On Faith: Black August, food freedom, and liberation

August 9, 2021

By Yvette R. Blair-Lavallais

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” (Genesis 1:29)

We live in distressing times. The reality of a pandemic, compounded with rising rates of food insecurity, financial instability, and mass incarceration—especially for Black and Latinx communities—weighs heavily. Some 54 million people are food insecure. The imposing threat of hunger magnifies the visible struggle of a people who are often invisibilized. This even happens during the summer; struggle does not take a vacation. In fact, August bears historical significance in the fight for freedom and liberation in the Black community. Black August marks the fierce urgency for liberation.

Central to the emergence of social justice movements, the fight for food freedom anchors the voices of the disenfranchised, including the incarcerated, in resistance and the collective work of dismantling structural conditions that violate liberation for all of God’s people. Black August focuses attention to what food justice activist Karen Washington calls food apartheid: systemic structures that cause some communities to flourish while underrepresented communities do not. When the structural base of power consciously deserts and forsakes this population, it systematically creates food deserts. This is antithetical to the gospel.

Systematically robbing people of their agency and well-being fractures their physical bodies, their physical spaces, and the land upon which they live. Black women in particular are disproportionately affected by and share a parallel experience to the land. In her book Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement, Environmental Science Professor Monica M. White writes, “If you ask, the land will reveal its truth.”

Farmland in the South holds the memory of Black women who worked in the Mississippi Delta and Texas Blackland Prairies, only to be displaced through evictions and through seizure of their bodies and threatened with starvation by white supremacists. Land holds memory of this injustice. For every Fannie Lou Hamer, there are lesser known, emerging voices in the struggle for food security. Take, for instance, Black farmers in Fort Worth, Texas, in the Stop Six community. In a 34.8 square-mile radius, there are only two grocery stores. Through a partnership with Grow Southeast and Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks’ office, Black farmers, including 94-year-old Opal Lee, are addressing food insecurity through land stewardship and are growing thriving gardens, producing cooperative economics.

The exhausting reality of racism compromises our health. This is a struggle of solidarity. We must enter into a partnership of liberative praxis, interrogating the systems that consistently and historically deny liberation, the systems that block access to health equity. We must join the struggle for access to a fresh, healthy, and affordable diet for all people as well as access to culturally specific foods. Dismantling interlocking systems of marginalization and oppression is critical to our health and healing. This is our advocacy work.

In the words of Ella Baker, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

Rev. Yvette R. Blair-Lavallais is a food justice activist, public theologian, and pastor living in Dallas, Texas.

The imposing threat of hunger magnifies the visible struggle of a people who are often invisibilized.

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