Afua Addo, the Center's manager of Gender and Justice Initiatives, is joined by Dr. Monique Morris, the co-founder and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, and Andrea C. James, the founder and executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. They discuss the importance of focusing on the lived experiences of black criminalized women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence and engaging survivors in community-led organizing and policy work to effect change. They also highlight the need to focus on the needs and desires of black women and girls that will help them to both thrive and grow. This podcast was produced for Project SAFE.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2016-TA-AX-K022 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
Afua ADDO: Good morning. This is Afua Addo, coordinator of Gender Justice Initiatives with the Center for Court Innovation’s Project SAFE (Services and Fundamental Enhancements), geared specifically toward justice involved black women, funded through the Office on Violence Against Women out of the U.S. Justice Department. Today’s podcast will focus around centering the narratives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and its impact on what reform is, is not, and what it can look like. We’re joined today by Andrea James, the founder and executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and Dr. Monique W. Morris, co-founder and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute.
Thank you so much for you all joining us today. This podcast serves a great deal of people who receive our training and technical assistance and look for additional tools and skill sets to add to their ongoing work in their ongoing advocacy and activism and then, no doubt, reform, right? And, so, the Council and National Black Women’s Justice Institute have worked independently, collectively, and, no doubt, tirelessly to address and highlight the pipelines to criminalization and incarceration. What messages do you believe have made the most impact in highlighting the primary concerns and responses for criminalized women and girls of color? And then I’ll follow that up with by asking, I guess, what do you believe has made the most impact in driving reform and how can we leverage and improve advocacy to lead reform?
Monique MORRIS: Oh, Andrea, you should definitely lead this.
Andrea C. JAMES: Oh, well, thank you. We feel as formerly incarcerated women that sharing our stories— and beyond just sharing our stories—connecting it with what we call ‘bringing the people to the policy,’ that we have amongst ourselves had really in depth conversations about what our experiences have been and helping ourselves to heal through those experiences collectively, helping ourselves to really think about what those experiences have led to in our lives, including landing on a prison bunk, and really unpacking all of those things to find out what are the current policies that help to contribute to women being overcriminalized and girls being overcriminalized and being sent to places such as prisons, and to figure out a way of turning that around by using our experiences and saying, because we’ve gone through this, we know that there’s some better ways of addressing these things, and then actually writing that policy and having it in hand as we tell our stories, raising awareness in the public, but also engaging with policy makers to encourage them to understand that there is something else that could be happening.
ADDO: Thank you for that. Monique, did you want to chime in on that or?
MORRIS: I do, I do because I think that what Andrea is elevating is something that we believe firmly also, which is that in order for the messages to be rooted in authenticity and for much of the effort to engage a transformation of policy and practice with respect to formerly incarcerated women and girls, we have to include their voices and not just in a peripheral way, but in a very central way, in a way that facilitates leadership of their lived experience so that we push our own understanding of a topic. That’s the approach that we have always taken, even with some of the work that I was involved in and led before the formation of the Institute. My personal philosophy—and one that I think translates into the way that we conduct research and the way that we support efforts to better understand and construct policy recommendations—has really always been driven by this idea that people who have a lived experience [with incarceration] are core to our understanding of the topic and also our construction of whatever we determine to be effective reform opportunities.
I like to think about engagement and messaging around this issue as being much more important than just reform because reforming something means that you fundamentally agree with the structure in the first place. And so I’d like to think of our work, independently and [also] some of the work that Andrea and I have been discussing moving forward, as really about trying to interrupt the structures that facilitate oppression in the lives of women and girls—particularly those who are most vulnerable to incarceration—and to then think about ways of engaging them in strategies to improve the outcomes of their lives. And sometimes that means that we have to think beyond reform. We have to think about new ways of envisioning a practice around safety, new ways of engaging in an understanding about how we respond to people who have been criminalized as a function of their response to trauma and victimization and other forms of oppression.
And, so, I recognize that in most conversations about this topic, we use shorthand words like reform and we use sort of a short-handed approach around collaboration around certain things. But it really speaks to a deeper connection that we’re after when we’re talking about how we want to transform outcomes with, and for, formerly incarcerated women and girls. Sometimes we, as women, we sit in movements and we lead organizations, and it’s also critically important to ensure that our girls who are facing criminalization—particularly girls of color, black and Latina girls—are experiencing levels of criminalization beyond their counterparts of other racial and ethnic groups. And, so, it’s really important to think about why this is occurring beyond the structures of the criminal legal system that we interrogate, but [also] the extension into other systems that informs why our girls are showing up the way they are in these spaces. And one of the unique and critical ways that we get to these answers is by engaging these girls in the conversation.
