#RICisLit was on the tip of everyone’s tongue this year at the annual Rooted In Community Youth Leadership Summit. Rooted In Community or RIC is a national youth leadership network that works to make leaders of our young people through food justice & related environmental justice work. The vision of RIC is of a just and healthy food system in which youth take leadership and offer their gifts to build resilient and thriving communities through food systems transformation. They see youth as designers and creators of dynamic food and health programs, socially responsible enterprises, and people centered policy, in order to generate vibrant communities and equitable economies.
This year RIC was held in Greensboro, NC hosted by the organization Center for Environmental Farming Systems & the youth group Food Youth Initiative.
Bevelyn Afor Ukah first came to RIC last year when we had it in Olympia, Washington. She then expressed interest in hosting the next RIC in North Carolina and so when her and Noah McDonald who is a NC Food Corps member came to our Winter Leadership Institute we held for the adult allies in Boston/Sandwich, MA we talked about the plans for that. Then Bevelyn, Noah and an incredible North Carolina local planning team took on the tasks of planning this whole summit with a little help from the RIC national board for over 7 months. They were amazing, worked together well, we’re organized and got a lot of stuff done together.
So my story starts this year the day before RIC started where I got to hang out with Bevelyn at her house with her partner and have amazing food cooked by her and her husband who is from Nigeria. We went to a really dope co-op market down the street & bought some dope cookies. The food was amazing and we talked and watched movies. It was a lot of fun! Big ups to Bev!!!
The next day was the first day of RIC so we got ready and left Bev’s house then headed to Bennett College were RIC was being held for the week.
In 1873, Bennett College had its beginning in the unplastered basement of the Warnersville Methodist Episcopal Church (now known as St. Matthew’s Methodist Church). Seventy young men and women started elementary and secondary level studies. In 1874 the Freedmen’s Aid Society took over the school which remained under its auspices for 50 years.
Within five years of 1873, a group of emancipated slaves purchased the present site for the school. College level courses and permanent facilities were added. In 1926, The Women’s Home Missionary Society joined with the Board of Education of the church to make Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., formerly co-educational, a college for women. The challenges that were overcome to establish Bennett demand that today’s challenges be met and overcome to ensure her survival.
For more than 128 years women have found Bennett to be the ideal place to foster the constant rhythm of ideas. Each student’s individual need for self-expression and desire for achievement is constantly nurtured. The College fosters a strong respect for every student. Today, in the midst of a very active renaissance, Bennett is preparing contemporary women to be well educated, productive professionals, informed, participating citizens, and enlightened parents. The College offers twenty-four areas of study in Education, the Social Sciences, the Humanities, and in Natural and Behavioral Sciences and Mathematics. Numerous opportunities to study at other higher education institutions at home and abroad are available to continue the educational enrichment of Bennett’s students.
The goals of the College continue to focus on the intellectual, spiritual and cultural growth of young women who must be prepared for lifelong learning and leadership. Since 1930 more than 5,000 women have graduated from Bennett College. Known as Bennett Belles, they continue to be among contributing women of achievement in all walks of life.
We met up with Noah and the rest of the North Carolina Planning Team and started getting things ready for the groups to arrive. Then once it was lunch time myself and one of the planning committee members Katie Rainwater drove over to a local Vietnamese restaurant to grab food for people. Then we just waited for folks to show up. One of the first groups to show up were from Mississippi called Mileston Cooperative Associations (NCAT) then many other groups started to show up. A few organizations and people who I knew from other years came this year but was more new organizations came which was awesome. We had folks come from the Virgin Islands, New Orleans, California, New Mexico, Philly, New York, St. Louis, North Carolina, Washington State and more. After registration we all went to the dinning area to have dinner and then made our way back to the big conference building to do our opening ceremony.
The opening ceremony was led by Noah, another youth who works with FYI and Re Re who were the two MCs for the gathering and myself. I started it with the ceremony part which other folks came up and did some blessings including a local kid from the Lumbe Tribe local to North Carolina. Then Noah told us some history about Bennett College and Shawn from Mississippi did an icebreaker with everyone. When they were done a dope MC did some spoken word. Then they did some community agreements and another icebreaker before getting into their narrative partner groups. Once the opening was over the adult allies had a meeting and then the day was over.
On Thursday we had our youth led workshops & creative workshops. We had breakfast on the campus and then did an hour on Equity in Environmental Justice. We first did an “I Am Poem” which was actually pretty hard to write out but was very beautiful to reflect on your own story. Afterwords we all split up into 12 groups and did some defining of words then we came back together to read our words and definitions out loud. The words Social Justice, Food Justice, Environmental Justice, Community Ownership, Resilience, Cooperatives, Equity, Inequity, Collective, Culture, Environmental Justice, System and Action. My groups word was system and we came up with some really good definitions. Groups came up with really great definitions for the 12 words.
