Mapping Black Futures is an interactive resource and story-mapping project, embedded in local Black geographies, and created for and by self-identified Black nonbinary youth and young women from across the GTA. Through this project, participants have built and curated a living community archive of places, events, and memories that are meaningful to them and their communities. Using open source mapping software and composed of a mixture of archival and original materials, Mapping Black Futures is a unique experiment in virtual placemaking and community-building, while still grounded in real life experiences and local Black histories.
Eva’s was inspired to reach out to Black Futures Now (BFN), who produced the project, to learn more about it and what the experience was like working on the project. Adwoa Afful, Project Manager, told us all about it.
Can you tell us what inspired the project?
Mapping Black Futures came out of a desire to address the lack of physical spaces in the GTA for Black people generally, but especially Black non-binary and queer people, and women, to congregate. We also wanted to create a project that would allow us to archive and share the personal as well as communal significance of the spaces that have been created by and for Black young people across the city – especially considering the ongoing structural challenges, like gentrification, many of these young people face to maintain or retain access to them.
We also wanted to reclaim some of the tools (e.g. mapping software) that have been used in urban planning, community design and development – sometimes to the detriment of our communities – for this project. I think that it is important that communities that have been historically marginalized by these tools and by practices within the fields of urban planning or community development, have access to them and have the opportunity to use them in ways that serve them. Plus, we wanted to contribute to and find a way to pay respect to the growing number of virtual communal spaces that young Black queer people and women have carved out for themselves and each other recently, especially during the pandemic.
What has the experience been working on a project like this?
This is BFN TO’s first venture into programing, and so for us we learned a lot about how to run a collaborative project in ways that are engaging to our participants. As the project progressed, we came to the realization that this program was essentially an exercise in community co-design, which we found really exciting. Overall, we felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the young adults involved in this project, since many of them brought a host of unique skills from mapping, to coding, as well as research, and just their overall creativity and commitment.
Where the project became challenging was when we had to switch gears early last year and move all of our programing online as result of COVID. We had to become creative and flexible in our approach to facilitating sessions and providing support to our participants. We were lucky in some ways though, because prior to the first lockdown, we were already using cloud software and other digital tools to manage some aspects of the program and that allowed us to transition relatively quickly and easily online.
What’s one thing that has surprised you or others on the team in working on this project.
I think one of the surprises was how well the various elements of the website complement each other. Everyone, but especially the participants and our website developer, worked really hard to pull everything together, despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic in various aspects of everyone’s professional and personal lives. As the project manager, I was extremely motivated by everyone’s high level of commitment and care for this project, and while I knew that the end result would be special, I had no idea how special it would be. I would also add that the turnout for the launch was amazing. We launched the site virtually last July, and it was embraced by everyone who was there. The team, the participants, and myself – we were so hyped and touched by the experience. The response was beyond our wildest expectations.
How has the project been received?
As you have probably already guessed from my last answer, the response from various community members, facilitators, and stakeholders has been pretty astounding. We received so many heartening messages of support, many shares across various social media platforms, and just so many expressions of excitement for what we achieved and have been able to share with the world. Much of the excitement came from young Black people from across the GTA, and that was really special. We only hope to expand on what we have built, in the future, and we have a couple of new projects already in the wings that we are working on at the moment.
Why do you think it’s important to draw attention to Black geographies and Black placemaking?
Unfortunately, it is still very difficult to find markers of local Black histories and to access or feel at home in certain spaces across the city. Also, the city is constantly changing; often that change comes at the expense of the Black communities that have helped build up various neighbourhoods and have contributed to their character. Without projects like ours, these histories, or the significance of these spaces to various Black communities in the GTA, get lost. Another important goal of our project was to emphasize that Black people belong in this city, that they are as integral to it as any other community and have contributed to it in important ways, and continue to do so with or without recognition. We want Black people, but especially Black non-binary people and women, to feel like they deserve to feel at home here, and even though we cannot share space physically right now, that this city is as much theirs as anyone else’s.
“Black placemaking refers to the ways that Black folks create sites of endurance, belonging, and resistance through social interaction.” link
Black geography is a geographic practice, discipline, and approach centered around the understanding that “Black life, resistance, and survival are inseparable from the production of space.” link