“It is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.“ - Angela Davis

Practices steeped in hope, dreaming and reimagination have, for generations, continued to and will continue to push the American political landscape until the words written in the constitution guaranteeing life, liberty and freedom for all is true for all peoples in America. Radical reimagination refers to the “practice of creating purposeful and positive spaces and times for imagining together, and for debating and refining shared visions of the past, present and future.”

We saw this practice come to life in our cities this summer as protests emerged across the country, calling for a reimagination of our policing and justice systems and largely for a reimagination of what dignity in America could and should look like for all people. At Living Cities, in tandem with our work to embed healing justice across our work and practice, we are exploring what it means to cultivate and exercise the skill of reimagination with our staff. Organizational practices that are also rooted in arts and culture have also helped us exercise this muscle and help us create visions for our future. We firmly believe that these concepts are of one another, reinforce each other and create the space we need to imagine a reality where we are all given the tools to live thriving and equitable lives. If we can dream it, we can create it.

This belief is rooted in the history of what dreaming and imagination has meant and created within Black and Indigenous communities. For example, In 1863, Harriet Tubman achieved the first U.S. military victory organized and led by a woman, a decisive blow to a Confederacy that was at that time dominating and draining the Union. Most important, the Combahee River uprising—during which almost 800 enslaved people of African descent stole themselves to freedom, burned down thirty-two plantation buildings, and flooded the rice plantations that were the center of South Carolina’s confederate economy—could becalled the most successful uprising against slavery in the U.S. In 1977 a collective of radical Black Feminists wrote a founding document of contemporary Black feminism and expresses not only the political stakes and urgency of a movement that seeks to intervene in all systems of oppression. This document is called The Combahee River Collective Statement. The collective was named to honor Harriet Tubman’s work as a scout and her documentation of the Combahee River raid (Source: Prophecy in the Present Tense: Harriet Tubman, the Combahee Pilgrimage, and Dreams Coming True by Alexis Pauline Gumbs). Another example is the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz by the group Indians of All Tribes did not ultimately revert that land to Native control. But it did brilliantly (and playfully) articulate a frame of land-based self-determination that reverberates from the Occupy movement to Standing Rock to the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (Source: Othering and Belonging’s Frames for Life, Liberation, & Belonging created by attendees of the 2017 Othering & Belonging Conference). These stories reimagined freedom during those moments and retell the stories outside of a frame of private property.

In a recent workshop we called: “Building our Capacity to Reimagine towards a Pro-Black World”, we encouraged staff to imagine what it might looks like to conceptualize new systems of support rooted in themes we pulled from the responses staff shared with us in our 2020 Racial, Equity and Inclusion Competency Survey where we asked them to tell us what a pro-Black institution might look like. Their art was rooted in themes of freedom, abundance, community, transparency, power, etc. Explore some of our staff’s manifestations of these themes within new systems in the slideshow below:

Living Cities Staff Art: Building our Capacity to Reimagine a Pro-Black world

Resources used: Lessons From Social Movements: Six Notes on the Radical Imagination

Banner Image credit: Originally made for Wide Awake Campaign, created by Never Made