Kamra Hakim is a Munsee Lenape territory-based artist, and creator of spaces for underrepresented and marginalized communities through Activation Residency and Activation Cooperative Fund.
Founded in 2018, Activation Residency is a Black & trans-led, immersive healing justice residency. The residency aims to generate safe and collaborative spaces, adapting to its residents’ needs, and creating portals to futures needed now. Activation Cooperative Fund is an experimental, reparations-based funding and investment program, accumulating funds through member contributions, and redistributing them using a cooperative decision-making process.
We talk to Kamra about their path to the cooperative space, collective approaches around running an artist residency, collective healing and conflict resolution, and dreaming the future of Activation Residency in tandem with their new land design project, Farming Futurity.
Hi Kamra! Tell us about your personal background and interests, and how they influenced your work.
I was born to two Black Muslims in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I lived until I was 8 years old. We relocated to Arizona which is where I spent most of my life. My early years revolved around spending lots of time outdoors, riding my bike, having fun, doing my own thing, being like a little boy basically. And then throughout the years my mom had 5 other kids! So I spent so much of my life being a big sibling and taking care of little ones.
In high school, I had access to more activities. I was very active and tapped into a sense of leadership very early on in my life. I did everything – I was on a dance team, basketball team, I was the president of the student council… After high school, I felt like college was my only option, continuing my education and finding a solid footing as a human being outside of my parents house. I completed undergrad at Arizona School University with a BA in Global Studies. Thanks to my degree, I visited over 15 countries, which helped me develop cultural adaptability and a sense of care for people that aren’t in my immediate periphery.
I also accrued a lot of student loan debt in that time… Every semester I got a loan, I didn’t have any skills around financial planning, and there was not much critical thinking about it. After I graduated, I decided to go to China and teach English. I was feeling adventurous and wanted to do the hard thing. It was one of the most challenging years of my life. Navigating the reality of spending every day with 11 year olds who don’t speak my language and who have never seen a Black person before… I couldn’t really connect with them.
While I was in China, I was awarded with a foreign affairs fellowship which seeks to streamline minority folks into foreign service. The fellowship included an internship at the State Department, as well as a full scholarship to any masters program of one’s choice. The requirement was to serve for the State Department for 5 years after you graduate. I was accepted to NYU and pursued a master’s in Global Affairs. Halfway through the program I received a call from the State Department saying: “We reviewed your record and found out that you did mushrooms as an undergrad, and you also have a terrible financial track record – so we’re going to revoke your status as a diplomat.”
They took my NYU scholarship and I ended up graduating with $160,000.00 dollars in debt and no job.
Oh my God..
It’s like everything you ever worked for being given to you and then snatched from your fingertips.
I didn’t have any mental health support at that time, my family was very far away and I wasn’t doing great. I spent the next 2 years just being in limbo and trying to survive, working at bars and doing little side hustles, and really struggling. Until I started visiting different music spaces and arts festivals. I started to see this beautiful coming together of folks that was rooted in community, and building relationships, and care being currency. It really sparked joy in me. These people didn’t come from the same backgrounds but were connecting through their natural talents and capacities in the arts.
I became friends with a group of musicians, some of the most lovely, caring and community-centered people I have ever met in my life. A year after spending time with them I decided to create my own space for my people and designed by me.
Soon after, I was asked by a producer at a festival I was working at to “activate the space”. I didn’t know what exactly it meant, but I figured it was about bringing the space to life. So we made handmade vegan treats, we started actively checking in with people… It was a beautiful experience and people felt cared for. From that moment I wanted to run a creative space that makes people feel cared for, and feel like their experience matters. That’s how, in the fall 2018, Activation Residency was born.
A lot of folks – including us – are trying to re-make the world and there’s so many challenges in that. It’s a bumpy ride but the collective instincts are growing. So gathering these stories and making space for reflection seems like something we should be offering to support these systems of care, as they break and build…
I love that. That’s always been my thing. I’ve been failed by every neoliberal institution I’ve ever been a part of. It’s not like I can count on infrastructure anyways. So Activation it’s not some cute little side project I’m doing – it’s essential for survival.
That makes sense. Could you tell us about Activation Residency and Activation Coop Fund?
Activation Residency is the programming and the healing justice perspective. Activation Coop Fund is a cooperative.
When I started I wasn’t aware what co-ops were and why they were important. I joined a cooperative fund in New York run by an artist Emma Hedditch – and it was a really simple process: pay your dues (24 USD per year) and you have access. At that time Activation had no budget, no funding and I had debt from Activation in 2019. I applied for relief funds through that coop fund and ended up getting 1,300 dollars.
