A Letter to my People about Food by Hasshan Batts
On May 20th, I attended a community discussion, Food in the Public Square, addressing food, family and culture hosted by Northampton Community College and RenewLV at the Fowler Center on Southside of Bethlehem. The program aimed at capturing the “food stories” of the participants. Although the event attracted a number of Latino participants, I was disappointed to find that of the 120 people in attendance to address the critical issue of food, an issue that greatly impacts the Black community, I was one of three Black people present.
I have been searching for answers, asking, “Where is the Black voice in community discussions like this that are held on important issues impacting our lives?” I befriended the organizer and brainstormed methods and creative approaches to sincerely engage people of color in the discussions from a place of value, dignity and appreciation. I scrutinized her social media reach from a social network analysis approach and decided to share the post on my social media sites, hoping to increase participation from the populations I believe are most impacted by food deserts, food insecurity, poor food quality and the inequities of resource distribution as a whole. I was surprised to find of the hundreds of local Black and Brown people on my social media contacts, none had registered to join the discussion.
I was confused and decided to consult the people in my network. I discussed the lack of participation with my closest friends and confidants. It was shared with me that community discussions around necessities such as food are considered a privilege that many Black and Brown people don’t believe they have the luxury to discuss, because they are in the world struggling to feed their families. I write with the hope of reframing the lens of discussions around food. I challenge Black, Brown, poor and oppressed people to participate: because we simply cannot afford not to contribute to the discourse around food. People are suffering greatly in our community due to food insecurity. When discussions occur that may impact decision making and policies, it is often the case that the people most impacted are silenced or ignored. In this case, that is not the situation. The previously, “under-heard” are especially welcome to attend. That being said, I believe it behooves individuals struggling to afford or access fresh, nutrient rich food to come on Sunday and share their stories. By doing so, you will be advocating for the changes that we so urgently need to see occur in our community.
Community dialogues are not just a tool of the privilege, or a tool of oppression to pacify the masses, but have the potential to engage, document and amplify the voices of the often unheard, ignored and silenced. Food Justice is a critical issue in our community, and it significantly impacts our neighbors’ lives and health outcomes. I believe an inclusive and diverse discussion around food, family and culture like this one is relevant and critical to the proper development of our community.
You may come and share, but will you really be heard? I am very familiar with and respect the methodology being used in Sunday’s community conversation, and have been asked to serve as a table host for the table discussions. The facilitation technique to be used, Art of Hosting, recognizes that our problems are too complex for a hero leader to solve and that we must all come together to craft solutions to our most difficult problems. Solutions will come as we continue to come together in safe spaces like this one and build relationships with others.
I believe that this event represents a unique opportunity for the Black voice be heard on this important topic. At this event, all personal stories shared will be audio recorded and some people will be invited to have their stories video recorded. A team of scholars will study the stories shared for themes. Additionally, some of what is shared will be captured through graphic recording, a note-taking technique that puts what is said into simple, easy to understand visuals that lend themselves to being shared on social media.
I humbly encourage people of color and the disenfranchised to join the conversation tomorrow, this Sunday, July 24th from noon to 2 p.m. at Northampton Community College’s Fowler Center at 511 E. 3rd Street, Bethlehem. Please come and share your voice, document your story, fight for equity and advocate accountability for the basic human need for sustenance. Your participation can have a big impact throughout the Lehigh Valley. For more information: www.foodinthepublicsquare.com
Hasshan Batts was invited to be a guest blogger on this blog.
Hasshan is a Social Worker with the Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley (www.nhclv.org), Director of Training and Education for Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute (www.prasi.org); board member of Resurrected Community Development Corporation, founding board member of the Lehigh Valley Social Impact Center and 2015-2016 Rider-Pool Collective Impact Action Learning Fellow in Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone.
Hasshan Batts is also a consultant, inspirational speaker and life coach. He is a survivor, healer, son, father and friend. For more information, go to: http://www.coachbatts.com