There are very few unexpected emails that arrive in my inbox that make me have to hold back a squeal of excitement from my day job cubicle like the invitation I received from Mariame Kaba back in January of 2023. The message began with: “Hello Saiyare, My name is Mariame Kaba.”
First and foremost, if you are not familiar with the organizer, educator, librarian, and prison industrial complex (PIC) abolitionist Mariame’s work, please check out her book “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us” (cover art designed by Justseeds member Monica Trinidad) or any of her numerous articles, blogs and active Twitter account @prisonculture. Mariame gets things moving! From founding the Chicago Freedom School, Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT), Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, We Charge Genocide, Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander and now directing Project NIA, that she started in 2009 to advocate against youth incarceration.
I honestly try not to put anyone on a pedestal yet receiving an email from someone who has been doing serious organizing work with such consistency it was very challenging to resist that temptation. All this to say, I had the extreme honor to be invited to illustrate a workbook that is accompanying Kelly Hayes (a Menominee author, organizer, movement educator, and photographer) and Mariame Kaba’s latest publication “Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care.”
The book title comes from a well-known quote by Mariame, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead to despair.”
The book launched in May with an online event featuring Mariame Kaba, Kelly Hayes, Ejeris Dixon, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Tony Alvarado Rivera, Aly Wane and readings from winners of their youth essay contest. (You can rewatch the event and conversations here.) And if you need a further pick-me-up for your week, Kelly Hayes also curated a “Let This Radicalize You” Spotify Playlist for the occasion. There are further accompanying resources (including zines and podcast interviews) and a schedule of upcoming events and readings made available by Interrupting Criminalization.
For a couple more weeks the books are 40% off at Haymarket Books’ website. Also available through them is the “Let This Radicalize You” workbook. (Or download the printer-friendly version for free here: Let This Radicalize You Workbook.) The guide was created by educator and activist Ursula Wolfe-Rocca and designed by Partners and Partners. Mariame and Kelly will be hosting a workshop series in October to dive into further discussion about the stories of community organizing and care emulated in “Let This Radicalize You”. I don’t want to give away any spoilers if you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. Just know I was left in a state of deep reflection and hope after each chapter.
Lastly, because this was always such a wonderful project to play a small role in, I wanted to share some of the black and white illustrations in the workbook in color. So, I designed some stickers available for purchase from the Justseeds online store. Proceeds from these sales are going directly to two campaigns to support friends of friends who have been recently released from prison after 13 and 20 years. Prisons and detention centers are places of further suffering and mistreatment by the system, and to hear from friends that someone they care about was jailed for half of their lifetime, only to be released with no civilian clothes and $40 to restart their life is not the kind of transformative justice anyone deserves upon their “freedom.”
If you are able to take the time to read this publication and dive into the workbook, I hope you continue to be inspired by those choosing to do the work every day and still find ways to take care of themselves to continue to take care of their community. Much gratitude to Mariame for your wholehearted trust in my art and to Monica for putting my name out there for this opportunity of a lifetime even when we haven’t even met in person yet.
(This was written and edited by Saiyare Refaei. Any errors are their own.)