Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement
By Monica M. White
I share these book recommendations on a schedule, I’ve been told, that no one is possibly following except for me. I read really fast. Thank you, grad school. So, you may see this title as you are scrolling through the gallery of other titles I’ve read, or months from now in a quiet moment. I’ll let you in on the secret that I plan the timing of when I share books with intention. Our author, Monica M. White, is an activist and urban ethnographer of the food justice-urban agriculture movement in Detroit since 2007, where she has worked with others to transform and rebuild a financially devastated city. She described this book as a love letter. She said it “feels like love--never easy, but worth it.” February can get a lot of hype around a certain kind of love, and I wanted to add her labor of love into the mix.
In January, I took a class called Land, Food, and the Black Church with Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III. Freedom Farmers was one of our textbooks. As I approached the text this month to write this blurb, I had the joy of hearing some of the sections in his charismatic voice. These are not just words on a page anymore. They’re connected to conversations and stories that I hold with reverence from that zoom room. Here’s a few of the central concepts for you to sample:
“Collective agency, a concept that I coined based upon the data for this project, involves social actors’ ability to create and enact behavioral options necessary to affect their political future.”
“Community resilience, a subcategory within the burgeoning field of resilience science, refers to the various structural aspects and components of human adaptation to extreme adversity, using ‘community’ as the unit of analysis.”
“Prefigurative politics begins with the awareness that members of a group have been excluded from the political process.”
The book itself is full of rich stories. As the author puts it, “This book is an effort to recover, tell, and honor the stories of collective agency and community resilience of the black rural poor, a group the civil rights movement left behind.” It is also intended to “connect contemporary urban farmer-activists to an earlier time when African Americans turned to agriculture as a strategy for building sustainable communities.”
I’d recommend this read to anyone with an interest in food justice, especially if you’re not sure where to start. I’d also recommend it to seasoned practitioners who are looking for a source of wisdom to fill their cup and reinvigorate their efforts. So, really, when it comes down to it, I’m recommending this book to everyone yet again. Because it’s fantastic and should be shared!
Quote: “If pain was all there was, how can we explain the indigenous roots of the current urban farming movement--spearheaded by black people? If pain was all there was, why should black people voluntarily return to a form of work that produced exploitation and oppression--so much so that it forced people to flee from the South?”
Join the discussion in The Kaleidoscapes Commons.
One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet
By Anuradha Rao
This recommendation is friendly for younger readers (12+), and all people who would like to learn about 20 different BIPOC environmental defenders. Written in the style of short, picture-filled interviews, reading feels as though you’ve been invited to a party with some of the coolest people around.
I was delighted to find a chapter about Nana Firman, a coworker from an awesome organization where I’m currently participating in a fellowship. Of course, it’s important to remember that “the people in this book don’t represent all the people from their nations, ethnicities or cultures. They spoke to me about themselves, their own experiences, and events as they recalled them.” You’ll be introduced to activists from all over the world!
Get your own copy of One Earth or ship it to your friend or family member as a surprise!
Here’s a short clip of the author, Anuradha Rao, speaking about One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
By Richard Rothstein
In honor of the US inauguration week, I’ve chosen The Color of Law as our recommended book. Because while it is a knee jerk response for many United Statesians to claim “we are better than the last four years,” I find it most patriotic to unflinchingly approach and challenge the anti-Black legacy of legislation that has shaped the country we live in today.
As Rothstein puts it, “racially explicit government policies to segregate our metropolitan areas are not vestiges, were neither subtle nor intangible, and were sufficiently controlling to construct the de jure segregation that is now with us in neighborhoods and hence in schools. The core argument of this book is that African Americans were unconstitutionally denied the means and the right to integration in middle-class neighborhoods, and because this denial was state-sponsored, the nation is obligated to remedy it.”
This book delivers a powerful message: segregation was not created by accident or by prejudiced individuals. It will not be reversed by accident or “in some mysterious way, by changes in people’s hearts.” We need equally aggressive policies to the ones adopted by federal, state and local governments in the first place.
Rothstein concludes the book with a collection of possible remedies and the reminder that “we will have to contemplate what we have collectively done and, on behalf of the government, accept responsibility.” A powerful and important read!
Quote: “Half a century ago, the truth of de jure segregation was well known, but since then we have suppressed our historical memory and soothed ourselves into believing that it all happened by accident or by misguided private prejudice. "
Today, I’m enthusiastically recommending two, fantastic new releases. They were actually published 10 days apart from one another during November of this year.
Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Animals
By Alexis Pauline Gumbs
The first, Undrowned, was released after the author, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, followed her own curiosity on a deep dive about marine mammals. As she says, “I just wanted to know which whale was which, but I found myself confronted with the colonial, racist, sexist, heteropatriachalizing capitalist constructs that are trying to kill me--the net I am already caught in, so to speak.” She began with daily social media posts, sharing her learnings and reflections, and then this book was dreamed into being. Her writing is bold, poetic, full of social commentary, and creatively nonfiction. It was also released as a part of the Emergent Strategy Series (one of our reads from adrienne maree brown earlier this year). I was completely immersed in this book, and I found the wisdom in its pages to be subversive, wonderfully queer, and full of love for our underwater relatives. In describing her writing process, Gumbs says, “As I learned more about marine mammals, I learned to look between the loopholes of language, using the poetic practices I have had to use to find and love myself in a world that misnames me daily.” I cannot recommend this read highly enough. Do yourself a favor and get a copy!
Lighting the Way: An Anthology of Short Plays About the Climate Crisis
Edited by Chantal Bilodeau and Thomas Peterson
The second book for today, found here (or at Barnes & Noble or Amazon) is a collection of 49 short plays by writers all over the world for the 2019 Climate Change Theatre Action, a global distributed theatre festival that coincided with the 25th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 25) held in Madrid, Spain under the presidency of the Chilean government. The writing prompt was to “give center stage to the unsung climate warriors and climate heroes who are lighting the way toward a just and sustainable future.” Whether you are a teacher, theatre artist, or eco-theatre lover like me who has lots of respect for The Arctic Cycle, these plays are a fantastic source of inspiration, imagination and courageous storytelling about climate. One thing I miss as the pandemic wears on is the sensation of sitting in a blackout right before a play starts--with people on either side of me, waiting in anticipation for what might unfold. Reading this book was the first time I had felt an echo of that feeling in many months. I especially loved hearing about the design concepts or “ecoscenography” in an introductory essay by Triga Creative. Thank you to all of the contributing playwrights, the 3,046 artists, organizers and activists who created the performances in the CCTA 2019, and especially to Chantal Bilodeau and Thomas Peterson for helping us witness the impact of this event after the fact. I bought this one as a gift to myself for the holidays, and reading it by the fire is an activity I would 5/5 recommend.
To learn more about our Book Club, please join The Kaleidoscapes Commons or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change
By Sherri Mitchell
Quote: “As Indigenous people, we have been guided to carry the sacred teachings that allowed us to maintain our connected way of life, so that when this time came, we would be able to help guide humanity back to a more balanced way of being.”
I’ve been waiting to read this book for months. I didn’t know why I couldn’t take it off the shelf. Then, I read the section of the book about teachers where Mitchell says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This struck me to the core. I had inner work to do before approaching Sacred Instructions. I’ve been grappling with my own cosmology, and it wasn’t until now that I could authentically witness a traditional, Indigenous cosmology.
For any readers who are White or unfamiliar with an Indigenous worldview, I invite you especially to read this book. Rather than a superficial practice of “New Year’s Resolutions” (this is an overgeneralization, and if you find it helpful to calibrate yourself in that way, don’t me stop you), consider this as an opportunity to approach wisdom that’s been passed down for centuries and delivered so powerfully by Sherri Mitchell.
In response to the provocative question, “Will we as a species finally find a way to create a reality of peaceful coexistence, now that we know that failing to do so would be a complete destruction of ourselves?” she tells us, “A wound cannot be healed by pretending that it doesn’t exist. It must be examined, cleansed, and tended.” Mitchell writes with clear-eyed poignance about a holistic path forward for humanity, which remains largely asleep. She also says, “Decolonization is the beginning. It is not the end point. We don’t know what lies on the other side of decolonization, because we haven’t had the opportunity to create it. What we do know is that decolonization allows us to reconnect with the people and places we come from; it allows us to define our own identity, on our terms, in ways that are reflective of our own understanding of ourselves; and it allows us to speak the truth about our shared history of violence, heal our traumatic wounds, and redefine a sacred way with one another as human being and between human beings and the rest of creation.”
I cannot wait to read her next book, Sacred Laws: Foundational Laws of the Universe through an Indigenous lens, which will be released soon. Learn more about her work at https://sacredinstructions.life/. For The Kaleidoscapes, this book has many key takeaways, including the reminder that artists working at the intersection of climate and imagination must always collaborate rather than compete. If you are already doing brilliant work, we’d love to connect, support, and partner with you.
This is truly a sacred text, and I recommend it as such. Read when you are ready.
Mitchell is one of the authors featured in All We Can Save— an anthology collection that we’ve been incrementally reading in community through a zoom Circle. The next Circle meeting will be held on January 2nd at 1pm EST, and you’re welcome to join!
If you read one of these recommended texts and want to engage in dialogue with our Artistic Director, Gail, send an email! No question or thought is too big or small. I’m processing these texts, and I’d love to be a conversation partner to you.
As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Building on our recommended reading from the summer of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, this is an important, foundational book to understand the complexities of the ongoing fight for Indigenous sovereignty.
Gilio-Whitaker argues that “for environmental justice to be responsive to the needs of Native peoples it must be indigenized--tailored to account for their very different histories, relationships to the land, and political relationships to the State.”
It’s a very readable text with stories throughout. As usual with our book club selections, I was stretched and also incited by the wisdom contained in these pages. If you are reading along, you might also be struck by the ways erasure and violence, steeped in white supremacy, have maintained the social and legal structure of the United States. We have the option to confront that paradigm of domination. As Gilio-Whitaker encourages, “more than any ‘granting’ of rights by the United States, it is their bold assertions of self-determinism, aided at times by powerful allies, that accounts for progress Native people have made in their relationships with the US over the last century. Indigenous peoples have learned that no one is coming to save them, just as environmentalists have learned that their American legal system is a rigged game against the environment and their own communities...In the long run, environmental justice for American Indians is environmental justice for everyone...and for the Earth herself.”
“...in the chief’s words is not only the anguish of forced removal... [but] also... a Native worldview that makes no distinction between people and land. The Chickasaw may have survived removal and adapted to their new environment... but in reality, there is no way to measure what is lost in the process of being deracinated from their homelands.”
Would you like to engage further in our Book Club? Join the All We Can Save reading circle by emailing email@example.com
Food from the Radical Center: Healing our Land and Communities
By Gary Paul Nabhan
Quote: To capsulize a complex story in very few words, America is not divided about whether the environment deserves restoration. They are not divided about whether our communities require social healing. What divides us is who gets to decide how this work is done, who does it, and how much it should cost (17).
It’s election week. We might all be looking for some comfort food. So I thought I’d pick a book recommendation that could relate.
Released in 2018, Nabhan shares stories of cooperation across a divided political spectrum. He has fifty years of work with community-based projects around the nation, from the desert Southwest to the low country of the Southeast.
Chapter by chapter, you will be introduced to new layers of resilience. The author says himself, “The restoration of land and rare species has provided—dollar for dollar—one of the best returns on investment of any conservation initiative.” Food is one of the more complex pieces of a sustainability puzzle, and this book honors the diversity of experience and methodology at hand.
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
By Adrienne Maree Brown
Our author this week, Adrienne Maree Brown, says that “the world is full of beauty, magic, miracles, and patterns that induce wonder.” Well, so is this book. She writes with the flare of a lightning bug, illuminating one thought before taking an artful swoop to the next idea. The reader is invited to engage nonlinearly--to find their way through these pages however makes most sense to them. I was struck by the amount of pleasure I experienced, reading at my own pace with my own curiosities, and the amount of artistry it takes for an author to facilitate an embodied experience through written words. If you are looking for facilitation tools for workshops about climate. If you are seeking solace before the election. This is a book for you. “This is...a book about the preciousness of time. It’s limited and it’s so sacred, friends. And everything we do, every single thought and action and relationship and institution, everything is practice ground.”
"Emergence is our inheritance as a part of this universe; it is how we change. Emergent strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”
Would you like to engage with our book club further? Leave a comment here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our next Book Club Recommendation comes with a special way to get involved over the next 10 weeks. See below for a chance to join our Circle with Artistic Director, Gail Tierney. Our All We Can Save Circle begins Saturday Oct 17, at 11am Eastern.
This is a book that will stay with me for life. Because it has changed me. Because it matters. Because it loved and saw my friend in a way I cannot.
I come back to these poems over and over. I read them aloud. I pour over the pages, knowing that it’s an honor to hold the carefully chosen words as a witness.
The anthology contains ten cycles, which are thematically arranged. The poems can be read in dialogue with one another--almost as though you, the reader, are sitting in a chair by a fireplace while the conversation extends deep into the night, grappling with the full complexity of history, politics, protests, and joy.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for a friend. Take it in at your own pace, and know that it will stir you.
If you have read any of the books in our collection, and would like to start a conversation, please email Artistic Director, Gail Tierney at email@example.com.
Dive into our journal pages to expand your knowledge and follow our journey into the backcountry.