Kai Barrow

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Kai Barrow

Kai Barrow is a North Carolina activist.

Radical upbringing

Kai Barrow grew up radical;

Born at the tail end of the fifties and raised in Chicago by activist parents, I cannot recall a time when I was not politically engaged. I was surrounded by influences and energy that (in retrospect) produced a visceral desire for revolutionary change/liberation. In third grade, I organized a walkout along with a few of my friends against the Vietnam War. We made signs and chanted “Humphrey, Humphrey, he’s our man. Nixon belongs in the garbage can”! (not the most revolutionary message, but hey…we were in third grade). In fifth grade I refused to stand and recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance because I found it to be “hypocritical to Black people.” My parents supported my analysis and decision, and after meeting with the teacher and the Vice Principal, Mr. Phillips, my parents and I negotiated a victory.I would sit in the VP’s office every morning during the “Pledge.” Sometimes Mr. Phillips and I would spend our time chatting, sometimes I would read or work on my homework. But I always felt good about my decision. Perhaps for the first time I understood the importance of taking power.
My fifth grade school year was also the time of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. As is the tradition, many young people from throughout the country arrived in Chicago to protest the War and other repressive policies and my family and other residents of the co-op apartment we lived in, agreed to house several of these protestors, among them David Dellinger. After Mayor Richard J. Daley gave the order for the Chicago Police Department to “shoot first, ask questions later,” my new out of town “friends” arrived back at our house broken, bloodied, and angry at the police, the mayor, and a system that shoots and kills its children. I was heartbroken to see people in pain and I too became angry. Later that night, I was awakened by gunshots as the police surrounded our apartment and forced Dellinger out of the building. That day I experienced grief, anger and terror—all directly linked to the violence and abuse of power by the State.
My visceral experiences and the daily snapshots of a people in struggle were facilitated and named by my elders. They offered me a way to make sense of the problems, solutions, contradictions and victories and directed me to become a critical thinker. So, after finishing The Autobiography of Malcolm X, at the age of ten, I proclaimed, “I want to be a revolutionary![1]

Critical Resistance

In 2011, Kai Barrow, "a long time left organizer, activist, mentor to many and inspiration to more", left her long held staff position at the prison abolition organization, Critical Resistance.

I work to dismantle the violence of the State—particularly the multiple layers of the prison industrial complex (PIC) I work to build a society that neither needs nor relies upon violence—State or interpersonal—as a solution to social, economic or political problems. I work to re-charge that passion for liberation that was so significant and yet, short-lived. With the privilege of history and analysis and the willingness to boldly assert a liberatory vision, we can redesign our lives and shift our material conditions. I see this as both an artistic and scientific process. It requires organization and vision beyond the limitations and concessions offered by the State. It requires us to take the risk of challenging societal normatives in both our values and our actions. Like my ancestors, who took on this fight to end the violence of slavery, I am a prison industrial complex abolitionist.

The PIC is energized by racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and capitalism. It reproduces these systems while simultaneously creating and reinforcing fear, violence, abuse, broken communities, isolation, scarcity, and dependency. In other words, it creates harm as it claims to be about the business of punishing harm.
Our responsibilities are to articulate vision, build organization, and create practices that are PIC abolitionist. We work to “shrink” the system into non-existence using four key strategies: 1) Intervention. Developing strategies of decarceration, disrupting policies and practices that strengthen the PIC (through scope and breadth), and decommissioning structures that currently exist. 2) Prevention. Working to stop the building of more (or “better”) prisons/jails, policing and surveillance methods and strengthening the capacity and resources of a community so that it’s needs are met. 3) Accountability. Developing community-driven holistic models for intervening, preventing and repairing harm and facilitating processes and practices that strengthen a community’s efforts toward self-determination. 4) Transformation. Challenging individual characteristics that reinforce and reflect the intersecting oppressive systems that empower the PIC and other systems of control. This work is neither linear nor static. Intervention, prevention, accountability and transformation are ongoing and function interdependently.
This work is critical for fomenting fundamental social change. Movement-building, cultural paradigm shifts, education, institution-building, and action (campaigns, projects, mobilizations), all provide opportunities to inspire and support people in recognizing our own power; challenging normatives; and taking responsibility for the well-being of all. This work is a collaborative process that is rooted in history and joins a continuum of freedom struggles. Though it must be ideologically grounded, organizing work itself must also be pliable—this allows for critique and dynamism. During my thirty + years in movement-building I have learned that these are critical elements for creating a liberated society.[2]