ADDO: I so agree. I’m so heartened to be speaking with you both today and, hopefully, in the future, working more readily because I think what I find so inspiring—and what resonates the most—is an alternative to outcomes: thinking about an alternative to outcomes and not just the impact on individual girls and women, but the impact on systems and community-based responses. And, so, both of your work focus on the alternative and thinking of alternative approaches and new ways to engage and center the voices of victim-survivors. What is also important in your work is the attention given to training and technical assistance, right? At various levels within systems and across community based initiatives, addressing topics like trauma and the impact and the sequences of trauma of gender-based violence and trauma-informed care. And those terms kind of, as you said, not necessarily reform, but just dismantling a notion, I think, about what a holistic approach looks to address gaps and prevention, intervention, and reentry.
Do you all have any thoughts about the current gaps and possibly a new nuanced response to those when we think about domestic violence and sexual assault and criminalization of adolescent girls?
JAMES: Yes, and I’d like to respond in a way that incorporates more of the message that Monique was elevating for us here around not having the focus on reform or even the current structures of how the work around decriminalization is approached. At the National Council, we do all of our work from a place of community-led self-determination and as prison abolitionists. So, when we approach this work, prison isn’t even on the table when we talk about what else is possible. And when we do it from that space of community-led self-determination, we’re really talking about what is it in the lives of our people that includes a conversation that has nothing to do with criminal justice reform, really. It really has to do with how do we engage in those things that will make us healthy and whole in our lives and coming from a place of needs assessment as opposed to risk assessment, for instance.
And really digging down deep to say, how do we take this neighborhood, this community, this radius of so many blocks and say, here are the issues that are facing the families in this very hyperlocal community and what are the things that we need to put on the table? And when we approach it from this perspective, from a community-led space of self-determination, you’re now doing what Monique was referring to in terms of opening up that conversation, that dialogue, and that planning process to include worker-owned businesses, to address economic democracy issues, to address alternatives to calling the police, to address all of these things that really get to the heart of how we rebuild our people and our communities. And I just wanted to really emphasize that because when we move forward in this question that you just referred to—which Monique should really be the person to address around training and technical assistance around these issues—that’s important for us to center the community-led, self-determination piece because it has a very different trajectory when we start from that space, including around the issues of what we train on and what we hope to do in terms of providing technical assistance.
MORRIS: I just want to give a concrete example. So, I think in 2015, a group of folks were convened at the Department of Justice to talk about the ways in which domestic violence policy, VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) had an undesired consequence of resulting in this criminalization of black women and girls, largely through mandatory arrest efforts and sometimes because of the various ways in which bias influences first responders to incidents that involve intimate partner or domestic violence. And, Afua, I believe you were there for that. And in the facilitation of some of these discussions and in the conversations about policy that followed this meeting, I think it was really important to note that, while there are various ways in which systems are approaching conversations about specific policies that do result in the criminalization of women who are survivors of violence themselves in a way that disregards the impact of that violence, or that doesn’t factor in the emerging neuroscience or discussion about adverse childhood experiences that informs the work that we do at the technical assistance and/or policy revision level, they really need to be [considering that].
And, so, I think that, often times, even in the work that I do with schools, I’ll walk into a school and talk about—or they’ll want to talk to me about—what’s happening with the black girls who are disproportionately usually engaged in, or responding to, conditions of exclusion. So, [the girls] who are experiencing suspensions or expulsions at a higher rate than others in their group.
And most of the time, people say, “What’s going on here? What’s wrong with these girls? How can we fix the system to respond to the girls?” some of which are the absolute wrong questions to be asking. And it’s the same approach that we take, in many cases, to girls who have and women who have experienced criminalization, right? We think, “How can we structure our policies to respond to these conditions? Something has been wrong with this group of people. They have made bad decisions.” [It’s a] very localized, individualized way of approaching this [issue] instead of really thinking about ways of having a conversation about how policies—which are created by people, by the way—reflect a certain understanding or reading of a population and, then, are designed accordingly. And how there might be some undesired, under-theorized consequences associated with policies that might have been intended to protect a particular group, [which] because of the other social, racial, gender biases that exist, end up having a different impact for disproportionately black women, which is the primary focus of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute.
