So I’m back in Oakland from the Dream Reborn Conference in Memphis, and it’s taken me these past few days to process everything I’ve experienced. People of every color, race, and age filled the rooms of the convention center, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm, eager to meet and ask each other, “how can I help?” At one point it seemed that the convention center wasn’t big enough to contain the momentum of this new movement and chaos was sure to ensue. But alas, order was found.
On Saturday, Winona LaDuke from Honor The Earth reminded us why we were there. She traced the origins of the social, environmental, racial, and economic injustices that all of us, but especially communities of color, have been experiencing for years, back to the fact that America remains “unrooted.” Because America has been historically motivated by the idea of conquest, and of going West, strong communities have rarely become established, and those that have, have been plagued with the ills that have torn them apart. By failing to establish these literal and figurative roots, she said, America has made itself sick.
But there is hope, and this gathering has helped to renew it.
Yesterday, I was part of a panel that discussed green opportunities in the business world that are based on upholding the values of the civil rights movement. Baye Adofo-Wilson from the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District spoke about transforming a low-income neighborhood in Newark, NJ into an arts and cultural district filled with affordable green housing that was spearheaded, run, and built by its own residents.
Brenda Palms Barber from the North Lawndale Employment Network told us that a while back she realized that over 600,000 people are released from prison every year, and that within a few years, many of those find themselves back in penal system because they can’t find jobs. So she armed herself with a crew of previously incarcerated members of her community and a brigade of bees to start an “urban honey” based line of body products that are now sold at the local Whole Foods. She gave these members of her community another chance by providing jobs, training, and resources so that they could fight the system that makes it so easy to put them back behind bars while at the same time reintroducing bees and agricultural production to her neighborhood.
And finally, we heard from urban entrepreneur Karl Carter from Inner City Enterprises, GTM, and Wheat Bread who is redefining the clothing industry by bringing production back into the inner city with real style.
What these people and everyone at the conference did this weekend was lay down the roots of the new green movement, but more importantly, it laid down those roots in the communities that need them the most.