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These Black Girl Gardeners Believe In The Healing Magic Of Gardening

Black girls garden, too.

Human Interest

Unless you've been living under a rock like me, you've probably already heard of GirlTrek, which is a national health movement that has been encouraging black women to walk five days a week for thirty minutes a day for the last ten years. Why? Well, it's simple: to save their own lives. Currently, over 900,000 women (and counting) have taken the GirlTrek pledge, but walking is not all they do. GirlTrekkers also plant, grow, and reconnect women to the soil. Yes, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proverbial rose from the concrete grew. That rose was GirlTrek Gardeners, a subsidiary of GirlTrek that is all about black women's health and reconnection. GirlTrek Gardeners commenced as a collaborative effort from GirlTrek's national staff member Onika Jervis and GirlTrek organizers Adhana McCarthy, Robbin Otey, and Kia Riu.

GirlTrek Gardeners currently offers online classes, mentorship, and support to help black women get started in the garden through their Facebook group. "Our community is always sharing their gardening successes. We understand that knowing the soil is as key to our survival as our ancestors did. Our foremothers braided rice into their hair when they were taken across the middle passage and we are sharing seeds, building soil, and creating a community for our survival. Justice happens when we organize, create community, and take action."

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Adhana McCarthy to discuss GirlTrek Gardeners and she was even kind enough to give you the keys to starting a garden of your own.

On The Birth Of GirlTrek Gardeners:

GirlTrekkers Hard At Work

Courtesy of Onika Jervis

"It was a team effort. Onika who is on staff at GirlTrek was going crazy in quarantine and looking for a way to stay connected to GirlTrekkers. She wanted to do a victory garden but she didn't know anything about planting, so she reached out. She just knew that some of the GirlTrekkers had to know something about gardening. I was one of the people that reached back out and said, 'Yes, I've been doing this a long time.' So, Robbin Otey, Kia Riu, and I all came together and decided to make a Facebook group. Onika was one of those people who knew nothing about gardening. She went from knowing nothing to growing and harvesting okra, tomatoes, and all kinds of stuff over throughout that spring season based on our classes and the types of support that we offered through the Facebook group."

On Her Start With Gardening:

Adhana McCarthy & Her Son

Courtesy of Adhana McCarthy

"I started my gardening journey on a permaculture demonstration house in Long Beach about 20 years ago. We were using permaculture design principles and harvesting neighborhood fruit. We were bringing in produce from Santa Barbara and resourcing for our neighbors, like a co-op. That's where I started to learn all of these things about gardening and growing food and what it takes. It's hard work, but it's not rocket science either so there's a balance. You can figure it out if you take the time to do it."

On Starting Your Garden:

Babygirl Helping Out In the Garden

Courtesy of Onika Jervis

"It's so important to be in the garden. You have to be there. That is what I find most difficult for people is being present with their plants. That's the thing that leads to success or failure. You can observe and say, 'Huh, I don't know anything about plants but I know that this isn't supposed to be yellow. It seems like I'm doing something wrong.' From there, you can go and do your research."

On Planting Indoors:

GirlTrek showing her harvest

Courtesy of Onika Jervis

"Chard and kale are things that you can grow in an apartment. All of your leafy greens that are fall planting things don't need a ton of sunlight. You still need sunlight though. You'll want to have at least 4-6 hours for the leafy greens. You can grow salad greens, kale, collards, and swiss chard in a little box in a window, right in your house. You can also grow spring onions in a mason jar with water. Make sure you pay attention to the path of the sun in your house because that plant can live in that space. Once you make that observation, you can go from there.

On What’s In Her Garden:

GirlTrekker Showing Off Her Harvest

Courtesy of Onika Jervis

Adhana who is currently in California has just finished the last of her spring garden. "Right now, I still have lavender and rosemary. I'm at the end of my squash. I have zucchini, basil, and cilantro. I just pulled my tomatoes but I have lots of onions, chard, and kale."

GirlTrekker Watering Her Garden

Courtesy of Onika Jervis

Follow Sista Otey's 5 Steps for Black Girls Who Want To Start a Garden:

1. Planning – Begin with the end in mind. What do you want to grow? It's important to know your hardiness zone. Also, observe your location and look at sun patterns. Read up on the watering requirements. Also, read the seed packets. Seed packets tell you when you should plant, how deep you should plant, and what kind of soil you should plant in.

2. Plotting – Get your journal out and start understanding how big your plants get. Plan to space them out appropriately and plant like items together. Seed packets will also tell you how to space your plants.

3. Planting – Put them in nutritious soil and feed them as needed.

4. Pampering – Now's the time to watch and make observations, prune, and fertilize as needed.

5. Pulling – Harvest time.

Take the GirlTrek pledge and start investing in your health today!

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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