When COVID hit back in March, I decided to build up a co-op fund myself. I did it step by step. The beginning stages included building out the bylaws, the handbook, and a process. I worked on that every day for a month, it was a huge undertaking. Once I had the infrastructure set up and after George Floyd’s murder, Activation Coop Fund really took off. Folks were looking for opportunities to be engaged in something that was low maintenance but high impact.
Now Activation Cooperative Fund has 90 members, USD 5400 and funded 3 projects already. It’s a beautiful, well built out, scrappy community-based fund that’s easy to use. The membership model goes from 5 dollars per month to 40 dollars per month. Anyone can apply for funds. Folks have applied for funds for e.g. replacing a broken laptop or starter funds for new art project online.
As a queer person I think it’s very important to have practices that speak to the kind of world I want to live in. I love giving money away and I think it’s very queer. So I started a project in which every Zodiac season I take 25% of all ACF monthly membership contributed funds and give it away to a random Black or Indigenous queer community member on Instagram. It feels great to keep that money flowing.
That’s beautiful! How’s your team organized, do you make the financial decisions?
I do all of the admin by myself, I’m the financial administrator, I’m doing the spreadsheets and transfers etc. But there is also four other board members. I try to make their job as easy as possible. In the future, when Activation Cooperative Fund reaches a higher number of members, it will be essential for other board members to step up and take more decisions.
So the fund is a group of people who apply for cooperative membership to have voter access to a pool of donated funds?
We’re really curious about how do reparations tie into this? The concept and need for reparations feels very integral to the Activation Fund, it seems like a call for reparations on a mutual aid level. Is this a conversation that’s happening?
We talk about reparations all the time. It’s just essential. I’m alive today and can feed myself and pay my rent because of reparations. I don’t plan on working for another neoliberal institution for the rest of my life, so reparations are pretty much essential to keeping me alive. Not being able to afford to live is survival scarcity and nobody should have to live like that.
It’s not a conversation about how or why or what – I have set up a whole system to make reparations possible, for people who are giving reparations and those who are receiving them. We have had enough roundtables and enough discussions – let’s put this entire thing into practice. In Activation Residency invitations we literally say that reparations are due.
I’m curious about the process of how decisions are made in the Cooperative Fund.
ACF use Loomio – I love it soo much! Our co-op fund fiscal sponsor put us onto it. This is where all of our discussions and decisions are taking place. If somebody has a new idea or if they are requesting funds, they do so via Loomio. It’s a very simple process. They describe what the need is, what the ask is, describe the timeline for that. Describe the amount needed. If 25% or 30% of the members vote yes – it’s a yes.
We were also curious about conflict resolution. Cooperatives have been super influential in your discovery on how to organize. What are the ways of managing and resolving conflict within a cooperative setting?
That’s a great question, I’m really glad you asked. Conflict resolution is something I’ve been focused on in my personal life. I’ve been actively working on this topic with other people of color I’m not really doing it with white people right now. Before I can do conflict resolution with white people, white people need to do their own conflict resolution with themselves. I’m also working on restoring the relationships between people of color and encouraging them to have dialogue between each other. There is so many conversations that need to happen between people of color, around colorism and how harmful it is.
Last year we had a trauma informed therapist Meenadchi come to Activation, who wrote a book called Decolonising Non-Violent Communivation. As a Black person, facilitator and community member it was the first time that I had come in contact with conflict resolution that didn’t feel punitive and wasn’t centered in whiteness. This version of conflict resolution is really focused on the body and the nervous system. To me that feels more accessible than trying to use tactics around communication that don’t take the body into account.
My strategy for conflict resolution has been getting really clear what my access needs are, my boundaries and my expectations for entering the space, and requiring that from other community members, so we can meet each at the table already having already addressed the things that we need to prevent conflict coming up. And then, when it comes up, we feel equipped to deal, because we already had these preliminary discussions.
Another thing that happens at each Activation are “access check-ins”. Before the Residency program kicks off, we gather in a circle and check in about access, what our needs are, how we like to be communicated with, and what we are going through. That way we already have a deeper sense of the landscape of where each person is at, and we can better approach them in a way that is going to facilitate nourishing interactions, rather than interactions that are tense and destabilizing.
What is an access check in?
It can look like anything. At Activation it looks like folks gathering in a circle and one by one announcing who they are and communicating what they need. So for example, if I was participating I’d say: “Hey, I’m Kamra. I use they/them pronouns. I typically feel best when I experience space in xyz ways, I appreciate direct communication. Right now I’m struggling with xyz and might need support in abc ways”.
