March 21, 2024

Dreaming in Color: Brea Baker

Episode Notes

In this episode, we speak with Brea Baker, a freedom fighter and writer who has worked on the frontlines for nearly a decade. She began as a student activist, contributing to #NextYale, a movement to address the legacy of white supremacy on Yale’s campus; the Women’s March of 2017, where she was the youngest national organizer; and the 2018 student walkouts against gun violence. In her professional career, Brea has contributed to dozens of electoral and advocacy campaigns. She advises storytellers, celebrities, and industry leaders on building our collective imagination and responding thoughtfully to social justice movements.  

Join this conversation as Brea takes us on her family’s tumultuous journey of land ownership, ultimately leading to the “Baker Acres”—a haven for her family and a palace where they are surrounded by love, sustained by the land, and wholly free. Listen as she paints a picture of a world post-reparations.


Episode Transcript

Christian Celeste Tate (00:01):

Welcome to Dreaming in Color, a space for social change leaders of color to reflect on how their life experiences, personal and professional, have prepared them to lead and drive the impact we all seek. I'm Christian Celeste Tate, and I invite you to join me in these candid kitchen table conversations, where together, we celebrate these leaders' ingenuity, are inspired by their wisdom, and learn how collectively, we can all strive to do and be better. This is Dreaming in Color.


Brea Baker is a Freedom Fighter, a writer, and a political strategist who has been working on the front lines for almost a decade, first as a student activist, and now as a national and global strategist. In that time, she has contributed to dozens of electoral and advocacy campaigns, including the 2017 Women's March, where she was the youngest national organizer, the 2018 Student Walkouts Against Gun Violence, and Jumaane Williams' successful bid for New York City public advocate.


Brea advises storytellers, celebrities, and industry leaders on building our collective imagination, and responding thoughtfully to social justice movements. As a freelance writer, Brea comments on race, gender, and sexuality for publications like Elle, Harper's Bazaar, and Refinery 29, to name a few. For her work and coalition with other activists and organizers, Brea has been recognized as a 2023 Creative Capital Awardee, a 2017 Glamour Woman of the Year, and 2019 ID Up and Rising, which celebrates extraordinary Black voices.


This year, Brea is releasing her first book called Rooted: the American Legacy of Land Theft, and the Modern Movement for Black Land Ownership. That book drops in June, and is available for presale now. I'm blessed to be speaking with Brea today, and excited to share the conversation with you. Hi, Brea, how are you doing?

Brea Baker (01:55):

Good. How are you?

Christian Celeste Tate (01:56):

I'm doing really well. Before we get started, I just want to thank you again for participating. I'm really excited to have you here. We're going to talk about a lot of different stuff, but before we dive into any of that, just want to kick it to you and to share an invocation or something that's been on your mind.

Brea Baker (02:11):

Thank you. I really love the intention of the invocation to kick it off. I'm going to share a quote by a Pakistani-American environmentalist named Ayisha Siddiqa, and this is also a quote that I cited in the book where she said, "I was raised with the belief through Islam and culture, that the land holds a memory, that it is a living being. Many of the tribal indigenous people and sharecroppers who have been forced to flee are not only hurting for the loss of their homes."


"They're aching for their land, which connects them to generations of family members behind them. It is beyond material loss. It is spiritual and emotional. The land is in pain, and we feel it too. This is not to diminish the very serious economic effects of losing crops, and homes, and businesses, but to also share what is not easily visible."

Christian Celeste Tate (02:58):

Wow, I love that. That is extremely powerful, and powerful in a way that feels particularly resonant in this moment in time, but also powerful in a way that I suggest it's always felt particularly resonant in this moment in time.

Brea Baker (03:13):

Right, land theft is, in my opinion, the original sin that makes all other isms and supremacies possible. It is what makes colonialism so possible. I think it is something that goes back really far in a lot of our histories, and it's something that we're also seeing ongoing. There's a lot of, as you said, resonance across history, and ongoing. A lot of displaced people can really feel and relate to the loss economically, but also ancestrally, emotionally, and otherwise. Excited to dig into all of it.

