Imagining our freedom together

Imagining our freedom together

February 01, 2023

Welcome to Black Futures Month!

Last Friday, hearing about the impending release of the body cam footage from Memphis, I decided to spend the day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

It was my first time visiting the museum and I was reminded over and over that we have been at this for a long time. At the museum, you start from the bottom and move your way up—from the belly of a ship to the present moment. From a country built on the kidnapping of Black people, Black possibilities, Black futures, and Black lives to a country where those same Black people have built possibilities and futures for all of us.

Generations fought, prayed, marched, sacrificed, and imagined a more perfect union so that the promise of "We the People" could actually be.

Our ancestors didn’t just fight their present conditions—enslavement, second-class citizenship, segregation, Jim Crow—they staked a claim for freedom as a divine right for all people. They prayed on that. They sang on that. They imagined new futures and made those futures possible.

Our ancestors in Egypt, whose exodus we’re following in the Torah right now, also built a movement for freedom in a narrow placeand not just for themselves but for all who wanted to be freed.

In this movement-building space, where we are fighting for a world where the futures of Black people and all people can be anything and everything, I am reminded time and time again of the invitation offered to us in the Midrash on Nachshon ben Aminadav:

We are the erev rav, the mixed multitude that has found our way together out of the narrowness of Pharaoh's construct for our lives. We are standing at the sea, with Pharaoh's army at our backs. There is no going back. Going forward into the sea seems impossible. Then Nachshon acts. He walks into the sea. The water is up to his knees, his waist, his shoulders. It covers the very top of his head. Then, finally, the sea splits.

The Midrash is an opportunity for each of us to imagine ourselves as Nachshon, as the person whose faith, courage, and action gives us the chance to move toward our future together. Black Futures Month offers a similar opportunity—a chance to celebrate our history and dream and imagine a world in which we are all free. Like the Midrash on Nachshon, it reminds us that every step can be a step toward freedom and assures us that we have somewhere to run to, together across the sea.

As the sun was setting on Friday, cities across the country prepared for the possibility of unrest, movement builders, healers, and wailers began to gather in the streets, and I waited for a dear friend and fellow co-founder of the Black Jewish Liberation Collective. We were gathering for Shabbat to see another member of the collective, Jessica Valoris, during her Passage/way/s exhibition on Black fugitive folklore. Her three years of study brought out a tenderness in her collection. She reminded me that we have always existed in our joy and our own insistence to dream and imagine ourselves free.

Here’s to spending this month together.


Graie Hagans