The State of the Work Circa 2018

Richmond’s built environment bears the scars of racial inequality inherent in slavery, Jim Crow discrimination and economic marginalization. We see the ripple effects in who has access to healthy food. We see the ripple effects in who lives in urban heat islands, where summer heat is magnified by impervious surfaces and minimal tree canopy. We see the ripple effects in who has resources to beautify residential areas. We see the ripple effects in the disparity that exists for black and brown people because of industrial pollution. There is an opportunity to mitigate these harsh realities through collaboration, specifically through place-making and its emphasis on equitable processes that regenerate public greenspaces by working with the community instead of doing for them.

Place-making is a process-oriented approach to planning, design, and management of public spaces. Place-making capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing. Regenerative place-making – the transformation of blighted city space into thriving, safe, multi-dimensional public greenspace – can address a multitude of health equity issues at once. Such transformation requires working with community residents as well as municipal, nonprofit partners and philanthropic investment in the planning, designing and implementation of community places.

Historically, community development decisions have been made in a top-down fashion in Richmond: local government and its partners have developed policies and programs and made land use decisions with limited insight from affected community members. Community members have seldom been offered opportunities to shape policies and implementation plans that influence transformation of the built environment within their own neighborhoods.

A contemporary movement toward social justice must advance health equity through regenerative place-making. Tangible changes in the built environment of marginalized communities will require collaboration and relationship-building across the lines of race and class. Place-making as a process; when implemented equitably, is inherently a working with process instead of a doing for that emphasizes community assets, visions and indigenous narratives as the foundational ingredients for success. Our communities need leaders that are effective in facilitating place-making projects that result in more equitable community outcomes: increased social cohesion and social capital; improved physical and psychological well-being; improved sense of place; increased community satisfaction and civic engagement; and increased access to healthy food and progress toward community revitalization.

For the past 16 years, I have stewarded Happily Natural Day, an African centered festival dedicated to cultural identity, holistic health and social change. Its inception was disruptive. Even before the explosion of the natural hair industry, Happily Natural Day was engaging audiences regarding inferiority complexes within the black community. By blending informative lectures and workshops with musicians and performers from across the country and globe, Happily Natural Day has become as staple event for the black cultural communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region. The festival ‘s focus on culinary arts has inspired health changes within communities of color by promoting culturally relevant plant-based food-ways while simultaneously providing small businesses with an opportunity to launch and test products in the festival’s African marketplace.

My grassroots, ground up involvement developing the festival inspired my work in urban agriculture. Working with black farmers who served as presenters and vendors in the festival market, we developed a pop-up market in communities of color geographically designated as food deserts. Those relationships evolved into the development of community gardens; school gardens, urban farms, orchards and indoor farms. One area that has eluded me is how to successfully access the levels of philanthropic investment necessary to cultivate sustainable collaborations for sustainable urban agriculture and green infrastructure. The goal is and has always been finding multi-dimensional uses for vacant lots within communities of color, to address the root causes of concentrated poverty. Community ownership and “working with” are embedded within the practice of community greening to achieve sustainable impact. However, those with wealth have either been elusive, outside of our circles of influence or intimidated by our intentional focus on race, cultural identity and social justice – up until recently.

As an activist I spent the first 10 years of my career developing programs targeting qualitative metrics such as raising awareness. My life changed when I decided to start working quantitatively as I focused on urban agriculture as a tool to building community’s capacity to solve their own problems specifically related to health and now more intentionally in the built landscape environment. Since building that first garden in 2012, my journey has evolved towards building deeper collaborations consistent with my prior work dedicated to affirming African Descendant cultural identity; urban greening and agriculture; and collaboration for collective impact that advances racial equity.

As a result of this work, two years ago I took on a new role as Community Engagement Coordinator for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where I was charged with the development of programs to extend the garden “beyond its walls”. The Ginter Urban Gardener Program is informed and inspired by years of working in urban communities developing green infrastructure. The Ginter Urban Gardeners are a corps of community volunteers recruited and trained by Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to lead urban greening initiatives in the marginalized neighborhoods where they live.

