The Peacekeep(H)er Youth Justice Fellowship is a vision of our co founder Ashley Ellis.
In 2019, she began to deepen her study of the work and ways of being of Assata Shakur. Ashley tells the story of reading an interview Assata Shakur did in 2000 with Pastors for Peace where she recalled a memory as she's sharing about language and media manipulation as weapons. Assata shares
"I must have been about 14 years old when I read "1984". It never occurred to me that anyone would name a nuclear missile "Peacekeeper". It never occurred to me that thousands of people would be killed in the name of "peace-keeping". But that is what is happening today."
As Ashley began to dream and wonder what Assata Shakur might have imagined a Peacekeeper to be, she came across a poem spoken by Assata herself called "R/evolution is Love" where Ashley was gifted with a vision for the PeaceKeep(H)er and language that helped to locate ‘love’ and "peace" as the guiding principle of her political praxis. Assata shared a visionary goal that "r/evolution is not about bloodshed or about going to the mountains and fighting. we will fight if we are forced to but the fundamental goal of r/evolution must be peace. Ashley was also attuned to the call for "a r/evolution of the mind...a r/evolution of the heart... a r/evolution of the spirit...to be weapons of mass construction. weapons of mass love."
Ashley began dreaming of the Peacekeep(h)er Youth Justice Fellowship as a space to co-create the future with young people who would expand the overall vision to make this world "user friendly". Building the collective and communities using love, restorative, transformative, and healing justice as a political praxis, young black and brown women + gender expansive youth get to journey across the bridge stretching towards justice and liberation.
A Peacekeep(H)er is the embodiment of justice, love, liberation, community, and peace. A PeaceKeep(H)er is both a peacemaker + circle keeper; a warrior and a healer. A Peacekeep(H)er is a weapon of mass construction, love, and joy. A Peacekeep(H)er is a changer of systems, community, and a changer of self. A Peacekeep(H) er is a prayer and affirmation: May peace keep her...
The Peacekeep(H)er Youth Justice fellowship is a year long commitment with both virtual and in person opportunities grounded holistically in deep study of the self, spirit, and community in relationship to restorative, transformative, and healing justice.
Over the summer, we selected 11 participants to be a part of the inaugural 2023-2024 Peacekeep(H)ers Justice Fellowship! We kicked off the fellowship with a five day retreat hosted in collaboration with Restore Forward at their retreat space located in Booneville, NY, which about five hours north of New York City. The purpose of this retreat was to build relationships and deepen our connections to ourselves, each other, our dreams, our stories, and to the land. We wanted to co-create space where fellows could begin to:
Explore tools for how to show up in community and practice in ways that heal and build their community restoratively and transformative.
Engage in soul and spirit tending.
Guide intergenerational movement and activism.
Care for, nurture and water practitioners to sustain abolitionist work
Build socio-cultural spiritual capital of young leaders and makers.
Over the course of five days, we were so enamored with the entire retreat space. The retreat space encompassed two houses, which were extremely historical located North in the direction where Ancestor and abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, journeyed towards freedom. In fact, one of the houses is a tribute in the name of the "Tubman House". Both houses abound in historical character, we could literally feel the space holding us.
Greeted by an amazing hospitality team who had prepared meals and snacks for us not only upon our arrival, but throughout our entire stay. To call them "Angels" would be fitting. We were invited to rest and lean into allowing others to care for us. At first, it was quite a challenge for some of us, but we eventually surrendered to the experience. We did a tour of both houses to get the history and a feel for each one. The fellows decided to stay at the Tubman house while the BREATHE team stayed in the main house. It was a beautiful way for all of them to get to know each other organically.
We opened the retreat with a community building activity that created space to get to know each other through art. We created affirmation jars and decorated them with things we shared. These would later be used to for the entire group to add affirmations to each jar as messages for the journey ahead. While we love to create retreat spaces, we know we can't be there forever, so the messages serve as the medicine for the journey. For those days where you're not operating at your best and you need to be reminded by community of your power and gifts.
Throughout each day, we were guided on a journey co-created with our facilitator, Dalisha, founder of Hey There Beautiful. Each journey required something different from us. Our first journey was about rituals as resistance. We practiced naming ourselves, dreaming big while being affirmed through words, songs, and ancestral messages. We all engaged in a feet washing ceremony where we all were given the permission to let go of whatever had been weighing on us and to make room for the overflow of our wildest dreams to come true. Re-membering who we are in the process, we were actively dismantling altars of fear, doubt, silencing, shame erected by voices who tried to tell us otherwise.
Our second journey was in the practice of futurescaping. Activating the imagination and entering the afrofuturistic landscape of writers like Octavia Butler, and the prayers of Ancestors who came before, we began to dream of ideas for the future. These dreams were not just our own, but seven generations, because we know that the dreams we sow today, can be the harvest of liberation for the next seven generations. We were affirmed individually and as a collective. It was incredibly emotional and powerful, we were witnessed transformation right before our eyes.
Our final journey was a trip to the Ava land. HA! Talk about dreaming bigger! There was something incredibly powerful about experiencing this dream whilst resting in the dream of other black women like Farah Tanis. Because Harriet Tubman had vision of freedom, Farah Tanis dared to dream of a place that black girls and gender-expansive folk like us could heal and know of what possibilities lie ahead. Restore Forward purchased 300 acres of land in addition to the two homes mentioned earlier. They are planning to use this land to farm, build a sanctuary space, garden, healing + birthing center, campground retreats, greenhouses, and so much more. The land is the former home of a military base, but because these women are alchemist, we have been able to experience the transformation and restoration of this land as place of peace. They too are PeaceKeep(h)ers.
This trip to Ava land created space for us to witness Restore Forward as they repair their relationship with the land and its stewards by sharing it with indigenous people and growing the three sisters crops- corn, beans, and squash are planted together because they benefit one another. The corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, the beans provide nitrogen for the soil and the squash spread along the ground preventing weeds. It is a beautiful personification of interconnectedness and how we too get to be in community and right relationships with one another. As they heal their relationship to the land, we also get to begin our collective healing journey to reconnect with nature in the ways that many of us had never been taught.
Honoring our time on the land in ceremony with musical instruments including our voices, we called for the universe to tilt in our direction, and to once again affirm ourselves, name ourselves, BE ourselves, dream ourselves in the future. We engaged in the practice of pure joy! Learned about what was growing with Julian, who stewards the land. We laid in hammocks and rode ATVS and admired the vastness of the land. We were standing in someone else's dream. Black women, who in spite of, dreamed...and did it anyway.
More importantly, we were standing in our own dreams, new dreams, collective dreams, and our wildest dreams that in time, will be realized. And while we speaking about dreaming, the Peacekeep(H)ers Youth Justice Fellowship is a dream of Ashley Ellis who decided this was going to be a reality that will transform all who get to experience this fellowship.
A special and sincere thank you to the entire team at Restore Forward for creating space for us. Space for us to dream and BREATHE. Thank you for seeing and hearing us. We have so much gratitude not just for what you created for us but for all of the lives you will transform and heal. When you dream, you gives all permission to dream ourselves free.
Over the next year, we will journey together to create a world where Black and Brown young womxn and gender expansive youth reclaim their power, driving positive change through justice, peacemaking, and community transformation.