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Black Diaspora JAM 2018

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Priority deadline: March 15, 2018

Final deadline: April 30, 2018


Black Diaspora Jam 2018

For Black-identified YES! Jam Alumni Only

June 7-11, 2018

Highlander Research and Education Center, New Market, TN

Family and Friends! We invite you to the the first-ever Black Diaspora Jam (BDJ). This will be a gathering of diverse and inter-generational change-makers from across the African/Black diaspora. Participants of the BDJ will co-create braver-space for truth-telling, healing, compassion, and understanding. We are committed to collective visioning, liberation, and transformation at all levels.

Why a Black Diaspora Jam Now?

This Jam is being organized in the spirit of hundreds of years of resistance, rebellions, resilience, creation, and celebration. It is critical that people who identify as black continue to create spaces where it is safer to explore the ways in which we are navigating the world, as well as celebrating the beauty and triumph of our existence.

As tribute to our ancestors who met and communed across time and space, we, as black folks, loving and fighting for liberation intend to grapple with the issues being faced in a 21st century context. 400 years after our ancestors were first forcibly brought to these shores, In the midst of a post-Obama world, it is critical that we get clear about the tools needed to make sure black-identified people are not only surviving but thriving. Black people worldwide still live in the midst of white supremacy, are still incarcerated and enslaved en masse, and are still criminalized, greatly impacting our lives regardless of class, education or socioeconomic status. We also understand that, despite this reality, the gifts we have inherited through our lineages are critical to the quest for liberation. This Jam will explore how our connections to the ancestors can continue to guide us as we move forward.

Through this Jam, we hope to create space to clarify how to move forward in this familiar yet very different political landscape, while diving deeper into the complexities of the many identities we each hold.. We are entering this sacred space and creating this specific container asking the following questions:

  • What does being black mean?
  • How can we explore and celebrate the diversity in our unique experiences?
  • What does being responsible to black communities look like?
  • How can we support each other in remembering the magic and power that helped our people survive?

In the middle of this shifting landscape, we stop to see how the work of slowing down, reconnecting to ourselves, to each other, and to nature can re-energize, re-frame, and realign our work in ourselves and our communities. The work of the Jam is about being present, deep listening, radical compassion, connecting to nature, and play in order to touch into intimate places of tension, as well as questions around our role in collective liberation and creating communal prosperity.

Who Attends a Jam?

As YES! Jam alumni, we know you are people who are dedicated to creating change in our communities, people who know the beauty, power, and wisdom of each other, diverse cultures, and varied communities – people who see the liberatory potential in this rich and challenging part of the world – people who are motivated to build beloved community.

Jammers are people who are dedicated to creating change in our communities, people who know the beauty, power, and wisdom of each other, diverse cultures, and varied communities — people who see the liberatory potential in this rich and challenging part of the world — people who are motivated to build beloved community.

With all that is happening, we find it crucial to come together across difference to connect, heal, share our stories, and dream together. We want to celebrate our victories and share what it looks like for each of us to create safe, just, and sustainable lives and communities. Through collective truth-telling, deep listening, and support, we push back against the ‘divide-and-rule’ story, often used to justify oppression.

Together, we connect the dots of our work and lives, build beloved community, and expand in self-awareness.

We will gather at the historic Highlander Research and Education Center, a sacred place of learning that played instrumental roles in the labor movement of the 1930s and the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s. In this new moment of activation and mobilization, what better place to dream, vision and build than this historic home of justice?

What Is a Jam?

A Jam is a gathering that works on three different levels in order to support change: the internal (self), the interpersonal (relationships) and the systemic (our processes & the whole).  Jam comes from the spirit of a musicians’ jam — a confluence of many voices, purposes, stories and energies, to co-create something that has never been seen before.  It is not a conference, seminar or a typical meeting.

135+ Jams have been held with social change-makers all over the world on six different continents over the last 18  years. This is the 1st  Black Diaspora Jam.

What Are the Goals of the Jam?

