Twelve years ago, during a planning session, a facilitator asked us what would happen if Women With A Vision (WWAV) ceased to exist. No one on our team could truly answer the question. Instead, we replied, “The work will continue to get done, no matter what.” 

Little did we know weeks later, on May 24, 2012, someone would try to burn our offices, our work, and all that we stand for to the ground. And yet, we’re still here. We’re not only still here, but we have managed to gather tiny embers from the blaze, tend to them, and set them free in the form of Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South because we knew, even before the fire, that this work must go on, no matter what.   

We didn’t intend to write a book after the attack. We set out to gather the bits of WWAV history that were left and stitch them together into what became our living archive so that our attacker would not triumph in their attempt to bury our legacy of liberation. 

Today, 12 years after the fire, 35 years after WWAV’s founding, our world is on fire. The forces of white supremacy, colonialism, and racial capitalism are dropping bombs on hospitals, starving entire populations, and making land grabs while millions are desperately seeking a place to lay their heads at night free from the sound of bullets. 

Here in Louisiana, our struggles for bodily autonomy and safe and accessible healthcare have become all the more pressing under a total abortion ban and a legislature seemingly hell-bent on repressing everything that isn’t straight, white, and Christian. 

This political moment is ushering in the biggest transformations that many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Now is the time to get back to basics, to the methods we have always used to free us. We need space to share our greatest fears and to come up with our own solutions. We need to help each other open the windows and doors of our imaginations to envision the future of our dreams, and we need to honor the ways that we are already working to build that future in real time. Most of all, we need to revisit our history to move forward. 

As an organization, WWAV has survived the very tactics of white supremacist dispossession and terror that are everywhere right now. None of these tactics are new, even if they feel like they’re happening on a whole other level. Terror is always reactionary. White supremacists see our power, they see us––Black folks, Brown folks, women, and queer folks––living our full lives, and they’re grasping at the straws of the old world to try to stop the new one we are building. 

WWAV was born out of necessity and in the long history of Black women coming together to make what their communities needed to survive. The arson attack on our offices happened just two months after we successfully led the NO Justice fight to remove hundreds of mostly poor, Black, and LGBTQ+ folks from the Louisiana sex offender registry list for engaging in survival sex work. We are here because our community stepped in and stood with us, and that is precisely what we need to do for each other now. 

The question that propelled our foremothers to action in the depths of the AIDS crisis is the same one that drove our work to fight criminalization in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and is the same one that guides our work now to build an intersectional approach to reproductive justice in the South today: What are we willing to do?

Every day, we honor our community’s refusal to bow to white supremacy. Fire means something, especially in the South. Just as terrorists, too cowardly to show their faces, set crosses ablaze under the cover of night in an attempt not only to violently interrupt radical freedom work but also to warn others who might dare to refuse to bow in the face of oppression, our attackers aimed to punish us for daring to fight for our own liberation. 

Ours is not a story of resilience. Black people have had to be resilient for too long. The powers-that-be are too quick to label us resilient while refusing to question why our lives require such resilience. 

Ours is a story of refusal. We refused to stop fighting for the rights and dignity of sex workers, drug users, poor Black and Brown women, and LGBTQ+ people. And that’s what we’re continuing to do as we ask those all around us to refuse the world we have been given in favor of a world otherwise, a world that we are actively building.

Our attackers thought the flames would put an end to WWAV’s work. They were wrong. Those flames, meant to destroy us, birthed new dreams. Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South is our story of why. This book shows how something created from need, in community, became powerful. In the years since the attack, our work has only expanded. 

WWAV has been so successful because people see themselves in WWAV. We come from these communities. We know single motherhood. We are Black women, forced to make a way from nothing. We know how to listen to our people. We have always been willing to do and say the things that other people were afraid to. Our lives depend on it. We have also been kept out of spaces because people were afraid of what we’d say—and we went back anyway. Our freedom is tied to everyone else’s freedom. 

There is a place for all of us in this fight. We need to be everywhere—to start in New Orleans, to work across the South, to move nationally and globally. The challenges we face every day are everywhere issues. We need to move quickly and in unison to stop the destruction that is happening. We must also remember that fire can be a powerful force for rebirth. The future is ours to create. We can already see the embers of a new world glowing all around us, sparking new dreams and new realities. 

Note: This piece was adapted from the foreword to Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South. The things shaping my thinking at the time of the original drafting seem ever-more pressing as the tentacles of white supremacy are suffocating us all over the world in innumerable ways. But we the dreamers, freedom fighters, organizers and artists, are desperately calling forth a new world. It was my hope last year, and now, that Women With A Vision’s work will be just one note in the global clarion call for action. 

Deon Haywood is an activist, human rights advocate, mother and grandmother, and community leader from New Orleans. For more than 30 years, she has advocated for the rights of Black women and girls, poor and working class folks, sex workers, substance users, and LGBTQ+ communities in the Deep South. She is the Executive Director of Women With A Vision and co-author of Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South along with writer, organizer, and scholar Dr. Laura McTighe.