Kimalee Phillip: I am only here because others were.

We decided to showcase an inspiring African-Grenadian womxn, Kimalee Phillip, for African Liberation Month–we know that it “officially ended” two days ago, but we feel that it should be celebrated and acknowledged every day of the year. So, here we are! Celebrating inspiring and badass womxn like Kimalee!

About Kimalee Phillip

Guided by the work of her ancestors and Black feminisms, Kimalee Phillip is an African cis-gendered, queer-identified woman who was born and raised in Grenada and who is currently living in Ottawa.  She is an educator, organizer, consultant and writer who specializes in the fields of legal studies, workers’ rights, gender-based and sexualized violence, anti-colonial and anti-racist pedagogies, and organizational development.  Currently, she is a co-Director with the youth-led, Grenadian-based collective, Groundation Grenada that focuses on the use of creative multimedia to assess community needs and to build spaces for transformative change in Grenada and the Caribbean region.  She is also part of the Feminist Movement Building team with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), serves as a Senior Equality Officer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and organized with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence (NEPV).

Kimalee desires to consistently remain in the sun, enjoy a good, heavy occasional rainfall and to always be near a body of water, particularly as she is a daughter of Osun.  She enjoys writing, reading and dancing to deeply moving and sometimes ratchet music. She longs for a world where her people can live, love, laugh and transition freely.

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, the work you did with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence (NEPV) or the work you are passionate about?

I am an African-Grenadian womxn who remains eternally grateful for the pride, resilience and love of my people. I am a Black, Caribbean woman whose spirit is dependent on paying homage to my ancestors; to the ancestors who continue to accompany me.

I am a cisgendered, queer woman who seeks to love and exist beyond colonial gender binaries and who attempts to reground myself in more authentic, decolonial practices of love and relationship building. I seek to always remember that my ancestors’ bodies, though physically scattered across the Atlantic [ocean], that they continue to live through me, reminding me that resistance and power and knowledge of self and community are fortifying tools in this global movement for liberation.

As a result of recognizing all I mentioned above, in addition to ongoing acts of interpersonal and state violence, I remain committed to existing on this earth with integrity. This has led me to do organizing work with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence (NEPV).

When I lived in Toronto, I participated in the monthly organizing meetings of NEPV and would show up at various community-led events and organizing meetings where we tried to centre and seek direction for the work of NEPV. At NEPV, we prioritized the importance of building on community-led responses to police and state violence. We recognized the importance of naming the intersecting and overlapping forms of violence that disproportionately impact the bodies, lives and spirits of poor, working-class, trans* and gender non-conforming folx and other members of the LGBT2QI* communities; of communities that are systematically criminalized such as sex workers and undocumented people. We would engage in a range of popular education type spaces and community organizing tactics to deepen our understanding, seek direction and support community-led work.

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Photo provided by Kimalee Phillip

Why is it important for you to define yourself as an African-Caribbean Queer Womxn?

I am only here because others were. I am only here because my ancestors survived in various ways, the violent and horrific trans-Atlantic slave trade and the ongoing colonizing and imperial wars waged by the British, French, Portuguese, Germans, Spanish and Dutch. I am only here because my grandmothers, aunts and village members, deliberately and courageously invoked the spirits of the Orishas, of the ancestors, of the African deities and the spirit guides of this earth and universe. Therefore, it is imperative that I also courageously and unapologetically name and own my “Africanness”, my “Caribbeanness” and my ability to challenge and love across imposed gender and sexuality binaries and expectations.

 

What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month”?

When I first moved to Canada was when I first heard of Black History Month and I will not deny the awareness and excitement that I felt and witnessed as I understood a different form of Blackness that I wasn’t very familiar with having grown up in Grenada. However, as I continued to grow and unfold on this stolen land, I couldn’t help but feel that the framing of Black History Month was deliberately sanitized, dehistoricized and depoliticized. It wasn’t a call to action, it was more of a “diversity celebration” and all of this was happening as people who looked like me continued to be gunned down, beat up and locked up. So I knew that I had to expand my understandings of Blackness, of remembering and of liberation. So with that said, African Liberation Month better encapsulates my understanding and commitment to Pan-Africanist movements and principles that fyah burns hotepish ways and is instead dependent on the liberation of the most historically exploited and judged (fyah burn respectability politics as well!) within my global Black family.

 

Can you describe the importance of community-centred work in your everyday life and practice?