Christian Celeste Tate (03:46):

Yeah, I love that tie in of ancestrally and emotionally, because I think it's easy for us to see and talk about economic impacts, but I think we spend a lot less time talking about are those real spiritual, and meaningful, and environmental implications of that. I want to talk more about land ownership, but we'd love to start by just talking about you and your background.


You've been at the front lines of organizing for social and political change for over a decade. Would love to just hear you reflect on what brought you here, not just what set you on this path, but also what prepared you for it.

Brea Baker (04:18):

I started as a student activist, which I always love to center, because I have so much admiration for youth organizing, and specifically the organizing that happens on campuses, and now even younger, in high schools, and middle schools, and beyond. I think what really set me on this path was a lot of unbridled rage. I was coming of age and growing up in a world where the Black Lives Matter movement was also proliferating, which means that people who look like me, people who did look like me, because they have even darker skin, or are in bigger bodies, or are dealing with different hardships than I have, were being gunned down.


It felt like it only mattered to people in my community. I feel like I just felt a lot of anger. Several people in my life kept pointing me towards books, and political education, and different texts that would help me understand the cycle that we were in and what role I wanted to play in getting us out of it. The movement to address police and prison violence was my entry point.


My rage around that, though, helps me to see a lot of interconnected issues that incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people are disproportionately impacted by, but that also affects those of us who are out in our communities already, and the reality that if we abolish prisons and police tomorrow, we'd still have a lot of work to do to build a country where Black and brown people, but particularly where Black people, are safe, and are able to raise loved ones and families, and build wealth without someone else getting in the way of that.


It just always pushed me to think of other intersecting issues, like feminism, like LGBTQ advocacy as a queer Black woman myself, and land justice, and reparations. I think it's something that, especially in younger generations, we sort of talk about in this joking, theoretical, "It's never going to happen," way, and I just got to a place where I was like, "But it is actually very feasible."


When you acknowledge how much has been lost, not just financially, but also emotionally, you realize that entertaining anything but reparations is actually such a slap in the face. We're never going to really pay it back the way it should be, but we better at least try. We better at least put that effort in.

Christian Celeste Tate (06:40):

What I love about that framing is the way that you talked about identifying the cycles that we're in and the role you wanted to play in getting out of that. I think let's not take for granted that those go hand in hand. I think I see a lot of young people, especially, who identify the cycles that we're in, but naming those cycles can lead to, if anything, disillusionment around the ability to have a role in getting us out of that. What do you think it was that empowered you to take ownership over playing a role in a future that doesn't look like the present?

Brea Baker (07:13):

Yeah. One, I think that being a student of history is more than being a student of oppression. It's also being a student of resistance efforts. The more that I looked at the cycle of violence that we were subject to, I was also looking at the resistance efforts. What eventually led to me writing the book was I was just always searching for this heroic ancestral tale, and feeling like I want to come from great people, and I want to feel as though something is in my blood.


I was always chasing something more exotic or more interesting than what was actually my reality, which is that I come from landowners and sharecroppers whose biggest form of resistance was going up against white supremacy in the south, continuing to be landowners, continuing to exist in collectivist ways. I didn't know to see that for what that was initially, and it's like I downplayed it.


I think that, again, I don't want us to think that we are doing our due diligence if we are only looking at the history of what white people have done to us, and not the history of how we have provided for each other. When you look at that history, you see Fannie Lou Hamer and the Freedom Farm Collective, which fed and housed and employed hundreds of people across Mississippi and the South, and taught people to be self-sufficient, to raise livestock, to grow their own food, to own land at a time when sharecroppers were getting evicted for registering to vote.


