and powerful actions of communities. In other words, through the training that academics receive in becoming an ‘expert’ who researches ‘other people’ who do things, it is no surprise that those other people would be collapsed into a single category. The Community.
Community is hard and vital for any kind of healthy society. Being in community means, in essence, being with each other. How are we – how do we approach, embody, and enact not only our values but what realities we need to create into existence. With – alongside, listening to hear, not just waiting for your turn to speak something you think is smart[er]. With also connotes and implicitly offers the opportunity to dispense with the idea that some people are disposable and “do not fit.” And, each other, this means that we are obligated to be with each other, to study how our differential places in society have history but are permeable, to apprehend and not falsely equivocate experiences of domination and subjugations. With each other means, in essence, collective. And it is a rare and wonderful gift.
Much of what I have learned about being in community comes from my own family and from the Education for Liberation Network, a grassroots organization dedicated to connecting people to people, people to knowledge, and people to resources, all in the name of education as a tool for liberation. From my family, I have learned that we show up for each other, certainly when the holidays provide that opportunity, but even moreso when one of us needs help, companionship, to feel connected and held, and when we need to come together to help others in the family.
I have also been fortunate enough to be steadily involved with the Education for Liberation Network for almost ten years. In those years, I have been part of and learned from negotiations about what to communicate, to whom, and how, all guided by the anchor point of education for liberation. Our mission statement, which we revise regularly, based on who is in the community, acts as our screen for all our other actions. Rather than assume that a newcomer can simply be included into a cultural momentum, we pause, every two years, to revisit our mission statement, with as many people as possible present in the same room, with newer and more familiar voices all being able to say what they envision justice to be, what gets in the way of justice, and how can do and be with each other for justice. The facilitation is taxing, but it yields abundance down the road so that we can ask: does this action further our mission or does it derail us, even a little bit? We have mostly been able to engage in actions that further our mission, but like everyone(s) else, white supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalism creeps in. This is also one of the reasons for being in community. We help, support, and take action when we see a vector, or likely more than one vector of oppressions forming in front of us. We learn when we are made aware of a practices that has restricted full participation from an Ed4Lib community seeker/member from being able to participate fully. We are a work in progress. We will never get it ‘right’, whatever the singular is. We will always be creating spaces, learning from mistakes, and remaking spaces.
I am fortunate to pass time in both of these kinds of communities. Even when interacting the hierarchy of higher education, unintentional teachings present themselves to me. Access is often sought more than permission. Short-term funding creates a wake of need after the grant is over. These are challenges I am privileged to work on with university-based colleagues. And yet, community organizing for education for liberation has brought me into community with some of the smartest, most talented and committed people I’ve ever met. Ironically, they have far less time to document how they do the social change work that they engage in. This is just one place where people with endowed chairs, centers, and secured tenure could use institutional grift for the commons.
Finally, education has something to answer for, in the unprecedented but next level government gruesome kaleidoscope that unfolds daily. Formal education has perpetuated the linear narrative I detailed at the start of the essay. That narrative forms structures. The narrative of linear progress of euro-descendant peoples is codified into structures, such as legal and extra-legal practices of housing, employment, healthcare, cultural genocide, erasure of Indigenous peoples, and perpetuation of the settler state as normalized. In fact, the narrative of linear progress, coupled with individuals’ merit, acts as a large shadow, rendering opaque the mechanisms of a society where some talk about ‘the community,’ and others, who build community are less seen, but no less powerful.
If you are so inclined, please check out for the done by the volunteer-organization, Education for Liberation. Our year-end fundraiser is tick tocking away, and we’d love to have your support. And if that doesn’t fit your priorities this year, maybe just get know our neighbors, bring observance rather than judginess, and rest for yourself so that you may contribute to the communities that exist, in part, because you show up there.