The saying that it takes a village to raise a baby is no joke! And even when we’re no longer babies, believe it that we owe our lives and successes to the many people who have and who continue to hold us and have our backs, even when we don’t realize it. So the moment I stop being accountable to and recognizing the need to ground my liberation and work in the liberation and work of the broader community(ities) is the day I royally f**k up!

It’s also probably going to be the the day that my grandmother shows up in my dreams to give me the warning of life! So I’ll stay grounded in community work as an everyday practice because my life is very intertwined with others and on the survival of our planet.

 

 

As you know, BTL’s initial work involves interpreting police carding regulations that negatively impact Black communities. Can you outline the significance of ensuring that this work remains intersectional?

This term “intersectional” is quickly becoming such a buzzword. My understanding of and practice of intersectionality is one that centres the lives of Black people first and foremost and then it peels off the multiple and compounding identities that Black bodies and lives encounter.

For me, what it means to practice intersectionality is to never separate myself or parts of myself; to never just focus on what it means to be Black, on what it only means to be a womxn or what it means to be an immigrant. I also need to interrogate and if not answer (for it may not be my lived experience), at least pose the question of what it may also mean to be Black and Indigenous, Black and differently abled, Black and undocumented, Black and queer, Black and Muslim…these are just some examples. And it’s important that these things never occur in isolation but that they exist and are addressed together recognizing that different people are disproportionately impacted.

 

Is there a Black Queer Womxn in particular who has inspired you, or has made a meaningful impact in your life?

To be honest, many of my closest friends and comrades are those very Black, queer womxn that inspire me daily. Some of my closest friends have called me back to what it means to love honestly, openly and with courageous vulnerability. So I would like to use this opportunity to shower so much gratitude and appreciation towards them. I hope that they know who they are.

The womxn I would like to hold up today is Dr. Jacqui Alexander. I first read Dr. Alexander’s work on the heteropatriarchal nature of the [post]colonial state in the Bahamas and she put into words, so much of what I was feeling and so much that I didn’t know that I was feeling but that was obviously so true. I then drunkenly drafted a PhD application to the University of Toronto with the hopes that she would be my supervisor and that I never submitted. I then attended a lecture that she did in honour of Audre Lorde at York University where I was further moved and deepened in my resolve to move through this world differently for here was this womxn I looked up to, existing and thriving within academia and yet remaining solid in her commitment to ancestral and African spirituality work, in a radical and honest way. Of course, I quickly purchased Pedagogies of Crossing, asked her to sign it and told her that I was indeed ready to come work with her in Tobago. Dr. Alexander, I am still ready to come work with you at The Tobago Centre for the Study and Practice of Indigenous Spirituality!

I would also like to raise up Dr. Alissa Trotz. Alissa! I hope you know how incredible you are and how important your contributions to a radical, feminist political left across the Caribbean region and the Global North has and continues to be. You continue to open up space for younger persons to come through and own and I truly respect and appreciate you for that.

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Photo Credit: Pia Love for Association for Women’s Rights in Development’s #MovementMatters series (Photo provided by Kimalee Phillip).

Do you have a favourite quote that captures Black Feminism as you define it?

As the staff members of the Black Feminisms Forum Working Group gathered in Mexico City in January 2016, I remembered and shared the following words by Toni Cade Bambara in her opening to “This Bridge Called My Back”:

“Quite frankly, This Bridge needs no Foreword. It is the Afterward that’ll count. The coalitions of women determined to be a danger to our enemies, as June Jordan would put it. The will to be dangerous (“ask billie so we can learn how to have those bigtime bigdaddies jumping outta windows and otherwise offing theyselves in droves” -gossett). And the contracts we creative combatants will make to mutually care and cure each other into wholesomeness. And the blue- prints we will draw up of the new order we will make manifest. And the personal unction we will discover in the mirror, in the dreams, or on the path across This Bridge. The work: To make revolution irresistible.”

May we never cease to be threats to our enemies. May we never stop loving each other as though our lives are dependent on it. May revolution always be irresistible.

Any closing thoughts on the following questions?

What is your call to action for non-Black communities?

That we be brave. That the value of our lives and our environment; the value and honour of being able to live, love thrive and transition lovingly trump our innate desire to be accepted.

 

What advice would you give your teenage self?

That you are the answer.

 

Where do you draw your strength and courage to do the work that you do?

From allowing myself to be enveloped by the ocean and her touch. By listening to my dreams and the ancestors. By first seeking answers from within. I remember praying to the Virgin Mary when I felt desperate as a young teenage girl growing up in Grenada. I am grateful that the ones who responded were indeed my ancestors.

 

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