What gives you hope for the future? In her more than 40 years of activism, legendary author and activist Angela Davis has seen an extraordinary amount of progress and societal change. In this special bonus episode recorded during our live event at CalMatters in Sacramento, Ms. Davis sits down with Marc Philpart, Executive Director of the California Black Freedom Fund to talk about the intersection of domestic violence and systemic violence and what gives them hope that we can break the cycle and find liberation.
Finally, we close on a poem titled Rich Soil by Natalie Patterson, director of Training and Programs at BEAM — The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, about the power of healing.
Through her activism and scholarship over many decades, Angela Davis has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice.
Angela Davis is the author of nine books and has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. In recent years, a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.” She also has conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender and imprisonment.
Angela Davis is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia that works in solidarity with women in prison.
Bonnie Boswell is an award-winning producer/reporter, talk show host and speaker. Ms. Boswell is currently the executive producer/reporter of Bonnie Boswell Reports, a feature news series, and Bonnie Boswell Presents, a news magazine program, broadcasting and streaming on KCET/PBS SoCal.
Ms. Boswell is the executive producer of “Saving Moms” a feature length documentary on the challenges and solutions to maternal health in America broadcast. The program premiered on KCET and is on the PBS app.
She is also the executive producer of The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” a film about her uncle that aired on PBS and was the inspiration for community dialogues in 100 venues across the country. First Lady Michelle Obama presented the film at the White House and called it “very moving and powerful.” The Powerbroker received critical acclaim from film festivals and reviewers in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun Times and The San Francisco Chronicle, among others, and was a CNN, Saatchi and Saatchi and HBO finalist for Best Documentary.
Marc was named executive director of the California Black Freedom Fund in April 2022, bringing more than a decade of leadership in advocacy working with grassroots organizations to build power for racial justice. Prior to joining the California Black Freedom Fund, Marc led the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color. Under his leadership, the Alliance successfully advanced more than 100 state policies and established powerful partnerships with the California Senate and Assembly Select Committees on the Status of Boys and Men of Color and the California Funders for Boys and Men of Color. Through these experiences, Marc has gained deep campaign and policy expertise across a wide array of issues, including public health and violence prevention, police and prison abolition, education, the criminalization of youth, economic equity and poverty eradication, and voting and civic engagement.
At the intersection of artistry and advocacy, poetry and practice, grassroots and global reach stands Natalie Patterson. She is a multi-disciplinary teaching artist with 20 years of experience, applying her skillset from the halls of juvenile detention centers to the boardrooms of international corporations, all while focusing on a simple yet powerful question: “What does it mean to be liberated?” Natalie proudly serves as the Director of Training and Programs at BEAM - The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, a national training, movement-building, and grantmaking institution dedicated to the wellness of Black and Marginalized folks.
Blue Shield of California Foundation : [00:00:00] Please note, this series includes descriptions of violence that may be difficult to hear. At Blue Shield of California Foundation, we worked to end domestic violence by addressing its root causes: racism, gender, and economic inequity. This special podcast series explores what we can do in California to heal from and prevent domestic violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can find support at thehotline.org or call 1(800) 799-7233. Thank you for joining us. Welcome to a special bonus episode of Let's End DV: Heal Restore, Prevent. In this episode, Marc Philpart, the executive director of the California Black Freedom Fund, sits down for a heartfelt conversation with world renowned activist and author Angela Davis about the disproportionate impact of domestic violence on Black families, the Black community, and what gives us hope for the future. This conversation was recorded live during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. After the conversation, stick around to hear the poem "Rich Soil" by Natalie Patterson from BEAM — Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective. We hope you find inspiration from this fascinating exchange. We'll start by hearing from Marc.
Marc Philpart: [00:01:41] You know, this is a full circle moment for me. I lead the California Black Freedom Fund, but prior to that, I led the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, where we initially kind of stepped into this work in partnership with Blue Shield, trying to raise awareness about the myriad number of ways we could prevent and end domestic violence. Before I begin, I want to share a little bit of my story so you know where I'm coming from and what my experience has been with this issue and why it's so important to me. Because when we talk about domestic violence and the impact on Black women and families, I think it's important to understand it as part of a societal culture rooted in misogynoir and femicide. It's this culture that sets the context for violence and our systemic responses to it, which have largely failed to recognize the root causes of domestic violence, which are rooted in racism, heteropatriarchy, and are compounded by savage poverty and inequality. My story with domestic violence began on November 1st of 1965, in downtown Los Angeles, where my mother's mom, Lorena Thompson, a grandmother I never knew was murdered by her second husband. Shortly after my mom and uncle entered primary school, Lorena divorced my grandfather and started dating. Within a year, she remarried and found herself in an abusive relationship, and in two years she was dead. As the primary caretaker of two young children who were also being abused, Lorena feared for her life and theirs. She felt trapped and one day she found the courage to leave, but he chased her. His pursuit was terrifying and disrupted her ability to work and move about freely in ways many of us take for granted. His relentless stalking and abuse was unyielding and premeditated. One day he confronted my mom, who was a seven year old at the time, on her way home from school. Gloating, he showed my mom a pistol and said, this is the gun I'm going to kill your mom with. Days later, Lorena was gunned down by by him while waiting in an unemployment line seeking work so that she could provide for my mom and uncle, just seven and nine years old at the time. This traumatic moment tore our family apart and permeated my mom's relationship, decisions, and experiences with violence. She wasn't comfortable sharing this story with me until her late 40s. When I reflect on my grandmother's tragic murder, I believe it could have been prevented. I ask myself a lot of questions. What happened to this man that made him so angry that he had to kill my grandmother? And recognizing that people don't just wake up with rage like this, there were likely many prior signs. There were likely many moments where intervention could have happened. Many moments where he could have been supported and engaged before his rage turned lethal. But none of that happened in a real, meaningful way. And my grandmother faced a false choice. Live on the street with two children, or risk it all by seeking work when it was clearly not safe for her to be out in the city with a stalker who was threatening her life. When you're in fear for your life and caring for children, what do you do? And more importantly, what should our systems do? It was clear to me from my family's experiences and looking at the data, that our society is too heavily invested in systemic responses that are not rooted in cultural realities, not rooted in the cultural realities of our communities, that are punitive rather than healing centered. That are inadequate when it comes to countering a culture of racism and violence. And ultimately, we spend way too much on these things. We spend way too much on child welfare. We spend way too much on police. We spend way too much on prisons, and not nearly enough on all the things that will actually prevent violence or interrupt cycles of harm, or help people heal from trauma. Without investing in these things, it's not possible to have a culture of safety. Today, we wanted to unpack these complex issues and discuss opportunities for lawmakers and funders to take action. And to start, we're going to begin with Angela Davis, acclaimed activist, author and champion for Black freedom and liberation. Angela, please join me. Angela, thank you for joining me to have this conversation. You have been such an inspiration to me. I consider myself a feminist. I know for a lot of people it's hard to digest that because I do also identify as a man. And I think that it's that kind of understanding, though that is necessary for so many of us as we think about how we end violence. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. You recently wrote a book, "Abolition. Feminism. Now." and I wonder if you could just share a little bit of light on why it was important for you to write that book.
Angela Davis: [00:07:16] This is such a difficult issue, and I can begin by saying, when I first became aware of domestic violence, gender violence as a political issue in the 1970s with the speak outs and, you know, all of the kind of feminist formations that were occurring at that time. The first question that was tackled was the question of silence. You know how we're talking about a form of violence that has been in most human societies for hundreds of years, and we also learn how to hide it, because somehow it's represented as the problem of the survivor. And and so it was actually quite exciting during that period that formations were developing. You know, there were also problems because there was a tendency to assume that when you worked on women's issues, you were working on white women's issues, and we did not yet know how to break out of that, you know, kind of racializing universalizing framework. I mention this because the very first anti-rape organization I really knew about and embraced, and you know sexual assault is a part of gender violence and domestic violence, and it was an organization in DC that Loretta Ross was involved in. And then shortly after that I heard about this amazing development in connection with that organization, which was a group of Black men.
Marc Philpart: [00:09:26] Yes, Men Can Stop Rape.
Angela Davis: [00:09:29] Yes, yes. And so I remember thinking at the time, wow, this is the future. This is what we're going to be experiencing, you know, over the next period. So I assume that there would be vast numbers of groups, formations, organizations that would involve men who are determined to get rid of, of violence, gender violence, sexual violence, domestic violence. And that didn't really happen. And I've asked myself over the years, you know, was it just that they were imagining a future that would come many, many decades later? Or what was it about the way in which we presented that issue that disallowed that kind of development? Men who, people who identify with men, are largely the perpetrators of this violence that we're talking about. So it would make sense that they would be the ones to be in the forefront. But of course, it's always been considered a women's issue. You know, I wrote a book some years ago called Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. And one one of the reasons I wrote that book was because in listening to Black women blues singers Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and so forth, Ida Cox, Rosa Henderson, and so forth, I noticed that many of them sang about violence. They sang about what was happening to them in their relationships. But we periodize that movement as happening in the 60s when when women who were largely white began to develop, you know, what was really important, these speak outs and encouraging women to talk about what had happened to them. I just, you know, wanted to I wanted us to have a sense of how long it often takes for these ideas to make a difference. You know, we want to see immediate change. And I say this because when you're talking about policy and you're talking about funding organizations, oftentimes they want to know what will be the immediate consequences of doing this. What is your what is your one year outcome? You know, what is your five year outcome. But nobody ever talks about, you know, what is your 50 year outcome. And and we're gathered here today discussing an issue which was first, which first became a part of public discourse over 50 years ago. And as a matter of fact, this is the most widespread pandemic form of violence in the world.
Marc Philpart: [00:12:55] Literally, you could walk in the Capitol and you could talk to a member, just say it's a man. And I'm saying this because I've had this experience where I've said, we want you to, we want you to to support investing in domestic violence. We want you to support this budget request. They say, I don't do that. That's that's a women's issue. Talk to the Women's Caucus. And and, you know, say you get this proposal further along. It is exactly the same thing that you described where people are saying, well, what are we buying with this investment? How much violence will you will you abate? You know, like it literally becomes reduced to the things that are actually incredibly difficult to measure. And we then lose sight of this 50 year vision of building up the infrastructure that we need to have such a the robust kind of prevention ecosystem that is required to to actually see those reductions in violence that we want. We have to disrupt timing and how people think about time, probably do more to invest in ideology around violence prevention and the long term vision. And we need to find ways to cultivate unlikely allies and champions in ways that allow them to see themselves in this story.
Angela Davis: [00:14:29] Absolutely.
Marc Philpart: [00:14:32] But I have so many more questions for you beyond beyond this, because I feel like you have seen how movements have done some of this in a way around violence in particular. I mean, while it hasn't become what I think we want it to be, it has still grown by leaps and bounds, in part because of black feminists who have really stepped in and tried to drive the field to a direction that aligned with their experience. Can you share more about just what you've seen as someone in the ecosystem? On the evolution of the field of violence?
Angela Davis: [00:15:16] When I think back to my own childhood and the lack of a capacity to understand that something needed to be done and something could be done. I'm very fortunate in my family, our immediate family. We did not have direct experiences, but I can I can remember many, many stories, friends and and relatives. I can remember at that time just feeling absolutely incapable of doing anything because the discourse, the available discourse, was that this was just a natural phenomenon. This was just something that existed, and nothing could really be done about it except to find solutions involving escape, but not changing the frame, not, you know, challenging whether violence was necessarily a part of human relationships. And when I compared that period to today, we have made a progress that would have been unimaginable then. You know, I think about, you know, back in the 90s, when I was when many of us were doing organizing around critical resistance, and we first began to do abolitionist, you know, organizing, you know, I can can remember that we felt that it was so important to incorporate our political insights regarding domestic violence, that it was connected to state violence. And sometimes people are really unwilling to enter into these big conversations because it appears that nothing can be done. You know, I can remember that women who were in prison. Were describing how they felt as prisoners of the state and the violence they experienced, and about them saying that this doesn't feel very different from the violence I experienced at the hands of my former partner. You know, I can remember I worked with an organization in Australia, and that organization developed a campaign that was called Stop State Sexual Assault. Wow. They were talking about the violence that is inherent in strip searching and cavity searching. That was a very enlightening moment. But of course, we have a hard time thinking about the state as perpetrator. Yeah, I think I think that while we may not be able to affect those changes immediately, it is still important to have that kind of insight because it helps to dictate what kind of strategies that we what kind of strategies we use you know, right now in the work that we do.
Marc Philpart: [00:18:49] And I really appreciate that framework because it actually turns us back to the root causes of violence, and it puts the state in a position where they need to be accountable for how they're creating the this dynamic, where violence may disproportionately occur in any given community by virtue of poverty and inequality, state violence, or what have you. I don't think we do enough of that in our conversations with lawmakers to help people understand the nature in which our our communities exist in is actually creating more, we're creating more violence than we can prevent.
Angela Davis: [00:19:38] And oftentimes, those who are charged with the goal of protecting people from violence end up being the perpetrators. You know, why is it that there's a disproportionate amount of domestic violence in the homes of people who work as police officers? And these these are questions that we're often unwilling to take on because they totally unsettle our sense of what should be happening in our societies. But if we don't do it, we're bound to witness the reproduction generation after generation of these forms of violence.
Marc Philpart: [00:20:29] I really appreciate this because it is challenging on so many fronts. There is a point in "Abolition. Feminism. Now." where there is a quote about asking the other question, if Mary Matsuda. Yeah. And she talks about how if you see patriarchy, ask the other question, which is is there classism? If you see racism ask the other question, is there a patriarchy? We need to do more of that. We need to do more challenging of ourselves. We will often have a critique from one lens or perspective. It is so much richer to be thinking more intersectionally as you are encouraging us to do.
