Imagining Abolitionist Futures

Imagining Abolitionist Futures logo showing stylized words appear over a rising sun image, positioned above a half globe

Imagining Abolitionist Futures is a year-long Hurford Center initiative exploring the role of the arts and humanities in the struggle to dismantle the carceral state and build reparative practices and institutions in the place of a system driven by racism, retribution, and violence.

The series will include: talks and panel discussions with scholars, activists, and artists; performances; film screenings; a reading group; a major art exhibition; a two-day symposium; and more.

Imagining Abolitionist Futures programming explores the following questions:

What is the role of the arts and humanities in the struggles against carceral logic, against policing and police violence, and in cultivating abolitionist movements–now, historically, and in the future? What is the role of cultural institutions? Universities and colleges? How do/have these institutions reinforce(d) carceral/policing logics and what are their obligations to do better? How might they be reimagined? What is the relationship between the liberal arts and activist struggles for justice? Where and how can they inform one another? Who benefits from collaborations between the incarcerated and non-incarcerated, what Nicole Fleetwood calls “fraught imaginaries”? How can these relationships be structured (liberal arts/activist, incarcerated/non-incarcerated) in ways that are equitable and non-exploitative?

What is abolitionism as a concept, orientation, philosophy, aesthetic, identity, subjectivity–what beliefs does it reflect and what does it make possible to imagine, or do? What does it make possible to no longer see or do? How might we imagine, to borrow Dylan Rodriguez’s adaptation of a phrase from Sylvia Wynter, “abolition as a praxis of human being”? Angela Davis writes that “the prison has become a key ingredient of our common sense.” How can we disorient that sense of the carceral as normal in substantive, foundational, and lasting ways?

How do various media, genres, and artforms frame and stage abolitionist concerns? [music, painting, memoir, fiction, philosophy, poetry, cultural theory, historical narrative, archives, testimony, “prison writing,” letters…etc.] What roles do they play in activist work? In solidarity and community building specifically? What is the history of these forms, going back at least to the early nineteenth century, which saw both the birth of the anti-slavery movement and the development of modern prisons and policing? In what ways is this history being told? What narrative practices are necessary for telling these stories, and which must be scrutinized?

What is the history of Haverford’s relationship with its surroundings, in particular the Black working class communities of Ardmore and Philadelphia? What is the history of Haverford’s safety and security department? How have students, faculty, staff, and administrators responded to crucial events in the white supremacist history of Philadelphia such as the MOVE bombing and the Rizzo administration?


Imagining Abolitionist Futures Resources
A compilation of on-campus and off-campus resources related to abolition.


Die Jim Crow: Music and Conversation with BL Shirelle

The inaugural event for the Hurford Center’s Imagining Abolitionist Futures series! Join us for a performance by artist, producer, and record label director BL Shirelle, followed by a conversation facilitated by series co-organizer Stephanie D. Keene and Naren Roy '23. A catered dinner will be provided.

Friday, September 30, 2022
6:00 p.m.
VCAM lounge

BL Shirelle

Person reclined in a chair holding a large brimmed hat with a city building visiable through a window

BL Shirelle is the Co-Executive Director of Die Jim Crow Records, the first non-profit record label for currently and formerly incarcerated artists in United States history. She is also a phenomenal songwriter/rapper, producer and justice-impacted artist herself, raising up her community and sharing her art and activism with the world.

Her label debut solo album Assata Troi, which she also executive produced, garnered critical acclaim from Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork, NPR, Passion of Weiss, BBC, Interview Magazine, and Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. Assata Troi is an epic fusion of hard-hitting poetry, rap, and r&b with a gritty rock edge.

BL Shirelle has been a guest speaker at Augustana University, Stockton University, Goucher University, and Susquehanna University and is a teacher assistant at Yale Divinity School of Music and Wesleyan University. She has performed at MoMA PS 1 and at DJC virtual performances during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to raise funds for PPE Into Prisons alongside such acts as DIIV, Eve 6, Hurray For The Riff Raff and Shamir, among others.

Collaboration in the Belly of the Beast: Ethics, Challenges, and Relationship

Think Tank Discussion on the Ethics of Working Together Across Barriers

Thursday, October 20, 2022
4:30—6:00 p.m.
VCAM 201

Think Tank

The Think Tank is grounded in a true intergroup process that brings together people across profound social difference and distance to engage in focused and ongoing dialogue within and outside of carceral spaces. Employing practices rooted in liberatory pedagogy, the Think Tank works in deep community, modeling relationships that bridge social distance while working to interrogate and dismantle the things that are designed to keep us apart. In this public conversation, let's explore together how to engage in radical relationship and the practice of abolition in higher ed and beyond.

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes with director Brett Story

A film about the prison and its life in the American landscape.
Film screening & presentation

Stillshot of an intersection with the remants of balloons and notes attached to a street sign post.


More people are imprisoned in the United States at this moment than in any other time or place in history, yet the prison itself has never felt further away or more out of sight. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a film about the prison in which we never see a penitentiary. Instead, the film unfolds as a cinematic journey through a series of landscapes across the USA where prisons do work and affect lives, from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires, to a Bronx warehouse full of goods destined for the state correctional system, to an Appalachian coal town betting its future on the promise of prison jobs.

Sponsored by HCAH, SALT (Students for Abolition, Liberation and Transformation), FUCS (Federation United Concert Series), and GRASE (The Center for Gender Resources and Sexual Education).

Monday, December 5, 2022
7:00—9:00 p.m.
Lightbox Film Center

Brett Story

Woman looking directly into camera of a photobooth

Brett Story is a non-fiction filmmaker, writer and geographer based out of Toronto. Her films have screened in theatres and festivals widely, including at CPH-DOX, SXSW, Sheffield Doc Fest, and other international festivals. She is the director of the award-winning films The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (2016) and The Hottest August (2019), and author of the book Prison Land: Mapping Carceral Power Across Neoliberal America. Brett holds a PhD in human geography and her work has received support from the Sundance Institute and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto.


Organizer Biographies

Stephanie Keene

Close shot of woman smiling looking to her left in orange shirt in front of a plant

Stephanie D. Keene is a Philadelphia-based educator, creator, and organizer. Her justice work focuses on abolition (including but not limited to the prison industrial complex). A proud graduate of the first HBCU, Lincoln University, she is working for the freedom of all people.

Gustavus Stadler

Close shot of man wearing glasses looking directly at camera in front of wall with wood slats

Gustavus Stadler is William R. Kenan Professor of English and Director of the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities at Haverford College. His writing and research are concerned with the cultural history of the U. S. left.