Frontiers Augmented highlights selected authors from our issues to create a means for deeper engagement with the content published in the Frontiers Journal. The most recent general issue 42.2, edited by Frontiers Co-Editors Wanda S. Pillow, Kimberly M. Jew, and Darius Bost, highlights author Jennifer E. Cossyleon, Ph.D., winner of the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Women of Color Caucus-Frontiers Student Essay Award.

The Potential for Social Movements to Heal: Restorative Kinship among Mothers of Color

It is no secret that the labor of community organizing is a labor of love that has its roots in the work of women of color. But real talk, traditionally that love labor often includes sacrifice, long hours, being away from your family, and pouring out more than is poured in. But what if this work can do more than drain the people that create the path and possibility for future generations of visionaries? Since 2016, I have learned from a group of Black and Latina mothers and grandmothers in Chicago about how local social movements, when intentional, can create space for healing as an integral part of necessary policy change. These women organize through the Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) “family focused” model of movement building, a model adapted to fit the family lives of participants, which prioritizes personal and family goals, alongside collective policy change.

Through family-focused community organizing, which centers and uplifts the kinships of grassroots movement leaders, women of color from some of the most disinvested communities in Chicago contest generations of state-imposed trauma and self-blame towards structural analysis and collective healing. Through community organizing work to improve the social and economic life of their communities, these leaders engage in what I call “restorative kinship,” an intentional practice of advancing the social and emotional healing of relationships through the use of community organizing repertoires. They activate tactics learned in mobilizing spaces to strengthen relationships with their families that have been strained by inequity in most spaces they have traversed—from education, to housing, to systems of punishment and surveillance. These tactics include active listening, capacity-building, and creating a web of support. Restorative kinship challenges what it means for a social movement to be successful and sustainable by including the generative social transformations that are possible when we recognize and invest in the coproduction of kinship and movements. 

These lessons and stories shared by COFI motherleaders add to both theory and practice within the field of women’s studies. Theoretically, these lessons urge writers and analysts to take seriously the interplay of kinship and movements, moving away from dichotomizing family as solely furthering or limiting movement work. They urge women’s studies scholars to continue to uplift the often invisibilized stories of women of color who are working to build stronger communities and families, despite the mountains of oppression stacked against them. On a practical level, restorative kinship highlights the benefits of continued structural analysis and mutual support of people who are indivisible from their kinship experiences. These lessons can be applied in most academic, nonprofit, government, and corporate environments to uplift people not solely as teachers, changemakers, and producers, but also as one part of a web of relationships that can either be further strained by overwork, underpay, and limited resources for health and wellness or can be nurtured, uplifted, and embraced in a continuous practice of restoration and healing. 

Jennifer E. Cossyleon, Ph.D., policy advisor at Community Change in Washington, D.C., through the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Program.

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