Lights in the City

Courtesy of Facebook/Tommy McBrayer, Jr. Attendees at Tommy’s 6th Annual Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner on Nov. 23.

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

In the spirit of the season of being thankful and reflective of all the blessings that the year has brought, I want to take a moment to highlight some of the lights in the city, and how the work they do is sometimes invisible. I’d like to emphasis why it is important to shine light on dark places to prevent the mighty and powerful organizing from being washed away.

Invisibility can only exist if the community is not present enough to make decisions on behalf of themselves.

The following article is an example of what true grassroots community engagement looks like with action that directly impacts the people. The weekend of November 23, I had the pleasure to be in spaces with two amazing community organizers as they stood in the gaps and provided some nourishment and unity in their respective neighborhoods.

Tommy McBrayer, Jr., a Central community organizer, is one example. He created a Thanksgiving Community Potluck, and I can’t say enough how healing and transformative the space was for me.

I attended Richard R. Green Central Elementary, in the heart of the Central community in Minneapolis. This school for me always represented my happy place because, during those years, the dreams that my friends and I held dear were still very innocent and intact. The bulldozers of the world had not trampled us yet.

So, to step into that gym 20 years later, having been invited in by someone from my generation in the community, someone who was feeding and bleeding with and for the people, was pure nutrition. This is the work that cannot be invisible. This is an annual event that brings the community together in the spirit of thanksgiving and celebration.

If you’re looking for a way to support the event, please reach out to him on Facebook @ Tommy McBrayer, Jr. and support this really powerful work become more visible, resourced, and celebrated.

 Alfred Black Flowers, Nelson JB, and James Badue El, and the BE-BETTER and I AMPROOF family also hosted an amazing Thanksgiving community celebration on Broadway and Emerson avenues in the heart of North Minneapolis.

This was completely fundraised and organized by these brothers. They had no media coverage, no support from any foundations. They just did the work with the resources and support they have, not because they wanted recognition, but because they wanted to bring some thanksgiving in a place where the spirit of being thankful is sometimes hard to conjure up due to the concrete reality of oppression that floats above the people lives every day.

On this day, I sat as a witness to these amazing men going out to the streets of Broadway to bring in people directly off the street to hug them, feed them, and look them in the eye and to tell them that they matter.

For more ways to be in tune with these brothers contact them on Facebook @ Alfred Black Flowers, Nelson JB, and James Badue El. Reach out and support these brothers and together let’s make this invisible work much more visible.

As an organizer, I find myself in many spaces that are different battlegrounds of the movement. There is the organizational level that is designed to create seats at the table for marginalized people to come and join the fight and let their voices be heard. That work is necessary and important.

Then there is the frontlines protest work that disrupts people’s comfortable way of living until the lives of the vulnerable are just as valued as the people who have the power and resources.

Then there are the direct life-giving actions such as feeding people that I had the pleasure to witness this past weekend.

All of that work is necessary and it is the goal for me as an organizer to work in collaboration with the community to see that all these different tactics can synchronize and uplift one and other.

Until then, I wanted to use this platform to uplift some of the lights of the city. If they try to tell you it is not possible, you tell them that it is and these brothers are PROOF.

Kevin Reese is director of criminal justice reform at Voices for Racial Justice. Reader responses are welcome to To learn more about the organization’s work, visit