by Rebekah Williams, Food for the Spirit
Intentional and systemic racism and historic disinvestment in Black communities has led to the circumstances of the tragic white-supremacist terrorist attack that left ten people dead and three wounded at a neighborhood grocery store on Saturday.
No one should lose their lives while shopping for food.
The recent mass shooting in Buffalo happened in a grocery store in East Buffalo. Because of the history of redlining and ongoing disinvestment in East Buffalo, there are very few grocery stores, leading many Black residents to rely on one neighborhood grocery store for their day-to-day needs. Reliance on the neighborhood grocery stores is especially critical for individuals without cars and the elderly. In a recent household food survey of East Buffalo by a coalition of BFEN partners, 42% of respondents reported food insecurity, and 45% of those who are food insecure do not own any vehicles. Yesterday’s terrorist attack at that one grocery store most certainly highlights the importance of the work that many Buffalo residents and Buffalo Food Equity Networks members have been doing to fight food apartheid.
The root problem in Buffalo – and Buffalo’s food system – is white supremacy. We are calling on policy makers and society at large to retain focus on the institutional conditions that enabled the perpetrator to kill people in a Black neighborhood.
The Buffalo Food Equity Network (BFEN) is made up of over 100 people of color, predominantly Black folks who are East Buffalo residents, committed to addressing systemic racism in the food system in Buffalo and Western New York. BFEN members are growing food on urban farms and gardens; they are teaching people how to grow their own food at home; they are educating the public about the existence of racism in the food system; they are educating people on how racism in the food system impacts communities of color; they are advocating for more grocery stores in their communities; and they are advocating for increased investment in all these community-led activities and initiatives. We understand better than most the need for a healthier and equitable food environment in Buffalo. That said, Black neighborhoods need to be protected from acute violence toward Black people – and from chronic violence resulting from food apartheid. We need both things, and we need them now.
We are calling on policy makers to implement policies that will end acute and chronic violence against Black people. We are calling on policy makers and everyone to
invest in Black communities and Black-led initiatives everywhere
including Buffalo. We are calling on people to exert pressure on elected officials and everyone in their sphere of influence to demand an end to extreme and chronic violence toward Black people.
The following quotes from Buffalo Food Equity Network founders, members, and partners are in alphabetical order by last name:
Ras Jomo Akono
CEO, ProJect Access to AFreeKa Radio and Arts
“I am deeply saddened by the terrorist attack on our community. Our families, friends, and neighbors have been traumatized from 1619 in this land. Our human rights have been abridged and we are pursuing Justice for our Ancestors – our past , present, and future. Our local, national, and international community is sending love and support. We demand Justice and Repair for the continued Maafa – or Great Tragedy – that this modern attack has augmented.”
Member, Buffalo Food Equity Network and President, Fruit Belt Advisory Council
“After having to take time to just breathe and regroup I can respond and offer tribute first to the elders and loved ones who were senselessly slaughtered for no reason other than being Black people in public. The lovelies who had lived with honor and dignity were targeted by a ruthless racist with murder as his only intention for living. The shock and outrage of this community that has lived through every demeaning, systemic plan to make the lives of respectable Black people as difficult as can be, this community that has endured long term from redlining, to denying basic human services such as adequate stores to spend our dollars in, has been the barriers that we have climbed over and around and to witness this young white male be walked out and placed into a police vehicle is in itself a showing of the systemic pieces working as every Person of Color recognizes without doubt that my son, their son wouldn’t have made it out of that parking lot alive. Too much pain from too much history that can’t even be honored by too many people who keep those barriers in place daily, but we will continue to climb over and around the barriers and carry the truth within us regardless, because we know who and what we truly are.”
Dr. Gwendolyn Baxley
Buffalo Food Equity Network member
“Unfortunately, the tragic massacre on Saturday is not an isolated, singular incident. It is important to contextualize what happened Saturday as part of broader implicit and explicit AntiBlackness in our society historically and currently. In all of our interconnected systems — education, housing, health, employment, food access, etc. — there have always been attacks on Black life and disdain for Blackness. Reckoning with this reality is crucial for considering any path forward.”