You look at the history of the Black Panther party, and everyone loves to talk about the work that they did around policing, and owning guns, and self-defense, but big work that they did was the free breakfast program, and community farms, and political education, and saying, "I'm not going to wait for the government to fill a void that I see in my community." We are going to be that change as we protest and as we say, "We deserve access to the full citizenship that our tax dollars offer us, that our ancestors' labor extends to us, and that we just deserve as human beings."


When we look back far enough, and if we look back with more honest lenses in our glasses, I think we'll see that our ancestors have done so much, so that we could even be having this conversation right now. That doesn't mean that it's perfect or that things completely change for the better. I think in many ways, we are worse off economically as a people than we were even a century ago, but we also can't deny that there has been a lot of resistance. If it had not been for that resistance, where would we be?

Christian Celeste Tate (09:42):

Yeah, this idea of looking back to look forward really resonates with me, and you don't have to look back that far. When you talk about land ownership. I definitely want to give you time to plug the book. I know you're working on a book called Rooted: Exploring the Legacy of Land Theft and Black Ownership in America. Can you tell us more about your family's journey, and how that journey of land ownership and land loss has contributed to the work that you do?

Brea Baker (10:03):

Yeah, absolutely. This is my favorite thing to talk about these days. My family, so on both sides of my family, there is a connection to land ownership and land loss. I'll start with my mother's side of the family because it's a quicker story. My mother's side of the family-owned land in Kentucky in the late 1800s and beginning of the 1900s. Around the 1920s, they were violently pushed off of that land by white racists and forced into the state of Ohio.


It was so interesting when I did find out that story, because I never knew that my family had any ties to Kentucky. I'd never been in the state before. I had no idea. My grandfather was telling me this story, and he was saying that he would never go back to the state because of the racism that his father and grandmother endured in Kentucky that pushed them out to begin with.


To me, I was just so struck by the generational trauma associated with it, that he was not even alive when they were pushed out of the state, but he still had such a fear of being within Kentucky borders, and knowing what had been possible and what they had lost in that state. To think like, oh, wow. What would've been possible if we were still owners? Even if we didn't still live on that land, to me, it's also, we should have had the right to sell it at a market price, and to benefit from the sale of that land if that's what we chose to do.


Then on my father's side of the family, also a Black family, we have owned land in North Carolina since just after the Civil War. The first land purchase that they made were several hundred acres in northern North Carolina, and within the next generation, they had nearly doubled that acreage. At the height, the family owned about 600 acres in North Carolina. That has now dwindled to about 106 acres that is split among 17 siblings, and their many children, and grandchildren at this point. I'm the grandchild of one of those heirs, property owners.


On the two sides of my family, with my dad's side of the family, we always were connected to our land in North Carolina. I never really knew about the loss. I only knew about the love. We spent family reunions and funerals, birthdays, and holidays, and Thanksgivings, and all sorts of things in North Carolina on that ancestral land. I always knew that even though we were raised in the north, that it was my grandparents' intention to move back down south to where they were from, that they were part of the Great Migration, but that they wanted to migrate back to their home state.


That land was super, super important to them both. When my grandfather died, one of his dying wishes was don't sell the land. To me, it was just like, okay, this means a lot to this person. It just sent me on a journey to understand more about why it meant so much to him. To me, it had always been like, "Okay, that's kind of cool. We go to North Carolina all the time," but I didn't really understand the deep tie that he felt, that that was what he would be thinking about on his deathbed.


After his death, it was sort of like this grief project for me was to uncover why it meant so much to him, uncover the extended history within our family. The more that I unveiled, the more I said, "Oh, a lot of his life's work makes a lot more sense when you know how hard he has had to fight, how hard his siblings, his father, his grandfather, et cetera have had to fight to hold onto what they have, and that they were up against a lot."

Christian Celeste Tate (13:47):

I really appreciate hearing you tell that story and reflect on the experience. My family has land in Mississippi that dates back to just after the Civil War. There are through-lines that connect to both your dad's side of the family and your mom's side of the family, but it's just so fascinating to me to reflect on what a privilege that connection to land can be, and also how common that connection is.