The conveners envision the Jam as an on-going gathering and “think–act” tank where intentional self-reflection, relationship-building, strategizing and visioning takes root on the ground, and in our day-to-day lives and work.  The Jam offers four days to slow-down and intentionally reflect on our current struggles and work while integrating play, creativity, healing, connection, honest conversation, and dream-building. The Jam incorporates three fields of transformation: the inner/internal, the interpersonal and the systemic.


On the inner/internal level:

The Jam will allow for purposeful conversation that will be centered on questions like: How can I thrive and sustain in the midst of an often chaotic and violent political climate? How can I take care of myself, care for, and be taken care of by community? How can I find more balance across the many responsibilities in my life? How can I evolve my work and role in my community?  What’s my purpose/calling and how can I live into it more?  How can I want my values to be manifested in my daily practices?  What tools and processes are useful to helping me pause, heal, or center myself?


On the interpersonal level:

The Jam knows that healing across our divides is essential and seeks to explore: How do we create Beloved Community wherever we are and in our day-to-day lives? How do we find connections and common ground across our different forms of social change work? How can we heal wounds amongst ourselves that have been developed and inherited across social identities? How can we together create forms of dialogue and conversation that center on learning, love, truth, forgiveness and transformation?


On the systemic level:

Social change-making can sometimes be all-consuming. In this Jam, we challenge ourselves to ask fundamental questions to build and sustain our movement infrastructure (i.e. relationship & networks):  How can we continue to challenge discriminatory and oppressive policies and regressive socio-economic conditions that permeate Black communities? How can we build and sustain our movement infrastructure? How do we stay hopeful in the face of growing income inequality, anti-immigration, environmental degradation, transphobia and more? What place does reform, resistance, (re)imagining, and (re)creating occupy in this work?   How can we connect the dots of what we are each doing and see a picture of the whole vision we seek?

What questions do you have?  They are welcome!


Yours, these and many more questions are the basis of the Jam.  And, by exploring them together, we will build a foundation for lasting transformation and change

Who Is Organizing the Jam?

The Jam is being sponsored by YES!, an organization dedicated to connecting, inspiring, and collaborating with change-makers through exploratory and innovative programs that meet the evolving needs and opportunities of our world. This inaugural Black Diaspora Jam will be facilitated and organized by several alumni across the Jamily:

Ashoka Finley works on issues concerning energy, food, and sustainability community scale. He works both locally and internationally in an effort to find shared best practices. In his life and projects, he seeks to connect diverse groups of people along common lines with dialogue and inclusiveness. His dedication to the empowerment and liberation of all people makes him determined to develop greater capacity within himself to be open and caring in every endeavor in his life.



Austin Willacy is a veteran member of The House Jacks with whom he has produced 10 full-length albums and completed multiple world tours. For the past 20 years, Austin has directed ‘Til Dawn, Youth in Arts’ award-winning teen a cappella group that empowers youth to find their voices in many ways. Austin is also an award-winning singer/­songwriter with 4 CD’s and 2 EP’s to his name.  His music is soulful and raucous, tender and comic.  Austin’s music has been featured on “The Sing Off”, “Road Rules”, an Australian ad campaign and three feature film soundtracks, including Thrive, a documentary with over 80 million views.  He’s appeared in Rolling Stone and has performed with icons such as Bonnie Raitt and up and coming artists like Jem, Vienna Teng, Rachael Yamagata and Amos Lee. Austin recently won a 2018 Posi–Positive Music Award–for Best Original Song in the Social Justice category. Austin is an organizer and facilitator for YES! and a former board member for Rainforest Action Network and the Freight & Salvage.  He is one of the co-founders of the Arts for Social Change Jams in the US, Turkey, and India.


Chinyere E. Oteh is an organizer, an artist, a mother, a doula and a seeker.  She is a St. Louis Native who has also lived and worked in Detroit and Washington D.C. On the creative side, she has examined her own mixed-race identity through autobiographical writing and photographic self-portraiture and has taught photography to the young and old throughout St. Louis.  On the collective side, she is a community matchmaker who founded a time bank in 2010, called Cowry Collective — a network geared toward forging economic equity and bridging racial divides all the while reminded each of us of our past rich cooperative practices.  On the personal and healing side, she is a fierce and loving protector to her two children birthed at home in 2008 and 2012.  She has practiced transcendental meditation since 2010 and has received her first two attunements in reiki.  Chinyere is very proud to have completed a doula training with Jamaa Birth Village in Ferguson, MO in 2016.  As she steps more fully into healing and spiritual work she continually strives to balance the demand and joys motherhood, career and self-care.  She also rejoices in synchronicity and serendipity!  


