At the end of July, I attended the Roots and Remedies gathering in San Antonio, Texas. The gathering, convened by the Praxis Project, is centered on community organizing and provides a space for organizers from around the country to plot, build and connect the dots between issues, movements and individuals. For me, gatherings like this are an important space to remind me of important ideas and reinforce concepts and values that are important to social movements.
Three concepts that particularly resonated from the weekend were those of collaboration, embracing and looking to one’s culture as a source of strength and healing, and shedding colonized definitions of health and wellness. To illustrate some of these concepts, we went on a site visit to the Martinez Street Women’s Center in East San Antonio. The resource center is located in what was historically a predominantly African-American neighborhood that has seen an increase in its Latino population in the last decade. This shifting of place and mixing of communities could have created tension in the neighborhood, but each community recognized they faced similar struggles and were stronger if they work together, particularly to support the emotional, physical and social well-being of women and girls. The Women’s Center took the approach that their cultures are to be celebrated, and that drawing from cultural traditions can heal communities and solve community problems. In fact, the center’s motto is “Our Culture is Our Cure.”
The Martinez Street Women’s Center collaborates with multiple community organizations, many of whom were present during the site visit, working on topics ranging from preserving community radio stations to voting rights, from leadership development to nutrition education. As longtime San Antonio organizer TC Calvert said during our site visit, “we can’t do anything unless we are all in this together.” For my work at WhyHunger with emergency food providers, I found the nutrition education programs of particular interest because they focused on returning to traditional diets and methods of cooking, and adapting recipes using traditional foods to make them healthier.
Another important concept for me was one of building a shared vision for the future. Participants at Roots and Remedies work on issues as diverse as education policy to language justice, from anti-eviction campaigns to food justice, but ultimately our struggles and vision for the future are the same. We created this collective vision through a shared visioning exercise using art, facilitated by the Design Studio for Social Intervention. We were asked to imagine new public infrastructure that nourishes and inspires us and re-claim old infrastructure that has been used against us. A shared vision was reinforced during a plenary discussion where a panel of local San Antonio organizers asked us to consider these questions when working to build a common consciousness:
Are we building new leadership? Are we positively changing our communities? Are we expanding access to resources?
These questions give me food for thought as I get ready to attend the Closing the Hunger Gap conference from September 18 to 20. This inaugural conference is convening in Tucson, Arizona, to discuss the role food banks can and will play in building resilient food systems. My hope is that Closing the Hunger Gap is the starting point for building a collective vision of community food security for food banks, for other emergency food providers and for the millions of people who face food insecurity and have to use these emergency food organizations. How can we build new leadership among the clients of emergency food providers? How can we positively change the communities in which we work? How can we help expand resources so everyone can obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet and acquire the skills to produce fresh, whole nutritious food for themselves and their communities? Here’s to creating that vision.
Suzanne Babb is the Capacity Building Coordinator of WhyHunger’s National Hunger Clearinghouse.