“Our ancestors got us.”
This was the text that Trina Greene Brown, founder of Parenting for Liberation, sent me the night before our first “Raising Liberated Children” workshop held on February 1st, 2018. With the financial and logistical support of Just Detention International, Trina and I designed a three-part workshop series for mothers who are incarcerated at a California’s women’s prison. Through our shared radical women of color feminist framework and our activist work with parents of color in our communities, we designed our workshop curriculum with the understanding that the participants were forced to make (limited) choices that were constricted by institutional racism, sexism, and classism. Rather than being afforded restorative justice, adequate resources, or support to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma for themselves and their families, these women were incarcerated and separated from their families under the punitive logistics of the prison industrial complex.
We decided to facilitate storytelling and art-making as a way for them to tell their own stories, how they remember and imagine the past, present, and future, and how their knowledge informed by their lived experiences can become powerful pathways for healing and liberation. At the end of the first workshop, we gave the participants copies of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” We read through the poem twice, and at the very end of the poem, an entire room full of mothers raised their voices together and affirmed themselves: “I rise, I rise, I rise!” In the second workshop, we asked the participants to use “Still I Rise” as a prompt to write poetry lines about their own resilience. Then, in the final workshop, we compiled their writing into a collective poem.
Below is the collective poem written by the workshop participants. This is an ofrenda for themselves, their children, and collective healing as we move closer toward our visions for social justice and liberation. Their words are reverberating outside the prison walls. Their ancestors got them. Still, they rise!