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Convening in the Ark: Black & Sacred Sites of Revelation 

“From the holding cell, was it possible to see beyond the end of the world and to imagine living and breathing again?” - Saidiya Hartman 

[click here for this special issue]


This call invites black people to respond to the reflections below: 


In this time of crisis, we are invited to re-member that our ancestors were never allotted a six-foot margin between bodies to safeguard their wellness. 


Yet no other peoples in the history of our time dreamt more – or more daringly – while chained and stacked together spoon-like on large floating coffins. As much a vehicle of capture, the slave ship was also a convening site for the manifestations of Sankofas: radical envisionings and returns to Black life before and beyond numerous world endings (Ani, 1994). On these ships, our ancestors plotted and carried out explosive rebellions and inventive poisonings. Some prophesied their futures as fugitives who would escape overboard to an afterlife under the ocean or the swampy outskirts of the plantation. Countless more employed less apparent, unarchived, and uncaptured tactics that nonetheless ensured their (and our) survival. 


Over time, Black people consciously and unconsciously stitched the memories of our ancestors’ manifold strategies and quilted them together as an apocalyptic compass with instructions for navigating life beyond the graveyard, amongst the violent rocking of the ship, and beneath the rubble of endless social and familial collapse.  


In 1963, on the hundredth anniversary of the semblance of our emancipation, James Baldwin recontextualizes the formation of Black life from one [hard]ship with the allegorical framings of another:


“God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time” (p.106).


Baldwin’s reference to Noah’s convening in the Ark reminds us of both the inevitability of social collapse and the imperative to reflect, even and especially, when bound to the undesirable confines of apocalypse. Neither the slave ship nor our resultant forced familiarity with the Judeo Christian articulation of Noah’s Ark are ideal or desirable pieces of our compass. But when have we, as Black people in this world, ever had access to the ideal? 


Baldwin reminds us that the slave ships didn’t disappear upon docking. Instead, they grew roots, settled down, and extended their reach across time and borders. They served as the archetype of the still-expanding plantation which Mullin (1972) reminds us has sometimes been described as a business enterprise, a type of “total” institution (a prisoner-of-war or concentration camp, or maximum security prison), and a school. In our miseducation and work as “educators”we are frequently invited to re-member that schools are merely modern wood sheds, still violent architectures rendered from the very materials of the ship. 


We desire to distinguish our work within these remnants of the death ships that brought us here from the revelatory vessels that will grant us passage through another ending of the world. 


Oh God told Noah (God told Noah)

Told him to build (just to build that arc)

30 cubics high (30 cubics high)

50 cubics wide (50 cubics wide)

Oh it's gonna rain (oh it's gonna rain)

It's gonna rain for 40 days (40 days and 40 nights)

I want it (I want it to stand)

Stand the test of time (stand the test of time


It is from this space that the call emerges. 


Our ancestors continue to speak and offer us a compass to navigate the collapse. 


Toni Morrison urges: “In times of dread, artists must never remain silent. This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language.” 


June Jordan adds:


Some of us did not die. 

We’re still here

I guess it was our destiny to live

So let’s get on with it


Root Work Journal, grounded within the Ark, imagines this time of quarantine as a route and portal to convene with the sacred postures of our ancestors: to comfort, to dream, to manifest.


We invite those of us who are conscious of our proximities to the ship to convene around rebellion, fugitivity, marronage, and other less apparent survival strategies that will sustain our spirits. We are hoping to gather pieces that help us re-member how we contend with the ongoing violence of the ship while also transitioning into new conceptual and physical worlds. 


So with expediency, we seek to honor the ancestors' call to action: we invite you to convene with us in the Ark. We call for papers, poems, meditations and writings that guide us from societal collapse into new worlds. We invite you to think deeply and lovingly in responding to the following paradigms: 


Abolition: Rebelling against the hopium of schooling

  • How schooling seasons us to define optimism as “hoping against hope” that a mechanism built on the bones of our people will someday be our salvation

  • Resistance to schooling as a form or act of mental health

  • The necessity to reframe our depression and desires to end our lives as emanating from an underlying necessity to end the world in which we suffer

  • Teachers’ allegiance to schooling amidst societal collapse


Fugitivity: Detaching from the forces that keep us captive 

  • Re-conceptualizing growth in a culture of neoliberalism: growth does not always or necessarily mean "up" (i.e. stock market, test scores, degrees obtained) or even “more”; growth can refer to vital pathways that are oriented down (i.e. roots into the earth, from the womb to birth)

  • Success in the plantation lessening one’s likelihood to leave it or recognize it as such  


Marronage: Fugitive Movements from bondage and replications of alternative worldviews (Jamal-Wright, 2019)

  • How school achievement disintegrates Black communal connections

  • Intergenerational dialogues that explore the comingling of our love of learning with the project of schooling

  • The Sacredness of Black educational convenings

  • Who and what are necessary for the inevitable journey of the Ark (the vehicle) that transitions us from the ending of one world into a new one


Unknown, Unarchived and Uncaptured

  • We invite the community to offer reflections, works of art, and other testimonies about our Ark that speak beyond the suggested paradigms.

Curators for this special issue include: Cindy Bonaparte, Marcelo Clark, Sheryll Germany, Ernest Hardy, LeShawn Darnell Holcomb, Stephen Jamal Leeper, Leslie Poston, Tonesha Russell, Melanie Tervalon, Jas Wade, Deaidre White

[click here for this special issue]

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