Once the Equity in Environmental Justice workshop was over we then went into the youth led workshops. I attended the Ecology Center’s workshop on the Berkley Soda Tax and the aftermath of that incredible win for the city. The Ecology Center is a nonprofit organization located in Berkeley, California that focuses on improving the health and the environmental impacts of urban residents. Farm Fresh Choice is the Ecology Center’s food justice program that engages low-income East Bay residents in reclaiming their optimal health through youth empowerment, nutrition education, and weekly produce stands. We make fresh, organic, regionally grown, and culturally appropriate foods convenient and affordable. Adult mentors and teen leaders facilitate peer-education workshops that raise critical health awareness.
Berkeley’s soda tax passed in a landslide in November 2014. This was a victory for health, for communities of color and their kids, and for people-powered democracy against one of the biggest global industries – Big Soda. Berkeley community members took on the soda tax campaign because we face a serious health crisis: 40% of kids will get diabetes in their lifetimes unless we do something about it. The link between sugary drinks and diseases like diabetes is undeniable. As of January 2017, Berkeley’s soda tax has generated more than $2.5 million for community nutrition & health efforts, including school garden programs. The City of Berkeley has used the initial funds raised by the soda tax to support public school garden and nutrition programs, and other programs that address health disparities in our community.
Next was lunch and then the second round of youth led workshops. I didn’t go to a workshop during that time due to helping move some puppets out of a van that we would be using for the Day of Action. During that time I hung out with Alyzza May who makes her own herbal products with her partner. I bought some really great chap stick form her and others had bought some body butter creme as well. She even had little pins featuring queer & transgender activist. I took a pin that had transgender poc women who started the Stonewall Riots Martha P. Johnson.
After workshop block two ended Alyzza did a talk on 7 Principles of Cooperatives and then people broke into their block three workshops which were the creative writing and art workshops. Before I went to the media workshop we had a RIC national check in on a few things and called our brother Travis who was in Oakland that weekend at the Roots and Remedies conference. I helped CC or Cecelia Polanco who took a class on social media and tought it to us. It was a very well thought out presentation that went over statistics, how to tell your story on social media and was very hands on.
It was then dinner time and then we had the last workshops of the day which included dance, poetry writing & a movie. I went to the movie screening of Wilmington On Fire. “Wilmington on Fire” is a feature-length documentary that chronicles The Wilmington Massacre of 1898. The Wilmington Massacre of 1898 was a bloody attack on the African-American community by a heavily armed white mob with the support of the North Carolina Democratic Party on November 10, 1898 in the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. It is considered one of the only successful examples of a violent overthrow of an existing government and left countless numbers of African-Americans dead and exiled from the city. This event was the spring-board for the White Supremacy movement and Jim Crow segregation throughout the state of North Carolina and the American South. This incident has been barely mentioned and has been omitted from most history books. It was not until 2006, after the North Carolina General Assembly published a report on it, that the tragedy became known to the general public.
Friday was our field trip day and people slit up into many different field trips including a Greensboro History Tour, Food Systems in Greensboro & Triangle Migration and Food Tour. I went on the Triangle Migration and Food tour which was led by Noah and Jada Drew who was part of the local planning team. We first visited the Stagville Plantation. Located in Durham, Historic Stagville comprises the remnants of one of the largest plantations of the pre-Civil War South. The plantations belonged to the Bennehan-Cameron family, whose combined holdings totaled approximately 900 enslaved people and almost 30,000 acres of land by 1860. Stagville offers a view of the past, especially that of its African-American community, by allowing visitors to guide themselves around its extensive grounds. In addition, Stagville offers the public many learning opportunities. When we first arrived there we checked out the gift shop and then went to the outsides of the barns and other buildings and did a little exercise where there were folks in an inner and outer circle and we were lined up with a partner and asked questions that we would have to answer with our partner and then with each new question we would move to a different partner. Most of the questions were about slavery and what that meant to us what we new about Africa before slavery and other questions. This was led by Noah & Jada Drew.
Next was our tour which we learned about the houses, barns and buildings that the enslaved Africans had built on the land. The Bennehan House was the first house built for the plantation owners family on the land. Enslaved African craftsmen also built the four timber-framed slave dwellings at Horton Grove in 1851. There was a barn that enslaved African carpenters built over five months in the summer of 1860. We also toured the inside of The Bennehan House which was the house of the plantation owner Richard Bennehan, his wife and two children. After our tour we had lunch then had a group discussion on what we saw during the tour and how it made us feel and how slavery affects us.
