Meet the 2022 HEAL School of Political Leadership (SoPL) Cohort!

For Immediate Release: February 23, 2022

Contact: Alicia Mercedes,; Neshani Jani,

12 Leaders Join Majority BIPOC Political Leadership Cohort to Develop Food and Farm Justice Campaigns

HEAL Food Alliance’s School of Political Leadership brings together food and farm justice leaders from across the country to develop a blueprint for inclusive, community-based food and agriculture systems

NATIONAL (February 23, 2022) — Today, the HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance welcomes 12 grassroots leaders to the fourth cohort of its School of Political Leadership (SoPL). Through the six-month, virtual program these community leaders, activists and organizers will build skills to develop campaigns that address the many injustices of our current food system and drive political change in their communities. 

“All of us, no matter who we are or where we come from, deserve to have a say in the policies that affect our families and communities,” said Marla Karina Larrave, Political Education Director at the HEAL Food Alliance. “The communities that our SoPL teams represent have been purposefully excluded from major decision making processes and policies that directly affect their lives, leaving control of our food system in the hands of a few select corporations and politicians. We need accountable leadership grounded in values that support equity, community, and care for our planet. The individuals in our 2022 cohort are those leaders.”

“I believe SoPL will help strengthen the voice of local, community leaders in our city who come from areas where the need for healthy options is highest” said Marco Lemus, Community Organizer at Urban Tilth and member of the 2022 SoPL cohort. “We hope to grow a city that will model for the rest of the world what a food system centered around human life actually looks like, and that can only happen by prioritizing BIPOC lives and voices, since we are most likely to be at risk of health issues not only because of where we live, but also because we make up a vast majority of the frontline communities who work growing, cooking, and distributing food and related essential services.”

The 2022 cohort is composed of three teams – two from Illinois and one from California – who will be developing campaigns at the intersections of workers’ rights, community health, and sustainable urban agriculture. These teams include: 

Illinois Food Alliance (Chicago and Joliet, IL)

  • Violeta Thompson (she/they), Community Health Navigator, Warehouse Workers for Justice
  • Felix Ortiz (he/they), Community Health Navigator, Warehouse Workers for Justice
  • Brandin McDonald (he/him), Community Health Navigator, Warehouse Workers for Justice 
  • Nicholas Domberg (he/him), Worker Protection Organizer, Warehouse Workers for Justice

Through SoPL, the Illinois Food Alliance team will develop a plan to organize a campaign across the local food warehouse industry that will bring food warehouse workers together to challenge the stranglehold that problematic staffing agencies and third party logistics companies have over workers. As former warehouse workers, the team regularly engages in community outreach to organize workers in the Chicago area. Most recently they’ve led COVID-19 vaccination and safety education, fought to ensure that water remains affordable and safe for all city residents in Will County and moved forward a grassroots effort to stop NorthPoint from developing 3,800 acres of industrial warehousing.

Rooted in Richmond Food Justice (Richmond, CA)

The Rooted in Richmond Food Justice team is composed of West Contra Costa County, CA residents who come from the communities they serve and have experienced the devastating health outcomes of food apartheid. Through the “Food is Medicine” campaign, the team will aim to create a plan for a permanent funding stream to support very low income residents of color in Contra Costa County, so that fresh vegetable boxes can be covered by the Contra Costa Health Plan as preventative medicine. The team also plans to build a base of Richmond residents and support them to make policy changes that can improve their quality of life. 

Together Honoring Earth’s Mycelia (Chicago, IL)

  • Bea Fry (they/them), Development Steward, Advocates for Urban Agriculture
  • Jazmin Martinez (they/them), Co-Operations Steward, Advocates for Urban Agriculture
  • Ren Encinas (they/them), Organizing Steward, Advocates for Urban Agriculture
  • Viviana Okakpu (they/them) Co-Operations Steward, Advocates for Urban Agriculture

The Together Honoring Earth’s Mycelia team plans to strengthen their base building skills to better advocate for BIPOC farmers while co-leading the Urban Agriculture Working Group of Chicago’s Food Equity Council. Their work will center the voices of farmers and growers as the team works with the city of Chicago to create a pathway for the sustainability of urban agriculture. As growers and farmers themselves, the team brings a wealth of experience to their campaign. Most recently at AUA, they’ve worked to ensure access to municipal water for growers in Chicago and co-create an alternative re-granting fund for farm businesses.

The 2022 HEAL SoPL leaders are community activists, organizers, health advocates, farmers, growers, small business owners, land stewards, and storytellers. The cohort was selected for their commitment to racial, economic, and environmental justice and their campaign ideas, which center the knowledge, wisdom, and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who have been on the frontlines of the fight for food system transformation for decades. The 2022 SoPL Cohort is the fourth to be launched by the HEAL Food Alliance since SoPL’s founding in 2017, bringing the total number of SoPL leaders to 46.


About the HEAL Food Alliance 

The HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance is a national multi-sector, multi-racial coalition. We are led by our member-organizations, who represent about two million rural and urban farmers, ranchers, fishers, farm and food chain workers, indigenous groups, scientists, public health advocates, policy experts, and community organizers united in their commitment to transformed food systems that are healthy for all families, accessible and affordable for all communities, and fair to the working people who grow, distribute, prepare, and serve our food – while protecting the air, water, and land we all depend on.