I didn’t realize that I was considered an activist until a few years ago.
It was brought to my attention when I was invited to speak at the 2016 Facing Race National Conference over four years ago. The bi-annual conference brings together community organizers from across the country to discuss how to implement racial as well as gender equity and sustainability practices, which stretches into both political and cultural spheres. It also focuses heavily on antiracist training for companies and individuals. In all honesty, I didn’t even know that the event existed at the time. Upon doing research on it, the fact that I was asked to attend plus do a presentation brought on some feelings of imposter syndrome. However, there was no way that I was going to back out of it, it seemed like such an amazing opportunity; and was it ever. In 2018, WinC, (Women in Comics Collective International), hosted their first Comics & Advocacy workshop there and this year they’re covering the conference in collaboration with Blerd Galaxy Magazine.
Facing Race typically is physically hosted by a different city every other year. With the COVID19 pandemic, that definitely wasn’t happening this year. They decided to go virtual just like many of the other 2020 conferences and conventions that were scheduled to take place. Today was the first day of the conference. They are using one of the best virtual conference platforms that I have seen so far this year. The platform is https://hopin.to/; it’s super user friendly and incorporates several video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Skype. All of the conference events were easy to find, including the wellness, exhibitor, networking and workshop spaces. The day began with music from DJ Femi, who is an event staple, then went straight into the opening ceremony that was hosted by Omisade Burney-Scott and Pierce Freelon. Our esteemed hosts focused on the conference’s theme: The Strength and Perseverance of Raleigh, North Carolina, (which was supposed to be the site of Facing Race this year.) The ceremony also featured a collective mediation by Soyinka Rahim, poetry by North Carolina Poet Jackie Shelton Green and an address by Race Forward Executive Director Glenn Harris.
Immediately afterward there was a music break with DJ Femi and yoga exercises with Myka T. Johnson of the Acorn Center. Those are examples of what I love about this conference; it focuses on community wellness in a holistic way. It acknowledges all of the work that we have to do and galvanizes us as community organizers by providing us with knowledge as well as play and selfcare. The environment is nurturing and caring without pretentiousness.
The workshops, aka breakout sessions, are vast and can be found here on the Facing Race website: https://facingrace.raceforward.org/program/full-program.
The one that I chose to attend today was the Potlikker Praxis: A Culinary Demo and Conversation. For those who don’t know, I studied to be a chef and am classically trained. Food, along with writing, is one of my deepest passions.This was a workshop that I wasn’t going to miss for the world. Our facilitators were Culinarian Gabrielle Ettienne and Shorlette Ammons, creator of the local sovereign food system in Raleigh, North Carolina. We began by learning the definition of Potlikker: it’s an ancient medicinal practice of making and consuming the liquid of cooked greens. A classic Polikker has three elements: Greens, (typically collard greens but any can be used), water and salt. The recipe that Gabrielle made was with collard greens, seasoned caramelized onions and water. Shorlette and her daughter cooked along with her. As they cooked they discussed the importance of food accessibility, farming and how the creation of meals has always been a community activity amongst Black people; with everyone having a job or role in the process.
The conversation was deeply engaging and watching the cooking process was hypnotic. It was also nostalgic for me. Many a day I would cook collard greens with my father as a child. My fondest memories of childhood take place in kitchens. I was also reminded me that the kitchen is also a place where revolutions are started and community decisions are hashed out in addition to being made. It’s a place that has served various purposes for Black people throughout the years, and still is.
I gathered so much information and it’s only the first day of the conference. I’ll be writing more pieces based on today alone so I can only imagine what tomorrow will bring!