True Power Lies Within: Reflections on Power Analysis & Campaign Strategy Mapping Through SoPL

By Demond Timberlake, Assistant Director of Community Organizing & Operations, Hand, Heart and Soul Project & Member of  Southern Roots SoPL 2023 team

The HEAL School of Political Leadership (SoPL) presented itself as an opportunity to expand the impact of what many of us feel is a calling. I was eager to apply, for I knew that sharpening my skills and broadening connections would be the only way to take my vision to the next level. Food justice is not something that can be achieved by taking the easy way out. It requires facing hard truths, strategic organizing, and surrounding yourself with like minded individuals.

Demond, Sagdrina, and Wande from the SoPL Southern Roots team celebrated Black farmers and are all smiles at Sagdrina’s Sage D Consulting’s “Grow the Love” event, which featured a panel discussion of allies and food justice advocates (pictured below) in the food and agriculture from metro Atlanta
My vision for our cohort is to make meaningful connections that will help us positively impact the health of our local communities, with the goal of creating a healthier and more equitable nation. One good thing that has come out of the last few years is the opportunity to connect in a hybrid fashion. SoPL has made good use of this, creating a gateway for local groups to impactfully organize in a manner that is parallel to other movements across the nation. Together, I hope we can create lasting change within our communities.

For Southern Roots, we believe that SoPL will train us to elevate the Atlanta area as a beacon for local food systems. We intend to simultaneously address the needs of the rural and urban communities that we call neighbors. We want to create change that is community-led. We must never forget our roots.

For myself, I want to evolve into the disruptor I’ve always wanted to be. I’m not talking about the type of disruptor shown in Glass Onion, though I do agree that true disruption requires you to break the system. This change begins with education and reflection – the kind that requires you to learn as much about yourself as the policies that have gotten us where we are today.

Truth be told, our introduction to SoPL and to power within food systems made it feel like fighting against white supremacy and capitalism would be a Goliath of a battle with no end. 400 years of exploiting people that are Black, Indigenous, women and differently abled has gotten this country to the success it celebrates today. However, this program has allowed me to view the wielders of power a little differently and has renewed my faith. True power lies within the people and their connection to the land. When given the opportunity and resources to organize successfully, we will be victorious. Access to information and connection has never been more obtainable. We must foster these connections and genuine relationships for the greater good.

Our team seeks to ensure that EVERYONE, especially our most vulnerable, have the chance to lead a healthy life. Food security, safe shelter, and adequate medical treatment are a few elements that must coincide in order for healthy living to be achievable. The 2023 Farm Bill is an opportunity to address a few of these elements and the Southern Roots SoPL team is here to encourage those with perceived power, the lawmakers, to remember the humanity of their constituents. We are advocating for the expansion of nutrition assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). Opposing these programs is not a protection of individual rights, but an attack on human rights. 

My optimism for achieving our vision for food and farm systems is due in large part to the success of previous SoPL cohorts and the collective work of my cohort. From Atlanta to Idaho, we’re engaged in mission-driven work to show farmworkers, small farmers and our most vulnerable citizens that they’re not alone in standing up to the system. Together, we eat. Together, we heal.

I still hear the US Senate runoff ads from midterms in the back of my mind, reminding me that Georgia has awoken as a political battleground. The unwavering fight against voter suppression cracked the conservative stronghold, but it hasn’t broken just yet. Regardless of what side of the aisle they sit on, it’s encouraging to know that we have Senator Warnock on the Senate Ag committee, and two representatives on the House Ag committee – Rep. David Scott is the Chairman of the House Ag Committee and is joined by Rep. Austin Scott. There are three Georgian politicians in Washington right now that say the health of this country’s food systems is important to them. It’s up to our team and the countless other organizations to hold them to it!

Over the next few months, I expect the training that we will receive from SoPL will thoroughly equip us to engage these politicians, similar organizations and members of our community that need their voices to be heard. I look forward to strategizing with my team to bring the literal and figurative microphone to the Black and Brown working class. These folks are the backbone of America, yet are severely impacted by inequality. Our work aims to amplify their needs, and harness their individual and collective power. Food justice is a major issue, yet it is only one piece of the puzzle to shifting the dynamics of power in our communities. We’re going to make the most out of this opportunity to create a healthier future for all, and we hope you’re ready to join us. 

About Demond

Demond is a nature-obsessed North Carolina native whose roots run deep in horticulture. After obtaining his degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 with a major in Exercise & Sport Science and a minor in African, African-American Diaspora Studies, Demond went on to become a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach. Because of his passions for community organization and accessible wellness, Demond recognizes how imperative a holistic approach is on the individual and public health levels. He finds joy in any opportunity to roll up his sleeves and do the work, whether that’s literally working in the garden or connecting in the community. Read more

About the Southern Roots team

Through SoPL, the Southern Roots team will develop an advocacy campaign to demand policymakers and local leaders work with community members and other stakeholders to increase access to nutrient-dense foods, food access and ensure that residents are familiar with the benefits of SNAP, TANF, and WIC. Over 388,000 Georgians are food insecure, yet are above the threshold of 185% poverty to receive other nutrition assistance programs. During SoPL, the Southern Roots team will create strategies to address the lack of resources and hold policymakers accountable. Community conversations which elevate the voices of those the team serves will be paramount where there will be dialog surrounding the inequitable distribution of resources for local food systems in the state. The team includes Demond Timberlake, Sagdrina Jalal, and Wande Okunoren-Meadows.