Walela Nehanda on Poetry, Reactionary Individualism & Love
In the cover photo, Walela wears t-shirt by XYSTUGLI.
When you encounter people like Walela Nehanda, the idea that social media only serves self-centered interests is quickly put to rest. You can go to their page for an education on topics ranging from poetry to Black liberation and politics, to wellness and love. Walela is intentional about what they share, whether it’s about Black liberation and the self-determination of colonized people or unlearning ableism in their own ongoing battle with leukemia. No matter what, their page is dedicated to community, to centering Black folx and those that are most marginalized.
We had a chance to sit down with Walela to chat more about their work, how they view and practice wellness, their relationship with their partner Akili, and more.
You help facilitate an open mic and workshop called Spit Justice. Can you talk a little bit about the work Spit Justice is doing? How has it evolved since it first started?
Spit Justice is a Black led & Black centered open mic and workshop put on by The Assata Bukhari Collective, which I’m an organizer in. We have community dialogue about a range of topics from police violence to gentrification to colonialism each week. The purpose of the dialogue is to reinforce popular education in a way that gets attendees to tap into emotional literacy - how do these topics make us feel?, critical thinking - why do these structures and systems exist?, and most importantly: problem solving rooted in grassroots organizing - because when have a room with more than 2 people a whole lot of shit can get done.
Spit Justice initially started as a mere idea: a weekly open mic and workshop; but the community vocalized wanting to get involved more deeply with us directly so The Assata Bukhari Collective was born completely unintentionally. A-BC consists of Black predominately femme, queer, working class organizers local to South Central. As A-BC, we focus on base building and providing mutual aid programs rooted in solidarity, not charity - we have food distributions twice a month where we give out free hot food for anyone experiencing food insecurity as well as free clothes & hygiene goodie bags. We have a Teen Healing circle that meets every 1st & 3rd Saturday and Adult Healing Circle that meets every 1st & 3rd Wednesday, and weekly work study groups where we read radical theory, study our movement’s past, and discuss how to put theory into praxis. In less than a year, we have grown incredibly fast and in ways we wouldn’t have even imagined, we are lucky to have a ton of community support both in person and online.
What might poetry/open mic have to offer that other forms of media don’t?
“Poetry alone cannot change the material conditions of an unjust society, but I challenge anyone to name a substantive freedom movement that does not have poetry.” - Aja Monet
Poetry, historically, has given voice to so many important, militant movements in history. Open mics in Black communities have always been a place for convening and in a world that seeks to undervalue the importance of community especially for colonized people, it’s a duty to preserve those spaces. I think because poetry isn’t limited by anything but a pen and paper and your voice, there is often a deep level of political analysis and brutal honesty that is unprecedented. Poetry, when done right, can make people extremely uncomfortable because it shows the ugly truth of the society we live in while somehow simultaneously healing the heart & challenging our spirits to do more.
If you could have everybody read one poem or book of poems, what would it be?
Assata by Assata Shakur. The start of every chapter has a poem and that in itself comprises of a chapbook. It’s a brilliant autobiography that provides political education & poetry all at once - it was also the book that started my journey towards radicalization.
How does it feel to have your own growing platform on Instagram? What’s your favorite part about it? Least favorite?
It’s overwhelming!! I consider having a growing platform to be a huge responsibility in that I must constantly remain principled, true to my morals, and my politics - so there is pressure no doubt but I am more than grateful to reach more people with each day.
My favorite part is when my followers tell me that because of following me they’ve started reading more literature to shift their consciousness or that they’ve gotten involved in grassroots organizing in their own city. If my account can provide a spark to ignite people to get involved on a tangible level to materially transform the conditions of their communities & to fight injustice, then my platform is serving its purpose.
My least favorite part is reactionary individualism and what I mean by that is “influencer activism” or “blue check activism.” Reactionary individualism really obscures & waters down the work & politics of so many community organizations & the history of resistance. My work often gets confused with those who practice reactionary individualism which is always bewildering because I believe in organizing and collective responsibility over individualism. There is a large difference between positioning oneself to be the sole voice on oppression & making a career from it vs. organizing communally to actually fight against said oppression.
What do you value most about your relationship with Akili and what inspires you to share it with your audience?
I value our willingness to grow alongside each other & our deep respect for each other. I feel like I’m actually pretty private about our relationship compared to most folx I’ve seen on social media - no one knows the little things we enjoy doing, our routines, and day to day. I do that on purpose too because I’m very protective of my loved ones and find our privacy to be sacred.
What I choose to share about us is intentional and is meant to act as a form of highlighting important parts of our dynamic that I’m sure other people can relate to such as what it means to be in a relationship while battling cancer because there’s a stark difference in being a caregiver vs. patient / abled bodied vs. disabled, or our queerness and being perceived as a cishet couple, or why us being labeled as “goals” isn’t the wave. I try to be as honest in regard to that because romantic love, especially in the media, has really been broken down to be something extremely toxic & frankly something it shouldn’t be & something that it’s not.
How do you define and practice wellness?
Wellness is rooted in being holistic meaning taking care of the entire being: physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and materially. I struggle to practice wellness consistently because it’s very much is rooted in discipline as well. But for me, I try to engage in activities or practices that feed my entire being such as: physically - I enjoy taking long walks with my partner or being intimate with them, spiritually - practicing in front of my altar & meditating, mentally - I am an avid reader, emotionally - I write poetry & go to therapy, and materially - I mean that one is always hard as a colonized person but I strive to find some form of stability of having a roof over my head and something to eat.
What piece of sex advice would you give to your younger self?
Communication and boundaries are essential.
Your pleasure is equally as important as your partners and not to be minimized or ignored.
It’s more than okay to have sex, to masturbate, to explore, and to feel sexy - you are valid.
What’s next for you? What can people do to support you and Spit Justice?
The immediate goal is always remission for my leukemia. I just released my first EP in 3 years entitled Resurrection. It is very different from my previous work but it is finally a sound that embodies me fully thanks to working with wildly talented producers: Ngoma & my life partner Introspekt. It is 3 songs & each track tells the story of how I stepped into radicalism, how radicalism has to be a rejection of a colonial society, and how we must follow a tradition our ancestors laid before us. I am also working on a manuscript for a book of poems and essays.
And lastly, Spit Justice is always working on growing: we are in the process of implementing a free radical community library, a podcast, and expanding our mutual programs to service as many folx in our community as consistently as possible. If people wish to support Spit Justice, you can follow us on Instagram @SpitJustice and donate so we can continue doing this work: our Venmo is Spit_Justice & our Paypal is SpitJustice@gmail.com. If people wish to support me, they can always follow my IG @ItsWalela and hit the Linktree in my bio to donate to me personally.
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