And really thinking about how we encourage a much more intersectional approach to our understanding around risk, how our discussions about risk must be informed by discussions about need, and how we engage in partnerships that can facilitate new understandings, not only based upon statistics and policy analyses, but also by the lived experiences that tell us why certain conditions are happening in communities and why they’re not happening in others.
And, so, I think when we’re talking about technical assistance and we’re talking about training opportunities, it’s really important to develop structures and opportunities for people with lived experience to be engaged at that level as well. And it’s a challenge to our current structure. So, even as we’re having this conversation and thinking about, yeah, this is something that we believe in, it requires a lot more intention when we are actually in practice around this, particularly because of the ways in which many of our organizations are supported [and] financially structured—and thinking about how we want to move forward. I think that’s one of the great areas of promise for the council. And that’s partly what makes Andrea’s work and collaboration so unique, is that they are a collection of women survivors who are working in this space, who have an expertise, who are thinking about how they can engage differently. And, to me, that represents something tremendous in our collective ability to understand even what the role of technical assistance providers and trainers will be in the space.
ADDO: Thank you so much, Monique. That is one of the best breakdowns I have heard in such a long time about this kind of the catch-22, right? Of the ‘structure’ versus what coordinated community response—or, rather, what bringing people to the policy, is as Andrea mentioned. So, how do we prioritize the concerns of these women and these girls? How do we prioritize...if we’re looking at a broader, more rounded-out approach to the concerns away from the systems that are in place with some of the ongoing functions, or rather, dysfunctions in communities and in families, the [lack of] access to adequate services, support, and education? How do we best prioritize these concerns in order to move towards a better awareness and response from the community?
JAMES: Well, I think from our perspective, it’s doing just that, it’s getting into the community and having these conversations. And we’re doing this all the time at the National Council, just really communicating with other women and girls in our community. Because one of the things that we fail to realize is that we’re all directly affected. We all have been deeply—in our communities, in black communities, [and especially] the women of these communities—have been deeply affected by the history of the oppression of black people long before mass incarceration. And, so, having these conversations within the community for us, as boots on the ground, has been very important and very helpful because we believe that the more that we can have conversations with women and girls within our communities, the more that we can begin to create change from within our communities.
And so we have a number of community events and everything from town hall meetings, which we’re having on July 21st, for instance, in communities across the country, women’s town hall meetings to discuss ending incarceration of women and girls and how we get there, all the way [up] to just having conversations around the kitchen table with mothers who are formerly incarcerated and also currently have a daughter who’s incarcerated, or a son who’s incarcerated, or a loved one, a spouse, a partner, who’s incarcerated. And, so, these are the deep conversations that we’re having to begin a very long process of the organizing work that we do, which, as Monique has talked about, it’s not something that’s put as a priority, for the most part, with funders, but it’s how we really begin to transform our communities and our lives, particularly as women.
And that’s a longer process. And it requires having those deep conversations and, then, coming up with the tangible tools that we use, such as creating bail funds, such as creating participatory defense projects, such as creating transformative justice, transformational justice. Those small things, from starting with a bail fund to shifting to the participatory defense work, then allows us to begin to have the conversations around what does it look like to transform what justice is in our communities? And how do we create the actual community-led systems that allow us to create the shift that we know the women and girls in our community say is necessary?
And also, Monique raised the issue of risk and how we determine that. We’re working with that—we’re pulling that apart. Most of the things that govern the lives of incarcerated and reentering women have to do with a risk assessment tool. Those are very dangerous tools for our population. They are race-based. Again, as Monique said, they are created by other human beings, so racism is baked into those tools, as we’re discovering and experiencing. And so, we’re working with a number of other groups like Law for Black Lives and really pulling these issues around risk assessment tools and how they’re used, pulling them apart and figuring out how we create things that are focused on need and want—and not just need and want, but thriving and joy and happiness within our communities. And that’s just a very different look.
MORRIS: You know, that’s a radical departure—I just want to highlight that as a radical departure from how people think about how we address these issues of violence in our communities. We spend a lot of time in this world around talking about risk, talking about pain, talking about trauma, forgetting to talk about love and joy, forgetting to talk about the ways in which the participatory work brings meaning to people and a sense of agency in a life that has been rendered obscure and invisible in so many ways. Selfishly, I think it’d be great for everyone to hear, Afua and Andrea, more about the participatory defense work because I think that represents, in so many beautiful ways, how the Council is doing things differently.