In 1978, she became actively involved in grassroots organizing. Since this period Barrow has been a member of, or worked closely with, several national and local organizations such as The Republic of New Africa, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Spear and Shield Collective, the Coalition Against Jon Burge, the Black Panther Newspaper Committee, the Black Panther Collective, the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, the NY3 Defense Committee, Jericho, The Ruckus Society, the Direct Action Network, Resistance in Brooklyn, Hands off Assata, Sista II Sista, Estacion Libre, FIERCE INCITE! UBUNTU and Queers for Economic Justice (to name a few).

Barrow lived and worked in Chicago, Atlanta, Jersey City, New Jersey, NYC, Durham, NC and now, New Orleans. She hase been embraced by a broad community of activists and organizations throughout the U.S. and traveled to Chiapas, Iraq, Jordan, Buenos Aires, and Porto Allegro, Brazil to work with organizers and activists primarily in skill facilitation, grassroots campaign organizing, capacity-building, or organizing mass mobilizations.

Additionally, I am one of the founders of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization to end the prison industrial complex, where I am leaving my staff role as the Infrastructure and Training Director.
My work with these organizations has allowed me to develop and assert a vision for social change that requires participatory democracy, agreed upon principles, harm-free methods for accountability and repair, and unleashed imagination. Though the specific tasks have changed over the years, in essence, my contributions continue to center around stimulating collectivity, fostering abundance and creativity, practicing risk-taking, demanding self-determination, and building organizations with (social, political, physical and intellectual) rigor….
The major challenges facing Critical Resistance are also the most pressing challenges faced by the U.S. Left. In some form or fashion, we are all asking: How do we win? And though I have problems with the concept of “winning” liberation (as I see this as an ongoing process), I think at the root we are asking “how do we topple a system that is hell-bent on escalating worldwide material and cultural genocide to serve its greed?”[3]


Circa 1999 Student Liberation Action Movement leaders (included Rachel LaForest and Kai Barrow.[4]

"The Cost of Privilege"

A Community Discussion on White Privilege, Patriarchy, and Strategies to Get Free

Join local organizers and activists at the historic Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, Saturday, March 31st 2008, for a night of art, performance, discussion, and community. We'll be talking about the barriers that prevent us from making the revolution that we all need, and share strategies with each other for how to tear them down. Here's just a few of the highlights:

Author and long-time community organizer and activist Chip Smith will be on hand to talk about his new book, The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism.

Performance from Dasan Ahanu's new album The Jim Crow Jackson Experiment.

A dynamic discussion including noted activists and organizers like Manju Rajendran, Tema Okun, Kai Barrow, and others.

This event is being sponsored by Freedom Road Socialist Organization/OSCL and the Cost of Privilege Outreach Committee.[5]

Critical Resistance event

Critical Resistance and Brecht Forum presented Angela Y. Davis/Ruthie Gilmore/Vijay Prashad/ Laura Flanders...

Friday, May, 20, 2011 Riverside Church, South Hall Admission: $50-$250. (includes admission to main event -"The World We Want is the World We Need". Riverside Church, Nave 490 Riverside Drive. Admission: $20-$30

Host Committee: Rashidah Ismaili AbuBakr, Malaika Adero, Seth Adler, Shana Agid, Sam Anderson, Kai Barrow, Andrea Bible, Jean Carey Bond, Dorothy Burnham, Melanie Bush, Rod Bush, Angela Cali, Susie Day, Jesse Ehrensaft-Hawley, Joan Gibbs, Elspeth Gilmore, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Lennox Hinds, Esther Cooper Jackson, Peter Marcuse, Jerry Meyer, Charlene Mitchell, Mary Morgan, Mary Lou Patterson, Beth E. Richie, Shreya Shah, Alvin Starks, Farrah Tanis, Laura Whitehorn.[6]


