Mary Hooks ’04: Refueling communities for a protracted battle

Sept. 14, 2021

Mary Hooks '04 Community organizer Mary Hooks ’04 sees the fight for liberation as a long-term battle on many fronts.

She’s co-director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an organization focused on the shared interests of the LGBTQ+ community, women, people of color, and immigrants across the southern states. SONG is a leader in the broader Movement for Black Lives.

“We’ve been galvanizing the energy from the uprising into the ongoing work of organizing,” Ms. Hooks says. “That’s our greatest infrastructure: our relationships to each other.”

Convinced the struggle will take generations, she’s playing the long game. To invigorate southern communities that are “spiritually malnourished,” the Carthage alumna has tried to build lasting connections with food, music, mural-making, and, in the throes of a deadly pandemic, grief support.

Since COVID-19 precautions first tethered people to their homes, Ms. Hooks has begun to write more. That includes a series of articles she’s doing for Prism, a social justice-focused news publication, to reimagine the modern approach to public safety.

SONG’s work is being felt far beyond America’s borders. Showing solidarity across the African diaspora, the group is part of a joint effort to help relocate Black LGBTQ+ refugees who have endured systemic violence at the Block 13 refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.

She still remembers a provocative talk that Black activist Elaine Brown gave at Carthage. The former Black Panther Party chairwoman described the lasting effects of the war on drugs on Black residents, something Ms. Hooks saw firsthand growing up in nearby Racine.

Mary Hooks “I grew up thinking we just made bad choices. Me and my homies lived to tell about it, but I know way too many who didn’t — through no fault of their own,” she says.

“The conditions that Black and oppressed people face are a side effect of generations of state-sanctioned genocide, both here and abroad.”

Looking back, the alumna sees that as a critical moment in her growth, as she began to ask critical questions: What is power? Who has it, and who doesn’t? How do those without power build it and take it? And what do we do with it once we have it?

“Seeds were being planted,” she says. “It may have just taken a few years for them to sprout.”