Meet The Activist Redefining Public Health and Safety in Cleveland

Supermajority Education Fund

November 12, 2020

In June, writer, photographer, and filmmaker Jasmine Golphin founded Black Spring CLE, a Black-led organization dedicated to redefining public health and safety in Cleveland, Ohio, in the wake of this summer’s widespread protests following George Floyd’s death. Golphin previously worked in nonprofit and arts organizations, like the Cleveland International Film Festival, but has long been passionate about creating community alternatives to policing. With Black Spring CLE, she aims to build a task force to confront police brutality in Cleveland and spearhead local campaigns offering tangible solutions.

Since its conception, the organization has garnered over 100 volunteers, facilitated a biweekly Abolition Book Club, coordinated local protests and public forums to inspire and discuss police reform, and delivered free hot meals to Clevelanders in need through their #BlackSpringHarvest food drive. 

Golphin recently told Supermajority News about police reform in Cleveland, activist fatigue, and how her background in art helps inform her activism.

You launched Black Spring CLE in June 2020 as an immediate response to protests in response to George Floyd’s death. Tell me more about that decision and the first steps you took towards launching this organization.

I always want to be clear because people think that I’m all of Black Spring CLE, but there [are] almost 100 volunteers working within it now. I just happen to be the most public face. I’ve also been transparent about the fact that this all came together in the middle of a panic attack. 

Before this, I would not have considered myself a Capital-A-Activist, but I was already a degree or two away from Cleveland leftist organizers. I’m a local filmmaker, photographer, artist, and writer, so people already knew me. I just took that a step further and said, ‘let’s get together and make a plan. And let’s do it under a framework that is specifically Black-led, that’s not only about abolition and addressing police brutality, but addressing it in a practical way. More than just the protesting. What can be the alternative? And what can we do right now to make that happen?’ I think we get the sense that the barrier to creating something like this is so much higher than it actually is.

Black Spring CLE is currently working on a campaign entitled #AbolishtheOverlap, which aims to dismantle Cleveland’s Transit Police (CTP) department and end police presence in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). What drove you to take on those specific concerns? 

Black Spring CLE organizes as a task force. We want to look at what is already being done to address police brutality in Cleveland and where we can best put our resources, time, and volunteer energy. As a campaign, we wanted #AbolishtheOverlap to get the general public speaking about policing in a different way. We say “defund the police,” and people get really scared because they equate safety [with] policing. But in downtown Cleveland alone, you have over ten different police commissions. So we thought: here’s a tangible thing we can work on. It’s not as overwhelming a message as “defund the police,” which can feel very vague.

What does an ideal restructuring of those systems look like to you?

Both plans are based [on] creating a safety team that is trained in de-escalation, that is trained in conflict-resolution, that understands the specific issues within either the RTA or CMSD. And we want teams that are tailored to those spaces. So, for instance, we’re establishing a coalition of parents, teachers, and students within CMSD that will help us build the framework. 

Both plans also make safety the number one priority. The intent is not to have some sort of safety gap because there’s not someone armed and ready in the room. Instead, we’re looking at the idea of crime prevention or, if something does happen, how we address that in a way that is restorative. How do we not address it in a way that enhances the issue? 

The movement to defund the police has gained a lot of momentum—and backlash—in the U.S. since this summer’s protests. What would you say to someone who expresses fear or concern over a lack of police presence?

A lot of the pushback is either based [in] a lack of access to information about how policing is corrupt or a finite idea of what safety means. People don’t realize that they have already created their own task forces for problems within their community. People of color especially know that if a local kid goes missing, you’re not likely to get an Amber Alert. So now, you have all these social media pages dedicated to missing people. We’re already doing the things we need to do to supplement where policing has gone wrong. But we need people to understand how much money goes into policing and how it’s not matching the services we should be receiving. And we need them to see the way we’ve already created community alternatives to supplement that. Black Spring CLE and other progressive groups are saying: what if we just cut out the middle man instead of having all this money going to a system that’s not working? What if we just funded the things that already exist? But it’s hard to get people to visualize all the different ways we’re already doing those things. Or that the next step to create the alternative is not as difficult as it may seem. 

You’ve said you want Black Spring CLE to focus on “community solutions” as an alternative to police presence. What are a few solutions that you envision beyond # AbolishtheOverlap’s current agenda?

The other half of the mentality is looking at crime prevention. Obviously, we can’t prevent every single crime, but a lot of them are just someone making the hard decision between eating tonight or paying a bill. If we can start addressing those problems, then maybe we could see a reduction in crimes like petty theft. We don’t just want to have a community garden; we want to teach people how to create their own community gardens or personal gardens. It’s all very high in the sky, but that’s where you have to aim, right?

The Black Spring CLE leadership, including yourself, recently took a well-deserved break from organizing. Talk to me more about activist fatigue.

There was an interview with Angela Davis from AFROPUNK, and she talked about how so many organizers she knew got burnt out and had to either stop doing the work or made themselves sick. And she said what helped her is that she started taking breaks, she started practicing yoga, she started going to therapy. The break is something that I personally pushed because we have to think about the fact that this is a very long game. So I looked around and was like: ‘guys, we’re all burnt out. And if we’re not burnt out yet, we will be very soon. We can take a break.’ If you’re the kind of person who wants to spend their free time going against the state to provide food for the homeless, you’re the kind of person who also doesn’t take the time to take care of yourself. But if you want to take better care of the rest of the community, you have to take care of yourself.

How has your background in the arts influenced the way you run your organization? 

I’m learning that the things I’m good at or the things I enjoy can still be used for something this important and this big. Being in a public position and having people tell me I’m saying something that actually resonates is still weird to me. I’m always terrified, but I pull from what I know, and what I know is storytelling. And it’s not fictional storytelling, but it is narrative. Asking: how do I get you to come on the emotional journey of the thing I’m trying to tell you? I lead with the fact that I created this in a panic attack because it’s not that these things like imposter syndrome or depression or anxiety have gone away, but I know now that I can get through it, and I can rely on what I’m naturally good at to still do an effective job. And that, to me, has been the weirdly beautiful thing about this.