What is your why? It’s hard doing this work. But I don’t see myself doing anything else. This work is strong in me. Even when I think I should do work that doesn’t require as much self sacrifice, I end up with the same answer: this is me and I can’t think of doing anything else. I grew up in the lower East Side of NY where I lived on a block and in a building with a strong community. I remember counting crack vials and I remember not having a lot, I would have to go to the store with food stamps. But I could go to down to our neighbors to borrow sugar and even kicks to match an outfit. Then I went to middle school in Chelsea. That’s when I realized I couldn’t do what the other kids could do or have because we didn’t have money like that. It’s the first time I realized that some people have big ass apartments in NYC–that dichotomy of having a lot and having little became super clear. My mom is from Haiti and when visiting, it reinforced my questioning the same thing with the poverty level being so stark and my family having more privilege. In Haiti, my mom worked in one of the poorest slums in Port au Prince and when tagging along for the first time, I remember seeing a little girl in a clinic that looked half her age because of untreated diabetes. It made me start thinking “what would it look like, if we shared everything. Economic and racial inequality were a part of my lived experience always. Going from the Lower East Side where I didn’t have privilege to going to Haiti where I had privilege really helped me understand how inequality plays out in different contexts. At that time, things were developing on a theoretical level. I really didn’t come into activism, organizing etc. until after graduate school. It really came full circle when I started learning about cooperatives, land trust etc. I actually grew up in a cooperative building. This work is affirmed deeply in my body when dots are connected in the experiences of my life and it affirms that I’m on the right path.
What do you do? I am the spokesperson for Cooperation Jackson, I build relationships with our community and beyond on land trusts. For the last 3.5 years, I’ve been helping to lead our land and housing work while connecting with other organizations that are seeing community land trust as a tool–organizations who are looking at community building and building solidarity economies as a means to defend their communities from mass displacement. It’s important to be working towards transforming the way we work together,
What is your why part 2? A fond memory I had is fasting for Black August and collectively clearing land to support Black farms. We were working and at a certain point I just couldn’t work anymore and stopped to get water and started talking with an elder who was not phased by the heat. She shared how common it was to have gardens and feed people from their land. Having these intergenerational stories and hearing that it’s something that has been done is important. Our relationship to land is not limited to slave history and sharecropping history. We have to think about land in new ways and draw inspiration from the ways Black folks have interacted with land for self-determination and collective healing.
Another small but affirming moment that helped release some of my mom guilt and added more fuel to my fire was when my daughter recently decided to give away cookies that we were meant to sell for her girl scouts. She was walking around saying free cookies for everyone and when I reminded her that we were supposed to sell them and not give them away she said “but everyone should have cookies.” I realized she was living out cooperative economics in her own way and that made me so proud.