ADDO: You know, I almost jumped in, Monique. I did not mean to cut you off at all [laughter]. I actually just got really excited because you’re about to answer—or [go] into almost what I was going to say was going to be a final question, but this is kind of opening it up and we still have time. One goal of Project SAFE was to encourage a coordinated response for sexual and domestic violence victim-survivors and the prevalent population of black women behind bars or criminalized, no doubt, [and] to encourage faith-based communities to generate defense campaigns and participatory campaigns on a small, grassroots level. And Reverend Dudley, here in New York, is very interested in working first with women who minister—black women who minister—[to] reconcile some of their experiences in their faith-based communities of marginalization, but also not censoring their experiences as women leaders and empowering those women leaders to rethink the ways in which faith-based communities and so many of our communities can function as holding spaces as opposed to traditional responses or more stereotype typical responses from so many, for instance, black churches and black mosques, that sought a more redemptive approach to these issues.
That this issue is too big for these communities to ignore or to not embrace or to not at least hold space. So, I just wanted to ask if either of you had a suggestion for kind of revisiting a conversation with women leaders to address the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault that impact criminalization numbers and incarceration rates for black women and girls? I mean, it’s a big ask…[laughter].
JAMES: Yeah, it’s a huge ask and again, how do we break that down a little bit into something that is tangible, that communities can begin to work on from a very micro level to address some of these issues? And I think our approach has been to, again, do a comprehensive approach of community-led solutions. And participatory defense, of course, is at the top of that list. And it’s actually a thing. It’s not just the name; it’s a thing that was created by Raj Jayadev and his team over at De-Bug, and they’ve been doing participatory defense for 10 years now and really honed what it looks like for the community to break through the wall of isolation that all of our people go through once they are arrested and go through the process of prosecution and sentencing, and it’s a way to send the community back in to take back our people.
It’s a phenomenal community building tool and it’s shaved thousands and thousands of years off of the lives of people potentially going in to the prison system. But, also, we are using it to pull people out through clemency and parole and all sorts of other things and translating that into how do we use it to defend people against their right to not lose their housing? How do we translate that skill into helping women to hold on to their children who are fighting desperately, particularly incarcerated women who are losing... the state is taking their children and the rights of being parents from these women? And, so, trying to use that tool [of] participatory defense—but it also means block by block. And so that’s what we started doing at the National Council, block by block. Really doing an assessment of who’s on that block, how we can incorporate participatory defense, a bail fund, and a transformational, transformative justice into that block.
And then connecting it to the next block over, and the next block over, and the next block over. And, so, when we reach out to our faith-based organizations where we're coming and saying—and it’s another reason why we’re holding the women’s gathering, the town hall on July 21st, to invite those faith-based organizations, the women’s groups in those churches and synagogues and mosques and masjids, and ask them to come and have this conversation with us, as formerly incarcerated women, about what else is possible: using these community-led tools, introducing them to the church, and [seeing] how the faith-based organizations can help us advance these very micro, micro steps in transforming our communities.
MORRIS: So, what’s fantastic about that, and what I think is particularly compelling and culturally responsive, is this idea that many people might interpret faith as a way to process the afterlife. But for communities of color, it has traditionally, particularly in the black community, been a source of engaging in liberation in this life as well. And, so, it is really important to engage in some of the theorizing that happens in the faith space to help us understand or remember the things that we don’t usually apply, or at least are not invited to, apply to our secular work and practice around justice. However, much notions of faith are embedded in the early understandings about justice and freedom in this nation, sometimes we forget about what the feelings were, and what engagement was intended when we’re actually practicing it. And we end up being super punitive and facilitating even greater harm in the name of justice, which is supposed to be rooted in love.
So, in addition to the participatory work, I think really being a reflection of a strategy to build competencies in certain areas...I just personally appreciate the opportunity to uplift some of these cultural knowings and practices in a way that can bring meaning to the engagement around what is possible. So, Andrea talked about what is possible: our work at the Institute is really around thinking about how we can prepare materials and provide technical assistance and training to support people in their lived practice around changing the outcomes for, and with, black women and girls and other women and girls who are disproportionately impacted by these systems.
And I think it’s really important, in the practice of doing that, to better and more deeply understand how we know what we know, this academic term called epistemology—that we spend a lot of time thinking about and that many of us who are technical assistance providers and trainers may not have the time to really think about. But we should be thinking about how we know what we know, right? How does that inform how we’re engaging with people to improve their practice? These are critical questions that we should be asking ourselves routinely, not just for the planning for the year or when we have to produce reports, right? But really thinking about how we know what we know, who’s engaged in the process. What questions are we responding to? What questions are we asking? What I have found in my practice is that the more inclusive we are, the more intersectional we are, the more rigorous we are around constructing questions that can bring new meaning. Because many times the inclusion of other folks means that we are now asking questions that haven't been asked.
