REPOST: Black Liberation and the Hunt for Food Sovereignty (Cypress Fund)

G minding her own business chillaxin in North Charleston, SC

I think it was 2016 when I was giving a presentation about our work at the farm and was asked what I expected to be doing 20 years from now. My response, chilling on a beach somewhere turning leadership over to others because our work is community driven. Today, I believe I should chill right now while I decenter myself in this communal vision. I'm thankful to Cypress Fund's Chief Reparations Officer Chi Singletary who invited me to write a blog post about this beautiful moment in history when Black womxn are prioritizing rest and liberation as part of the pursuit of justice.

The transcript of that blog post is here:

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices (Audre Lorde).”

After getting by on SNAP benefits and government cheese as a kid, my family got a taste of liberation the first time I homeschooled my son. We planted a garden around our house, learned to raise hens and then used cooking lessons and blog posts as our class time.

We launched Fresh Future Farm to amplify that liberation for our North Charleston neighbors. Within months, I found myself right back in survival mode, building a farm and knocking on funder doors to find resources to keep it growing. The emotional lengths society takes to undermine and condescend to Black women nonprofit leaders is astounding. Working for free, wondering how our bills would be paid, enduring disrespect (sometimes at the hands of people on my team) while also internalizing the injustice our customers experience day-to-day had negative health impacts landed me in the hospital several times over the last seven years.

Historic exclusion stings harder when it shows up in philanthropic circles. On paper, these groups sound like the answer to our prayers. In reality, my ears ring and my cheeks warm up as I have to grin and bear one insult after the next - delivering succinct pitch competition performances only to have rules change; donors in predominantly white spaces referring to me as homegirl; potential donors wondering aloud if I would waste their money; paying my dues in exchange for years of extraction and exploitation with little reward; being labeled difficult by organizations when I rejected the exploitation.

I made a conscious decision to withdraw from these harmful processes and my stress levels went down. They climbed again as I had to search for other means to pay livable wages to our growing team. Then I got a call from Chi Singletary and the restoration heavens opened up for us. Having a safe space to publicly address how traditional philanthropy harmed us felt like therapy. Since that day, Chi has been a constant source of support and encouragement. We are dreaming and building liberation for our North Charleston neighbors, Black farmers and food sovereignty as we set aside time for rest and recuperation. Cypress Fund provided our team with home offices at the height of the pandemic. We had contract funding to hire someone to assist me with writing grants. Uninsured and underinsured team members had money to cover out of pocket medical expenses, visit functional doctors and buy exercise equipment. Chi and I had a whole conversation last fall about transformational work that allows us to bring our full selves to work. We don’t ignore our felt needs as individuals while we grow the quality of life our neighbors deserve. That’s a recipe for disaster that has led too many good people to an early grave.

Food and land sovereignty look and feel closer now that we are able to focus more on the mission. Meals taste better because I have the energy and bandwidth to cook for myself like I did in our homeschool days. The excitement that we have for what’s possible has added depth and excitement to our plans to build a closed loop food system. None of this would be possible without Cypress and our favorite Chief Reparations Officer.

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