Jocelyn Jackson’s passion for seasonal food, social justice, creativity, and community is rooted in a childhood spent on the Kansas plains, where her diverse, vibrant family would sing a song before sitting down at the table to share a soulful meal. Since then, Jocelyn practiced law, taught environmental science and ethics, became a yoga instructor, writes, and creates performance and visual art. Her inspiring international experiences include serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa, and teaching in an ecovillage in Southern India. She’s presented on the principles of community nourishment at Court Bouillon in Southern France, and back home in Oakland for the Fusion of Food and Yoga series at Anasa Yoga. Jocelyn is beginning her sixth year of full hearted cooking.  She founded JUSTUS KITCHEN and co-founded PEOPLE’s KITCHEN COLLECTIVE to continue to create food experiences that inspire people to reconnect with themselves, the earth, and one another. And she still starts every meal with a song.


Whether by capturing special moments from behind the lens, or taking a firm stand on the frontlines, Jovan Julien aims to be a light in the world. After 21 years of living in the north, Jovan Julien moved south in 2010 after graduating from school. Since then he has called Atlanta, GA home. He works in the same city and regionally working on building intersectional movement with organizers, community members, and friends grounded in a practice of Beloved Community. His work often has him moving between the US South and the Caribbean as he brings his skills, passions, and dreams into being.





Lillian Hanan Al-Bilali has been inspired to deepen her understanding of how diverse communities can become more interconnected and, particularly, how shared experiences create space for dialogue — ever since she participated in the 2010 Leveraging Privilege for Social Change Jam. Since her college years, one of her most consistent passions has been issues of youth empowerment. Her student activism at Hampton University focused on societal inequalities especially in regards to substandard education and high incarceration rates for youth of color. Following graduation, Hanan became an administrator at Children’s Arts and Science Workshops (CASW), a non-profit agency in New York City. Here, she mentored young people from the Washington Heights and Harlem communities by preparing them for college and for the work force. Currently living in New York City, Hanan received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Michigan. Her concentration in Social Policy and Evaluations allows her to focus on strengthening services offered through the non-profit sector at the state and local levels. She continues to make people her priority as a committed collaborator with organizations and initiatives that support underrepresented communities.


Cost, Travel Info and Logistics

The Jam will be held at the Highlander Center, which houses people in a variety of dormitory rooms on-site and offers a healthy, mostly plant-based dining experience. We are asking people to making arrangements for their own travel and to cover their own travel costs. There will be a welcome packet to help you with preparing for the Jam.

Tuition for the Black Diaspora Jam is $950, of which $500 covers food and lodging for the time, while $450 covers program expenses (materials, childcare, stipends for organizers and facilitators). We ask people to contribute on a sliding scale of $500-$1100, with a base suggestion of $700.

We never want money to be a barrier in participating in a Jam, so we will do everything we can to make it work for you to attend.
 Some partial scholarships and work trades may be available. We also can create a flexible monthly payment plan that works for you. Additional donations above the event price are welcome and help us provide scholarships to support the broad spectrum of participation on which this event thrives (they are also tax-deductible).

Application and Deadlines

If you want to join us in co-learning, collaborating, and co-creating connections to tackle the current challenges across the Black Diaspora and a fresh vision of what’s possible here, please complete the application today.

Priority deadline for applications is March 15, 2018.

Final deadline for applications is April 30, 2018.

We have space for 20 people and are aiming to bring together a diversity of folks from within our Diaspora.

If you have any questions that this invitation does not answer, and/or need any more information, please do not hesitate to contact us at blackjaminfo@gmail.com.

Looking forward to Jamming with you!

Ashoka, Austin, Chinyere, Jocelyn, Jovan, and Hanan

The Black Diaspora Jam Organizing Team


Any questions?  Write to blackjaminfo@gmail.com