Through a philosophy of working with instead of doing for, the program is sowing seeds of change in Jackson Ward, Church Hill, the East End and Fulton by cultivating community engagement to create urban greenspace. The program teaches best practices in sustainable agriculture, urban landscape design, project management and volunteer coordination, empowering Richmond’s most vulnerable populations to affect positive and sustainable change in their own communities. It is an exercise in community building, communication, and collaboration across often insular and isolated public and private entities, and an effort to increase local capacity to accomplish urban greening projects that are often beyond the reach and resources of residents or local government.

The Ginter Urban Gardener Program empowers citizens to leverage their own resources to build better neighborhoods by working with local organizations and passionate people who share a common vision for vibrant urban ecology. Using a grassroots, asset-based approach to community development, and, working in collaboration with community stakeholders and volunteers for collective regional impact, Ginter Urban Gardeners focus on neighborhood-by-neighborhood results. The program develops stakeholder engagement by investing in residents who serve as community liaisons, project managers and volunteer coordinators. Dedicated to building trust and inspiring others, they help cultivate knowledge, pride, self-sufficiency, confidence, a spirit of engagement and a sense of belonging in Richmond’s most marginalized neighborhoods.

By integrating trust building principles with community development initiatives, Ginter Urban Gardeners also aim to engage residents in building the authentic relationships which will foster cultural change. As trainees learn to facilitate difficult conversations, understand the impact that community history has on contemporary issues, honor inclusivity and diversity and embrace personal development as keys to community change, they help cultivate the interpersonal values that are necessary for sustainable community empowerment.


Let them Eat Kale: The misplaced narrative of food access

Critically examines supermarket incentive policies that have aimed to
eliminate disparities in access to healthy food and, by doing so, reduce diet-
related chronic diseases. Public investments of hundreds of millions of
dollars have subsidized supermarket development through such programs, despite
research showing that merely expanding access to food retail has no
appreciable effect on shopping patterns, food choices, health, obesity, or
diet-related diseases. The article examines the emergence of food access as a
policy issue, current approaches to increasing food access, and possible
alternatives for reducing economic and health disparities within food systems.


This reader is intended to be an introduction to the theory called Afro-pessimism. Collected in this volume are articles spanning three decades of thought, with topics ranging from police violence, the labor of Black women, and the slave’s transformation following emancipation, to the struggles of
the Black Liberation Army and elements of anti-Blackness in Indigenous struggles for sovereignty. Although the authors use differing methods of analysis, they all approach them with a shared theoretical understanding of slavery, race, and the totality of anti-Blackness; it is this shared understanding that has been called Afro-pessimism. Importantly though, rather than a fixed
ideology, Afro-pessimism is better thought of as a theoretical lens for situating relations of power, at the level of the political and the libidinal.

Afro-pessimism, in many ways, picks up the critiques started by Black revolutionaries in the 1960s and 70s, elaborating their short-comings and addressing their failures. While we don’t intend to explicate at great length the theory of Afro-pessimism here—this will be done by the articles—it may be helpful to start with a brief overview to give those readers without a context
some footing with which to go forward.

Thoughts on Urban Ag: Inheriting Characteristics of Our Racist System

The problem with urban ag is that it has inherited the problems inherent in a racist system. Where nonprofit orgs could be advocates for black people to control the land in their own communities, where they grow their own food and export that food throughout the region as a form of economic development of ANY scale – the most popular urban ag organizations employ a model where the black & poor communities that are considered food deserts geographically are dependent upon them. The non profit acts as the producer, either of goods – produce – or services – nutrition education classes, double bucks at the farmers market & etc – and the community responds as the consumer of said goods or services.

Recently I was talking to a non profit leader in urban ag about whether their work intersected with racial equity in any way. They responded saying they sell produce in corner stores in black communities and that was racial equity to them. I explained that black people being able buy produce from white folks in stores they dont own wasnt racial equity. Black people being the owner of the store, the owner of the farm and the owner of the distribution company that got the produce to the store was racial equity. I dont think we were seeing equity through the same lens or the same way.