Folks relate to the joy of it and the loss of it to different degrees, but there's something really culturally grounding, and also culturally significant, obviously, of that connection.

Brea Baker (14:20):

One million percent. I think that's something that we just don't talk often enough about. Growing up in New York, I remember that most of the Black people that I went to school with were from a Latin American, or West African, or a Caribbean nation. I can always remember, there was always an independence day that someone was celebrating, Dominican Day Parade, or Puerto Rican Day Parade, and just various, everyone had a flag. To me, I was like, "Am I supposed to be proud to be an American?"


I think I go through the phase that a lot of Black Americans go through, where you really romanticize the African continent, and I still have deep love and admiration for being a child of the diaspora, and being a byproduct of the continent. When I really thought about it, I'm just like, similar to the story that you just shared, it's like, my people have been here for quite some time. I am not a recent migrant to this country. My ancestors did quite literally build this nation.


I know where they were enslaved. For some of them, I know which plantation they were enslaved on, and there are great records kept about those plantations, but for other people, even knowing which county and which state they lived in is enough to know the life they likely led, and to really have so much reverence for the fact that for centuries, they made this land a home.


They cultivated this land literally, they grew food, not just crops and products that they were instructed to on behalf of an enslaver, but they also cultivated plots for themselves. They joined faith spaces and communities, and collectively bought land with them. They built schools on their own land, because they knew what it would mean for the community to use their land in that collective way, and they raised livestock that fed people.


There is a real tie and birthright to me that I think we often deny, because the country at large has not been kind to Black America, that white America has not been kind to Black America, and that this land is the site of a lot of pain for Black Americans, but it's also the site of a lot of laboring, and a lot of love, and a lot of bringing ancestral indigenous wisdom from the African continent to here, connecting with indigenous peoples, and making this a home.


For a Black person in America to be thinking about a generation beyond themselves, to go through what they went through, and to think about leaving an inheritance for their children and their grandchildren, is to believe that they were capable of transforming that country into somewhere where they could continue to live.

Christian Celeste Tate (17:07):

I know you've described your family's land as a haven for you, and I think that's so powerful, because I think for folks who are deep in the work of re-imagining our world, it can feel like there is no time to take a step back, because there's always more work to do. Can you say more about what it has meant to you to have a place to just be?

Brea Baker (17:27):

My wife and I got married on my family's land in North Carolina, and it was just also really beautiful to feel like we were reclaiming land that was not intended for Black American women to find love for each other, or for themselves. To do that with our loved ones present, to jump the broom on that land with that green all around us, it felt so right. It felt so regenerative, so verdant, so lush, so what love should feel like.


We did a land acknowledgement, honoring both our families' ties and efforts for this land as Black Americans, but also the indigenous Americans before us, and acknowledging that though there was a disruption, and some white colonizers on the land in between, that Black and indigenous people cared for this land, and this is an extension of that care.

Christian Celeste Tate (18:20):

I want to hear you talk a little bit more about reparations. I think much like abolition, reparations is something that means a hundred things to a hundred people. What does reparations mean to you?

Brea Baker (18:32):

I feel like things can become buzzwords, and that is also a tactic used to kind of strip them of their meaning. There is formal definitions for reparations and what qualifies reparations. In the specific context of addressing slavery in the US, reparations is a path to repair and restore the stolen wealth, stolen labor, and the compounded harm that has happened since.


If reconstruction had went the way it was supposed to, and reparations had been made then, we might not be having the conversations that we're having right now. We're not just repairing the harm for slavery, we are also repairing all that has happened since then, and the stolen opportunity too. Reparations needs to have a many-pronged approach to me. There needs to be the clearly economic level, and I think that there should be an individual and institutional level that addresses more systemic issues.


