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Transformation through healing justice, community and art

August 7, 2020

With vision for inclusive spaces, ASU grad creates community for BIPOC, LGBTQ artists and activists

Arizona State University graduate Kamra Sadia Hakim is an artist and entrepreneur with a vision to create inclusive spaces for marginalized communities through Activation Residency, an artist residency and cooperative based in New York. 

Hakim first became inspired to create change while earning a bachelor’s degree in global studies in 2015 from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“My program at ASU was fantastic because I was all over the world by the age of 18,” said Hakim, who uses they/them pronouns.

“I pursued global studies because I knew that I wanted to make a global impact, but I didn't necessarily know how that would take shape. My service learning trip in Johannesburg (South Africa) and Zambia with the ONE Campaign set me off to be a worldly person early on in life by expanding my capacity for human interaction, cultural adaptability and inclusion."

In their sophomore year, Hakim added a minor in social transformation and became exposed to issues on topics including feminism, the patriarchy and white supremacy.

“To wake up to all of that information at a young 21 — I was taken aback. Having access to queer and feminist studies really started to change the way in which I moved through the world. It also gave me access and more permission to my own personal queer and trans identity. From a fundamental level, ASU definitely equipped me with the confidence that I needed to be able to do this work.”

Kamra Sadia Hakim

After ASU, Hakim earned a master’s degree in global affairs from New York University and pursued several internships and roles, including as an arts professional development coordinator at Columbia University. 

In 2018, Hakim created Activation after being moved by the experiences they had at music festivals and creative retreats, and seeing the lack of creative opportunities available for Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals.

“By frequenting these festivals and retreats, I was really inspired by the level of community involved and the feeling of coming together around the arts,” Hakim said. “I found that a lot of healing experiences happen when folks come together for something that they really care about to share wisdom, knowledge, talents, expertise and gifts.”

Initially, Activation was promoted as a weekend-long residency for working class and underserved artists. The original group of 20 artists gathered at the Outlier Inn, located in Woodridge, New York, sharing meals together and leading workshops based on their practice.

After what Hakim said was an overwhelmingly collaborative, heartwarming, emotional and transformative experience, they wanted to expand the program’s reach. In the second year of the program, Hakim served over 60 artists through the residency program, this time partnering with community organizers to incorporate programming and conversations around race, class, gender and sexuality. 

Geodesic dome at the Outlier Inn. Courtesy of Activation Residency. 

“People got to grapple with white supremacy and internalized homophobia while being in a community space that felt safe enough to have those difficult conversations,” Hakim said. “We had a conflict around race come up in real time and we had to come together as a community to create solutions for those problems, which is something that you don't really see in this work.”

Over the years, Activation’s mission has remained the same but has grown exponentially with the help of successful online fundraising and community support. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased awareness of the injustices BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals face, Hakim has received a recent influx of support. Since the end of May, Hakim has raised over $150,000 to support Activation projects through social media fundraising.

Hakim also launched a co-op fund this year that has raised over $10,000 since the end of April. Funds from the monthly-contribution program are redistributed to community members in need.

“Folks really love Activation and the work we’re doing. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had around 1,800 followers on Instagram and now we have more than 9,000,” Hakim said. “I think the conversation around funding and redistributing wealth has rapidly changed.”

When protests against the killing of George Floyd began, Hakim collected funds for necessary supplies like water and hand sanitizer and passed them out to protesters in New York. After experiencing an influx of new followers and an increase in monetary support, Hakim took what they felt was the necessary step forward, and created online workshops and other digital programming to expand Activation's impact.

“The big thing has been figuring out ways to keep the Activation magic alive online,” Hakim said. “We've had some really beautiful Instagram live and Zoom programming, which was kind of unexpected for me. Online programming can be tedious and the Zoom fatigue is real. I just didn't think it was going to work, but we ended up recreating that soft and healing but challenging and rigorous atmosphere that Activation has in real life in our online programming. It has been so touching to see the human to human connections we've been able to achieve in the virtual sphere.”

The funds raised over the past few months will be used to host Respite as Resistance, a care and healing program for BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled and immigrant activists, organizers and artists. The fall program will incorporate COVID-19 health and safety precautions including physical distancing, required mask wearing, gathering in outdoor spaces and small cohorts of eight to 10 people.

NK and Asha Grant lead a Praise the Lorde Sunday in the dome at the Outlier Inn. Courtesy of Activation Residency.

“I think folks are being galvanized to go hard and fight for the struggle without realizing that part of moving through oppression is caring for ourselves,” Hakim said. “I feel like my job in the revolution is to center care and provide folks with the opportunity to care for themselves and be cared for by other community members.”

Hakim hopes to continue to increase Activation’s reach, and is fundraising for a variety of ongoing projects, including Farming Futurity, a permaculture farm and healing space on 15 acres of land in upstate New York that will provide short-term residencies for artists and community members who want to explore transformative justice healing arts.

“As a Black person who grew up poor and is also trans, this is the kind of liberation that people like me have fought for forever and ever,” Hakim said. “So in a lot of ways, I feel like I'm living my dream and that is a motivation enough for me to continue to do the work.”

