Black to the Future
Notes from Ferguson is the Future Conference at Princeton University Sept. 11-14, 2015
We are all time travelers.The past hasn’t gone anywhere.
America is a haunted house.The future is in every gesture we make.
Science fiction is about figuring out how to be different together.
Ferguson is the Future is/was/will be an on-going moment of magic, community, and brilliance organized by Moya Bailey, Ruha Benjamin, and Ayana Jamieson. These women have serious superpowers. They gathered writers, activists, scholars, musicians, DJs, filmmakers, scientists, and curious folk at Princeton University to activate our blackness, our multi-dimensional, time-traveling blackness. Moya, Ruha, and Ayana called us to celebrate Octavia Butler and the joy of our sci-fi, speculative existence. They also insisted we look for that way out of no way that allows us to survive on-going apocalypse. Moya, Ruha, and Ayana raised money, fed and housed us, and kept us on point as we talked to and with each other. We did not have to provide the context for our being, for our sensibility—it shimmered around us. Everyone agreed—it was a blast, a blessing, a revelation to be activists, artists, and scholars imagining the future we want. Nothing like dreaming and scheming for justice, pleasure, peace, and sustainable abundance.
Before the public conference, writers and activists Steven Barnes, Lisa Bolekaja, Adrienne Maree Brown, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, Walidah Imarisha, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel José Older, Rasheedah Phillips, Sophia Samatar, Nisi Shawl, and me (Andrea Hairston) gathered for an activist/artist retreat. We were joined by DJ Lynnée Denise, mixed media artist Soraya Jean-Louis McElroy, and musicians Be Steadwell and Taja Lindley & Jessica Valoris of Colored Girls Hustle . (I call out names, because dear reader, you should go look these folks up. Check out their art and brilliance. Buy what they make.)
Our retreat mission was to:
shake each other up
refuse the way it is as the way it has to be
skip racism and sexism 101
dance to the music
raise critical questions pertaining to afro-futurism
support and challenge one another
spark new projects and possibilities
explore the impossible
We did all that and more in gatherings facilitated by Adrienne Maree Brown, and also in casual encounters sipping port and brandy in the library of Princeton’s guest house or walking down the avenue.
I rarely write blogs, but Timmi asked me. Writing fast (and doing all that I do) is difficult to impossible. I’m dyslexic. I actually don’t have time to write this blog, but that’s why I am writing it. Fast and furious Andrea, was made possible by Black to the Future Conference magic. Time travelers have all the time in the Universe!
At our retreat sessions we discussed how some people are waiting for us to fail. Some people are eager to laugh at our writing. In Facebook-land and the Twitterverse there is bullying of “social justice warriors,” of POC and women writers. But we created a manifesto, a declaration of our freedom as artists. We don’t have to be perfect or silent, a million times better or silent, bullet proof or silent. We will live out loud and on line while being black, brown, disabled, queer… We will collaborate for each other’s success. We are poised to boost the signal on everybody’s work. We will be vulnerable and not always know what the hell we are doing. We won’t be realistic, we will try for the impossible.
On Monday, we were joined by scholars, Reynaldo Anderson, Netrice Gaskins, John Jennings, Alondra Nelson, Dorothy Roberts, activists and educators from Ferguson, Johnetta Elzie, Deray McKesson, Brittany Packnett, curators and filmmakers, Erin Christovale, M. Asli Dukan, Amir George, Dennis Leroy Kangalee, for an all-day speculative fiction jam. The weave of voices and disciplines, the polyrhythm of perspectives was astounding. Every day we got smarter, got activated. And Monday, nobody wanted to leave!
With organizers Moya, Ruha, and Ayana, we created our visionary future, an alternative world in the haunted halls of Princeton University. The time together was heady and full-bodied. We carry new superpowers with us now. Change is upon us.