Dearly beloved, I’m writing today to talk about this thing called life. It’s an electric word, “LIFE,” it means forever and that's a mighty long time, but I'm here to tell you…there's something else…
My humble apologies to the late, great genius, Prince, for sampling the words from his song, “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince’s lyrics serve as a perfect segue for this commentary about life. What gives me a great sense of comfort is the simple notion that we come into this world with the sole purpose of making life a little bit better than the way it was when we were born. This philosophy allows me to compartmentalize the things I can’t control like an immoral, unqualified, orange dictator who seems content on resurrecting the spirit and mission of Adolph Hitler.
As a black man, a father, writer and a nonprofit director, I know I can’t stop the regurgitated madness that surrounds us, like the current rise in racism and down-right, guttural hate. But, I can, in a small but significant way, write about it and try to teach young people, who look like me, how to do their part to make the world a little bit better for their siblings, their peers and themselves.
I have spent a lifetime as a journalistic voyeur of sorts. I've written about the ills that disproportionately impact my people but I haven't really done anything concrete to address these conditions. I have tried to use the experiences and influences of an impoverished, black youth with an amazing, never-give-up, Mama, to blow up stereotypes. I’ve tried to get readers, who have not lived my life, to explore the possibilities that we have more in common than not.
It took me more than 30 years, but I have concluded that I can’t fix stupid. The impact of more than 400 years of racial oppression and conditioning is still strong among many and I’m not going to be able to change that in my lifetime or, sadly, my children’s lifetime.
What I can do, what I have done, is create something, I believe, that will help my race do-for-self and become self-sufficient no matter what turbulent wave of racism or hatred consumes us from coast-to-coast.
Yes, my little contribution is the Sweet Potato Project (SPP). I stubbornly believe that black folk must go back to move forward. We must return to that time where we had no choice but to depend upon and support ourselves. We can no longer rely on government or the benevolence of sympathetic whites to save us. Oh, they can help but we must commit to save ourselves. That means we must build new systems (educational, economic and judicial) that will replace or thwart those designed to keep us oppressed, depressed and locked into a dependent, childlike, helpless mindset.
In my last commentary I wrote about engaging and activating young people in community ownership. I talked about the progress on this front, by politicians, individuals and organizations in North St. Louis. Here, I want to elaborate on a new organization I also mentioned, the North City Food Hub (NCFH) and invite you to explore the possibilities with us.
On Thursday, June 28th, the NCFH and its partner organizations, which includes SPP, will host its official grand opening at its headquarters at 1034 North Sarah Street, St. Louis, MO 63113. With initial funding from the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency was established with a mission of making a local food system (hub) where individuals, particularly North St. Louis residents, can access resources aimed at increasing their income potential and turning food business ideas into fruitful economic realities.
“We’re looking at ways to address food insecurity while simultaneously improving personal incomes through growing of fresh food and food production,” says Milldred Mattfeldt- Beman, NCFH’s project coordinator.
During Thursday’s event, NCFH will outline its classes in legal assistance, land-ownership, “good agricultural practices (GAP)”, culinary education, food safety, business plan development, food production and much more. The agency will also unveil its 3,000 square feet food preparation and storage space which includes a shared-use kitchen where residents will receive technical assistance, training, oversight and guidance through the food production business.
“We’re looking at ways to address food insecurity while simultaneously improving personal incomes through growing of fresh food and food production.” - Milldred Mattfeldt- Beman
NCFH has partnered with St. Louis University and local nonprofits such as the Ville Collaborative, Hosco Foods, Good Life Growing, LLC. And Annie Malone Children & Family Services. Through this unique collaboration, these nonprofits will offer additional services to the youth and adults we currently serve.
This small but substantial endeavor compliments the affordable housing and urban gardening work that’s already being done by organizations like Better family Life, Inc., Gateway Greening, Friendly Temple Church and aldermen seeking innovative ways to bring new businesses and robust economic activity back to long-underserved and impoverished neighborhoods.
Personally, I’m ecstatic about the possibilities. My students and other North St. Louis residents now have a one-stop shop to help them gain education in accessing land, growing food, getting legal advice and small business assistance, making food products and professionally bring all this to market in and outside their own neighborhoods.
For me, I see a way to activate young activists, so they can make their neighborhoods a little bit better than the way it was when they were born into them. Let’s give them land, give them subsidies for new, affordable homes, give them small business loans to open storefronts, urban farms, farmer’s markets, coffee, T-shirt and art shops in one designated area of development. And, yes, I said “give.” Heck, we’ve been gifting billions to already rich developers for decades. Let’s try a new, bold, innovative approach. Let’s invest in our young so they can give us a mighty return.
The NCFH gives us a rare shot at reclaiming, remaking and reinvigorating what’s ours. Let’s take this small risk, this grand opportunity to see what can be. Let’s get to that “something else” Prince spoke of; Let’s go Crazy!