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Mariame Kaba Papers

Identifier: spe-c00034

Scope and Contents

Mariame Kaba’s papers offer a comprehensive picture of Kaba’s work in activism and grassroots organizing during her time in Chicago from 1995-2016. This collection documents the initiatives, political actions, protests, and programs undertaken by the organizations in which she participated. The collection contains a wide range of materials related to the administration, planning, and activities of the organizations documented including artwork, correspondence, meeting minutes and agendas, grant proposals, research files, curriculums, news clippings, reports, programs, and various audiovisual formats, including CD-ROMs, DVDs, VHS tapes and MP3s. Kaba’s activities are enhanced by the physical and born-digital photographs taken by Sarah-Ji and others.


  • 1989 - 2016
  • Majority of material found within 2003 - 2016


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions. Artifacts are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least 24-hours prior to your research visit to coordinate access with these materials.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

Mariame Kaba (1971-) is an author, community organizer, curator, educator and librarian. The focus of her social justice work includes the abolition of police and prisons, the prison industrial complex, transformative justice, violence against women and girls, and youth-led organizing and leadership development.

Originally from New York City, Kaba studied sociology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the City College of New York; and Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. In 1995, Kaba moved to Chicago where she was instrumental in the formation of several organizations. Among the earliest initiatives was the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) that began in 1995. This youth-led and adult-supported social change project empowered young women to take action on issues such as street harassment and violence against women.

Kaba also participated in the development of several other projects between 1990 and 2010. The Chicago Freedom School (CFS) opened in 2007 as a training ground for young people based on the model of the Freedom School that operated in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. The Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women (Taskforce) was founded in 2009 to develop approaches to ending violence against girls and young women through public policy, education, and media advocacy. Kaba launched her organization, Project NIA, in 2009. In Swahili, “nia” means “with purpose,” and the purpose of this grassroots organization is to end the arrest, detention, and incarceration of children and young adults by promoting restorative and transformative justice practices. In 2010, Kaba became involved with efforts to relaunch Girl Talk, a volunteer collaboration between the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law and the Chicago Women’s Health Center that originated in 1993. The organization supported programs for girls, ages 12-17, who were detained in the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center (JTDC). In 2003, the program was extended to alternative schools with at-risk young people. In September 2013, Project NIA held a teach-in about Marissa Alexander, a Black woman who was incarcerated for protecting her family from her abusive husband. As a result of the session, several attendees of that teach-in, launched the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA). For the next three years, CAFMA worked to call attention to Alexander’s situation and to demand her release from prison.

By 2014, the call to address other voices of those most affected by police violence in Chicago led to the formation of We Charge Genocide (WCG), an inter-generational group of Chicago residents that included Kaba. WCG actions targeted racial profiling, police shootings and reparations for cases of police abuse.

In addition to her organizational activities, Kaba worked as a program officer for education and youth development at the Steans Family Foundation; taught high school and college students in New York and Chicago; and developed and facilitated workshops on violence against women and girls, transformative justice and youth leadership. In 2016, Kaba moved back to New York City.

Kaba has received several honors and awards for her work, including the 2016 SOROS Justice Fellowship, 2017 Peace Award by War Resisters League, Essence Magazine 2018 #Woke100, 2019 Morton Deutsch Awards for Social Justice, and the 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship.

Kaba authored and co-authored several books: Lifting as They Climbed: Mapping the Histories of Black Women on Chicago’s South Side with Essence McDowell (2017), Missing Daddy, illustrated by bria royal (2018), Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators, with Shira Hassan (2019), and We Do This ‘Til We Free Us (2021).

Biographical / Historical

Sarah-Ji, fellow activist and close associate of Mariame Kaba, created the bulk of the photography that accompanies the actions and events in this collection. In her own words:

Sarah-Ji is a queer Korean mama, organizer, and photographer who has been documenting freedom struggles in Chicago since 2010. She is a member of Love & Protect, an abolitionist collective that supports women and gender non-conforming/non-binary people of color who have been criminalized or harmed by state or interpersonal violence. Sarah-Ji intentionally focuses her documentation work on everyday people imagining and building a world rooted in love and justice and care, a world where we don't need prisons and police. She hopes that these images of resistance and reimagination will plant seeds in others to join in the work towards an abolitionist horizon and collective liberation.


18 Linear Feet (in 28 boxes, including 2 oversize folders, 34 artifacts, 8 VHS recordings, 5 DVDs, 68 physical photographs and 26.1 GB of born digital material including 4795 digital photographs)

Language of Materials



Mariame Kaba works as a community-based organizer and educator with a focus on violence against women and girls, the prison system and youth leadership development. During her time in the Chicago area, Kaba actively worked with Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA), Chicago Freedom School (CFS), Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, Girl Talk, Project NIA, Rogers Park Young Women's Action Team (RP YWAT) and We Charge Genocide. Her papers contain documents, photographs and video of programs and initiatives undertaken by these organizations.


Kaba’s papers are arranged alphabetically by organization and by material type into the following nine series:

Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1989-2016

Series 2: Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA), 2013-2016

Series 3: Chicago Freedom School (CFS), 1991-2016, undated

Series 4: Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women (Taskforce), 1989-2012

Series 5: Girl Talk, 2001-2006, undated

Series 6: Project NIA, 1999-2016, undated

Series 7: Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team, 1995-2013, undated

Series 8: We Charge Genocide, 2013-2016

Series 9: Social Justice Projects, 2012-2016

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Mariame Kaba, 2016. Photograph accrual, donated by Sarah-Ji, 2017.

Related Materials

Women and Girls Collective Action Network (WGCAN)

Separated Materials

The Mariame Kaba Papers included three book publications. These have been cataloged and are available for use in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Art Against the Law, edited by Rebecca Zorach, Chicago Social Practice History Series, Chicago: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2014. (Mariame Kaba’s chapter, pp. 141-143) N72.S6 A7193 2014

The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future, edited by Alexandra Brodsky and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, New York: The Feminist Press, 2015. (Mariame Kaba’s chapter, pp. 81-89) HQ 1155 F4488 2015

Tenderheaded: A Comb-Bending Collection of Hair Stories, edited by Juliette Harris and Pamela Johnson, New York: Pocket Books, 2001. (Mariame Kaba’s chapter, pp. 102-108) PS509.H28 T46 2001



Guide to the Mariame Kaba Papers
Grant-funded processing by Erin Glasco, 2021. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy, 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875