On the weekend of January 26th, the National Black Food and Justice Alliance convened around 22 of the leading advocates, practitioners, and theoreticians working for food justice in Black communities, at Cooperation Jackson’s Lumumba Center in Jackson, MS. Assembled around a call to reimagine our food systems as instruments of Black liberation, these Black food producers, cooperative managers, and organizers spent three days bonding, sharing and challenging each other about the possibility that exists in Black food cooperatives. Those convened committed to work in sustained coordination for the emergence of self-determined food economies built on the economic democracy of a cooperative model.
The purpose of the food cooperative convening in Jackson was three-fold:
To hold a space for creative and generative energy to be shared among Black folks working for food justice and food-driven liberation in their communities;
To initiate the development of a shared analysis of cooperative food production and distribution among Black food justice organizers; and
To facilitate a commitment and a plan among those that lead Black food justice movements around the country to begin to develop a coordinated and systematic plan of action around the growth of self-determining, cooperative food economies
Sessions dedicated to story-sharing, skill-sharing, and project-based workshopping comprised the 3-day gathering. In the end, a sense of energizing hope and a humbling sobriety emerged from the radically transparent stories of the organizers and organizations who assembled. As cooperative operators, community organizers, and farmers sharing about our successes and challenges, our skill-sharing sessions served to develop a collective braintrust in which we are more prepared to address common challenges in food systems and food justice work with sharpened nuance. And as leaders working on the ground to execute boldly imaginative visions of food sovereignty, the opportunity to share a familial space in which to present new ideas, difficult questions, and areas of needed growth, we renewed a commitment not only to the important work of building self-determining Black food economies but also a shared commitment to the growth and care of the indispensable comrades doing that work.
Those assembled, among many others, included representatives of Seward Food Co-op (Minneapolis, MN), The Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (Mississippi), The Black Oaks Center and the Healthy Food Hub (Chicago, IL), Cooperation Jackson and Freedom Farms (Jackson, MS), The Organization for Human Rights & Democracy and Cooperative Atlanta (Atlanta, Georgia), Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (Michigan), Brooklyn Movement Center (New York), Renaissance Community Cooperative (Greensboro, NC), Kheprw Institute (Indianapolis, IN), and Center for Social Inclusion/Race Forward (New York).
As we departed back to our respective homes, we committed to three concrete actions that we could take together:
We committed to long-term conversation about our emergent challenges and success on a biannual phone call to be facilitated by NBFJA
We committed to working toward the development of a shared knowledge resource and corresponding support network similar to that of food cooperatives operating in majority-population, non-Black communities
We committed to spiritually nurture the renewed sense of energy, determination, and inspiration that arose from conversation between dynamic and world-changing organizers
The National Black Food and Justice Alliance committed to coordinating next steps needed to manifest our shared vision and our commitment to work in conversation. As an alliance, we are aiming to respond to the need for convergence between those on the frontlines of a fight for nutritional equity, self-determined food economies, and food as a tool in a broader struggle for the liberation of Black people.
The purpose of convening food-focused freedom fighters has no expiration date: the call to reimagine food as a practice in freedom and food cooperatives as a tool in the fight for Black liberation grows the emergent work of the brilliant people who sustain Black food justice communities, and thus Black communities at large. The call to make a practice of activating food cooperatives together, through sustained dialogue, coordinated action will move our movement from a place of emergent strategy to convergent strategy. Such is the power of a shared vision and plan of action between Black folks who are fighting for freedom: when we build sustainable, self-governed food systems together we manifest the power a people unmovable in self-determination, unwavering in our decision to feed and grow our bodies and souls, until such time as we are truly free.