February is Black History Month; originally started as a way to educate students and young people about Black and African-Americans' contributions, triumphs, and struggles, it has continued to be a time for commemorating and recognizing their integral role in our history and culture. Their stories are a critical part of our history and Project Bread’s efforts to end hunger in Massachusetts.
For this Black History Month, we're highlighting some of the significant Black figures that have shaped our agriculture system and spearheaded our fight for food justice.
Food has everything to do with our history of slavery and systemic racism. Black and Indigenous people provided the foundation of our current agriculture system, and from the very start, they have spearheaded the sustainability and regenerative agriculture movements we see today. Yet, Black households and communities of color continue to be left out and exploited by our broken food system, and are disproportionately experiencing food insecurity. It's critical that in our fight for food access we give all people agency and sovereignty over their food and push for equitable policies that actively fight our broken and racist system.
Born in 1917 in Mississippi to sharecropper parents, Fannie Lou Hamer is better known as a civil rights and women’s rights icon of the 1960s and 1970s and was also one of the pioneers of the food justice movement.
Hamer grew up knowing what it meant to be hungry: “Poverty and poor health form an unbreakable circle, one which need[s] attention from the people who are supposed to represent us.” And it was exactly her personal experiences facing food insecurity and her strong desire to create economic opportunities for Black communities that eventually led her to establishing the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, Mississippi in 1969. The program was dedicated to grassroots participation and providing Black households economic opportunity and sustainable access to healthy, locally grown foods. At its peak, the program spanned nearly 700 acres of land, where Black farmers gained access to land to grow and eat their own food.
“If you give a hungry man food, he will eat it, but if you give him land, he will grow his own food.” - Fannie Lou Hamer
Shirley Chisholm was born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York and is known as the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, where she served a total of seven terms, paved the way for Black women in politics, and committed herself to service others.
Chisholm’s accomplishments and legacy didn’t end there – she was an inspiring leader and advocate for low-income families, women, children, and immigrants across the nation. So much so that during her tenure in Congress, she helped introduce over 50 pieces of legislation and continuously championed racial and gender rights. She also played an instrumental role in establishing WIC – a federal nutrition program providing pregnant women, new mothers, and their infants' access to healthy, nutritious foods.
“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. It is the very purpose of life.” - Shirley Chrisholm
Born in Washington D.C, Ericka Huggins, activist, educator, and former leading member of the Black Panther Party, devoted her life to advocating for human rights at the young age of 15 after attending a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
At the age of 18, Huggins joined the Black Panther Party and soon after became a leader in the Los Angeles chapter, where she later became invested in the Free Breakfast Program – which fed thousands of underserved kids daily from big cities like L.A. to Boston and in rural communities across the nation.
“Love is an expression of power. We can use it to transform our world.” - Ericka Huggins
After the death of her husband, John Huggins, in 1969, and being held as a political prisoner – where she taught herself to meditate as a means for survival – Ericka Huggins made a vow for food justice. From 1973 to 1981, she served as the director of Oakland Community School, a community run child development center and elementary school funded by the Black Panther Party, providing kids and teens with breakfast and lunch five days a week.
1. Support Black-owned businesses.
2. Support anti-racist policy.
In addition to supporting businesses and organizations, anti-racist policy is critical to realize change. It is crucial that we urge our representatives to amplify anti-hunger initiatives such as the Feed Kids campaign for universal school meals.
Email/tweet your legislators asking them to co-sponsor School Meals for All using this action alert.
3. Continue learning.
For confidential, free food assistance in 180 languages, call Project Bread’s free FoodSource Hotline at 1-800-645- 8333 or visit www.projectbread.org/gethelp to learn more.