A close to the season and People’s Grocery’s Nikki Henderson

Dec 16, 2010
As winter approaches and fall has nearly disappeared we are reflecting on what a wonderful first quarter our blog has had. We started this blog as a way to inspire, share knowledge, connect and educate. Through thoughtful submissions from our grantees, and other Kindle Project allies, we have had a wonderful beginning. The subjects of Food and Seed Sovereignty and Environmental Justice are enormous, and while we read so much news and are exposed to so many innovations, tragedies, efforts and ideas in these domains we could only touch on some. We have learned so much in these past months with the submissions from our grantee’s having been particularly inspiring and informative.

To close out this season we are honored to have a compelling reflection from Nikki Henderson of People’s Grocery. In her article, Nurture Every Spark, she writes about her work with People’s Grocery and how her personal upbringing is reflected in the social change of the organization. An inspiring and motivating piece!

We will be closed for two weeks and will return with weekly postings as of January 6th, 2011. For the first three months of the new year we’ll be focusing our blog content on the Arts. You can look forward to reading profiles of truly innovative creators and we look forward to hearing from you about who and what in the world of arts is making you excited!

Have a wonderful end to the year and please read Nikki’s article below.

Until 2011…


Nurture Every Spark

by Nikki Henderson

Nikki Henderson

As I finish my first year as the Director of a food organization working towards social justice, I’m reminded that the struggles we’re part of require us to connect, to nurture our humanity, and celebrate one another.  This type of connecting and greeting one another is why I wanted to work in food justice.  We’re using healthy food to build a movement towards stronger and healthier communities.

I was especially attracted to community-based work because I get to talk to people, and find out what makes them tick. I’ve seen people rise above the most difficult circumstances and achieve their dreams—it seems like that happens because of a spark, an inner drive. I believe social justice work encourages us to create a supportive space for everyone to find that spark, and that we can use that collective spark to ignite a movement.

When I think of what this process has looked like for me, I think about my parents.  I am privileged to have a father and mother who love me dearly, and who raised me with a commitment to social justice. They raised children for a living—I have seven foster brothers, and when my parents wanted more, they opened a foster family agency to assist others like themselves who care for children who need homes. My folks nurtured my spark by listening to my voice and creating opportunities for me to both listen and to be heard. They focused on family in their work, because they saw family as being the best way to build supportive relationships. Through them, I learned that supportive relationships are a key part of a person’s success. I learned that pathways to voice show the spirit.

People’s Grocery BBQ

As people committed to social change, I think we should push ourselves to do work that builds bonds and relationships between people, because that helps create community success. On my professional journey, I’ve gone from one field to another in search of way to do this effectively. What I found: a good meal has an incredible ability to create intimacy between people, and we can leverage those bonds for change when relationships and social networks are strong.  When we eat and engage about what we eat, we learn about history, culture, and health.  We identify commonalities, consider problems and challenges, and often share the exciting spark that is unique to each of us.

Earlier this year, People’s Grocery threw a bar-b-que at the California Hotel to unveil a new mural about the role the Hotel played as a home base for artists of color during segregation. We walked door to door in West Oakland, talking to families about the free festival. Come get food! Come jump in the bouncy-house! Come pet the goat and hold the chickens! Come see the children’s clown troupe perform! Come share or hear about the California Hotel! We were hoping for 200 people, and 450 came to celebrate West Oakland and make community connections. I can’t even describe how much love I felt that day. In a community plagued with violence, joblessness, and poor health—everyone was laughing, children were dancing, and the spirit of this community shined brightly. Food brought us together to celebrate, share, and connect.

People’s Grocery Garden Mural

Needless to say, the meal was the main attraction of the day. We used the good cheer that arises when sharing a meal and learned more about the needs of our community.  We shared history and learned history, experienced art and created art together. At the end of the day, we were stronger for having been together. For me, the vital sharing that took place was a conversation about healthy food and healthy bodies. The next step after the barbecue was to explore how to leverage these new relationships towards impactful civic engagement.  In recent weeks, we’ve had a town hall forum and two community dinners to build deeper connections with those people interested in food and health systems change.

Civic engagement can thrive when it starts from a foundation of strengthening interpersonal relationships. And as a justice organization, People’s Grocery understands that you can’t build relationships in low-income communities and communities of color without addressing historical racism, socio-economic class divides, and privilege. Through many of our programs (urban agriculture, nutrition demonstrations, anti-racism trainings, and community meals) we’re constantly refining our ability to build relationships that create change and heal. It’s one of the things I love the most about justice work, and why I believe that the movement for food justice will succeed.  We want to be together, we want everyone to share in the bounty of both a fair and just food system, and we want a fully connected community that nurtures every spark.