My Journey As A Racial And Social Justice Activist: Now Cultivate Charlottesville’s New Food Justice Network Director
Since I can remember, since growing up on the west side of Rockford, Illinois, I have had an empathetic mind and heart when it comes to inequity — seeing my west side community receiving free cheese in the Fairgrounds Housing development and standing in free food lines. Even as an eight-year-old I knew something was wrong. I could feel the harsh realities of not having a lot of money or a lot of resources.
The realities became even harsher when dozens of us Black and brown children were bussed to the east side of Rockford, Illinois where we would become classmates of this city’s elite children. I remember vividly going to school and seeing white youth with Beneton sweaters and Guess jeans. It was something most of us low-income youth had never seen before, had never owned ourselves. Sitting in the lunchroom with subsidized lunches was sometimes embarrassing — especially when our white counterparts had lunch pails with neatly made sandwiches, boxed drinks, and a cookie or two.
Even as an adult these images, these memories sit with me. I have learned a lot about privilege — even more about what it is like not having a lot or striving to get more in the concrete jungles of the United States. What made our living at times equitable was that back in the early eighties, Jerusalem Baptist Church in Rockford, Illinois, grew vegetables on its grounds for the Black community and its members.
My uncle, the deceased Rev. Charles Sims, was involved with this. We were happy to be able to go pick vegetables with my mother knowing we were being considered, taken care of.
My adult years as a nationally known social justice activist has been spent fighting for racial equity, economic equity, and equity for women and children, bringing attention to homelessness and poverty and sounding the alarm about police violence and terrorism. Food insecurity is what I have seen not only on the west side of Rockford, Illinois but also across the nation. I have witnessed long food lines in Portland, OR that blew me away. When you do not have access to food, let alone nutritional, healthy food, your ability to focus and get through the day is even harder.
I have been fortunate. All of these experiences have culminated in me being hired as the new Food Justice Network Director for Cultivate Charlottesville in Charlottesville, Virginia. I bring these experiences, these images, to this position with a stern understanding that inequity is very clear, and prevalent in our society. I understand I will be helping to fight against some of the same injustices and inequities I experienced on the west side of Rockford, Illinois.
In this position, I have the opportunity to partner, network, and work with people who have similar stories or experiences — but are working just as hard as I am to end the inequities, the insecurities, and the injustices we know exist. Each day I rise I know I am rising to help bring attention to what is holding a lot of us back. Waking up with a sense of purpose is an empowering feeling.
Although the work may be hard, although policy change or help for those in need may come at a slow pace, at least I know I can at least use my knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and ability to educate and galvanize in this very important, vital work we are doing to change the outcome of what people are experiencing on a daily basis.