Tanisha Long (she/her) is the Allegheny County Community Organizer for the Abolitionist Law Center, a Pittsburgh-based public interest law inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners. The organization works to abolish class- and race-based mass incarceration in the United States. Additionally, she is founder and CEO of RE Visions, an education-focused tutoring, mentoring, and outreach nonprofit based in Pittsburgh. Her responses below have been edited for length and clarity.
What does justice mean to you? How do you believe justice is created?
"A lot of times, people only speak of justice from a punitive perspective, and that often ignores the systemic issues that create the need for justice. When discussing justice, I focus on addressing the systems that harm individuals and communities that tend to be the drivers behind these calls for punitive forms of justice. True justice is not incarceration or robbing people of their freedom; justice is creating equitable solutions that address the problems created by the state until we achieve a fair society that is safe for everyone to live in."
What led you to start RE Visions? How does your work with RE Visions intertwine with your work at the Abolitionist Law Center
"RE Visions was formed in response to my own lived experiences as a Black woman who graduated from a primarily white school. After I graduated highs school and moved to more diverse areas and was exposed to more culturally competent teachings, I realized the ways that my school had failed me. My education had never been handled in a way that acknowledged my culture; I was not given historically accurate information; and I never was able to see myself represented in learning spaces. My guidance counselor never pushed me to apply for scholarships. HBCUs were never presented as an option, and I was never made to believe that I was capable of obtaining careers that didn’t involve manual labor or entry level health care. I had exemplary grades and participated in over a dozen activities, but there was no interest or investment in my future."
"At RE Visions, we look to provide Students of Color with mentors that understand their unique identities and nourish their talents and goals. We provide books and materials that give students a positive representation of People of Color, and we plan to work with teachers to improve the language and focus of their lessons. At the Abolitionist Law Center, we are often reacting to situations involving incarcerated youth. At RE Visions we hope to stop the school to prison pipeline as a form of educational justice."
As an artist, what power and role does art hold in the struggle for freedom and liberation?
"'Artivism' is my favorite form of protest. It is also the thing that centers me and keeps me at peace. I am a painter and a writer. I believe that artists tell the story of movements. They capture the joy, pain, resilience, and voice of the oppressed. Without art we lose the ability to tell our stories without edit or interference, and we create the lasting footprint of our time here. Art is meant to break your heart, whether it be by overwhelming sadness or beauty that moves you to joy. We owe a lot to the content creators, writers, poets, musicians, and everyone else who uses their gifts to inspire change. The media will sanitize and minimize our struggle, but art will tell the truth.
Finally, what kind of world are you building? What are you dreaming of?
"I am confident that I am building a more just, equitable, empathetic, and safe world. I’m stubbornly optimistic that things will get better, even though things are somewhat dark lately. I am a dreamer. I truly believe that I will create a world in which everyone is safe, fed, and has space to create and do things out of want and not necessity."
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