Dear EdLib Network,
We write to you with sad news. On July 4th, 2021, our beloved Thomas Nkondo Nikundiwe transitioned from this world.
Partner, Brother, Son, Friend, Thomas was truly our North, our South, our East and our West. When Thomas was interviewing for the executive director position of Education for Liberation in 2014, already a member of our network since its start, he said, “we can do so much more, build and leverage connections for young people to thrive and create freedom. I’m talking Civil Rights movement level.”
Thomas taught us, most often in quiet ways, that relationships mattered above all else. He showed us how a collective is deeply different than a community. He taught us that the how of everything– how we are with ourselves, how we are with each other, how we are with equity and inequity– is everything. The how of anything we do shapes any what that may happen. He taught us that liberation work is centuries work, and that makes what we do today no less urgent. He taught this with few, carefully chosen and timed words. How Thomas spoke and moved was a constant source of liberatory learning.
Thomas’s love and consideration were other worldly. He impacted innumerable lives, and he held much space for so many. Thomas and his soulmate, his partner, his other self, Carla Shalaby, wrapped our network in a caring blanket, with tools. Tools for education to be wrenched back from racist capitalism and colonialism. Tools for dealing with harm in movement spaces. Tools to think about every action with our values. Every day, Thomas and Carla, along with family, Izaac and Akenna, created a space where freedom overshadowed control and surveillance. Their love has enough wattage to light up Michigan State University’s stadium several times over. And if you ever mixed up Michigan State with Michigan, Thomas would quickly and gently remind you to never make that mistake again.
Our brother was precise!
Thomas helped EdLib to listen more, build relations and community. Thomas and Tara moved through the world in some different ways, but their venn diagram was a circle when it came to the importance of a network for liberation that was grassroots, brilliant, and a bit messy. You know this beautiful combination if you have ever attended a Free Minds Free People conference.
We are now grateful beyond words to link arms and continue our walk for freedom for all with Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price. Okaikor showed up to our interview process, graceful and with intentionality and a depth that we knew we needed but didn’t know what form it would take until we imagined working alongside Okaikor. We are honored to continue this centuries-long work with her.
We will always hold Thomas, his gentle and wise ways, and his family in our hearts.
From Thomas’s mother, Margaret Kavanaugh:
I’m sure there are hundreds– maybe thousands – of people who mourn Thomas’s loss. He had a magical way of making everyone he encountered feel special and important, seen and heard. There were people he admired, but never sought to emulate because he was his own man and always – from a very early age – chose to forge his own path. He achieved many great things in his abbreviated life, but the things that mattered most to him were his family and friends and his beloved community.
In lak ‘ech,
The Education for Liberation Board and Executive Director, Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price