Written by Angelica Clarke, Executive Director, Social Justice Center of Albany
The Social Justice Center of Albany has been a part of the Capital Region community since 1981. The Center has offered space and resources to radical activist and service organizations throughout its entire tenure. In the past year, I have become the Executive Director at the Social Justice Center, succeeding poet and organizer, Victorio Reyes, who was director for over a decade. Before that, I was on the Board of Directors. The Center has supported my organizing since I came to the Albany area; it has also nourished much of the activism in this region for the past three decades. I was introduced to the space through organizing on SUNY Albany’s campus against the 2010 program cuts. The room reservations for Save Our SUNY were being cancelled on campus, and the Social Justice Center was happy to welcome us into their space and offer mentorship when we needed it. Organizers from Save Our SUNY ended up going on to found New York Students Rising, which is currently a member organization of the Social Justice Center.
Our mission is to create and support the work that will bring about an end to all the systems that perpetuate war and violence on the bodies of marginalized people. We are a community of artists, healers, dreamers, strategists, organizers, builders, and above all that, we are revolutionaries seeking system change. Our policies ensure a Board of Directors that is majority People of Color, Women, and Queer-identified people. We are an organization that values multi-generational collaboration because elders can remind us to stay the course, and young people can ensure we forge an innovative road forward to the world we want.
The Center has supported and created projects to help end racism, war, imperialism, food insecurity, environmental degradation, and all forms of state violence, while supporting cultural expression and making space for creativity within all of that work. We have created a space that can serve a broad set of needs in our community. The Center offers affordable monthly memberships to a wide variety of groups, along with office space and assistance with organizational development to help new projects flourish. Our success is based on our dedication to partnerships, coalition building and maintaining a long view on how to best meet the needs of our community. One of the main ways we support work in our community is simply by offering an ethically run, affordable place to help organizations navigate the world of grants, nontraditional fundraising, and maintaining a rigorous politic without having to jump through the hoops of becoming their own freestanding organization. We are both an umbrella and an incubator for building new activism.
The Social Justice Center has long been living in a space where queer, Black feminist revolutionary leadership guides our work. We have the honor of being in a community where queer, Black women’s voices are the voices of leadership. This year, we have been proud to partner with Holding Our Own, Inc. on an evolving project that seeks to bridge the gap between the social movements to end Mass Incarceration and Gender-Based Violence. The project has dared to ask uncomfortable questions about private and public healing, community restoration, social transformation and justice that the current systems and institutions in place cannot answer. This work has revealed that these questions are often overlapping and circuitous. In early 2015, we helped send a delegation of Women of Color, including myself, to the Incite Color of Violence 4 conference in Chicago. That delegation brought back invaluable knowledge, resources and support to our region, as well as revealing the expertise already present here by elevating the often unheard issues faced by Women of Color.
That is one example among many of the ways we build coalitions that help move our community closer to our vision of a future where people across identities can engage in radical fellowship and support each other, both materially and emotionally. At our annual potluck supper, many folks in attendance talked about the most impressive work that has happened in the Center this year for each of them. The overwhelming response was that personal liberation and emotional growth were the priorities for the year and that our community has helped to facilitate that growth. I gave the same response: fellowship with Women of Color through the organizing work and building we have been doing have changed how I address my work and allowed me to prioritize self-care while being a leader in the local movement against Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration. We have spent the year aspiring to embody the Audre Lorde quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
Only multi-generational, multi-racial collaboration guided by the Social Justice Center got us there; ending our year by reflecting on self-love, even as we prepare for the work ahead.
This year we have decided to embark on a fundraising campaign that will support The Social Justice Center into the future, ensuring we can support each new wave of activism while nourishing existing organizations and bringing about the activism in this community that will make the changes we need to live safely and happily, meeting the needs of marginalized communities. The Center is going to raise $30,000 by May 19: the birthday of Malcolm X (and one of our board members). We want to renovate to make our space more useful for the long-term work ahead: from installing a new boiler to creating a backyard garden; from redoing the floors to adding staff time. In order to focus our attention on building the new, we must have facilities that support growth and staff available to meet the needs of our growing base of support.
We have spent three decades working towards a loving praxis, combining our political analysis with our organizing and development work. The Social Justice Center still strives daily to be a space that supports the community through play and political organizing. You should stop in some time for a dance class, healing and organizing workshop, poetry night or meeting to help end mass incarceration and police brutality. We’d be happy to have you.
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