With support from the Compton Family Foundation and Clarence E. Heller Foundation, People's Grocery convened our entire team with the Social Justice Learning Institute (Los Angeles/Inglewood) and Detroit Black Community Food Security Coalition in Detroit during the first week of September (with a special guest from WHY Hunger in New York). We explored power building in our movement, ways to support one another, learned about our work. This trip became a lesson for us all in ways that relationships, either interpersonal or organizational, can always be a venue for transformative action.
The first morning in Detroit, we were taken on a tour led by several elders of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), as well as a few other lifelong Detroiters. This city has a powerful story to tell, living and growing through all those working for justice. We saw the work of many generations, standing at the corner where history happened. We saw the current realities of economic devastation and of vibrant life-making. And we saw the work going on today to make Detroit a more just city, leaning into vision and hope for the future. These themes stayed with us throughout our meetings and explorations in Detroit: history, elders, youth, trust, work, and justice. The histories, "herstories", struggles for self-determination, art, and ongoing work deeply informed the work we did that week and continue to inspire us as we return to our respective communities.
Similar to Oakland, much of what you hear in the media about Detroit is devastation, heartbreak, violence, and empty houses. But we began breaking down the stereotypes immediately as Malik Yakini, Executive Director of DBCFSN, spoke of “ruin porn”; the outside world’s obsession with Detroit’s challenges. We witnessed a rich, radical, powerful history that has carried forward into an active and organized present day, with so much work and tears and sweat in between. We saw the Nation of Islam Temple #1 and Linwood Avenue, the geographical heart of many self-determination efforts for the Black community in Detroit. We saw D-Town farm, a beautiful wealth of both food and knowledge. Plaques on the farm, coupled with the words and bodies of the farmers themselves, shared stories about African farmers and the agricultural prowess that had been lost from years of enslavement. We saw both empty lots and the Heidleberg Project: a reclamation of empty land turned into a wild garden of found-object art. “Home is where the art is.”
Detroit is rich with a long legacy, as we saw within the Black community, of people creating their own food systems, educational systems, and home grown environments to nourish their community in an entirely whole way. Throughout this tour elders in the movement shared their wisdom, their spirit, and their current work. We witnessed the history of Detroit unfold through the personal experiences of social justice activists surviving and thriving throughout the decades.
The Heidelberg Project
This tour set the stage for our inter-organizational gathering. Honoring history, both distant and recent, one of the crucial lessons learned was that we need to figure out ways to work together. We must engage truth-telling and bridge chasms of power, privilege, and ego that arise in our movement. These practices also help us address our common weaknesses and shared oppressions. Our convening was a space to ask hopeful questions. How can we amplify our voices, actions, and the movement as a whole by sharing our local knowledge and collaborating on a multi-city or national level?
The teams met with very little knowledge of each other, although our leaders had been working together and building with each other in the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies fellowship. We witnessed a powerful variety of energy and culture from different environments (Los Angeles, Oakland, Detroit and New York), different eras of activism, different racial and cultural backgrounds and presences, and different skill sets.
We began laying the groundwork by sharing ourselves as individuals and then as organizations. Our process was guided by Renee and Gwen from Doers Consulting, powerful sisters who saw our hearts and our work, and like midwives, supported the birth of our commonalities and possibilities for the future. We explored our common ground as organizations to see how we could work collectively to build our capacity internally and amplify our voices externally. Shared experiences of self determination in the face of racism, resistance struggles, challenges of urban agriculture, accountability practices, and storytelling continually surfaced in the room. At the core of our dialogue was a common purpose of justice work, as well as the respect of each other's differences and histories. In a process that was as much trust building as it was creating content, we witnessed and experienced moments of transformation in how the work for justice lives inside of us, and how we frame our work in the world. We must be able to work together to build the movement for social justice and food justice.
Look out for future updates as our organizations determine ways to collaborate and strengthen our work. It was a gift to exchange with our allies - we look forward to future visits.