By Njoki Mbũrũ
We deeply appreciate Canada Life, the RBC Foundation, and Propel Impact for partnering with Community Foundations of Canada to support the Transformation Storytelling Fellowship and its intent to mobilize young people to bring storytelling and an equitable and intergenerational lens into the transformation work.
The First Step
Walking has been my sanctuary. By walking in my neighbourhood or in new towns, cities, hiking up mountains, and strolling through parks or farmlands, I have found a sense of relief that I cannot capture in words. Sometimes, I have a destination in mind. Other times, I walk until the sun sets and slowly come to the realization that it is time to begin walking back to my house.
On these walks, I alternate between listening to podcasts, music, or the sounds of my immediate environment. And sometimes, in the middle of my walks, I get flashes of inspiration about my next piece of writing or creative exploration. When this happens, I pause where I am, step aside and begin to jot down notes on my phone so that I can revisit them when I am settled. From the thousands of podcasts I have listened to, there are a few episodes that I consider ‘unforgettable’. For this personal introduction, I will be using one of these episodes as my muse.
Wherever you are and however you come into this space today, I invite you to move with me as I share the questions and curiosities that underpin my current work. As one of two Transformation Storytelling Fellows with Community Foundations of Canada, I will be spending the next 6 months on a learning journey – following threads across multiple conversations, building lasting relationships with people and communities that are exploring the links between Web3 and Systems Transformation, and weaving together stories of impact.
Before I continue, let me lay the foundation by sharing a definition of Web3 to guide the reading of this text. From this article in Harvard Business Review, Web3 is defined as, “… shorthand for the project of rewiring how the web works, using blockchain to change how information is stored, shared, and owned. In theory, a blockchain-based web could shatter the monopolies on who controls information, who makes money, and even how networks and corporations work.”
Take a breath with me
It’s late spring 2021. I am walking in one of the beautiful parks around my neighbourhood. The air feels crisp and cold. The sun is shining brightly, and the sky is mostly clear, save for a few soft brushstrokes of cirrus clouds. This is one of my daily evening walks that I take after a long workday — and I am beyond excited to take in some fresh air and listen to the latest episode that has been released on The Emergent Strategy Podcast. I put my earphones in and press play on the episode titled, “Dreaming While Black with Walidah Imarisha and Calvin Williams.”
To this day, I still cannot explain how time passed. What I do remember, however, is coming to a slow, yet sudden realization that it was almost completely dark. The darkness was taking form and making an abode in this vast landscape I had been strolling in.
I remember pressing play, and a few minutes into listening to the episode, I pressed pause. There was something that the guests, Calvin and Walidah, shared, that struck a chord. I needed to stop moving so I could make room for the thoughts and emotions that were being catalyzed within me.
Take a breath with me. Count from 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold your breath for 4, 3, 2, 1. Breathe out with me – 4, 3, 2, 1. Repeat.
Do you feel that? The stability, the expansiveness, the permission to take up space?
Listening to them speak, I felt a sense of expansion. I took in air with more intentionality than I normally do, and breathed much deeper into my core. I felt a warmth and relief — like something was melting right off my shoulders and seeping into the core of the earth. My feet were steady and strong on the ground, and yet there was a freedom in motion.
What else is possible?
So, what exactly did Calvin and Walidah share in this podcast that has left such an imprint on me?
For brief context, Calvin and Walidah shared about the collaborative project they facilitated between Wakanda Dream Lab and PolicyLink, where project participants utilized visionary fiction, imagination, and elements of Afro-futuristic storytelling to co-create, ‘Black Freedom Beyond Borders: Memories of Abolition Day’, which they described as, “a story-world of safety and freedom in a future without prisons and policing.”
This was a project that required refusal. Refusal of the status quo, refusal of ‘normality’, refusal of ongoing oppression and the structures that perpetuate inequities and violence. But alongside resistance, I have come to fundamentally learn that, we also must direct our energy towards creation. Yes, to dismantling the systems that perpetuate harm, racism, and trauma. And also, yes to being intentional, committed to, and deliberate about building systems that center and promote healing, liberation, and self-determination. This is what I call, “living in the yes, and.” Straddling the line between love and rage. And for Calvin and Walidah, the collaboration to create Black Freedom was what they called, “a permission to dream.”
While I could go much deeper into the content of this podcast episode, I want to bring focus back to the questions from the podcast that continue to inform my approach as a storyteller and facilitator. In my work, I seek to lead with curiosity, play with imagination, and interrogate the possibilities that lie at the fringes of any system.
From the episode, there are three questions that Calvin and Walidah shared that have stayed with me. These invitations for inquiry, imagination, and dreaming liberatory futures are:
- What still feels necessary?
- What now feels possible?
- What still must feel irresistible?
Therefore, when I think of the intersections between Web3 and Systems Transformation, I am intrigued and captivated by the visionary futures we can create when we allow ourselves to dream beyond the current economic and political structures. Actually, not dream beyond, but dream through the present landscape into the next possible reality. I am not advocating that we discard all the current technologies and systems that are in place. Rather, I am led to explore what else is possible when we intentionally sit in the cracks and fissures of our current reality. What happens when we are honest enough to say, “this [system/contract] does not work for all of us”? What else is possible here?
As the sun sets, a new dream rises
I look around and realize that the darkness is now here. I have been walking longer than I planned, but I am alright with that. I paused numerous times to jot down notes, and give time to my trickling thoughts. I tell myself, “this is a podcast episode that I will carry with me long into my future.”
As the sun sets, I begin to walk back to my abode. There is a hearth within me – a crackling fire where I can hang a pot of my thoughts to simmer. I am excited about dreaming from a place of abundance.
I want to interrogate the possibility of “what else?”
This is the premise of my Transformation Storytelling Fellowship. I am excited to dream, investigate, and share about what kinds of projects, partnerships, and policies are possible when we bring Web3 technologies and Systems Transformation together. Doing this is one way for me to give myself, and the communities I am part of, the permission to dream of a future that centers and affirms our liberation, self-determination, and generational well-being.
“We cannot build what we cannot imagine … We cannot allow systems to dictate to us when it is our time to dream. We have to claim that for ourselves.”Walidah Imarisha
For years, Njoki has immersed herself in community service, advocacy around public health, food security, and equity. In October 2020, she completed a nine-month policy program with the Vancouver Foundation, where she published and presented a policy brief titled “Anti-racist Approaches to Effectively Address Food Insecurity and Social Isolation among Indigenous and Black Seniors in Downtown Vancouver”.