The Art of Healing: Reimagining safer worlds

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Including the writing of this column, I’ve counted four times now that I’ve had this same conversation in one week. 

For context, I’ll be referencing a framework called the “Four R’s,” a way of categorizing social justice approaches.

The Four R’s are Reform, Resist, Recreate, and Reimagine, and it’s something I learned from an organization called YES! through their free online facilitation/workbook. (This is not an ad; I just find it incredibly helpful and love to share it with most people I know.) 

Reform, resistance, and even recreating systems in our world are social justice approaches that we have more examples for.

We know what reform is and how it can be better to affect more successful social change, we know what resistance consists of – protests, reclaiming joy, and so much more.

Although we have a good idea of what resistance looks like, its definition continues to expand; what matters is that there is a clear foundation of what it can look like because we as a society know how to build off of the examples we currently have around us.

With recreating systems, as a local example, there’s Maine Youth Court, which recreates a more healing and accountable form of justice for the harmed and the person who has harmed. Along with that, there are also examples of intergenerational organizing groups or retreat spaces that focus on rest. Another local example is Portland Empowered, which recreates how youth and parents engage with the school system in a way that supports their power to affect change. 

Yet, when thinking about reimagining as an approach to changing our communities, I don’t know any examples. This is also why I think this approach is so special. Because there isn’t a blueprint for how we reimagine new systems and communities (in a way that isn’t building off of what we already know, which is recreation’s tactic). This way forward requires creativity, ingenuity, courage, and an element of risk. 

Why I’ve been returning to this conversation over and over again is because I see the need for artists to reimagine our worlds. It is the work of fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, magical realism, and overall an out-of-this-world mind frame to reimagine a world we have yet to experience as a whole.

Mariame Kaba, the author of, “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transformative Justice,” says “Hope is a discipline.” She talks about the hope she has for a safe world we all get to experience. Kaba wholeheartedly believes that this world is possible, and her steadfast embodiment is an inspiration to me and other changemakers who may feel bitterness.

She also talks about something else I am still reflecting on – how our current framework of safety is structured by violence. She talks about how communities invite police officers into spaces where they shouldn’t be: schools, hospitals, homes, etc. And this got me thinking about how my own personal idea of safety is structured by violence: pepper spray, stun guns, capoeira attack moves, and even just the constant awareness of potential violence enacted against me. My idea of safety is surrounded by violence.

What would safety mean if it was structured by healing? If there wasn’t a constant vigilance towards the threat of being harmed? Where could that energy then be used if we were able to redirect it from attack and defense to something else?

What could the world have to look like, feel like, be like in order for that reimagining to be possible and not just a naive thought? What could our schools have to teach? What could our communities practice? How could we choose to resolve grievances and harms, and how could we reimagine justice?

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that reimagining safety isn’t just about the safety itself; it’s about how we learn as a society how to navigate healing, harm, justice, education, and so much more.

Muntaha Mohamed is an artist and activist who works for Portland Empowered, volunteers with Black POWER, and sits on the board of Mindbridge.