Top photo: A group of artists sit on the ground in anticipation of a Family Constellation at Activation Residency. Courtesy of Activation Residency and Tonje Thilesen. 

Emily Balli

Multimedia specialist , New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

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Expert in Christian ethics to teach course on pandemic, social change

August 7, 2020

ASU visiting professor sees 2020 as having parallels to turbulent 1968

It’s been a turbulent 2020, with a pandemic, continuing social unrest and an economic recession. How to make sense of it all?

Colleen Wessel-McCoy, a specialist in Christian ethics, is joining the faculty at Arizona State University this month, where she will teach a fall course titled, “Responding to COVID-19: Religion, Policy and Social Change.”

“I’ve been really interested in how religion has always been very much about social change, and understanding the relationship between religion and how we are in a community and as a society,” she said.

Colleen Wessel-McCoy is the Neely Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy at ASU.

Wessel-McCoy is the first Neely Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy at ASU, a position underwritten by the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, thanks to a grant from the CW & Modene Neely Charitable Foundation. The one-year professorship, which will include interaction with the community, is in the School of Public Affairs.

Wessel-McCoy, who taught Christian ethics at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, has a book coming out soon, titled, ““Freedom Church of the Poor: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.”

“1968 was also a really turbulent year,” she said. “There were high-profile assassinations and global uprisings and it was a really heated election year.

“That’s been on my mind a lot — thinking about that moment in history and the lesson it has for understanding this moment in history.”

Wessel-McCoy answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: How did you become a Christian ethicist?

Answer: I grew up as a practicing Christian and so that’s always been important to me, but it’s become the academic side as well. Alongside the study of it, I’ve always been someone who’s involved in social change work and community organization. And I’m really interested in the religious leadership of organization and change work. How is it that folks are motivated by morals and values from many different faith traditions?

Academically, I look at the relationship of Christianity to how people engage in their communities and their vision for society and social change.

I grew up in Georgia and I was a community organizer in Chicago in between college and grad school. I worked for a tenant organization that had a thousand units of housing. I organized tenants around issues that impacted their lives, including things like police violence in the neighborhood. The buildings were in a gentrifying neighborhood so there was a lot of pressure on the police to have people behave in the streets in a particular way.

People hanging around outside often drew attention from the police so I worked with tenants on building better relations with the sergeant who oversaw that neighborhood and on a more efficient way to file complaints when they were being harassed, and to share stories with each other.

We organized for greater access to employment opportunities in the neighborhood and an increase in affordable housing.

Q: Why is having a position in Christian ethics important?

A: When I applied for the position, we were already living in a time of great inequality and social turbulence, and over the last few months, that has reached a height that is unprecedented in my lifetime.

I was already thinking about the role of morals and values and religious beliefs. Even among people who are not coming from a religious tradition, it’s very much still present in the world around us. It’s trying to think about how others are motivated and understanding how people operate in the world. For people who come from a religious practice or religious tradition, the academic study of religion and ethics helps people to relate to others who maybe have a different religious perspective or tradition.

Looking at it in an academic way, at these questions that for many are deeply personal, is an important part of having an education that contributes to your vocation. We are in a world where so many people have religious ideals and values and being able to think about those questions enhances everyone’s vocation or career. Everyone can have an understanding of how people are motivated by religion.

Q: You’ll be teaching a class called “Responding to COVID-19” this fall. What will you cover?

A: When the class went into the catalog, it was on COVID and the economic crisis as two related crises playing out.

Since then, the uprisings around police violence have also come into the mix as a related social crisis. We’ll be looking at that and the relationship among the three.

We’ll be looking at moments in history where there has been social change in moments of crisis, looking at the great flu of 1918 and the Great Depression. And the relationship between the Great Depression and the New Deal. How does big policy change come in times of social change and social crisis?

We’ll also be looking at examples of the civil rights movement and its relationship to the postwar period and an ascending economy and how that changed what the civil rights movement looked like.

History gives us tools for analysis. Then we’ll be turning to something that’s pretty new. We’ll look at the current situation with COVID-19 and the economic situation and then what policies have been put into place. Many have been enacted quite quickly. How did different religious institutions advocate or shift or attempt to influence those policies?

Q: What are you hoping to accomplish at ASU?

A: I’m excited that the position includes building relationships between religious congregations and the School of Public Affairs. There’s going to be a real interest and hunger in that. People are interested in going beyond the headlines in the newspaper and to learn from what the college has to offer in terms of analysis, contemporary and historic.

I’m also excited to bring speakers from outside for students to learn from people across the country. There’s going to be a number of guest speakers who are religious practitioners and social change agents speaking to the class and hopefully be able to do more of that beyond class.

I’m really excited for the space to continue to do research.

One of the main projects I was involved with right before ASU is called the Poor People’s Campaign, a national campaign that includes some work in Arizona. I’m excited to be connecting there.

The Poor People's Campaign is a national campaign that really brings together religious leaders from various faith traditions and has its own policy platform. It’s a case study that I think will be interesting for students to engage with and another way of being involved in Phoenix and seeing the relationship between social change and values and morals and religious beliefs.

Top image courtesy of Pixabay.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News