More Art. More Justice. More Community.

Written by Tammy Johnson

June 11, 2014

I’m sitting at a corner window at Pico Taco, a mom-and-pop taqueria that’s been North Oakland for more than a minute. The area’s called Temescal now and somebody’s serving up a new kind of salsa a few doors down for a couple of bucks more.

This is my community and I love it. I love our annual block party where everybody brings their best dish and the musicians treat us to an impromptu jam session. I love Sunny, Da Mayor of 54th Street, who keeps us up on the latest happenings. I even love the damn-tomato-stealing raccoons. Hey, the family’s got to eat!

It’s hard, but I’m trying to love the new folk too. The new folk who think that they just bought a little Oakland flavor, just blocks from the old Black Panther office. Over time we’ll have to figure out how to be good neighbors to each other. I have to love them too because I can’t live in a state of hate. They are here and so am I. I’m done declaring war on people.

I don’t want to study war no more. Decades of battle have gotten to me. From countless hours of opposition research, to poring over polling data about the impact of the opposition’s latest messaging campaign or critiquing the policy demands of beltway big heads, my soul has grown weary of it all. The gentrification of my beloved Oakland could be yet another cause to stock up on intellectual ammunition and storm the gates of the powers that be. But there has to be another way.

I want something different for myself and for others.

What I crave is community.

Yes, I intend to keep striving for justice. But I don’t want to fight anymore.

I wanted to laugh, to love, to dance, to live in ease with others and be happy. To get to that place I needed time to read, to listen, to talk to some people and experience some new things. I needed space to think about that I’ve learned. I needed to write, to test things out, to rethink my position, to pray and to make a plan to bring my offering to the world.

To my surprise, my community agreed. Then they went about opening doors for me, making space for me, writing checks, laughing with me, and telling me when I needed less talking and more dancing.

Step-Together-Step: An Art and Racial Justice Curriculum for Liberated Artists and Their Collaborators was birthed from my belief that justice is not the goal of our fights. Justice isn’t even the dismantling of old oppressive structures.

Justice is the careful crafting of our Beloved Community. This Kingian nonviolence framework says that at the end of the day, we must all work and live together. Therefore how we engage in the struggle is just as important as the attainment of justice itself.

Step-Together-Step asks what is the artist’s role in community building, and recognizes how art has the ability to spark resonance — and even dissonance — to the point of connecting us to each other. Then there is the challenge of leveraging that power as artists.

A week ago, over two afternoons, a small group of dreamers got together, squished Play Doh, ate chocolate and began to imagine a progressive movement that was not directed by what author Toni Morrison calls The White Gaze. We asked difficult questions, like was it possible to achieve a reconciliation that enables us to be accountable to each other while we heal. The question of how we develop that beloved community through art was central.

Yes. I want more of that.

More art. More community. More play. More justice.

Don’t you?

Photo: bgreenlee, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Tammy Johnson

Tammy Johnson is very clear. Her life’s purpose is to be a happy Black woman. Some days that shows up as a shimmy in the middle of a workshop on racial equity, and on others it is simply a pause for breath. Johnson is a dancer, producer, culture keeper, writer, equity consultant and godmother extraordinaire. Her kinfolk in Tennessee taught her early on how to be a love-warrior as they fought for their right to just be as Black people. Later as a community organizer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Johnson directed living wage, welfare rights, public education and election campaigns. She has partnered with World Trust and Art / Work Practice, and spent a decade at Race Forward advancing racial justice at as a national organizer, trainer, writer, policy analyst and public speaker. Johnson co-produced the television special Colorlines: Race and Economic Recovery with LinkTV, and has written for the Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post, and As an independent consultant she has successfully brought somatics and artistic wisdom to the fore with groups like The Laundry Mat Project and the Young Women’s Freedom Center. The Oakland, California based Johnson stays true to her path by embracing work moves us all closer to world of justice and healing, and most importantly, work that gives her joy. Visit her website at

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