Then, to me, there is the more spiritual, emotional component, because there's a lot of racial trauma that Black Americans have been forced to quell in order to stay on the course of trying to pursue an American dream that was always being dangled in front of us. Getting to actually grieve, and release, and heal through is another big component. I think that's where also a lot of the anger that a lot of us feel, and that rage is not going to go away if you send out a bunch of checks tomorrow. There has to be actual truth and reconciliation work.


Again, when we look at international law, reparations can include financial investments, but it also often includes apologies, formally, informally. It includes paths for people to talk about their rage, and to receive specific apologies, because it's not just the federal government did this to me. I think that reparations has to be really robust and address all of that.


When people talk about baby bonds, and HBCU investment, and major donations to nonprofits, and things of that nature, I'm like, "That's great," but any of those things in isolation is not reparations because it is not robust enough to address the individual macro level, and the emotional trauma, the public health ramifications of the unchecked trauma, of the unchecked racism. Reparations has to address all of those things for it to be that.

Christian Celeste Tate (20:52):

I want you to paint me a picture. Let's imagine for a minute that we live in a world where reparations has become a reality. What does that world look like?

Brea Baker (21:00):

I think that in a world with reparations, we would have amazing fresh food all the time, because there would be a lot more small farmers, more cooperatives and collectives that are Black-owned or Black-helmed. A world with reparations has to be a world with land back. A lot of current and deserted military bases would be seated back to the indigenous tribes that they were initially stolen from.


A lot of vacant land that is currently being hoarded by philanthropists like Bill Gates, and corporations like Tyson, but would be back in the hands of Black and indigenous people, and we'd all feel the fruit of that labor. The food would be so fresh, and we'd see a diversity in what is available. Things would be cheaper because it could be shipped places faster. It'd be fresher because it is more local.


I think that we, in a world with reparations, we would have better public transportation, and better railway systems, but not that came on the backs of indigenous people and their land, but that came with actually brokered agreements, and wealth that's being able to go into these nations for broadband, and the ability to actually lead their nations the way they want.


I think that so much about this country would look different. We wouldn't have pipelines funneling oil from Canada down to the US Mexico border. There would be such a healing of our relationship to each other, our relationship to this planet, our relationship to profit, our relationship to work and productivity. I think we'd have a four-day work week in a land with reparations as a maximum, because people would want more time to cultivate that land and be with their families.


When Black people and indigenous people are advocating for that, for us, other people are saying, "Yeah, we want that too. We want the ability to spend time in our neighborhoods as well, and we don't need to be working all the time to do that. Oh, look, we're all still fed and housed, and actually taken care of better." I think a world with reparations and land back would open up a world with guaranteed income, and all sorts of other policies, like universal healthcare, and debt cancellation.


I think it would open up a lot more abundance around money, and around what is possible in the richest country in the world. That is, I think, me still thinking small. I feel like there's probably a lot more that would be changed, but that's a start.

Christian Celeste Tate (23:33):

That is certainly a start. I love the intersectionality of the picture that you're painting. I think what it brings to mind for me is that so much of this work is about contending with uncertainty, and re-imagining our world requires us to be able to anchor more on our ability to build our future, and anchor less on our fear of not knowing what's ahead.


Would love to hear you reflect on how we deal with the messiness of that uncertainty, and maybe even more importantly, how we help others to deal with that messiness as we build the future we deserve.

Brea Baker (24:11):

The main thing is realizing that there's nothing messier than what we currently have or what we are trying to work our way away from. I think when we acknowledge that what we're currently existing within, and the status quo is not serving anyone, then I think it allows us to walk more boldly towards other options. It's like, "Let's experiment. What's the worst that could happen?"


We currently live in a world where extra-judicial killings of Black and brown people have become normalized and go viral often, where our food, people don't trust. There's always a recall of some produce, and it continues to get more and more expensive. People are making more money than they've ever made, and having worse quality of life than they ever have seen possible. We can have something else. There's a beautiful quote that I always lean into by Arundhati Roy, which is, "Another world is not only possible, I can hear her breathing."


