A time for transitions is at hand

A monthly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.

Submitted photo Vina Kay

I recently announced my plans to transition from my role at Voices for Racial Justice, moving to Race Forward as vice president of movement and capacity building. The work I have been doing with our team at Voices, including with Kevin, has been central to my learning and growth. Being able to share this learning, grounded in deep relationships and grassroots organizing, through a national organization also committed to building racial justice is an exciting opportunity for me.

But I am going to miss the team at Voices. And what about my work with Kevin?

Our work has always been bigger than a moment. It has always been committed to the movement. So when the movement brought us to the moment when Vina was presented with the opportunity to have a national platform to amplify our work in the movement, my commitment to the work allowed me to instantly see the possibilities of what we can do.

Over the years it has been such an honor to work alongside Vina, and I’ve learned so much. Her work ethic and integrity are things that I admire. I find great comfort in having them as attributes within someone so close to me in this work. So, although she is shifting positions, our work together has only just begun.  

One of my roles at Race Forward will be supporting a campaign called Mass Freedom, which builds on years of organizing to end mass incarceration and mass deportation. As Michelle Alexander writes in her description of Mass Freedom, “It aims to help us better understand how colonialism, the slave trade, and global capitalism have brought us to this moment in time. It shares the stories of people of all colors and nationalities who yearn to be free and helps us to see that many of the struggles that feel distant are actually inextricably linked to our own.”

I believe that I am positioned to be in this role because of what Kevin has taught me about the experience and impact of incarceration. Without these last more than five years of working in collaboration, I would have little to contribute to this campaign. Now I can see that my role is to elevate those voices and stories, to the point that those who hold them are leading our vision and journey to a new reality.

Kevin Reese

The amazing and talented Voices team is strong, energized, and ready for this moment. I’m excited to join the team in my role as director of criminal justice reform to carry on the very sacred and pressing work that we all have lived and sacrificed so much for. The changing of positions only allows us to see more of the landscape and fosters the space to build with more communities both locally and nationally.  

The gravity of what Vina has meant to me and to this work cannot be expressed through words. It is the type of gratitude that can only be lived out in deeds, but if one day I can be to someone else 10 percent of what Vina has been to me, then I would consider my work a success.

The beautiful thing about the movement is that it is always moving and there is always growth and expansion. So, to all of our supporters, friends, families and colleagues, this change only means there are more of us, not less. Our BRIDGE is national now, and we will keep informing and connecting right here in our “Bridging the Gap” column.

The truth is that Kevin and I will always be colleagues and partners in the work. I look forward to continuing our collaboration, especially once he is in community, and even from different organizations. We share a vision in the movement for true liberation, and as we have always said, quoting an aboriginal activist, “Our liberation is tied together.”

The grounding for that vision is a depth of relationship and trust that has come from going through a lot together. As we move through our work and its many challenges, it is a great comfort that the soil of our relationship, supported by shared values and clear vision, is healthy.

Vina Kay, executive director of Voices for Racial Justice, and Kevin Reese are participants in Voices for Racial Justice’s “BRIDGE Partnership.” Vina and Kevin plan to continue their dialogue monthly over the next year, culminating in Kevin’s release in 2019.

Reader responses are welcome to info@voicesforracialjustice.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.