By Maya Salsedo
Today was an inspiring and moving day. We had an emotional start at the border of San Diego and Tijuana. From there we drove up to south LA to meet our friends at the Social Justice Learning Institute
. When I learned we were headed to an ‘institute’ I imagined an overly air conditioned building with minimal windows and bleak colors. Upon arriving I was surprised to find that the Social Justice Learning Institute was a half-acre community garden. At the Social Justice Institute we met seventeen year old TK who told us about what he is up to, down in Inglewood. The garden grew out of a program for Black young men who as TK put it “Are stereotyped negatively.” The program has empowered young Black men to change the way their communities see them. These student then passed on the gift by engaging Latino youth, Asian youth and girls in community building programs.
Last year was a very important year for TK and his peers, Tk told us, “There was an incident involving Black and Brown students.” TK feared this would alter the already fragile relations between Black and Brown students. So these youth decided to take action, they held dialogues where students could address each other and these issues respectfully. What a crazy idea! ;)
After sharing with the group that his program was gearing-up to plant 100 new gardens in their community, we told TK about the Youth Food Bill of Rights and Rooted in Community. TK was excited to feel like part of a national movement and decided to sign the Youth Food Bill of Rights. He said he had been to conferences before but “I hope I can come out in the winter” for the Rooted in Community Leadership Summit. As we prepared to hit the road again, TK invited us to pick some tomatoes and sent us off with hugs! It was great to meet such an articulate and powerful young man who draws his strength from making a difference in his community.
So, back into the Food and Freedom van we climbed on this shockingly hot day in LA our destination-Community Services Unlimited
(CSU). CSU began as a program of the Black Panther Party in LA around the same time the original Freedom Rides took place. We arrived at their Mini Urban Farm an oasis in a concrete jungle dwarfed by the USC coliseum. We were greeted by CSU Staff and youth who told us and other community members about the work they do and opportunities they offer. CSU Director Neelam Sharma described a workshop she facilitates which gives youth a chance to draw connections between their diet and behavior. Lawrence DeFreitas, a staff member at CSU told us all about how youth’s personal goals for health and wellness are directly tied to the goals for health and wellness of the community. Lawrence noted that when youth draw connections like this, they are more self determined and community minded.
To end our afternoon at the CSU Mini Farm we toured their garden and sipped beautiful teas made from herbs on their site. The most outstanding part of the tour was, by far, the Banana trees they have that were just dripping with fruit. Bananas weren’t the only exciting bit of their farm they had everything from eggplant to native strawberries, cheremoya to zucchini and Zapotec heirloom tomatoes. Their herb garden was bountiful as well; I got to smell and taste things I had never heard of before like pineapple mint, cinnamon basil, all spice and curry leaf! CSU isn’t only growing food, they are growing their community and many up-and-coming leaders in the Food Justice movement.
Our busy day ended with a beautiful dinner cooked by our dear friend Ozomatli, he prepared for us special Tamales from Michoacan. They were amazing, we may be on a tight schedule as Food and Freedom Riders but we certainly can make a little time for a home cooked meal and wonderful company.Maya Salsedo18 Santa Cruz/Oakland, CA
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