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Nourishing Change: Life, Justice, MOVE, and Lessons from the Black Community

Aliyah Fard | Hunger Free Communities Associate | Alliance to End Hunger

As someone concerned about the inequalities embedded in our food systems and the environmental degradation that can come with industrialized food methods, I spent years working with my hands – continuously learning and practicing African and Indigenous farming techniques that allowed myself to contribute to sustainable food systems in low income communities. It was in these gardens and farms that I witnessed and heard stories of gratitude. I recognized balanced relationships not in an abstract sense, but in a very real sense. However, it wasn’t until these hands-on experiences that I deeply recognized that the Black community has received little to no acknowledgement for environmental contributions that are foundational to the United States economy and development of modern society. Black people have always been the foundation of land management and environmental stewardship; however, in American history, African Americans are rarely associated with land use or rural land management at all.

The Black community can deeply benefit from a healthy relationship between ourselves and the environment that can serve as both reparative and healing in respects to generational trauma caused by racism and enslavement. We must fight the stereotype that “African Americans are physically and spiritually detached from the environment”. As Black History Month comes to a close, we should consider a small and rarely discussed group of Black people called MOVE who envisioned a future that did not warrant oppression or systemic injustice against the environment, but instead followed laws of reciprocity that affect all life.

MOVE was the name of a Black communal living space and revolutionary movement in the heart of the modern metropolis of Philadelphia, and contributed to climate friendly farming practices and reparative healing for the Black community. The MOVE revolution did not solely focus on human injustices, but all forms of life being oppressed. This challenged the idea that conversations of environmental degradation are less important than those of human suffering. MOVE’s understanding of life did not have limitations, it was not based on hierarchy, or category; rather, life was defined as anything that moves. With this brief context in mind, MOVE can set an example of environmental activism, knowledge, and appreciation of all forms of life moving forward if the goals of the organization are amplified rather than its path to ostensible obliteration. (You can read about what happened to MOVE here). MOVE’s vision has taught me that systems of support are not limited to people, but come from the nature that surrounds all of us – a point that can easily go unacknowledged without the education and experience of cultivating the earth yourself.

MOVE’s life-centric focus, rather than a human-centric one, can create liberation, healing and foster new relationships with nature for Black people because it has the power of opening space and time that has been lost due to chattel slavery, and resulted in a collective detachment from nature. Simply put, encouraging multiple generations to participate in activities that encourage a rethinking of nature and one’s place in nature will allow for restorative social and environmental justice to be passed down for years to come. Located in a busy metropolitan as opposed to a rural space, MOVE is such a crucial example of this point because growing food in our own environments shifts the reality of where our food comes from and how we can access it. For Black people in urban areas, this new thinking can allow for reclamation of nature in our daily lives. I hope that conversations of life, justice, and equitable relationships between communities and the world we live in will continue to be explored and expanded upon; and these positive messages will encourage us all to consider our place on our fragile Earth.

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