Executive Director, Buffalo Go Green Inc.
“We must end band-aid type solutions to systemic problems. We must understand that access to healthy food options and equity in our health care system are basic human rights. If we do not have healthy food we will not live healthy people. Investment must be made in organizations and businesses that have a vested interest in seeing disenfranchised people have equality in all the systems that continue to thrive on the oppression of black and brown people. Resolutions to these systemic problems directed by Black and Brown leadership is imperative. We need a strong sustainable local food system and that means folks working in these spaces need zaccess to land, buildings, resources and a say in where economic investment is directed in order to put in place solutions that the system has failed to implement.”
JD, CEO, NeuWater, LLC
“We have been fighting for so long and not heard. The systemic racism that was finally seen by the nation during the COVID pandemic are laid bare at this moment. In a horrific moment defined by a heinous racist act of violence and death, lives were lost, and a lifeline for medicine, bill paying, groceries, and personal and household needs was stolen. We will never make sense of this loss, but if we can finally address the systemic issues around food that our community continues to face, this loss can be a catalyst for new hope. We need our supermarket back with a renewed focus on improving health. With the population health of the Black community, we need additional stores on the east side beyond the one store closed as a present crime scene. We need the voices of our community to be heard and respected. And we need to be believed that racism exists in our daily lives, both in institutions and interactions.”
Buffalo Food Equity Network member and Co-Founder, West Valley Farm and Camp Sites
“Although racial hatred has been rooted within the United States of America since its conception, love and truth can drive hatred out.”
“The health of a community is determined by the health of its people. Therefore we need a bigger and better supermarket to include community residents’ participation. The store must include a wider selection of fresh quality produce, health food section, a community kitchen or demo kitchen, better hours, brighter lights in the parking lot, wider access in and out of store entrance, space for community room, and the store must invest in the surrounding community. These are some of the recommendations to bring a quality supermarket and justice to this community.”
Mohawk, Turtle Clan, Executive Director, Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust & Network
“This is not a singular issue that’s disconnected from other mass acts of racialized hatred. This tragedy is the symptom of an interlocking system of oppressions that was built to systematically exclude and oppress Black folks and people of color from health and well-being, community wealth, and joy. Self-determination and dismantling systemic oppression are the only cures to ending the epidemic of White Supremacy in the systems that control access to food, justice, education, and healthcare.”
Co-Founder of Soul Fire Farm and Author of Farming While Black
“It is a moral outrage that the single most sacred and fundamental human duty – to feed our families – was exploited in this act of white supremacist terrorism. The colonial settler state has weaponized our access to food for over 400 years through land theft, chattel slavery, discriminatory lending, food apartheid, commodity rations, and corporate industrial food subsidies, among other acts of violence. Enough is enough. To free ourselves we must be able to feed ourselves.”
Dr. Samina Raja
Buffalo Food Equity Network member; Founder, UB Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab
“Structural racism and violence toward Black communities perpetuates acute and chronic harm. The routine act of shopping ought not to be hazardous to life.”
Pamela Reese Smith
President of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Rochester and Steering Committee Member, Black Farmers United NYS
“After 400 years of repression there are still those who believe African Americans should not have citizenship in this country, even though our ancestors built it.”
Dr. Jared Strohl
Facilitator, Food for the Spirit
“To stand in solidarity against white supremacy, we must support ongoing grassroots efforts happening in communities of color, particularly on the eastside of Buffalo where this tragedy occurred. Rather than white supremacy, it is time for white accountability–accountability to Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color in the ongoing fight against food apartheid and other forms of racial inequality.”