Angela Davis: [00:21:21] And based on the work that we do today. If we kind of lose that that terrible individualism that unfortunately characterizes the way we we we see the world, the logic that we use, if we can, if we can recognize that we are only here gathered in this room today by virtue of the work that people did 150 years ago, knowing that their work could possibly change the future, but not knowing the specifics of it. As a matter of fact, people who were fighting against slavery, I don't think they assumed that things were going to change like immediately, but it was about a different future for those whom they would probably never get to to meet. And I think that that kind of awareness of the possible impact of the work we do today can change our relationship to that work.
Marc Philpart: [00:22:29] Angela, this is such a beautiful point to end on. What gives you hope about the moment we're in and the future that we might create?
Angela Davis: [00:22:37] Well, you know, as Mariame Kaba said, hope is a discipline. I'm you know, I've been active for a very, very long time. I mean, I won't I won't tell you. Maybe I will tell you how long. My next birthday, a couple of months from now, I'll be turning 80. And I became an activist as a very young child in Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated city in the country at that time. And I say that to say that I don't know whether I've ever experienced a moment when vast numbers of people were so politically engaged, when vast numbers of people were so concerned about the future of our planet, you know, concerned about the climate, concerned about war, concerned about ending racism. And so that's very different. This is a period unlike any other people would like to think about the 60s as the revolutionary period. But I think this is the revolutionary period. And those who assume that that energy and that excitement that emanated from the the period of the summer of 2020 that that's behind us, we're in the same historical conjuncture. The people whose names I won't mention here, because I never like to bring up the names of of those who, you know, like the person who was the 45th president. And then and then and you know, who was it down in Florida, who was a, you know, those people who are trying to change school curricula? I think that is precisely an evidence. It's precisely evidence of the progress we we've made. So why wouldn't there be that kind of reaction? You know, recently I've been been thinking, why is it that we're always so surprised when that happens? Because if we do the work we say we're doing, and if we do move forward, there will be those who want to go back to the old days, those who, you know, want to go back to the period when racism was unchallenged, when patriarchy was the way people thought the world functioned. So that's actually an indication of the fact that we're making progress. We don't think about, like, you know, the 50 year outcome. We don't think in those terms. And so as someone who can do that now, I feel I feel very hopeful. I feel very hopeful.
Marc Philpart: [00:25:44] Wonderful. Thank you so much. Join me in thanking Angela.
Natalie Patterson: [00:25:58] I am miraculous, unstoppable, and gorgeously flawed. I know this because I've lived long enough to have connected the dots. I have survived every day that seemed determined to kill me. And here I am. And there are no awards for that. But there should be. I was taught that secrets keep you safe, that blood is thicker than water. To speak when spoken to, to stay in my place. I learned the hard way that context is important, that folks mean well, but can lead you astray if you don't trust your intuition. There is no one size fits all to this life thing. You have to carve out your own path. And see, nobody explicitly taught me how to heal. But my grandmother, well, my grandmother kept Epsom salt and vinegar on the edge of her tub. I keep bath bombs and salt scrubs on mine. I keep a stick of Palo Santo in the ashtray for when the bad vibes try to infect me. I've got crystals in my car, a deck of affirmations to pull from to help me realign with my light. I've got prayer beads on my desk and a bit of Arabic tucked under my tongue. I might need to call on God in more than one language. Honey. Life requires tools, resilience, and opportunities to shift your perspective requires nature and ancestors, ritual and mentorship. No one told me what it would take to survive. They just did it the best way they knew how. My mother. You see, my mother never uttered the words self care because it wasn't a part of her vocabulary. But she knew. She knew persistence, knew dedication, hard work and paying and rent. So she modeled what she knew, modeled vacuuming to Luther Vandross's meditation on Saturday mornings, modeled care as always being there. Modeled strong Black woman syndrome because that's what she learned. Passed it down to me like a family heirloom. Our folks cannot teach us what they do not know. Our lessons might require decryption. Healing is not a destination you arrive at one day. It is gardening each season. It is planting and watering, weeding and harvesting. It is enjoying the fruit while tilling the soil in anticipation of all that is surely to bloom. You are surely to bloom, my love. So each day practice tenderness. Slowly stroke the softest folds in your skin. Speak as if these are your last words. Pause to find the most beautiful thing in your line of sight. Use your body for good. Turn your laughter into worship and know, you got to know that there will be terrible days. There will be harm and hurt and words you can't unhear. But remember all your ancestors survived so you could thrive. You are miraculous, unstoppable, gorgeously flawed, with a story etched into your DNA. And one day, one day, I hope you tell someone so their path becomes clearer. Because they too, they too are miraculous, unstoppable, and worthy of healing.
Blue Shield of California Foundation : [00:29:17] You can hear all of our episodes and learn more about what you can do to help prevent domestic violence on our website at letsenddv.org/podcast.