I think what I love about that quote is the way that it personifies and humanizes the passage of time and this new world that we're working towards, because when we think of it like land, like this living thing, it's like we're playing hard to get with the other world that's possible, and we could actually just walk boldly towards it. She's over there waiting for us. It's like, just wave, say hi, don't be nervous. Be bold and step forward towards that new thing that is offering to love us a lot better than our current reality.


I think to me, the scariest thing is growing old and feeling as though so little has changed. I have mentors who know that they made an impact, but also really felt that. Harry Belafonte, who passed away last year, founded an organization that I began organizing with when I was 19, called The Gathering for Justice to End Child Incarceration. In 2005 in his, I think at that time, he was in his eighties, he had done so much work in the sixties with the Civil Rights Movement, and in the eighties with Cuba and South Africa, and We Are the World.


In 2005, he looks up and sees a young girl being arrested in a Florida classroom for throwing a tantrum. It's like, "Well, have we actually done anything if Black kids are being arrested in their classrooms for being kids?" I don't want to feel as though we have so much work to do, and I know there will be still work to do, but I just feel like if we have political will, we have imagination, we could find something better than a what was.


Let's at least get to this. Why are we doing at least? There's so much more that we can make possible. We have AI. In a world with AI, we can't figure out justice?

Christian Celeste Tate (27:01):

I'm glad to hear you go back to Harry Belafonte, because I've heard you quote him before in saying that in general, artists are the gatekeepers of the truth.

Brea Baker (27:10):


Christian Celeste Tate (27:11):

Can you say more about what that sentiment unlocks for you, and how that plays into the way you see yourself, not just as an activist and an organizer, but as a writer?

Brea Baker (27:20):

Yeah. I love that quote so much. To paraphrase the rest of it, I know I'm going to kind of butcher it, but artists are the gatekeepers of truth, and something about being society's radical conscience as well. I think that resonates with me for two reasons, in things that are, which shows you what is similar in the eras that we were raised in, though there was such a huge age gap between Mr. B. and myself, I felt like we were both raised in times where journalism was under attack, where it was really difficult to discern whether what you were getting in mainstream media was the truth or was propaganda.


Ultimately, to me, it becomes the responsibility of artists to step up in that moment, and say, "The truth has to come out in some way, shape, or form. We are going to be proper recorders of history. We are not going to allow this story to be whitewashed. We are not going to allow them to at least do it without a fight, and we have to be willing to tell the truth about what happened, and to create space for that healing to happen."


I think the other thing that artists do, though, is more than just interpret a moment, or interpret the past, is also to, again, help us to build imagination for what we can do differently moving forward. I think that's something that, again, Mr. B. did so beautifully is that he was an actor, and he was a performer and a singer, but he also knew that he had a platform. He knew he had access to resources.


He often fundraised. He would tell stories about boarding planes because Dr. King said that he needed money to plan a march on Washington, and he and Sidney Poitier would go do a few benefit concerts, board a plane with $50,000 cash, and be where Dr. King needed them to be with the cash that they needed.


I think that I want artists to see that level of responsibility, to recognize that in a world with genocide in Palestine, Sudan, Congo, West Papua, with police brutality rampant domestically, with the highest incarceration rates in the nation, with land theft that has left Black and indigenous peoples displaced, that forces farm workers to work land that they've been deported from and are brought back to as cheap labor, I think that we owe it to ourselves and to the people around us to make art that matters.


That doesn't mean we can't also make art that is beautiful. Mr. B. also would tell the story of everyone's afraid of preaching to the choir, but if you don't preach to them, how do they know to keep singing? I think he knew that you needed both. Create space for joy, and healing, and love, so that people know what we're working towards, but also create space for anger, and for righteous rage, so that people know the urgency with which we are working towards the love that we need.


