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After Losing Her Mom To Cancer, This Woman Quit Her Job And Opened A Juice Bar

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Oftentimes it's life's wake-up calls that lead you to your purpose.

Losing a job, hitting financial hard times, or even encountering a health scare can unexpectedly lead you from a moment of tragedy to a lifetime of triumph.


For Jerri Evans, founder and owner of Turning Natural juice shops, it was her mother's diagnosis of breast cancer that lead her to a lifestyle that would not only impact her family, but the thousands of customers who filter into her stores daily.

I first learned about Jerri after she supplied an array of her signature juices at a Toyota Green Initiative VIP dinner during the Broccoli Festival in Washington, DC. After hearing a snippet of her story, I knew I wanted to learn more.

I caught up with Jerri via phone on an early Friday afternoon as she navigated from one of three stores in southeast Washington, DC to the other just fifteen minutes away. “The free time I do get is driving from store-to-store," she admitted to me, hinting at her hectic schedule that often accompanies being an entrepreneur. Not that she's complaining, though. Because when you're in a position of service the reward comes not with the amount of sleep you get, but in the amount of lives you change.

As the closest sister to her mom, Jerri's mother took note of the lack of improvements that came with watching her sister go through chemotherapy and other unsuccessful treatments. When she was diagnosed with her own bout of breast cancer, she chose another route to her healing. “She took a holistic and alternative approach to it mostly because she saw how things didn't work for my aunt, and how chemotherapy and all of the different treatments that they were shoving down people's throat to those who had cancer just really wasn't the best option."

Growing up in Southeast D.C. the idea of healthy eating was unprecedented. Though her mom made sure her and her brother always ate something green, she counteracted the “healthy" with the typical diet of a community flanked by liquor stores and carry-out shops—chicken with mambo sauce, honey buns and fruit snacks from the corner store, and hot sausages and pickles from the neighborhood candy lady.

While there are many stories of cancer patients never being made aware of alternative options for treatment, the doctors at the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Chicago did well to inform Jerri's mother of how much her diet was contributing to her declining health. Foods filled with added sugar, processed foods such as lunchmeat, and genetically modified organisms (GMO) such as corn and soy products all played a role in the development of cancerous cells. "I will never forget her doctor asked her, 'Do you want to survive? You have to want this more than what I could do for you.' And of course if you ask any cancer patient the answer is yes."

After her mom returned from the Cancer Treatment Center she decided to no longer feed the cancer, but to starve it altogether. “She realized that if she was going to beat cancer it was solely going to be up to her and the things she consistently did, and she became very aggressive with the transition."

Jerri came home one day to find her fruit snacks and honey buns tossed out, and shopping trips to Costco and Safeway soon replaced by ones to Whole Foods. “We're like whoa, lady, we don't have cancer, why do we have to eat this? But ultimately she was just teaching us that it's a lifestyle. It's not about what you have to change; it's about making that change now.

"It's not about what you have to change; it's about making that change now."

For nine-and-a-half years Jerri's mother successfully fought against cancer by replacing the standard American diet with one filled with organic fruits, vegetables, whole foods, and juices, which she often shared with family and friends who would come by the house. But in 2010 she lost that battle, and Jerri's world came to a halt.

At the time she was working in Atlanta at Lockheed Martin where she oversaw the building of weapons for F-22 fighter jets. Shortly after the news of her mother's transition, she quit her job. "I did absolutely nothing for about two years; I just traveled. I bought any and everything that I could. I had a closet full of unhappy because I just wanted to feel something again, and my mom and I were extremely close. All of my friends were like well what's next, what are you going to do? And I just didn't know, and I didn't want to do anything. I just wanted to be unhappy because that was just the safer place for me and the most normal thing.

“I just wanted to be unhappy because that was just the safer place for me and the most normal thing."

It took her mom appearing to her in a dream to pull Jerri out of her slump. “She was standing in my door while I was in my bed and she was like, 'why are you so broken?' And I'm looking at her like really, you're really asking me this? And she said, 'you're obligated to continue creating.'"

Jerri wasn't sure what her next steps were, but she knew she had to get back to her hometown of D.C. Once she relocated she realized that though she wasn't overly passionate about juicing, she had an obligation and love for helping people. She continued what her mother started years ago, which allowed her to fulfill both the part of her that wanted her mother's legacy to live on while inspiring others to live healthily.

With just $300 and a newly purchased juicer from her cousin, Jerri launched Turning Natural out of her kitchen. At first she started with just doing juice cleanses, which she offered to friends and family. But word spread of her healing beverages and soon people were looking for individual juices that they could consume outside of a cleanse. “Now people want individual juices, and I was not about to deliver individual juices because it just didn't make sense. And so I said okay, now we may need to look into getting a space."

Jerri, admittedly, was nervous about opening her first juice bar in what she calls a food desert. The USDA defines "food deserts" as areas in inner cities or rural areas were low-income residents have less access to affordable healthful foods. Though she knew the healing power of her juices, she wasn't sure if a community that was used to Popeye's and corner stores would be willing to shell out $6 or more on her healthy drinks. She considered opening the shop in a more health-friendly area, like Georgetown, but decided that her own people should have the opportunity to live a better lifestyle just as much anybody else. "I felt convicted. How dare I take something that my community not only needs but also deserves to another community that it's normal? Let's bring that normalcy in our own space."

Today, Turning Natural is successfully feeding and empowering the community with healthy alternatives. Walk into any one of her three shops and you'll see knowledgeable staff members educating customers on their menu items that feature fun and relatable names such as the Green Latifah and Swizz Beatz, as well as a full salad bar, and vegan and vegetarian food items.

For cancer patients, she offers juices for free.

"You just see the life come back into them. They feel hopeful again. They feel like they're aren't many plans out there for people with cancer other than just conventional medicine and so when we do the juicing they come back and they say my energy is much better, I don't feel as fatigued, and even though I'm still not eating, I feel nutritionally balanced because I'm getting all of the nutrients that I need in this juice. Those stories are very, very encouraging and it makes those difficult days a little bit easier."

Jerri hopes to open more stores in the DMV area and entrust stores to dedicated staff that's committed to her vision to build upon her mom's legacy. While she never imagined that she would own juice bars, it's possibly the very thing that's saved her life just as much as others.

“It makes me very emotional that people trust me with their health and that people believe in the vision, they believe in my mom's story. And I'm extremely grateful for that."

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
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