When the non profit fixes itself as a perpetual producer and service provider it is not entering a practice that is sustainable especially when it could create systems to make itself obsolete. In the case of urban ag by providing funding for communities to develop their own food production systems, by advocating for black and brown voices lifting them up and connecting them to their more resourced networks, by asking foundations if they fund black organizations as much as they fund white run ones, by being anti-racist instead of “non-racist” and providing accessible and culturally relevant training and hiring black people from the community in which they are found to do work, these are but a few ways to foster a more equitable food system. But the racist system we live in loves the narrative of helping the poor black people – whether they be in a third world country or in a housing project in the East End of Richmond. In both instances – there is no money for the non profit in empowering poor people to not need them anymore.

If the non profit solves the problem of food deserts how will their staff pay their mortgages? This is why we advance conversations about race into the dialogue. It isnt to bully folks or make folks feel ashamed. It is because at the root of this issue of black dependency – we have to examine why communities are dependent in the first place. How did the food desert become a thing? What racist policies were implemented that created the reality the community is facing today that your organization purports ro address? Then we have examine the presence of white organizations in black communities that arent working to create sustainable models for change. If we arent talking about black people being self determining and solving their own problems are we talking about them being perpetually dependent upon you? Is that not problematic?

What Are You Telling Yourself on Your Road to Success?

As we walk into 2018 and do our year in reviews, debate top 10 emcees and talk about what we are leaving in 2017 – I think it is also important we do a little introspection on our own self talk.

Self talk; for those who arent into it already – is the thing or things you tell yourself about yourself that either motivate or stall us from being great. You want to start that business? Positive self talk sounds like yes I can do this and results in you strategizing then implementing that strategy. Negative self talk does the opposite. It lists all the reasons why it wont work and shuts you down from moving forward.

In this video; we chop it up with Josh Epperson; the co-founder of Feast RVA and all around do gooder in the Richmond area. He talks about internal narratives and our “I Can” story. Worth a watch? I say so.

Fear and Love Can’t Occupy the Same Space and Time

So since they have told you that knowledge and experiences are passed down genetically (epigenetics) and experiences leave a biomolecular imprint on consciousness and since you “melanin on fleek” you access the knowledge and experience of the entire history of humanity not just slavery.

Since the neurological chemical reality of the emotion fear is toxic to the body – one has to only conclude that racism/white supremacy and its related myth that black people are inferior savage uncivilized is actually the defense mechanism for the system to maintain a people from knowing who they truly are (black and brown people) waking up to that knowledge of self and usurping the ruling class who only rule through deception, distraction and manipulation.

The only reason the ruling class get to burn the planet down is because YOU operating out of fear and ignorance. To keep you in fear is to keep you from unlocking who you truly are which has nothing to do with slavery – slavery is a damn bleep on the radar of our historical indigenous experience. That is why black history month, “latino” history month and “Indian” history are all taught from the framework of when we met white people – nothing before that. As if nothing happened prior to us meeting white folks. We are literally being scared to death by the system of racism / white supremacy.

As long as your consciousness is locked down the system can manipulate you and keep you dependent. once you know you can’t unknow – you can only be locked down by fear and right know as I see it a lot of folks who say they conscious are really still scared of the system, scared of racism/white supremacy. However this is in conflict with who you truly are. How can you be directly connected genetically to the first people of the planet – have that biogenetic ally embedded in your genes and be dependent upon somebody who is lying stealing and manipulating you so they can hoard wealth and burn the planet down. Those two realities don’t match and are in conflict with one another.

You may be Afrikan spiritual or whatever you want to call it but you don’t wear your cultural identity 24/7 you tone it down in front of white folks so they don’t get intimidated. Not to say you running up being nasty or mean to folks but you haven’t internalized your cultural identity so that you are unapologetically Afrikan, spiritual or indigenous or whatever you want to call yourself when you at Kwanzaa in your dashiki – 365 days a year. When we stop playing and really embody who we are – get on our path and activate in our purpose – ain’t no fear. Fear and love can’t occupy the same space and time. You either bout that life for one or the other.

