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Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

Photo: Facebook.
Jonny Rhodes, owner of the acclaimed Houston restaurant Indigo, is putting his energy and reputation behind a social justice movement focused on food.

I’ve written a lot of posts about food deserts and efforts nationwide to help low-income communities get access to fresh and nourishing produce. Today’s story adds to the series, highlighting how a successful Houston restaurateur decided to make food equity his business.

Victoria Marin writes at the Washington Post, “By most accounts, Houston chef Jonathan ‘Jonny’ Rhodes has already achieved tremendous success. Just a few years removed from culinary school, he has worked in several Michelin-starred kitchens and is running his own celebrated restaurant. Nonetheless, he says, everything in his career has brought him to this moment, confronting food justice against the backdrop of what is perhaps the biggest movement against … police violence in history. …

“A restaurant, even a revered one, has never been enough for Rhodes, who says the pathway to real freedom is through the security and sustainability that comes with land ownership. He has been laying the groundwork since he opened his neo-soul food restaurant, Indigo, by building out a market of preserved and canned pantry items supplemented by produce from the modest garden next door. His intention: to eventually open a full-service grocery store and, further down the line, start a farm to supply the store

“Rhodes decided to open Indigo in Houston’s Northline neighborhood, just outside of where he grew up, in part because he wanted to prove that fine dining belonged there, even if local law enforcement — and some Yelp reviewers — may have thought otherwise. But he has long had bigger aspirations for the project he undertook two years ago: He wants [to show our] ‘people what we’re capable of. … It makes them curious. And as it makes them curious, they create, they start asking questions. And when they start asking questions, they create their own ideas, and ideas are dangerous to the establishment — so instead of telling people to stay safe, we tell them to stay dangerous.

“What constitutes ‘staying dangerous’ in Rhodes’s mind? It starts with Indigo’s unconventional, barrier-breaking premise: The five-course soul food menu is made up of dishes designed as much to convey flavor and beauty as to elicit dialogue about the food history of the African diaspora, with such names as Violence of Hunger; Hijabs, Hoodies & Afros; and Descendants of Igbo. Everything that’s cooked is prepared over a wood-fired grill because it’s historically accurate and because Rhodes and his team … couldn’t afford the $10,000 necessary to install a gas kitchen when they opened. Once or twice during the meal, Rhodes steps into the dining room, surrounded by African art, books about slave foodways and posters emblazoned with revolutionary quotes, and presents a deft treatise on the inspiration behind each dish, encouraging guests to consider the intersections between past and present. …

“The 13-seat restaurant, which offers only two seatings per night, four nights per week, has become one of the most coveted reservations going. But reviews and awards have never been Rhodes’s goal. And neither is just conversation, though conversation is a big part of the Indigo experience. … For Rhodes, who served in the Marines before starting a family, going to culinary school and then getting a degree in history, the war for natural resources has long been an apt metaphor for the black American experience. ‘African Americans have been subdued because we don’t control any natural resources,’ he says. …

“The communities Rhodes describes are commonly called ‘food deserts,’ usually densely populated neighborhoods marked by a severe lack of fresh produce coupled with an often devastating abundance of alcohol and processed food. But Rhodes and other food justice advocates around the country consider the term a misnomer. A more accurate phrase, they say, is ‘food apartheid.’ …

“According to Karen Washington, co-founder of New York City’s Rise and Root Farm, calling it apartheid allows us to ‘look at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith and economics. You say “food apartheid,” and you get to the root cause of some of the problems around the food system. It brings in hunger and poverty.’ …

“Covid-19 has disproportionately laid siege on black Americans, something Rhodes sees as inseparable from food apartheid because of the interconnectedness between urban blight, food insecurity and health-care inaccessibility. The pandemic expedited his team’s plans. When states started shutting down in March, Indigo closed for a few weeks and then, like many other restaurants across the country, pivoted to groceries when it reopened. Unlike most other restaurants, though, Broham Fine Soul Food and Groceries isn’t a temporary endeavor. Rhodes is seizing this opportunity to do his part to dismantle food apartheid, through a sustainable, community-oriented, black-centered soul food market. …

“For Rhodes, this moment is ripe with possibility: Earlier this year, he and his team purchased six acres of land just outside the city so they can start farming on a larger scale. (Always resourceful, they’re repurposing the wood they’re clearing for cooking, building fencing and growing mushrooms.)”

