Season 2, Episode 7 with Dr. Crystal Menzies: Finding Inspiration from Maroon Communities to Guide Us Forward

A group in deep thought during the Accelerator in 2019.

“One of the barriers for well meaning white folks and BIPOC who want to see a better world is this belief in the inevitability of positive outcomes.”

Dr. Crystal Menzies

 When Dr. Menzies drops this pearl of insight into the latest Inclusive Life Podcast conversation with Nicole, Nicole names the “inevitability of positive outcomes” as “a uniquely U.S. American specific ‘cultural hiccup.’” The belief that it’ll all work out in the end suggests a reality that doesn’t comport with the history of revolutions. 

There’s no one “out there” who is going to save us. And so we must look for inspiration and guidance of those who have come before us. The work of Dr. Crystal Menzies directs us to the often forgotten stories of Maroon communities.

Dr. Crystal Menzies is a Black educator who has been on a quest for liberatory co-collaborators. She didn’t find them within the education system. She didn’t find them in non-profits, even within those organizations with anti-racist mission statements and rhetoric. Her truth telling was met with vilification and ostracization, even from her allies. Ultimately her quest- motivated by a desire to share the story of Black resistance, genius, and joy with her students – led her to the history and living reality of Maroon communities.

Maroon communities are communities of self-emancipated Africans, folks who escaped from enslavement and started their own free rebel Black communities living in resistance to white supremacy and chattle slavery. These communities, varying in size, are a historical and living example of how, as Dr. Menzies shares, “folks get their freedom and maintain their freedom when surrounded by an oppressive system.” 

Her study of Maroon cultures were the impetus for her current work, EmancipatEd, where the vision is to soak in the Black history of resistance, joy, and innovation to reimagine what is possible for Black communities. The work of EmancipatEd is done in collaboration with people who are (actually, factually) from Maroon communities from Accompong, Jamaica, San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia and Helvécia Bahia, Brazil. 

Nicole and Dr. Menzies discuss that it is with these communities of resistance (and antagonism!) that we find a path forward in a time when the arc desperately needs more bending. Rather than a trust in the inevitability of justice, in Maroon communities there is a fundamental “by any means necessary” determination. Maroon communities, both those that survived and didn’t, are rooted in self-defense, self-determination, and the building of alliances and community with like minded people. In Maroon communities, there is a unity of purpose upon which their survival depends. This unity doesn’t imply agreement on all things. In fact, embedded in this unity is the understanding that there will be trade-offs and radical sacrifice: liberation is not going to be pretty. 

It’s so important to know this history and these amazing humans, and Dr. Menzies is devoted to bringing Maroon stories to her Black students. These stories awaken these children and teens to freedom stories already unfolding in themselves, their families, and their communities. It helps them thrive outside the white gaze.

When people believe the arc of justice is already bent, it keeps them complacent and believing that somewhere out there is someone who will get us across the finish line to justice and liberation. The stories from Maroon people tell a different story: that we must actively, tenaciously, by-all-means-necessary bend it ourselves.

If you’d like to know more about Maroon communities throughout the world, you can begin here, and also explore EmancipatEd Hidden History Cards.

We hope you enjoy this conversation!


About Dr. Menzies:

Crystal Menzies, PhD (she/her) is an educator of Black and Brown youth, a postdoctoral researcher studying cultural community wealth, and the founder of EmancipatED.

A former culturally responsive teacher in urban schools, Crystal aspired to teach her students about ways of being and thinking that did not center whiteness. However, she quickly realized that it would take more than being a “good teacher” to dismantle the systems of oppression that led to the systemic violence she and her students experienced.

In an effort to tell a more expansive story of the Black experience across the Diaspora that didn’t perpetuate trauma narratives, Crystal traveled the globe to learn about the rich history of resistance and liberation movements that are often made invisible in our collective history books.

Drawing on her Guyanese and African American roots, the legacy of Black educators, educational psychology, liberatory pedagogy, and African-Diasporan history, Crystal founded EmancipatED to uncover our hidden Black history.

Through research-based educational products that center Black communities, Crystal hopes to create environments in which Black people, as a collective, can find joy, empowerment, and community through multi-generational learning.

Her flagship product is an exploration kit that shares the stories of Maroon communities, which offers Black and Brown families a model for how to navigate as liberated beings within oppressive systems.

She lives in the Bay Area (or the Yay area as she affectionately refers to it) and enjoys reading, Marvel movies, and daydreaming of Black Futures.


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