Community Activist and Founder, The Juneteenth Agricultural Pavilion
“The fact that this disgusting, terroristic, evil act of violence took place in a grocery store is no coincidence. Access to food has been weaponized throughout history. From early crop burning and well poisoning, to present day food apartheid. Black people have been vocalizing the fact that we are targets of white supremacists who view us as sub-humans, only to be told, racism no longer exists and we need to stop making color an issue. Yes, donations and food distributions are a helpful immediate response, but it is time to get to the root of the problem. We will continue our work to empower and educate folks in our community on food related issues as a vehicle to liberation. As the community begins the healing process, it is important to honor this loss of precious lives and not lose momentum. Racism exists. This must be acknowledged as fact and the indoctrination of hate must be eradicated.”
Gail V Wells
Founder, Buffalo Freedom Gardens, Member, Buffalo Food Equity Network and Member, Black Farmers United NYS
“The time has come for a serious conversation regarding reparations. My ancestors were stolen and kidnapped and forced to labor for over 400 years. After building America we were promised 40 acres and a mule, yet that debt has never been paid! As a result of white nationalism and supremacy our communities have been burned, our lives have been violently taken, our wealth has been stymied, and our humanity has been denied. How long do we have to wait for justice? The time for reparations is now!”
Co-Founder, Food for the Spirit and the Buffalo Food Equity Network
“There is not just one solution to the issues of racism and food apartheid in Buffalo. There needs to be policies created to address issues of historic disinvestment and racism in the food system. There needs to be increased investment in food organizations and initiatives led by people of color across the board, and there needs to be more education about systemic anti-Black racism throughout the United States and in our local communities.”
Founder, African Heritage Food Co-op and Blegacy Farms
“The attack was a physical manifestation of a problematic system. We have to take a hard look at everything and be honest about the racial bias inherent in the system, from funding, to licensing, to lending. And we, the community, must lead these efforts supported by allies and funding sources.”
“The truth is that movements are comprised of many organizations and individuals taking risks, demonstrating leadership, and contributing ideas and work. The media has a role in telling this truth,” from Soul Fire Farm’s Beyond Heroes Media Guide: A Guide for the Media A Soul Fire Farm Guide to Accurate Reporting on Social Justice Work.
How Does This Relate to Gardens & Farming?
We believe each seed, like each of us, is in the world to change the world. Gardens can grow connection, trust, justice and joy as abundantly as green beans. And nothing is apolitical, Friends.
Not even our gardens.
At its root, ‘political’ simply means ‘public.’
‘Justice is what love looks like in public.’ ~ Cornel West
Gardening is not political in the false dichotomy of ‘democrat’ and ‘republican;’ rather, gardening is political in the deep knowing that everything is connected.
Gardening is a political act of love, honoring the untold generations whose hope is embodied in each seed, that against all odds they are here, in our hands.
Gardening is a political act of resistance, knowing self-care and community care are antidotes to oppression.
Gardening is a political act of liberation, knowing beauty and abundance are amplified when collectively enjoyed.
Azeem & Sarah Rose
What’s this got to do with agriculture? Everything. This is the very attitude many of us non white farmers and growers have to face on a regular basis. In my state, black farmers make up .26% of the farming population. Many of the land owners we lease from, many of the organizations and non-profits we have to deal with, many of the channels through which resources are made available to us, THIS is the very attitude we face just to receive the minimum of tools to grow our own food.
Agriculture is the only path to true freedom, justice and equality. Through agriculture comes all of the necessities of land, food, clothing and shelter.
We have a responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access to nutrient-dense, healthy, organic food regardless of class, color or creed. And for that goal, we will continue to fight.
These words aren’t to make anyone afraid, but simply to make everyone aware. Without awareness, we cannot develop a solution to the problem.
Founded in 2018 by Rebekah Williams (above), Food for the Spirit is the convener of the Buffalo Food Equity Network, a movement for Western New York’s new food economy led by communities of color, for communities of color. Anyone can join the network if they identify as a person of color. Serving people and communities in Buffalo, Western New York, the Finger Lakes, and beyond, Food for the Spirit’s mission is to use the arts and creative facilitation to bring about racial healing, ecological justice, and equitable food systems.