In June of this year, we announced our 2018 Racial Justice Fellows with tremendous hope for the cooperative visions of food and land justice about to born. We were excited for the dreams created, the seeds planted, and the growth that would result. We began with three Fellows: Merelis, Jazmin, and avery. We ended with two after parting ways with avery and the Gangstas to Growers project; their work is incredible, and we wish them the best. Now that the Fellowships have wrapped up, we invite y’all to reflect with us and harvest our lessons learned. Here are our top 5 stories/lessons from our 2018 Racial Justice Fellowship:
1. Connect in person. Your spirit will thank you.
The world we live in is deeply unjust. If you feel like you’re alone in moving towards love and liberation, reach out! You are not alone. This Fellowship brings together young cooperators of color across the U.S. who might not otherwise have the chance to connect with one another. As Fellows, not only did Merelis and Jazmin connection with their communities - as well as to each other and to us - but also with folks who were interested in building relationships based on showing up, committing to the process, and visioning together. There were some beautiful results, and some difficult trials. But as we leveraged our resources towards local community impact and coalition-building, our journey of solidarity with Merelis and Jazmin continued to encourage and feed us.
2. Honor the vision that comes from your people’s food, language, and land.
Merelis’ work creating the People y Alimentos Solidarity retreat this past September was the culmination of work Merelis has been doing her whole life but began in earnest in 2015, after graduating from Soulfire Farm’s Black and Latinx Farmers’ Immersion program. Her experiences with her fellow farmers and with the land underscored the importance of connection, an experience she wanted to bring back to the Bronx.
Her work with CoFED has helped strengthen skills in organizing and base-building, giving her the space and the support to trust herself and her vision. As a Black Dominican woman, she understands deeply the interwoven histories, cultures and stories of Black, Latinx and Indigenous folks, and with the help of the fellowship was able to manifest her vision fully and freely through a weekend-long, bilingual retreat hosted at Kelly Street Community Garden.
This retreat brought together local organizers and community members around food, land and language, and introduced/explored cooperative concepts and how they apply to the food, language, land and liberation of folks of color in the Bronx. Many community members of the Bronx have express the need of more healing and transformative spaces, and Merelis was able to bring that to her people!
As daughter of immigrants and first generation US born, Merelis noticed the separation and isolation among monolingual Spanish-speaking people with programming and events available to uplift communities of color. She saw how, for her parents, language seemed an impossible barrier; one that made it challenging for them to fully engage with folks who did not speak their same language. Once she became politicized and began working towards social justice and food justice, it was clear there was a need for multilingual spaces to build solidarity amongst people of color. She has since been focusing on bringing Black, Latinx and Indigenous folks of all languages together in solidarity.
Once she became politicized and began working towards social justice and food justice, it was clear there was a need for multilingual spaces to build solidarity amongst people of color. She has since been focusing on bringing Black, Latinx and Indigenous folks of all languages together in solidarity.
3. Language and cultural justice are not optional.
Jazmin and their co-owners, Viv and Ireri, are equally committed to the solidarity of Black, Latinx and Indigenous folks, and their connection to the land. Named after an atmospheric lightning phenomenon that occurs only in Northeast Venezuela, Catatumbo Cooperative is reflective of their identities; as Latinx immigrant, women, and gender non-conforming people with mixed ancestry connected to Indigenous and African roots. It is natural that the three of them - as people that have strong ancestral and land roots - would form a cooperative where they work with the land to provide abundance for their communities. After living together and organizing around immigrant rights, queer rights, environmental issues and anti-criminalization, they were encouraged and supported by their community to create the only immigrant, queer, gender-non conforming worker-owned cooperative farm in Chicago, with the goal of launching a CSA in 2019.
Catatumbo, as a cooperative deeply connected to the movements in their community, felt a vacuum in multilingual cooperative resources. Despite important progress, cooperative spaces are still often not language accessible, and folks have to fight to understand what is being said, even as movements pay lip service to “accessibility” and “diversity”. Catatumbo, with CoFED’s help, was able to help address this issue through a Spanish-only cooperative training in Chicago, in concert with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity (CCDS).
As communities are rethinking solutions, and questioning the meanings of solidarity and cooperation, it is integral that we continue to educate ourselves, have conversations, and envision new possibilities for a cooperative future. This envisioning must happen for everyone, in all of our communities, languages, and circumstances; and those of us with access must bring that access to our people. It takes people, communities and movements to make cooperatives part of our collective liberation. As Jazmin, Vivi, Ireri, and their community learned together, they emphasized the importance of language and culture and the use of popular education methods in engaging communities around cooperative development. Their energy, commitment and passion was palpable.
They gave space for children, gave space for mistakes, and gave space for love. That is part of our responsibility as folks of color doing this work; a responsibility that Jazmin and Merelis share, and have helped remind us of this year.
We. Are. Owed.
5. Build with the folx who are ready to build WITH YOU.
Who are the folx willing to see and love you as you are right now? Who are the folx you are willing to see and love as they are right now? Build with them. Trust your feelings as they fit the facts. And for the folx moving towards freedom in ways that just don’t vibe with you, send them love! How beautiful is it that we can have so many journeys to liberation?
While we believe in cooperation, we've also learned the importance of investing in the right relationships - the ones where everyone's needs are met and then some. Not everyone who is working towards liberation can or should build together. Sometimes our communication needs and understandings of harm and healing are too different. Sometimes we're too triggered. Sometimes we need to heal or be in a different place in our journey to show up differently with one another. When we can reconcile our differences, we can create something beautiful. And when we run out of time or tools to reconcile conflict, it hurts. But it reveals to us lessons learned and ways to be more intentional next time. We must remember, there is more than enough room for us all. The only way we will rise up is together.
If you want to check out how the Fellowship fits into the larger picture of what we achieved together this year, check out our annual report here. You can also support next year's Fellows by donating here.