“Once upon a time, I believed that fair and equal were real … I trusted in justice and justice let me down,” writes Jennifer, an incarcerated author, whose most recent work appeared in the new Columbia student-led social justice journal titled That Which Remains.
The journal, formed with a desire to expand the American conversation around justice, published its first volume on Jan. 18, 2021, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and his contributions to human rights advocacy and social justice. With the editors’ “nebulous prompt to write about justice,” the prose, poetry, and non-fiction featured in Volume One of That Which Remains present a powerful medley of voices that sparks a dialogue around the question of “What is justice?”
“I’ve always been intrigued by the question of what is justice,” Aneesah Ayub, CC ’21, the current fiction editor and co-creator said. “How do we reach an ideal justice for all? And does that even exist?”
Ayub, who will graduate at the end of April, has dedicated most of her high school and college life to advocacy and justice. After taking Professor Bernard Harcout’s class Power, Rights, and Achieving Social Justice at Columbia, Ayub decided to pursue a career in law and justice.
Growing up, Ayub was passionate about current events. Since her parents are Guyanese immigrants, she has always been interested in international news. This interest fueled her extracurriculars and passions in high school.
“I was very lucky to go to a [high] school in New York City that was super liberal, and helped fuel all of the energy and passion I had for current events, politics, and social justice into action,” Ayub said. “We were some of the first people who went to the Black Lives Matter marches, which was really exciting and impactful. We went on walkouts for various issues at the school. So, when I got to Columbia, I was already looking for opportunities to channel my energy into action.”
Ayub is majoring in political science, has interned with Proskauer Rose LLP and the City Council Committee on Women, and is now the current chair of the Holder Initiative. Her experience in advocacy and justice adequately prepared her to join the team of five other student editors who spent the majority of 2020 bringing That Which Remains to life.
The idea for That Which Remains originated from a group of students who wanted to create a justice journal that would allow individuals to amplify their stories. From that idea, the work to build That Which Remains began in the summer of 2020.
The team of writers and students then began the grueling but rewarding process of launching the journal at a time when the pandemic had started to unravel the “precarious thread that bound our society, exposing the inequalities that lurked readily below the surface.”
“I think one thing is that we’ve always known that police brutality in this country was an issue, but it wasn’t until recently that the general public and corporations and such [really acknowledged it and tried to demand justice],” Ayub said. “Between the Black Lives Matter movement and the constant flow of people coming forward with their stories of injustice, whether it be racial, gender-based, or so on, it was kind of the perfect time for us to really formulate and start working on the journal. We really wanted this to be a platform to host and amplify these stories indefinitely.”
After months of intensive work, the editors of That Which Remains released its first volume, which features a diverse group of authors whose writings spark important conversations about justice and the complexities surrounding it.
Former NFL football player-turned-Hollywood actor and producer Nnamdi Asomugha wrote a piece titled “What Justice Means To Me” that reflects on Hollywood’s dubious history in promoting and telling the stories of Black lives. In addition to his article, activists Akemi Kochiyama and Ian Manuel, whose stories of legacy and power reflect on the past and present of America’s justice system, wrote “Reflections on my Grandma Yuri, Malcolm X, and the Past, Present, and Future of Black-Asian Solidarity” and “Still I Rise.” Currently incarcerated authors Jennifer and Bigmann also wrote “The Unjust Justice System” and “Let Us Be Unshackled” in which they reflect on their experiences with the justice system.
“I think when we think of justice, we don’t often think of justice and art together very often, right? But, when you think of movies for instance like ‘Just Mercy,’ or when you think of art by incarcerated people, they’re very beautiful reflections of what’s going on in the world and what’s going on in people’s lives,” Ayub said. “Art can be such a powerful way to move people, so I think that’s another reason why we created this journal. We wanted to move people.”
The journal is currently accepting submissions of previously unpublished poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction and essays for its upcoming second volume, which the editors plan to release in late spring. For future editions, the editors hope to continue sharing the diverse voices and perspectives that lend themselves to a conversation of justice that demands to be heard and to create a publication that can be passed down to future students who hope to join and shape that conversation.
“What we hope to add, as a justice journal, is a conversation with a creative and justice-centered lens. I think we hope that people will take a few minutes to read the incredibly moving works that we publish, and then they themselves will be moved to engage in social justice,” Ayub said.