Very cool. We wanted to ask you about the collective agreements and how they were established and derived. We were very inspired by the entire list!
Thank you! AR has invitations, not agreements. Agreements require consensus and we cannot assume everyone will be in consensus at every moment. Until last year they were not written out and we got called in by one of our artists who said – you need to write them down, to keep each other accountable. For me, it was very important to have invitations that are fluid and also talk about how we move through our day to day experience, not limited to the space.
We were inspired by some of the local groups in NYC that we follow like BUFU and Yellow Jackets, as well as movers and shakers that we look up to, like Carolyn Lazard who put together this beautiful resource guide on how to make community spaces more accessible.
So there is definitely a lot of adaptation and sourcing from groups that Activation admires, but we also centered around the things we need in a framework in which we feel safe.
Your website talks about redistributing creative access from elitist structures to marginalized artists and communities. Can you talk about some results and outcomes of this mission?
That piece comes from the fact that prior to Activation I was exposed to artists and musicians who were famous and had a lot of access. Through building our relationships I decided to redistribute some of this access to artists who were more marginalized. I did that by using my friends’ privilege and asking them questions, and asking them to step up and help me make this experience a reality. I asked them whether they knew any spaces in upstate New York. They put me in touch with Outlier Inn, a beautiful 12 acre property in Woodridge, NY. Most of the artists I advocate for and work with never had an opportunity to do an artist residency, let alone at one at a luxury space. It was very cool to have artists on the periphery come to the residency and meet some other artists who have toured the world, played on the same stages as some of the bands all of us know, and put these two worlds together.
Does Activation have a physical location?
Activation in 2018 and 2019 were both in person IRL residency experiences. The first year there were 20 artists, and in the second year there were 60, which was a huge jump and a huge learning curve – a lot of mistakes were made. This year launched Activation Cooperative Fund, Activation Residency Respite as Resistance, and Activation Residency Farming Futurity were launched. Activation Coop Fund is accessible to anyone and anywhere in the world can be a part of it, online. Activation Respite as Resistance is a program that I designed right after George Floyd’s murder, because I was seeing the absence of care from the movement work. And I can bear witness to the fact that I truly and firmly believe that care is the revolution, and in order to see a new world we have to build it. To me, it looks a lot like turning away from society as we know it and turning to my community and figuring out what our needs are – and actualizing that. Respite as Resistance is going to be an in person experience for frontliners who are fighting the good fight from home, or in the streets, for those folks in our community who are filling community fridges, going to protest, doing jail support, raising money for bail, and haven’t had a break. I think my work in the revolution is showing people that as much as we should be fighting against those in power, we also should be tending to ourselves.
We were really curious about Farming Futurity, and what that means?
Activation Residency Farming Futurity is Activation Residency’s attempt at active liberation and emergence. Futurity Artist believes a new world is not only possible, but already here. Farming Futurity is a plot of land in the South Catskills of Upstate, New York made up of an artist residency, experimental healing space, and permaculture farm hosting short term residencies for community members eager to explore transformative justice healing arts as a liberatory tool.
While the Outlier Inn is beautiful, it’s owned by a white person who has been paid over 30,000 USD since Activation has started, and this is money that could have gone to Black and brown people. So I’m really inspired to reclaim the means of production in every way possible, that’s why a permaculture farm is very important to me. I really hate going to the grocery store, I just want to wake up every day and pick vegetables from the garden.
We’re really curious about the terms “futurity” in particular, and what that term means?
I’ve been using “futurity” as a portal to call in what is not yet here. I call myself a @futurityartist, that’s my handle on Instagram. I see my human experience and my body as a portal to the future. And that reminds me every day to take the necessary steps to get to my active liberation.
There’s something really magical about dreaming the future in the face of enormous oppression. And we’re curious whether you have any stories about that? What materialized from this dreaming practice? And what is your practice – if you have one?
During Activation Year 1 I was standing in the field… and it’s such a beautiful place, it changes throughout the day. In the morning it’s very dewy and quiet and in the afternoon it becomes a little more sunny and vibrant, and at night the streamlights come on, the Dome lights up in very pretty colours.
I was standing in the middle of the field. There was a sense that something exciting was going to happen. There’s a pond off to my left and the Dome is off to my right. To my right periphery there was fire with artists hanging around it. I remember taking a step back and taking this whole vision in and realizing that – six months ago this whole moment was in my head and now I’m in it. It was a whole meta experience of having a visualisation and then having an inverse of that visualisation and being in that visualisation. It was a whole experience. This was me going through a process of dreaming.