That is a job of the artist is to not allow people to be complacent, to keep us accountable, tell the truth, and create space that says, "We can actually do something about that."

Christian Celeste Tate (30:13):

I really like the way that you have characterized that. Hearing you talk about the role of the artist to create space for love, and also to record the truth, of course, makes me think back to bell hooks. One thing that I know you've written before about is bell hooks's legacy of radical love. I'm curious to hear so much of the work that you do must require you to paint a picture of where we're going, and meet people where they are simultaneously.


How do you meet people with love, and also stretch out a hand and guide them from where they're at now to where you are now? How does radical love play into that work?

Brea Baker (30:52):

Yeah, definitely plays into everything. For me, though, it starts with the fact that I was definitely not born with the analysis that I have now. I'm so grateful that someone saw enough in me to see through my ignorance and things that I had internalized, and to hold my hand to get me to this place. I think that I just always have such a deep appreciation for the books, and leaders, and personal conversations with friends that helped me to unlearn and relearn.


I want to be that for other people, whether that is being gracious when people are fumbling their way through what they think about something, particularly marginalized people, because I think we can sometimes be so caught up, rightfully so, in our own survival that we're not often thinking about someone else's. We have to be able to be in solidarity in meaningful ways, and not have that just be transactional.


I think that's another reason that showed up for me with radical love was that as I approached my abolitionist journey, I had to reckon with the fact that I had so much rage, rightfully so, against white supremacy, but I couldn't allow that to shape how I approached people and how I approached the future that I thought I was working towards. I do believe in what Dr. King was talking about a beloved community. I do believe that if we're going to get to this better world, we've got to be willing to talk to everyone about what's going to stand in that better world's way.


I can't only talk to Black people. If we could have freed ourselves, we would've done that a long time ago. Obviously, someone's got to be organizing white people. Maybe I'm not always the person that's best positioned to do it, but I know that that work is valuable. Someone's got to talk to Latinos, somebody's got to talk to Chicanos. Somebody's got to talk to indigenous Americans. We all need to organize in our different silos, and then bring each other together.


I think, again, bell hooks really exposed me to both radical love, but also community, in a very real way. Again, I think that's a word that people throw out as a buzzword, but it's like, this future, especially for those who do call themselves abolitionists, this future that we're working towards, if we're not discarding people or throwing people away, it includes all of us. How are we going to make that work?


Radical love is to say that I'm willing to go through the mess with you for you, because it leaves us both better on the other side. It is easier for me to say, "I only care about people who look like me." For the most part, my work centers people who look like me, but I do have to care about what happens with anyone else too. Even if that's not my work, I have to want that work to happen.


It's the only way we get to the other side and don't have what's going on now, where white farmers are standing in the way of the $5 billion that President Biden earmarked for Black farmers, because they're calling it reverse racism, or the attacks on Affirmative Action. All of the progress that we have made is now being sabotaged using our language, because people are not getting intersectionality.


They're saying, "Oh, well, if a white person does this thing that a Black person does, and a Black person does this thing that a white person does, that's the same thing." That's not true, but we're not having deeper conversations about the fact that no, we need to be able to make disproportionate adjustments for disproportionate harm. Me hiring more Black people is not the same as a white person exclusively hiring white people, but our inability to have that narrative conversation on a deeper level or politically educate people is getting in the way of that, which is why they're banning books.


Anyway, we could go in circles with this convo, but ultimately, I think I'm really grounded in the school of bell hooks, in the school of James Baldwin, in the school of Fred Hampton, who really believed that we needed multiracial solidarity building and organizing for us to actually achieve true justice and equity on the other side.

Christian Celeste Tate (34:44):

Yeah, I think what really stands out to me about what you just shared is you saying that the future requires this, right? We can't get to where we're going in spite of people who disagree with us. Part of where we're going requires them getting there with us, and that although at times, can seem like a challenge of this work, I think that also captures a lot of the beauty of this work.


