Cultivating community power in historically marginalized and oppressed communities is often very slow and thoughtful work. There is no microwave for building “people power” in communities that have often been robbed of their power and voice. It happens one meeting at a time, one conversation at a time, one event at a time. It’s very thoughtful and deliberate work where gatherings are not planned in haphazard ways, but organized in such a way that sets the stage for the “magic” of relationship-building, connection, and meaning-making to happen.
This is what is happening with Baltimore area church garden ministries. We are coming together regularly (every 2 or 3 weeks), sitting in circles, listening to one another, sharing the bounty of our respective garden harvests, praying, studying, celebrating and dreaming together of the kind of communities that we want and deserve. With the pace of a seasoned crockpot, we are cooking up the right kind of ingredients that will lay the necessary foundation for sustained power for this marathon of justice.
At our last Baltimore Local Coordinating Committee meeting on August 7, 2022, we saw evidence that this process is working.
We met at Allen AME Church in West Baltimore which is led by Pastor Brenda White; a dynamic preacher, servant-leader and ambassador for the Black Church Food Security Network.
It was such a nice day that we decided to meet outside of the church building, in the generous shade of an abundant tree that is just steps away from Allen’s inspiring garden. The folding chairs for our meeting were originally in theater style with the expectation that someone would stand before audience and make the necessary pronouncements for the occasion of the meeting. However, I asked that the chairs be rearranged in a big circle – enough room for everyone to fit within it. The circle of chairs not only allowed for everyone to see one another, but a circle helps to communicate that each person has value and is invited to make contribution toward the flow of the meeting. There is no one leader here – we all are the leaders; we all are the “experts” with something of worth to offer.
After guiding us in prayer, Pastor White shared some of the context of the community that we were meeting in that evening. She and members of her congregation spoke with pride about the depth of relationships that are present in this historically Black community that is being gentrified. They spoke with pride about the unofficial “mayor” of the community, Mr. Joe Kirk. “You want to get anything done in this community,” Pastor White exclaimed, “you better run it by Mr. Joe. He can make it happen.” And almost on cue, a few moments later Mr. Joe walked down the street and came over to address our group. His mother, Ruth Kirk, was a state delegate in Maryland. Delegate Kirk served for years as an elected official in Maryland and at the ripe age of 101 transitioned from time into eternity the first week of August 2022. The Kirk family continues in the spirit of this kind of community service and happened to be holding their annual day of celebration on the same evening of our meeting – just 2 blocks from where we were sitting. While listening to the live band fill the air with their tunes from the block party, we also enjoyed a lively, impromptu presentation on the character of Baltimore from Mr. Joe Kirk. Pastor White, Mrs. J and Sister Valerie also helped us to learn more about their community challenges. They noted that their community has only one grocery store – Price Right – which doesn’t have quality food in their estimation.
We segued into a presentation and discussion about asset-based community development. An approach to community development that doesn’t start with the question of “What’s wrong?,” but actually begins with a recognition of “What’s strong?” Breaking up into pairs of 2 or 3, we discussed asset-based community development and then came back into the large group to share ideas that had come up in our small conversations.
As the meeting neared its conclusion, we turned our attention to the plants! Our organization recently received a donation of blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, raspberries, figs, and paw paw plants from The Baltimore Tree Trust. We made these gifts available to everyone that attended. The added surprise was that people bought items from their garden to share as well! Mother Neufville bought a bag of mountain mint harvested in the garden of Liberty Grace and Taylor brought two heads of garlic as a gift for me! (She didn’t know that LOVE garlic and eat it regularly to help boost my immune system.)
We ended this meeting the same way that we started it; with prayer. Mrs. J from Allen AME offered a rousing and uplifting prayer and we enjoyed fellowship time in their garden before departing.
This detailed account of our Baltimore Local Coordinating Committee meeting demonstrates the lengths that our organization is going to scale deep into the fabric of our community so that we might co-create the kind of spirit and plans that help us achieve both food security and eventually food sovereignty. Big goals require attention small details. Please pray for the Believers in Baltimore that are on the marathon for health, wealth, and power in our families and communities!