More at the Post, here. Additional information at Houstonia magazine, here.

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Photo: Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community.
Corita Kent, then known as Sister Mary Corita, with students. “By the 1960s,” notes the Corita Art Center, “her vibrant serigraphs were drawing international acclaim. Corita’s work reflected her concerns about poverty, racism, and war.”

Talent will out. That was certainly the case with Sister Mary Corita, or Corita Kent, who became a force in the Pop Art scene of the 1960s with her focus on social justice.

At the Los Angeles Times, Carolina A. Miranda recently wrote, that 35 years after her death, the L.A. City Council approved historic-cultural monument status for her former studio — “a humble storefront on Franklin Avenue, near Western Avenue that in recent years had been inhabited by a dry cleaner.”

Miranda continues, “If you drew a Venn diagram that brought together Charles Eames, Pop Art, commercial printing, social justice movements, the Second Vatican Council and 1960s Los Angeles, only one person could inhabit the space where those areas intersect: Corita Kent.

“A nun in the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for more than three decades, Sister Mary Corita was a well-known educator and artist dubbed the ‘Pop Art nun’ by the press. … In her classroom at Immaculate Heart College, Kent taught the art of silkscreen printing — a commercial form that she adapted to the era of Pop. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, which called for a liberalization and modernization of the Catholic liturgy to the realities of 20th century life, she delved into creating work that echoed calls for social justice — be it antiwar efforts, labor campaigns or Black and Chicano civil rights.

“Her work at its most innovative took vernacular culture — commercial logos and graphics, bits of corporate slogans, images from mass media — and reconfigured them into fine art. Art that not only advanced the ways in which these elements were used formally, but that grounded Pop. … As independent curator Michael Duncan wrote of her work in a 2013 catalog: ‘She addressed consumers not of products but of life.’ …

“The [historic-cultural] designation is important not just because Kent was an artist whose work was a critical part of the artistic dialogues Los Angeles was having in the 1960s, but also because she represents the rare woman to be honored in the city’s landscape.

“As the Los Angeles Conservancy noted in its advocacy for preserving Kent’s studio building, only 3% of the city’s more than 1,200 historic-cultural monuments are associated with women’s heritage. … The designation is reflective of a shift in preservationists’ thinking about how we acknowledge history — thinking that is less preoccupied with the pristine historical details of a site than in making sure a wide range of histories are acknowledged in a city’s landscape. Late last year, the 1970 protest route of the Chicano Moratorium was listed in the National Register of Historic Places; early this year, the Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights — a key site of Chicano activism — was added to the list. …

“The storefront that Kent inhabited, where she taught and collaborated with students and created some of her most memorable work, no longer bears traces of her presence. …

“Kent left the space — and Los Angeles — after she withdrew from the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in favor of a secular life in the late 1960s. Part of her departure may have been due to pressures related to her increasingly high profile: At one point, she was featured on the cover of Newsweek. It may have also stemmed from simmering tensions between the liberal Immaculate Heart order and the staunchly conservative Archbishop James Francis McIntyre, who once complained that that the work produced by Kent and the college’s art department was ‘an affront to me and a scandal to the archdiocese.’ In 1970, Immaculate Heart split from the church and is today an independent ecumenical community.

“The studio storefront, which is currently unoccupied, sits on a small corner of a 1.7-acre parcel that also contains a shuttered Rite-Aid. Recently, the plot was acquired by a pair of real estate development companies who intend to turn the site into a Lazy Acres natural foods market. Part of their original plan had been to tear down the studio to make way for additional parking. (Yes, parking.) That plan has since been amended to leave the old studio building intact.

“This comes thanks to the work of many L.A. preservationists, among them the staff at the Corita Art Center, which is located just across the street in a complex of buildings still inhabited by the Immaculate Heart Community.