We're going to move on to our rapid-fire questions before we run out time here. First question is, what's something that's considered radical, but shouldn't be?

Brea Baker (35:13):


Christian Celeste Tate (35:14):

Give me three books that should be on every freedom fighter's reading list.

Brea Baker (35:18):

Men We've Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, The Autobiography of Assata Shakur, by Assata Shakur, and I only get one more. We Do This 'Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba.

Christian Celeste Tate (35:31):

What's something that's currently bringing you joy?

Brea Baker (35:34):

Something that's currently bringing me joy is my five-month-old. He is the sweetest little boy. Again, seeing him get older in this world, and be amazed by it wants you to want the world to live up to the way he sees it right now. Everything is beautiful and exciting for him, and I want it to be that. It makes me work even harder, and I genuinely am like, "I don't know how parents are not all radical progressives."


To me, I'm just like, "I want my son to grow up in a world where things are affordable, and accessible, and that has nothing to do with what me and his mother were or were not able to achieve in our lifetimes, but that he has every opportunity in his to do the things that bring him joy."

Christian Celeste Tate (36:18):

What about an artist you've been listening to lately?

Brea Baker (36:21):

I am obsessed with Victoria Monét and Jaguar II these days, and she just won three Grammys, and I'm so proud of her. I'm also just someone who listens to the same artist over and over, so Beyonce, J. Cole, old school Lil Wayne.

Christian Celeste Tate (36:35):

Then last question is, what are you dreaming of?

Brea Baker (36:37):

I am dreaming of a world where Black kids run free, and are able to be kids, and are able to have real childhoods marked by experimentation, and not needing to grow up too quickly, and where knowing beautiful places and beautiful things is not something that they need to travel out of the country for, but that they're able to benefit from the beauty of this country the way their white peers who go to Aspen, and Florida, and California, and Montana, and all of these other places regularly do.


I want them to understand that we are from beautiful places, and that they can see that in just a drive's notice, and that they deserve just as much access to it as anyone else.

Christian Celeste Tate (37:25):

Amazing. Thank you, again. As I said, so much appreciation for the work that you do. Please keep doing it, and I look forward to our paths crossing again.

Brea Baker (37:33):

Thank you. Likewise.

Christian Celeste Tate (37:36):

When I reflect on the conversation with Brea, I can't help but to sit with this notion of love and its role in the re-imagining process. If building a better world is rooted in community, creativity, courage, and care, then it's necessarily grounded in love. It takes me to something that Valarie Kaur said, and that's that revolutionary love is when we are brave enough to see no strangers, not outside or inside.


For so many people of color, we live in a culture that wants us to be strange to ourselves, that wants to sever us from our own inner knowing. Love is a way of moving through the world that is both personal and political, and it's how we last. I find that quote to be really beautiful. Whether it's social sector leaders, friends, or family members, I find myself absolutely moved by those who unapologetically lead with love.


Trust, I'm not going to quote the Bible at you, but as I say this, I can hear my dad reading First Corinthians in my ear. For me, it comes down to the idea that love is not a passive state of being, but rather an active verb. If, in the words of Toni Cade Bambara, "The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible," then I believe it's artists like Brea, out here painting futures of love, that are doing that work.


Okay, y'all, that's a wrap. While this episode is finished, the work continues. Join us next week on Dreaming in Color. A special shout out to the folks who make it happen: our wonderful show producer, Denise Savas; our creative director, Ami Diané; our video editors, Jenny Liu, Steven Chaya, and Dave Clark McCoy; our graphic designer, Deanna Jimenez; our audio engineer Theresa Buchanan; and a huge shout-out to our ever-brilliant Bridgespan production team: Darren Isom, Cora Daniels, Christina Pistorius, and Ryan Wenzel.


What a squad, y'all. Be sure to rate, subscribe, and review wherever you listen to podcasts. Catch you next time.

Creative Commons License logo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.
The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.