Dear Friends and Supporters:
This column is the second and last—for now—that Christina and I will pen jointly, as she transitions to a new role with CFJC.
We joined CFJC about the same time, in the summer of 2010 although she was a volunteer, and I am so proud of the work we’ve done together and with many others to help bring the coalition to its current status.
Today CFJC has earned a national reputation for its steadfast commitment to equity and justice, working in partnership with local communities and national organizations to build a better food system and society. The GOAT collaboration is probably most emblematic.
Christina came to us from work with ACORN, the nation’s largest organization comprised of and working on behalf of poor, low income, and moderate income people. In case you forgot, ACORN was destroyed by Right Wingnuts who used a combination of lies, altered videos and smear tactics to put down poor—read people of color—who were being “too” successful.
To our collective shame, ACORN was destroyed without much protest.
While tragic, and I hope we all rise in outrage when next “just folks” are so viciously attacked, I recognized the value to CFJC of a consummate organizer, one-time national trainer, trainer of trainers, and at the time of the collapse, an ACORN Southern California Regional organizer. And why, besides the obvious need for CFJC to build organizing capacity?
Because she was white.
Let me explain.
For most people of color the fact that a people-of-color organization is targeted and destroyed is not news. For most of us (POC) in the mainstream we have come to terms with that, and choose to work within the system to change the status quo. Perhaps we become inured to the daily injustices perpetuated on residents of the Bay View, or Fourth Ward, or you-name-the-community in your city and or state.
But how powerful to take the outrage, violation, and trauma that Christina brought with her to CFJC from ACORN and support her healing as she taught us how to appreciate and learn from her process. A process that other white and people of privilege will have to experience if we are to move beyond the issues of poverty, race, power and privilege that are defining the 1% vs. 99% divide in the country.
Poverty, race, power and privilege = 1% vs. 99%.
To change that equation we need an intervention. The kind that will get our collective attention.
Because tear-jerker movies and academic exercises, while needed, and scientific data, important for laying a foundation for working together and moving forward in mainstream society, will never have the impact of experiencing what it feels like to be the “N” word.
But let’s hear from Christina about her journey:
Although I realize our stories are continuously changing as we grow, working at CFJC was the first time I found power in my own story.
One of the first projects Armando and I worked on was training a team of women as part of our Mothers Taking Action program. The mothers taught me much more than I ever did them. Through our series of storytelling trainings, Armando encouraged me to share about ACORN to exemplify how others tell our stories for us, and they simply aren’t true. It was a process in which I overcame my fear of talking about my time as an ACORN organizer. I recognized that, for a brief moment, I felt what people of color experience on a daily basis – marginalization, disempowerment, others lying about who you really are.
I believe that’s the power of this work. There are a number of ways to organize communities. Over the past few years, Armando and I have created the approach we employ at CFJC. It starts with making safe space so that people have the opportunity to come into their own as leaders, and recognize that everyone brings important skills and knowledge to the process. We can all learn from each other.
I’ve learned tremendously from Armando’s mentorship, who is never afraid to say what he believes. And from our fearless staff, Courtney Hendrix and Jessy Gill and the many volunteer interns.
I return to the South to continue my education as an adult with quite a different perspective on life than what I left with over a decade ago. It will take some time to understand my place, and find, or create, my own community. However, I take comfort and inspiration from the many civil rights leaders—both known and unsung – who made the South their home. And for those still with us today, they remain standing strong for their families and communities in the name of equity and justice.
Last September while at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Annual Dinner to hear veteran civil rights leader Dr. C.T. Vivian speak, it gave Armando and me chills to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where 50 years prior 4 little girls were killed by a bomb as an act of white supremacist terrorism.
Despite the continued hatred, local communities are resilient. Down the street from my home in the Old Forth Ward neighborhood of Atlanta is the Helene Mills Multipurpose Senior Center. Every week elders share powerful stories of their participation in the civil rights movement, while still fighting for needed resources they deserve for their center. In Orangeburg, SC, Ms. Georgia Good, whose legacy is barely told, has committed her lifetime to supporting small, black farmers. Shirley and Charles Shirrod are converting one of Georgia’s largest slave plantations into a culture healing and retreat center. I think about Rashid Nuri, Savi Horne, Bobby Wilson, and many others that inspire and embody the very values we speak of as members of the food justice movement. Let honoring the work of others shape our path of compassion and resilience.
But one of the most important things I have learned about myself at CFJC is that as much as this work is about others, we must also care for ourselves so that we are ready to continue with what takes tremendous strength. To talk about safe space and self-empowerment, also means prioritizing self-care and self-love. For me, I’ve found the more I make time for myself, the better I am at communicating who I am and what I stand for. And the better I can serve others.
I am honored and humbled by my time with Armando and the CFJC team. I look forward to continuing to work together. Always.
Christina reminds us that the work goes on.
As we mentioned last month, CFJC is between grant funding sources. In anticipation of the funding crunch so many nonprofits are experiencing we have dutifully and responsively been building our individual donor platform and campaign, and continue in negotiations with organizations to provide fee-for-service technical assistance. CFJC will endure.
But our footprint will change. As always, we adapt to changing circumstances.
Christina’s departure is also a wonderful opportunity, an opportunity to continue with her as a partner in the South, and to contract with her for her time and services.
It is also an opportunity to support her work as it unfolds in the South, organizing and bringing the value of “safe space” that is characteristic of all of CFJC’s work. Because at its source, CFJC’s success with its partnerships is based on maintaining a safe space where individuals can thrive, and develop the solutions and programs that will—that are changing the world.
But even this approach takes money and resources.
We ask again that you take a moment a make a commitment to the work we are doing. Make a donation, or better yet, make a monthly contribution to CFJC so that we can continue to work with you and for you every day of the year.
Again, in a very real sense all of our work helps connect the dots, between what an individual or family needs and can do, and all the steps up to and including national policy that affect our daily lives.
We know that times are tough for everyone. Let each of us make it a practice to take time out to help one another.
Yours in partnership and respect.
All the best.
Y. Armando Nieto