Our next stop on field trip was Transplanting Traditions Community Farm in Chapel Hill. Transplanting Traditions Community Farm (TTCF) is located on 269 acres of preserved farmland owned by Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC). With a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC in 2010, TLC was able to set up the initial infrastructure of the land in partnership with TTCF with the goal to host an educational farm project on the property forever. This unique partnership between TLC and TTCF is the only one of its kind in the Southeast. Transplanting Traditions began in 2010 with complete funding support from a 3-year federal grant through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In May of 2013, TTCF was due to end this 3-year funding cycle. In response, we launched our first major fundraising effort through the crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo. We managed to raise $15, 571 from 193 individual donors, mostly from the local community. These funds were equally matched with donation from a local family foundation. TTCF is forever grateful to the supportive and enthusiastic local community. This video was made during this fundraising effort.
While there we took a tour of the farm, learned about their CSA program and had a cooking demonstration of traditional Asian foods like long been salad which was really good. They also had a bamboo house on the farm which was really cool I wish I had the space to build one. The rest of the day was just chillin and taken in the beauty of the farm which was nice. After a while we had dinner and a few people went on a slip n’ slide people made. After dinner a cypher ended up happening which was dope. Then as we were getting ready to leave an all out water balloon fight started and it was all over from there lol. That day was a lot of fun.
Saturday was our Day of Action. We bored buses to go to downtown Greensboro where we had our action at a local park. For about an hour we had our prep for the Day of Action were the puppet show folks could rehearse and the media team could go interview people and the muralist got to go paint on a Greensboro mural. Once that hour was up the puppet show began which was really cool and had been brought up to DC during the People’s Climate March. We then had speakers come up and from Noah, local youth from the Lumbe tribe, Mercy one of the adult allies, Bevelyn and Jada. Jada and Bevelyn introduced our special guest who were staples in the Greensboro community. Next was our stroll down the streets of downtown Greensboro were we passed historic Woolworth st. were the first lunch counter sit ins in the ’60s were held by high school students. We were led by local band who does marches. Lunch came next which we had meditation food.
Pool time was next so we went back to campus grabbed our bathing suites and headed to the pool which was 45 mins away from campus. Unfortunately since I just gotten a fresh tattoo a few weeks before I was unable to go swimming but still was able to sit in the kiddie pool and chill which was nice because it was so HOT in Greensboro that whole week. We stayed at the pool for about 2 hours then went back to campus and on the way it rained hard.
Once we got there we ate some really good pupas from CC’s food truck which she gives some of the proceeds of the food she sells goes to giving undocumented students scholarships for college. They were so good!
Later that night we had our open mic and dance party with DJing by DJ Alee. We had a dope MC for the night and everyone who performed from poetry to singing to hula hoop & hacky sack contest to dancing. It was very lit and a lot of fun. Then we had our dance party for an hour and a half. DJ Alee did a great job but I started to show my age after a few songs lol even though I’m not even that old. Towards the end of the night though was when the old school jams came on and then I felt right at home.
During the summit we had a “late night crew” that got together after the day ended and would chill in the 2nd or 3rd floor lounge. People would order pizza and other stuff it was a lot of fun. Due to this I got very little to no sleep this RIC but it was worth it. The last night after the dance party one of my suite mates Lou from GRUB in Olympia, Washington and I went down to the second floor to play Cards Against Humanity with Dante Kaleo from the Ecology Center in Berkley and some folks and then ended up staying up all night till like 6 am and then we went on a sunrise walk which was really nice.
The next morning was our closing ceremony. That involved pros and crows, regional circles and the biggest fan icebreaker. Once that was over I with the help of Irene from Food What?! did the closing prayer and smudged everyone and then we did the RIC chant. After that it was really time for folks to leave so they took pictures together and said their goodbyes as shuttles took them to the airports or they jumped in their cars and make their way back home.
This years RIC was truly awesome and I am so excited to keep in contact with all the beautiful people I met along the way and come visit them where they live and they can come visit me in the DMV. I meet some really cool people this year and got to hang out with people who have been coming to RIC for a while like Dante, Irene from Food What?!, Demetrius and the other youth from Pie Ranch, Lou and folks from GRUB, Shawn from Mississippi, East New York Farm folks and many others . Each year I make a new bunch of family members who I can feel their energy around the country doing amazing things.
Hope to see a lot of you all next year or in the future!
Check out a video that was filmed of interviews of youth at the summit: