Category: - L I V E   R E A L
Written by Anim Steel

When we took the Freedom Rides as an inspiration, we didn’t actually expect to be confronted with racist southern police. 

Our journey, the Food and Freedom Ride, is about honoring our heroes while also drawing attention to an urgent issue for our generation.

On Friday, one of our members was arrested on a charge of  “disturbing the peace” in her hometown of Eupora, Mississippi--before she could even join us.  The arrest appears to have been triggered by the flyers she hung up around town announcing both our arrival and a ground-breaking ceremony for a community garden.  She was arrested at the home where her 14-year-old sister was having a birthday party.

Courtney Oats comes from a family of community organizers that has been harassed by the police before. Her great-aunt was Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Party.  The garden was envisioned as a place of physical and racial healing.  

She's out of jail now, and we are on our way to meet her.  We're going to go ahead with the ground-breaking ceremony.  Courtney has told us how much she wants to do positive things in her community.     

But Courtney and her family are in a precarious situation.  She says that visibility would help protect them.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, and we're still getting all the facts.  I’m more familiar with the long shadow of racism than its bright light.  I do know I—all of us—want to support Courtney as much as possible.  And it makes me more determined to keep finding people who are doing hopeful things in the face of hardships.

This is the second day of our Food & Freedom Ride. I'm one of 12 people--mostly twenty-somethings from low-income communities--traveling overland from Birmingham to Detroit to highlight the ongoing crisis of food deserts and other inequities in our food system.  

We’re also building bridges.  We'll be having a dialogue with farmers in Iowa, visiting a chicken-processing plant in Illinois, and everywhere raising awareness about the upcoming Farm Bill. 

Our journey began with a service yesterday at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Bessemer, Alabama. Later, at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, we met with four of the individuals who, as children in 1963, faced down Bull Connor’s dogs and hoses.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” said Gwendolyn Appling, one of the ‘Children Crusaders.’

As someone whose life was almost 100% shaped by what the Civil Rights movement achieved, I won’t soon forget the moment.

Kyoka’s 8-year old son, Keylen, was standing next to me.  Kyoka is a Rider, a Real Food Fellow, and our host in Alabama.  

“Are you going to cry?” he asked, in front of everyone. Keylen is as sweet and charming and funny.  We're going to edit a video clip called "Cooking with Keylen" that we shot earlier at the church.  “It’s OK. You’re gonna cry when we get home.”

As of now, home is an 10 interesting days away.  If you want to stay in touch, you can follow our journey at:

Twitter: @liverealnoworg #foodandfreedom

Thanks so much for your help on the Do Something Awards!!