Alexis Murphy June 2013;


With Probably Lyles, Jazz Franklin, Jadebroo KS, Mara B. Collins, Jess St. Louis, C. Saenz Becerra, Alexander Hollinghead, Pat Hussain, Jess Jude, Vanessa Faraj, Lucia Leandro Gimeno, Taryn Danielle, Kai Barrow, Gracie Aghapour, Aaron Kemmerer, Suzanne Pharr, Miguel Maria Caritu, Salem Abraham Acuna, Caitlin Breedlove, Hermelinda Cortes, Kate Shaps, Pressley Matt, Holly Hardin, Paulina Hernandez, Ashe Helm-Hernandez, Mary Hooks, Stephanie Guilloud and Laila Nur.

Ear to the Ground Project

Ear to the Ground Project;

We would like to express our deep respect and appreciation for everyone who took the time to talk with us, and the organizations that generously hosted us during our travels. Interviews were confidential, but the following people have agreed to have their names listed for this publication:

Most of those listed were connected to Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Kai Barrow was among those on the list. [7]

Mapping Socialist Strategies

Mapping Socialist Strategies was convened from August 1-4 in Briarcliff Manor, NY, by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office. It brang together 100 influential progressives and leftists from across the United States, Canada, and Europe for an “un-conference” on socialist strategies.

Attendees included Kai Barrow.

Friends of Kriti Sharma

Kriti Sharma wrote "Interdependence: Biology and Beyond". She credited several people with "shaping my mind and life" through the process, including Afiya Carter, Aiden Graham, AJ Vrieze, Alexis Gumbs, Atiya Hussain, Beth Bruch, Bryan Proffitt, Caitlin Breedlove, Dannette Sharpley, Emily Chavez, Glenys Verhulst, Jenn Vrieze, Jurina Vincent-Lee, Keagha Carscallen, Laurin Penland, Kai Barrow, Lynne Walter, Marjorie Scheer, Michelle O'Brien, Manju Rajendran, Sendolo Diaminah, Mikel Barton, Monica Leonardo, Nia Wilson, Nikki Brown, Noah Blose, Paulina Hernandez, Pavithra Vasudevan, Rachael Derello, Russell Herman, Sam Hummel, Sammy Truong, Serena Sebring, Shirlette Ammons, Tema Okun, Theo Luebke, Tim Stallman, Tony Macias, and Yolanda Carrington.[8]


Friday, April 17, 2016, a pop up evening of visual and performance art by local artists engaged in creative and radical acts of love and justice in and with community.


bam-bam (aka adébukola), Matthias Pressley, Catherine Edgerton, Tema Okun, Isley DeMattos, Kai Barrow, Erin Bree, Saba Taj, Claudia Corletto, Rafael Estrada, Beth Bruch, Gemynii, Courtney Sebring, Corina Dross, Nureena Faruqi.

DAM(N) is Durham Artist Movement.[9]

Louis E. Burnham Award

The Louis E. Burnham Award is granted each year to an individual whose work reflects the interests and values of Louis Burnham's life. Those interests included:

racial justice in urban areas and the U.S. South, human rights, socially engaged journalism, African-American politics, youth leadership.

Commemorating Burnham's lifelong engagement with progressive causes, the award recognizes the work of journalists, social justice activists and scholars who have amply demonstrated their commitment to racial justice and the advancement of the African-American community. The Award consists of a grant of $5,000 to be used to support the work of the recipient.

The Louis E. Burnham Fund is proud of the work of previous award recipients, including Erik McDuffie, Jaribu Hill, Osagie Obasagie, Monifa Bandele, LaTosha Brown, Kai Barrow, Alvin Sykes, Alfonzo White, Sendolo Diaminah, Denise Perry and Kazembe Balagun. [10]