How to Organize a Happily Natural Day

Happily Natural Day is grassroots festival dedicated to holistic health, cultural awareness and social change. The festival promotes pride in being of African descent because for over 400 years Africans all over the globe were taught by the western educational system that African people were savages. This guide is submitted for those who may be interested in the history of the festival and as insight on how to do it in your own community.

Major thanks to our ancestor Mama Anita Holloway who helped us in the composition of this guide.

Ways to Support Black Urban Farmers in Your Area

1. Join a CSA: A CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture) is a share of the farmers harvest for a season (3 months). You enter into an agreement with the farmer in advance of his/her planting and invest 200$ and in return you get 20 lbs of assorted produce for 12 weeks

2. Micro-Farm Your Yard: Everybody wants a garden – but not everybody has time to garden. Our team of growers will be expanding in the spring/summer of 2018. If you have a backyard that you would like to turn into a garden; we will set it up and grow produce for you. In exchange of our team growing the garden for you – you get a lush garden and a 50% of the harvest. The rest of the harvest we sell throughout the Richmond Region to sustain the program.

3. Drop off Your Compost: If you have veggie scraps, find a bucket with a top and fill it with veggie scraps, egg shells, leaves and newspaper products at local gardens and farms to help build soil.

New Millennium Paradigm for Grassroots African Organizing:

New Millennium Paradigm for Grassroots African Organizing: bt Duron Chavis circa Feb. 2009

1. Clarity of Vision

2. Establishment of Cadre

3. Definition of Purpose

4. Strategic Considerations

5. Network Development

6. Fundraising

7. New Millennium Considerations

8. Suggested Reading

New Millennium Paradigm for Grassroots African Organizing:

The new millennium paradigm is a shift from traditional approaches to organizing amid the poor and oppressed masses. Essentially the concise statement that captures the essence of what this treatise presents is: The weapons of the masses must be constantly redefined in order to counter the Empires ever evolving technology and propaganda. This treatise is submitted humbly; with the understanding that the methodology of struggle implemented in the 1960’s and 70’s must provide a framework, however cannot successfully bring about relevant change amid a new millennium climate.

Clarity of Vision:

The grassroots organizer has to have clarity of vision. It is imperative to have a concise perception on one’s role and a strong grounding + affirmed position in one’s participation in the movement for social action. There is a difference between an internet activist and an in the streets activist. The first can start & be a catalyst to change by posting online and tweetinf hashtags however an in the streets activist has to be clear on his/her role in protracted struggle beyond that. A defined sense of identity revolving about the axis of ethnic/national/cultural/spiritual values that must be ascertained and claimed and uncompromising dedication to the people and the issues relevant to the people are of paramount importance for clarity of vision. Essentially clarity of vision is an understanding that one stands upon the backs of ancestors who struggled and for this reason; it is honorable and out of duty to the Creator & those yet to be created that we struggle to further liberate our people.

Establishment of Cadre:

Cadre essentially is a small unit of individuals with varying skill sets and capabilities that are cross-trained to a high degree of efficiency to undertake the duties and responsibilities of another in that person’s absence. Cadre is your core group of workers. It is not your organization. Cadre is static to a high degree however; cadre does change perhaps increasing however sustained efforts must be implemented to ensure the sustenance of your core group. These will be the individuals that surround you to ensure ills such as battle fatigue do not hinder one from protracted struggle.

In order to establish cadre:

1. Seek individuals with like minds who have the same sincerity regarding struggle. Organizing does not mean you have to have a formal structure, board of directors or 501 c 3 status

2. Seek individuals who solicit help out of altruistic and selfless motive.

3. Develop projects and activities that will employ cadre member’s skill sets. It is nothing worse than being a part of a group and not having any responsibility. This can lead to retention problems.

4. Share the victory (victory being a amorphous quality, best defined as completion of a goal however small) consider all ideas of equal importance.

