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By David Mark Greaves

The New York Times reported that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio received 96% of the Black vote.   So he’s seen the love from the black community, and now we should see it coming back, not in “optics” but in fact.  As we understand it, that’s the way politics work.  It’s like a relationship:   “Don’t tell me you love me, show me you love me”.   And he has so many opportunities here, because ours is a community that has suffered regular public physical abuse by “stop-and-frisk” tactics, that’s been abused in the home by lack of support for the care and education of the children, and abused financially by policies which take money from our purses and wallets, such as the heightened contract requirements which decimated small African-American booksellers, and which are part of a system which leaves African-American-owned businesses with only slivers (1-2% / agency) of the meager slice (3.9%) that is the M/WBE portion of the city budget pie.   A piece of a piece is all we get.

With the foregoing as examples of things that need to change, the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference, held at Boys & Girls High School this past weekend, suggests one of the ways to get at them is by using the political, financial, self-empowering and racially reaffirming qualities and possibilities of the food cycle as a foundation to build on.

Malik Yakini, the Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, spoke about the Detroit Policy on Food Security his organization developed and had passed by the City Council.   It addresses the many health aspects of the food cycle, and points the way toward the community building possibilities as well, with this section addressing “Economic Injustice within the Food Systems”: “There exists two grocery stores owned and/or operated by African-Americans in Detroit. It is unknown whether any food wholesalers, farmers, distributors or food processing facilities providing food for the city of Detroit are owned, operated or even hire Detroiters, specifically African-Americans; or if any of the food products consumed in our community were developed by people from our community. Aside from cashiers, baggers, stock persons and a few butchers, Detroiters, specifically African-Americans, are absent from the food system. Our primary and predominant role is that of consumer.” From the City of Detroit Policy on Food Security “Creating a Food-Secure Detroit”.

I’d like to think there are more than two grocery stores owned by African-Americans in New York, and we know Golden Krust has contracts with the Department of Corrections, but the rest of the statement, and the policy as a whole, rings true for New York with major health and economic benefits for the city in general and the African-American community in particular.

The conference organizers said the theme was “collective responsibility and doing for self”, noting that a world of outside forces are constantly at work with distractions and misdirections, making it difficult to stop and think about self-development and racial cohesiveness.  Mr. Yakini asked, “What stops us from having collective impact”? and answers saying, “One of the things that keeps us from being successful is the internalized doubt.   Also, because we are oppressed as a people, we have needs to manifest power and we do it by joining gangs or churches.  Everybody wants to have their fiefdom, rather than focusing on solving the problems.  We have to focus more on the collective good.  What’s important is the work.   We have to look beyond the individual organizations”.

D’Artagnan Scorza, from Inglewood, California, spoke of being inspired by the legendary Brooklyn cultural institution The East and the work of Segun Shabaka and Jitu Weusi and of using gardens as a foundation for a holistic involvement of the community.   Serving over 12,000 children with the intent of helping them utilize their own agency and grounding the students in the continuum of their history. Developing them to become activists in their communities and involving them in strategies to change their realities.

“Any people seeking to be self-reliant and self-sufficient have to be able to feed themselves.  There is an interconnectedness and that has to be understood.

Mr. Yakini said that most of the work around food issues being done in the black community was being done by white people.  “Just because white people are in the food justice movement does not mean they’ve divested themselves of white supremacy and white privilege”, and there have to be conversations about that.

After the panel discussion, Hanifa Adjuman, the outreach director for the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, said that part of her mission is to develop young people into food warriors by teaching them urban gardening, nutrition and food justice.  “The biggest part is helping our children understand that there is dignity in this work.   What was taken from Africa was not just the physical assets but also the agricultural knowledge, the intellectual capacity as well.”

This is the kind of work being done all over the country by dedicated individuals that has to be encouraged and supported by our tax dollars if we are to rebuild our community.