We’ve built policy and practice around the questions that have been asked, but what aren’t we asking? So, I think my invitation around this work is really about what questions should we be asking? What are the new questions? What are the old questions that need revisiting?
I often encourage folks in my other work to continue thinking about learning and revision as the thinking person’s game, right? People think about hustling. People think about all these other things around how they advance in the world. But, really, revision is the thinking person’s game. So, if that’s the thinking person’s game, what needs to be revised, how are we thinking about things differently? And keep the question open-ended and keep the question intersectional and keep continuing on with the process of trying to figure out where the gaps are.
This was the invitation I think that Kimberlé Crenshaw was giving us in her work around intersectionality and in the writing that she initially did around this concept of intersectionality as it pertains to people—black women specifically who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence: to really think about what it means to map the margins and not just map the margins as an intellectual exercise or an academic exercise, but to really map the margins in a way that can guide and inform what it is that we are actually doing and what that action means in the development of future planning and future assessment of outcomes.
ADDO: So, Monique, I have a question. Are you saying that we should be mapping those margins to make sure we don’t lose any women in particular in this process or that we don’t negate any specific experiences, lived experiences? I just wanted to clarify just as I—
MORRIS: I think both/and.
ADDO: Both/and, yeah.
MORRIS: Both and. I think, really, this is not one of those —I think of justice not as a pie and I think about our engagement not as a pie but a practice of infinite possibility. And so, if that’s the case, what we’re thinking about is really including people so that we can develop new questions and engage experiences that have not informed policy or practice in the past. The exclusion that has occurred has produced negative outcomes in severely detrimental ways. And it has been highly destructive. And, so, we have to think about a new way of being. We have to think about a new way of engaging. We have to think about a new way of defining how we are approaching these issues. So, when I invite people to continue to map the margins beyond an intellectual, academic exercise, I am saying that we need to spend some time in the gray areas.
We have to spend some time in the areas where we’re thinking about unique vulnerabilities, but compounded oppressions and vulnerabilities and what is required of us as technical assistance providers, as trainers, as organizers, as folks who are doing research in this area. How we are distributing the opportunity to participate in the construction of knowledge and also how we are distributing the knowledge that we get from this work.
ADDO: I’m sorry, Andrea, did you want to share something?
JAMES: Well, I just, I love listening to Monique just because she helps us to frame our issue so well. One of the things that we could give a real life example of what Monique is raising up is the issue of safe consumption sites. So, in our work on the ground, in a very hyperlocal way, the expertise and the brilliance and survival and resilience of women who are struggling with the illness of addiction really speaks for itself. The way that that is approached in this country, the use of drugs and mind-altering substances, whatever that is, is from a very punitive space and zero tolerance for the most part. And a lot of that has come out of our own communities, and some of it has come from the push from faith-based organizations who don’t want to consider the voices and experiences of people who are actually going through the throes of the illness of addiction.
And so that changes things, when that conversation happens. And when we’re giving the space to...we have members, lots of members at the National Council who are currently and actively using. And they’re working through the illness of addiction and we’re trying to create those opportunities for them to have the space to use their voice so that we can begin to suggest better policy—but also from a very hyperlocal community level, to incorporate those things that aren’t system-based. Because they’re not happening at a pace that we need them to happen, but at a pace that allows the community...And that’s where our church has become really important.
And, so, if a church provides—and I’m not recommending to the extreme that churches be the space for the safe consumption sites—but certainly they need to understand that they need to get behind and support the need in our communities for this. And how do we support a woman who is actively using, who is also a mother and loves dearly her children, and is working within her own life to get herself to a space where she’s not causing further harm in the lives of her children while she’s working through the illness of addiction all the way?
And even considering people who say, “I’m not at a place in my life where I’m ready to stop using.” And whose decision is that to [make]? So, I know these are very radical things [and] issues to raise, but that’s the very real life of people in our communities. And that is the marginalized [identities] that we need to map. Those are the voices that we need to bring into the conversation. Those are the policies from within our communities that we, as residents of our communities, [and] the people of our families, need to create space for and change. So, it's real important stuff what Monique is talking about.
ADDO: No, it absolutely is. I mean, I’d be hard-pressed to say that, really what we’re talking about is how we, as a society, and then within our communities, are taught to respond to people’s trauma reactions, right? Those things in individuals’ lives, that combat their resilience, right?