“ ‘The big question is what’s next,’ says the center’s director Nellie Scott. It’s too soon to say what the developers will do with the property — whether they would sell it or lease it for the purpose of an arts center. ‘We know that there are a thousand more conversations to happen.’ ”

So interesting that a nun used her natural gift in this way. I’m reminded of the French legend about the Juggler of Notre Dame, who was ridiculed for having nothing to give Mary but his juggling. In the story, her statue accepts the gift with a miraculous bow.

More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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Do you ever read Kevin Lewis’s Sunday Globe column, “Uncommon Knowledge”? He covers new research in the social sciences. Thanks to him, I learned about this study on helping minority boys get engaged in education.

“A disproportionate number of students struggling academically are minorities, ” he writes. “Can we do better?

“In what they claim is the first credible study of the effect of an ethnically grounded education, researchers at Stanford analyzed the effect of a ninth-grade course offered in several San Francisco public schools covering ‘themes of social justice, discrimination, stereotypes, and social movements from US history spanning the late 18th century until the 1970s’ and requiring students ‘to design and implement service-learning projects based on their study of their local community.’…

“The researchers found that taking the course ‘increased attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23 credits (or roughly four courses).’ They call the results ‘surprisingly large effects,’ which were concentrated among boys.”

The paper, by Thomas S. Dee, and Emily Penner, is The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum.” It was posted at the National Bureau of Economic Research in January.

More here.

Photo: Stanford University
Teacher David Ko instructs an ethnic studies class at Washington High School in San Francisco. A Stanford study found students benefit from such courses. Here, Ko is explaining an assignment about the role of advertising in reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

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I am still employed at my job of 10-plus years until January 1, but since so many people are on vacation the last fortnight of the year, I got my good-bye party last week.

Wow. Only nice things were said. Kind of like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral. Here you see my friend Lillian giving me credit for a discussion group that she was more than half responsible for.

A senior vice president surprised me by researching my online theater reviews (I used to moonlight as a critic) and reading two passages that suggested a strong social-justice interest, a theme I hadn’t realized was there. Another colleague commented that she had never met anyone that nice who was also so subversive. Then my top boss stood up to redefine “subversive” in a flattering way that related to the perceived social-justice streak.

Man, now I have to live up to all that. I should say that I have worked at about 10 places since starting as a camp counsellor, and I have never had affirmation like this. A number of those places were glad to see me go. I guess I have learned to tone down the subversive side so it sounds nice.

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In October, Tim Faulkner of ecoRI wrote that for the local celebration of National Food Day, “there was plenty to celebrate about Rhode Island’s food industry. During a downtown food festival, leaders and pioneers in the local food movement explained how they are connecting Rhode Island’s restaurants and culinary arts sector with farming, education, environmentalism, entrepreneurism and social justice.

“This effort was best demonstrated by Julius Searight, founder of a new food truck and mobile soup kitchen. Searight’s Food4Good held its grand opening during the Oct. 24 Providence Food Day Festival, selling chicken waffle sandwiches and baked potatoes. Proceeds from food sales are expected to fund about 400 meals a week for the needy.

“Searight, 26, grew up as a foster child in Providence and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 2013. He got the idea for the hybrid food operation after volunteering at local nonprofits and wondering what it was like for his biological mother to get fed.

“ ‘I really just saw the need to give back to those in need,’ he said.

More here.

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
Julius Searight is the founder of Food4Good food truck and mobile soup kitchen. Every $5 dollars earned buys two meals for people who need them.

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Nineteen years ago, about 500 people, many of whom had lost loved ones to urban tragedy, marched for peace on Mothers Day in Boston.

Today there must have been thousands. After the pre-walk warm-up exercises and the children’s choir, the prayers from all the major faith communities, the announcements by media personalities and the words of encouragement from Mayor Walsh and the police commissioner, we set out at a snail’s pace, crowding onto a Dorchester street that was expecting us.