Definition of Purpose:

Define for what reason you are organizing. What is your group’s purpose? While it is definitely positive to stay abreast and to have a position on many issues, it is not your responsibility to tackle every issue. By defining your groups purpose, you limit the over expenditure of your time & resources. Often organizations have broad purposes; however this leads to a scattered approach and limited measurable successes. By limiting the purpose of your group you can tackle your particular piece effectively and assist others in their attacking of their piece with your resources. Essentially by defining your purpose you have a framework in which to struggle effectively. Contradictions will arise, however experience is gained by handling each issue on a case by case basis. For example, if your group is organized to stop the war, when an issue of religious intolerance arises i.e. the unfair treatment of Muslim brothers and sisters in a predominantly intolerant Christian climate you will have to choose whether this is an issue that you are equipped to deal with. While it is not being said that issues must not be dealt with or that one issue is more important than the other; if your organization has no clear definition of purpose you will not be effective in organizing against anything; you will seem inconsistent in the people’s eyes, picking and choosing various unrelated issues. Definition of purpose is best achieved by creating a one word mission statement: i.e. the get conscious think collective is an collective of individuals sick of working as individuals to raise consciousness in the African community.

Strategic Considerations:

Five strategy Questions:

1. What is the particular problem confronting us?

2. Why does the problem exist?

3. What should we do about it?

4. How should we move to attain the goal?

5. What are the results going to be?

These questions do not have to go in this order but all of them must be addressed at some point in order for your organizing to be effective. No.3 & No. 4 are often confused as one and the same. What you are going to do is not the same as how you are going to do it. Special attention needs to be placed on both. It is easy to say what you are going to do but critical thought must be put into how you are going to do it. No. 5 must be noted as well because you can have action but if you have no way to measure your success your work can easily become wearisome and tiring seemingly unfruitful. Be honest with yourself and your capabilities but note that you can accomplish anything with a properly laid out plan. By asking No. 2 you identify the enemy and the obstacles to your goal; you also define allies in your struggle and possible avenues of quick and painless victory. I.E. you have a problem with your water in your apartment. Your hot water is not on anymore. Well you can protest the landlord but did you first check if the water heater was turned on? This is an obvious oversimplification however it is used to illustrate that sometime the solutions to problems are a lot easier than one may think.

Network Development:

Utilize the network. Seek allies in your city, state & region through any means possible. Attend events and represent yourself and what your group stands for, hold your own events as well, conduct not only struggle related action, but also provide popular education, and social service action to further develop ground-level support of your larger scale activities. Use the internet, telephone, mail to make contact with other groups with like minded views.By creating an inter-regional network your activities can cover much ground in a short amount of time. Pay close attention to what is going on in other places and seek ways that your group can support as well through your network and resources.

New Millennium Considerations:

The age of conventional protests, marches and rallies are dead. The people on a grassroots level especially among Africans in inner cities are ever-increasingly becoming disillusioned to these methodologies due to their over use and the often limited results elicited by them. Use the conventional methods sparingly; however employ innovative spins on these techniques as much as possible. Create new and engaging ways to bring attention to your cause. Create strategies that are relevant to the core audience that you intend to attract and do not fear the concept of guerilla marketing. In an ever increasingly competitive society driven by marketing and advertising; the Empire’s propaganda is honed to a science with focus groups, research & development; behavioral scientists and the like: Millions of dollars are invested on studying how people will react to various trends, events, and products. Everything down to the color of McDonalds new big mac wrapper is highly scrutinized before it reaches the common everyday John or Jane Doe. Therefore you as an organizer must not leave things to chance regarding your propaganda.

The Empire will attempt to crush you and your movement even if it does not know you specifically exist as an entity. The programming of the society is designed to purge you as an anomaly. Therefore it is important; to stay sharp and wise. Keep your affairs in order i.e family, finances, legal issues, etc. while undertaking grassroots organizing work.

Suggested Reading:

Ready for Revolution; Kwame Ture

Survival Strategies; Anthony Browder

Black Panther Party Speaks

Jay Conrad Levinson: Guerrilla Marketing

Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Jill Lubin: Guerrilla Publicity

Dietrick Hessel: Social Action Primer