At HJL we’ll be sharing reflections from some of our Movement Medicine Practice Labs, close kin within a shared eco-system where we are learning from each others’ vision, experience and practice. The lab themes are: Building Radical Organisations; Beyond The Rules: Radical Governance; Reimagining Safety: Radical Health Practice; and Addressing The Ruptures. This blog is about our first Building Radical Organisations practice lab, with Project Tallawah.
Created in 2019, Project Tallawah is an emerging Black feminist resourcing and community initiative based in the UK led by and for Black/Global Majority women, girls and gender nonconforming people. The name comes from a Jamaican word, often used for girls, which means strong and fierce, even if small. It is a radical resourcing space for radical work.
Sharing at HJL’s first of five Movement Medicine labs on building radical organisations, two of the sistahs from Tallawah’s founding collective – Marai Larasi and Seyi Falodun-Liburd – shared the principles, practice and movement of their organisation. Living decolonially and practising revolutionary love, Tallawah is rooted in ancestral memory and manifests an embodied emancipatory imagining and dreaming beyond the systems already in place.
What kind of scaffolding upholds this vision? Marai and Seyi describe some of Tallawah’s core practices as: Sending trust forward, building and rebuilding trust; going at the pace of trust – resisting presentism behaviour; liberatory imagination; broken heartedness, grief, composting and healing; interdependence and relationality; revolutionary not simply radical (collective liberation), and cultivated presence.
Going at the pace of trust
The seed re-seeds. ‘The first organisation that resourced us, resourced us from a place of trust’ shares Marai who has three decades of experience in the women’s sector, including the Executive Directorship of Imkaan. ‘At Imkaan, we had spent a lot of time thinking about what the funding regimes looked like for Black women’s organisations. We thought we knew, but we had new data on how bad it was (reported in ‘From Survival to Sustainability’). With funding from Oak Foundation to follow her vision of resourcing Black ending VAWG sector work, Marai reached out to sisters she felt she could trust. ‘We didn’t know know know each other. My body and spirit just trusted this sister. Sending trust forward is so foundational. This is what project Tallawah is about.’
‘We gave ourselves permission to take time’ explains Seyi, ‘Urgency is a tool of white supremacy. We didn’t want to do ourselves a disservice by hitting the ground running and then having to chase ourselves.”
‘We are not here to ‘do urgent’, says Marai, ‘We had to resist the crisis thing and the presentism thing. For anyone who has worked in the traditional charity or women’s space, a lot of the time our focus is drawn to what is happening now. We have to compete with each other for resources, and trust is broken because of this’.
‘We are our own Lab’ – Marai
‘White supremacy like capitalism is grateful for innovation. Capitalism and white supremacy really limits our imagination and what we think we can do and the system we can put in place’, says Seyi. Marai continues, ‘We had ideas – oo is that too big? And we’d check ourselves and be like, it’s not too big, we can do this. In movement spaces we get so used to the day to day and catching up that the imagining and the dreaming gets lost. It’s important to carve that space out for dreaming’.
‘So many of us are in movement spaces’ she adds, ‘where we say ‘what would it look like for us to be free? What would it feel like? We can’t even get there. They have got us, even in our bodies. Do you believe it is possible for us to actually smash the patriarchy? We recognise how many of us are in a rhythm and pattern of working that we are scared to feel in our bodies how it feels to be free. We’re up for imagining for as long as it takes. People are like, you lot are random, and we’re like, great, yeah!’
Grief, composting and healing
Marai: ‘‘One of things we had to deal with alongside the space of imagination, was that we were all coming into the space wounded. We were the movement wounded, coming in with broken hearts, and disappointment. We have brought our broken hearts and our grief into the space and really engaged with the feeling of composting that, there’s so much learning from what didn’t work for us, the spaces that we knew where we weren’t held, the ways that we caused harm, and recognising the value of all that we bring – the good stuff and the crappy stuff. Not like a nice gift, but transuming that so that it is a gift to us.’
‘There is this idea that ‘the work’ is the practical stuff and the emotional part isn’t, but the emotional and trauma work is also the work. Figuring out how to heal, not just for yourself but for your community.’
Interdependent and relational
The revolution is relational – Seyi
Marai points to how Tory old school networks and nepotism operate in plain sight but when it comes to communities minoritised on the basis of race, gender, class and ethnicity deep relationships and interdependence are deemed suspect. ‘I can’t be with my bredren, that’s ‘not professional’, but here we are – we know each other, we love each other. We are not independent people, that’s a Eurocentric model, we need each other, we are interdependent. We’re pushing back against this idea that you are not supposed to have connection or anything. We are like ‘we love each other’.
Revolutionary – not simply radical
Grasping at the root of oppression is not enough. Seyi says ‘It’s about change. It’s about shifting, it’s about Project Tallawah actually having impacts on our people in our community. And being able to change the material circumstances for the community, which we have. And so it’s not just about doing radical work for the sake of being radical. We are very intentional about working towards our collective liberation’.
Cultivated presence is a relational awareness of positionality and social rank within spaces. Seyi explains, ‘For us, it’s really important that we are constantly aware of ourselves in space, aware of other people and how we relate to other people in that space. I love bringing my full self to Project Tallawah, it’s one of the joys of being at Project Tallawah. But it means that I also have to be aware of the group dynamics and other people. That doesn’t mean that I silence myself or erase myself in that space, but it’s about having an awareness of others and how I relate to others and moving accordingly’.
‘We found that people come to us with a very specific idea of what it looks like to have a conversation with a funder’ explains Seyi, ‘There is work to be done around getting people to understand that project Tallawah doesn’t function in the way that they expect it to..some people come with a budget and application already done and approach us in that very traditional sense and our first meeting is about breaking that down and helping them to unlearn the ways that people have shared resources with them in the past. For us we are co-creating along with whoever we are sharing money with. We want to make it as easy as possible’.
There are six members in the collective, in a horizontal structure with everyone getting paid the same. ‘We threw the idea of different levels of expertise out of the window’ says Marai, ‘Organisations are trained to value expertise in terms of length of time and risk in terms of the state. You pay the director more because the director is holding the risk for the board but at Tallawah we are all holding the risk. And if anyone needs to be shielded from that at any time then we will attend to that.’
‘We really need to reflect on what that means – more expertise’, says Marai, ‘I ask this in a lot of spaces and no one has given me a convincing answer’. Seyi goes on, ‘We see this work and this movement as multifaceted and multidimensional so we need multifaceted and multidimensional people’.
Writing a collective working agreement- in non-punitive ways that honour conflict as generative – saw the collective spend months exploring what abolitionist infrastructure could look like. ‘I think it was like 14 pages or something like that’ remembers Seyi, ‘Because we were like, oh, yeah, what about this? Oh, yeah. What about this? Because we found that when we started imagining, it was actually quite difficult to stop’.
A solar system expanding
Back on to trust and expanding, Seyi and Marai share Tallawah’s approach as ‘building our solar system outwards, rather than calling everybody and saying, hey, come work for Project Tallawah’. Also mirrored on their website frontpage: ‘We are gently emerging..’
The work is prefigurative and in this and every moment. “We are rehearsing our freedom”, says Marai, “How are we in relation to each other and not just – we need to dismantle that big system. The revolution happens today, so how will we be today? What will we do if that power is in our hands? Practising so that that future that we want – we call that into the present. Living, breathing, being in alignment”.