I think it sometimes feels a lot less accessible than it is. I talk about it a lot with friends who dream and we always remind each other to write things down, write down exactly what we want to happen.
Another powerful story about dreaming things into being happened when I first decided to do Farming Futurity I wrote up a whole narrative around it. And in that narrative I said something along the lines of going to get an old pickup truck and drive up and down and around the country until I found land and the land says “you’re home”. An artist in Detroit reached out to me and said that he had to get rid of his beloved ‘89 Toyota pickup truck and if I wanted it. So I drove to Detroit and got this truck. And now I have a truck because I did a narrative visualisation about needing a truck to make this vision happen.
So it’s just about speaking things into existence. It’s being really raw and real with the Universe about what your needs are and not being afraid of your capacity to let that abundance flow. I also developed a really strong abundance practice – I started doing Deepak Chopra’s 21 Days Abundance Meditation. And one of the rituals in that meditation was to write on the back of all receipts: “All invested is good and multiplies seven times”. So I have thousands of receipts that say that and I really felt the abundance of that specific meditation flow into my life, both through my work for Activation but also in my personal finances. For me it’s been about getting really specific about what my needs are, and applying practices around getting those needs met.
What does community empowerment and community healing mean to you?
At Activation healing happens in a programmatic fashion. For example, last year there was a a breath workshop, and I was really surprised by people’s response. It was very wild to see people have those open experiences around breathing. We also had somatic workshops and invited the Nap Ministry to do a napping workshop.
The thing about healing is that it’s not linear and it doesn’t happen in the same way for everyone. This modality is about co-creating healing experiences without replicating to healer-client binary. Every person is the master of their body and their experience and knows what kind of healing they need.Care cannot be prescribed. People need to decide what kind of care they want to receive.
Do you feel ties to other movements and spaces happening around the world? What other activist spaces are inspiring you within and beyond America?
People have always had to remake the world under extraordinary circumstances and the local has always informed the global. I personally interacted with another BIPOC-focused co-op in London. We were in conversations about a book called Collective Courage which takes you through the history and lineages of coop funds, particularly started and operated for and by Black people.
More recently in New York, I feel like mobilisation around mutual aid is very rapid. While I haven’t been in direct communications with local communities doing jail support, I took part in online discussions around accountability processes happening in those communities. Around New York organizing in general there’s been a lot of online discussions taking place, which feels very nice and accessible, especially now that connecting in person in large groups in public spaces just doesn’t feel safe. In terms of the devastation of Beirut it was very beautiful to see folks mobilize to send relief. That was also an inspiration to us to move some of our money to relief as well.
It’s been nice to be plugged in online and be able to access information around how to support abroad and also how to receive support. AR has gotten contributions and investments from folks in London, Dubai, all over… It makes me feel that borders are not real and folks will always make a way out of no way.
You said that care is currency. Can you give us a sense of what you mean by that?
Care is a currency because currency is a tool that allows us to get our needs met. And I see care as a currency because there’s been moments where I didn’t have money to feed myself and a friend would invite me over for dinner. Care can be the vehicle to get people where they need to be. That’s what I mean.
Do you feel that there’s a broader politics possible in America right now that is functional? Is there a political vision in your work, is there’s futurity for America more broadly?
Functional for who? Right now, even though the country is collapsing in so many ways, there’s still people that it’s functioning for. If you’re asking me if I think there’s a futurity in America being able to function for someone like me, a Black trans person who comes from a Muslim family, who also has experienced extreme poverty and violence – on a community level, yes, on a political level – not so sure. I really do think that the political system in America will become obsolete.
That’s a hard question though.. I don’t necessarily want to be in community with Kamala Harris. It’s really hard to want to make a way with folks who literally profit off the debt of people like me. I don’t necessarily have any skin in the game in terms of caring for the American Project. I have seen people over and over again create new worlds that exist outside of needing to have any interaction with the state, and if the state is not going to abolish prisons, then I have no interest in being a part of that.
What are the things that have come out of your collective, what other dreams have come into fruition?
In the periphery of Brooklyn organizing that I’m aware of, I see a lot of people doing things in the same space. I think that Activation Residency inspires the sense of possibility in other people who see the work. It’s like a ripple effect. It’s really beautiful to see folks requesting care and getting their needs met, and the state doesn’t have anything to do with it.
How can people best get involved in Activation’s work, both locally and remotely? And how can they invest?
AR provides services and content people need and care about. Folks can get involved by engaging products and thus, their own transformation. Invest via Venmo @Activation, Cash App $ActivationResidency, PayPal firstname.lastname@example.org, or NYFA fiscal sponsorship.
Thank you for this inspiring interview!