In all fifty states, and in countries around the world, millions of people are rising up to collectively express their grief and anger in response to state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies. We know that the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery, are but the most recent in a long list of many, many Black people who have been murdered. We demand an end to the war on Black people.
We are inspired by and grateful to our community that is showing up in Defense of Black Lives—by taking to the streets, donating to bail funds, opening up their homes, making art, making care packages and first aid kits, dancing, singing and chanting, and speaking truth about the violence of a white supremacist police state in our country and beyond. But we know violence against Black lives is not new, and we know the war on Black people takes many forms.
We’re currently witnessing how the novel coronavirus is disproportionately impacting Black people, who suffer higher incidence of illness and death from COVID-19. As a legacy of food apartheid, generational trauma, and chronic stress, Black folks are more likely to suffer from diet-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, comorbidities most often linked to COVID-19 fatalities. They are also more likely to be part of the ‘essential’ workforce of public transit, retail, and service sector employees who are forced to choose between risking their lives or their livelihood, and who are more likely to live in neighborhoods with polluted air and water. Furthermore, Black people are most likely to be denied access to health care, whether due to a lack of neighborhood facilities, or because of discrimination when attempting to access care.
As an organization that works in food and agriculture, we have witnessed the violence of food apartheid that is caused by redlining and divestment from majority-Black neighborhoods; in the prison industrial complex that puts a majority-Black prison labor force to work on penal farms for little to no wages; and in the lack of labor rights when it comes to occupations historically performed by enslaved people, still largely done by communities of color. We see violence in the systemic racism of government institutions, in Black farmers’ lack of access to land, and in the overwhelming loss of land experienced by Black farmers in the South.
HEAL was founded with the knowledge that to truly transform our food and agriculture system, we must confront the reality that this country’s food system was built on land stolen from indigenous people, and on the abduction, forced migration and enslavement of African people. The truth is that the systems that treat Black lives as disposable today are not new—they are rooted in slavery, a system that stole the lives and labor of Black people to maintain the comfort and privilege of the ruling class, and grow colonial wealth. That’s the same system that continues to treat food workers as disposable.
This system’s dominant structure devalues care while promoting command and control top-down order in service of the wealthy class. As calls to defund police amplify around the US, we’re seeing a renewed focus on community care and investment in vital community needs. HEAL and member organizations have been working on this for years. How do we care for the health of our communities through the food they eat, the physical environments they live in, and the conditions they work in? What other structures do we need to abolish for us to truly practice community care?
To our communities and people putting your bodies, lives, talents and gifts to work in Defense of Black Lives: we see you. We hope you are feeling as inspired and motivated as we are. We hope you are seeing and celebrating your wins. On June 4th, less than two weeks after the first protests began, city council members in Los Angeles introduced legislation to cut at least $100 million in LAPD funding. In Minneapolis, the heart of the uprising, the four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd have been charged and the city is finally doing what Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective have been demanding —defunding the police. But we must keep fighting.
As a BIPOC-led alliance, we also acknowledge that the loudest, most recognized, and most funded voices in progressive movements for food and agriculture are overwhelmingly white. We recognize that the war on Black people includes the microaggressions, silencing, and assimilation efforts rife within non-profits in the progressive movement. We invite white-led organizations to hit pause on business-as-usual and reinvest your time and resources in defense of Black lives. There is no food justice without racial justice. And there is no movement without relationships. Take the time to build authentic relationships across race, sector, and geography. Show up for Black folks, even if it doesn’t directly fulfill your grant outcomes. Don’t substitute the presence of other peoples of color for Black leadership. And don’t make it about you.
The solidarity, power, and strength demonstrated by our people in this moment is cracking open a system based on white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. It’s on us to plant the seeds of a different world in those cracks, and to cultivate and nourish that new world, whether it is in imagining new ways to keep our communities safe, better ways to care for public health, or envisioning a food and agriculture system that is stewarded by our communities, where BIPOC farmers and fishers can thrive, and everyone has the right and the means to produce, prepare, share, and eat nutritious food that is free from exploitation.
Just as the violence is not new, neither is the resistance born of communities. The ways we collectively show up will extend well beyond the call to end police brutality, beyond the defense of Black lives against state violence. The ways we show up will celebrate the sacred wisdom, resilience, lives and power of the people.
We honor the work of Black leaders in food and agriculture transformation – the freedom fighters that have fought for the past four hundred years for their own liberation, and with that, for our collective liberation. We honor our political ancestors and today’s leaders.
We are grateful to count Black-led organizations that are at the forefront of fighting for racial equity in the food system among our membership, leadership, partners and allies, and in the cohort of our School of Political Leadership. They are farmers, fishers, community organizers, health advocates and policy experts. Some of them provide grassroots support in neighborhoods burdened by redlining and food apartheid, some are policy experts driving change at the local, state and federal levels and others are producers who are growing food and nurturing resilient regional food systems.
Together, they are doing the hard work of pushing back against against the white supremacist, capitalistic food system and its consequences—food apartheid, Black land loss, diet-related illness, race-based wealth inequities, and environmental degradation to name a few—while driving real solutions in their own communities. This is difficult work that demands spiritual strength, resolve and imagination. All of these qualities are embodied in the leadership and teams of each of these organizations and we urge you to offer them your support.
- The National Black Food and Justice Alliance, one of HEAL’s co-founders, comprises 20 Black-led organizations, listed below
- Backyard Gardeners Network
- Black Dirt Farm Collective
- Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Living
- Black Yield Institute
- Brooklyn Movement Center
- Center for Third World Organizing
- Cooperation Jackson Freedom Farm
- Detroit Black Food Security Network
- Dreaming Out loud
- Farms to Grow, Inc
- Freedom Farm
- Hilltop Urban Gardens
- Land Loss Prevention Project
- Truly Living Well
- Ridall Green Partnerhsip
- Southeast African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON)
- SE Michigan Producers Association
- Yisrael Family Farm
- Soil Generation
- Soul Fire Farm
- Operation Spring Plant
- Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights
School of Political Leadership Members’ Organizations
- Just Food
- Kelly St Garden
- African Heritage Food Coop
- Urban Fruits & Veggies
- Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor
A few other Black-led organizations transforming food and agriculture systems
*this is nowhere near a comprehensive list – please send us your suggestions for inclusion!