A lot of organizations had banners, and many marchers wore T-shirts that pictured a loved-one. The spirit was upbeat and celebratory of lives. Politicians handed out water bottles, churches provided bathrooms, photographers recorded the event for free. The temperature was in the 80s, so by the end of the 3.5 mile walk, we older folks were ready for a nap.

The funds from the various team and individual contributors go to the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a local nonprofit that bases its actions on the belief that “Peace is Possible.” I like that slogan and also their “Seven Principles of Peace”: love, unity, faith, hope, courage, justice, forgiveness.

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The 2012 Curry Stone Design Prize winners have been announced. The awards, given to “social design pioneers,” will be presented at the Harvard Graduate School of Design on November 15.

How cool are these winners?

According to the Curry Stone website, New York City’s “Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) collaborates with teachers and students, policy experts and community advocates, and artists and designers to visually communicate complex urban-planning processes and policy-making decisions.”

Liter of Light, Manila, Philippines, uses water in bottles to create solar lamps for people living in dark tenements.

“Model of Architecture Serving Society — aka MASS Design — is a Boston-based architecture firm that has created a niche practice in designing healthcare facilities in resource-limited settings, primarily in countries emerging from crisis.”

The Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah “has spent more than two decades documenting Palestinian heritage and culture through restoration of the built environment.”

“Jeanne van Heeswijk is an artist who facilitates the creation of lively and diversified public spaces, typically from abandoned or derelict sites.”

More here. Be sure to check the pictures here.

Photograph: Jeminah Ferrer
The Liter of Light project uses water  in bottles to create solar lamps for the poor.

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Some days I walk in Boston and snap the sights down side streets. The first photo was taken near the harbor. The others were taken near Downtown Crossing.

I like the Adrienne Rich line painted on a bookstore wall: “You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it.”

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I met Mary Driscoll in playwriting class last summer.

Mary has had a lifetime focus on social justice for marginalized people. She has traveled to foreign countries to work with refugees. For people with HIV, she has taught pilates and the healing art of telling one’s stories. She has performed with mission-oriented theater troupes. And she is the founder of  OWLL, On with Living and Learning, which helps ex-offenders build new lives after prison.

At Mary’s invitation, my husband and I found our way last night to what is a virtual artist colony in the long-abandoned but reemerging warehouse district of South Boston. In Mary’s loft apartment, one of the artists she has drawn into her orbit presented a wonderful cabaret show to raise money for OWLL’s production of Generational Legacy about mothers and children after prison.

Michael Ricca interpreted songs by Michel Legrand with great humor and feeling (including the theme song of our wedding, “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?”). Ricca is performing the songs and others by Legrand at Scullers in March.

My husband and I enjoyed talking to Mary’s guests  — artists, actors, musicians, social activists, old  friends. We’re especially keen to keep an eye on the doings of the Fort Point Theatre Channel in the Midway Studios building, where Mary  lives and works. The collaborative productions in the Black Box Theatre sound intriguing and offbeat. We like offbeat.

Phot0 Credit: OWLL

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This is about a Unitarian Universalist minister who decided that community work was more important than having a church building.

As Donald E. Skinner writes of Ron Robinson in UU World, “The particular mission field that the Rev. Ron Robinson has claimed is one of America’s abandoned places.

“Turley, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, was a thriving place until the 1960s when white flight and the movement of oil industry jobs out of Tulsa began Turley’s long slide into economic and social decline.

“Today many houses in Turley are vacant and abandoned, some boarded up, others open to the elements and slowly falling down. Burned-out structures are nearly hidden by tall weeds and brush. The once robust main street is now down to a gas station, grocery, a pizza place that won’t deliver, self-service laundry, carwash, and a collection of auto repair and salvage businesses.

“Most younger residents have no health insurance and little health care. Most children qualify for free school lunches. Residents live, on average, fourteen fewer years than people five miles south, in midtown Tulsa. Unemployment is twice the national average.

“In the middle of this, Robinson, a Unitarian Universalist minister, has established A Third Place, a community center that includes Turley’s only library, several computers for public use, a free health clinic, food pantry, drop-in living room, and a place to get used clothing and household items.”

Read more here.

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