JAMES: Yeah, and if you listen to a lot of the sisters and a lot of the fam—because not everybody identifies as a sister—look, if you listen to them, they’re talking about survival.
JAMES: They’re talking about their resilience. They were talking about their strengths. So, this woman who the rest of society is looking at as a dope fiend or a crackhead or a crack whore, all these other labels that they put on particularly system-involved women and girls—we embrace our fam, and turn that on its head, and remind our fam about how incredibly brilliant and resilient they have been to even find the tool that they’re using, which might be a drug to continue to keep getting up every day and moving forward in their lives, right?
ADDO: Right. And Andrea, for that matter, I don’t know that it’s even a real radical approach to think about adjusting the measurement of success. I think about some of the work and on a small model here on the East Coast and trying to do some procedural justice or a transformative justice in forms of treatment courts. I think about how some of the smaller treatment court models do have a gender responsivity lens and focus, so as to reduce the traumatization of women arrested, for instance, on charges of prostitution or loitering or intention to loiter or even our foreign national women on labor trafficking charges for conducting unlicensed massage. What their need to survive and feed their families, feed themselves and their children, what that looks like as they navigate through the legal system or they skirt engaging law enforcement.
I think that in pockets around the country, right, that there’s some reform and, yes, it is radical for that system. And if it’s radical for the system, I have hope that such radicalization, can be implemented in the faith-based models, in community-based models and so on and so forth. So, I’m heartened to hear that both the Council and the Institute are focused on dismantling not just the systems, but that indoctrination, right, those concrete beliefs and thoughts of who these women and these girls are in our society.
MORRIS: And that’s what makes it radical.
MORRIS: It shouldn't be radical, but it is radical and it’s almost shameful that it has to be radical for us to have these reminders about treating people with dignity, and starting from a place of love, and leading with love in a way that we approach and understand the conditions that we have criminalized, but that facilitate greater harm among folks who are struggling with deep and multiple forms of oppression.
When we’re looking at women and girls who are system-involved, who are formerly incarcerated, we know we have enough information to understand that they are moving into this life because of the conditions that have occurred in their lives and the victimization that they have experienced that has altered their way of being in many spaces. But what we were all reminded by, by Andrea’s work and the work of the other fam in the Council, is really that these are human beings who understand themselves to be resilient and want to encourage us and invite us into this space of really adopting new language when we’re talking about them and their experiences. And the only way that we can do that is by including them in this work in meaningful ways.
ADDO: Absolutely. I mean, that’s where we started with Andrea talking about bringing people to the policy and the value of lived experiences core, not just to the issues, but to each topic and subtopic. And, so, we’d be remiss if we ended without acknowledging those voices and those narratives and experiences. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how humbled I am by those individuals who allow me and invite me into their lives to help and to support, right, on an ongoing, consistent basis. And before we close up for the afternoon—because this has been rich, and I really wish we had more time—is there anything you’d like to offer up? Because what I appreciated in the middle of our conversation—I mean all of this, I appreciate it—both of you lifted up hope and love and the joy that is inherent in our communities, but often overshadowed by tragedy, trauma, and crisis. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we center that in our empowerment.
MORRIS: I’d like to give Andrea the last word on this one.
JAMES: I would just encourage us to listen to the voices of women and girls in our community and really listen—listen with an open heart and listen with an open mind. It’s something that with all of the experience that I have and that I’m privileged to have, I still go into every interaction with all of our fam and our sisters and our community with an open heart and an open mind and challenge myself every single day to come to this work from a place of my heart and from a place of joy and remembering the value, just the value of our black women and girls. And just putting that thought, coming from my heart and every engagement that I do. And I would just hope that people would do the same thing and embrace black women and girls from a space of love and dignity.
ADDO: Thank you so much again. Today we were joined by Andrea James, founder and executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and Dr. Monique W. Morris, author, social justice scholar, volunteer professional extraordinaire, founder and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. It has been my pleasure, but no doubt, my honor to speak with you both today, and I will continue to follow you in your work. Thank you for the legacy that you’ve no doubt laid, and the path that you’ve carved out for so many other leaders to boldly step into a space to carry on this work.
This work, I always say, it’s just never easy, and we have to find balance in it and take care of ourselves at the same time. And I think you both are wonderful examples of both how to live through this work and [are] a source of inspiration and continued hope. So, I thank you for joining me today and look forward to many more wonderful and impactful things from you both in the future. Thank you so much.