The State of the Work Circa 2018

Richmond’s built environment bears the scars of racial inequality inherent in slavery, Jim Crow discrimination and economic marginalization. We see the ripple effects in who has access to healthy food. We see the ripple effects in who lives in urban heat islands, where summer heat is magnified by impervious surfaces and minimal tree canopy. We see the ripple effects in who has resources to beautify residential areas. We see the ripple effects in the disparity that exists for black and brown people because of industrial pollution. There is an opportunity to mitigate these harsh realities through collaboration, specifically through place-making and its emphasis on equitable processes that regenerate public greenspaces by working with the community instead of doing for them.

Place-making is a process-oriented approach to planning, design, and management of public spaces. Place-making capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing. Regenerative place-making – the transformation of blighted city space into thriving, safe, multi-dimensional public greenspace – can address a multitude of health equity issues at once. Such transformation requires working with community residents as well as municipal, nonprofit partners and philanthropic investment in the planning, designing and implementation of community places.

Historically, community development decisions have been made in a top-down fashion in Richmond: local government and its partners have developed policies and programs and made land use decisions with limited insight from affected community members. Community members have seldom been offered opportunities to shape policies and implementation plans that influence transformation of the built environment within their own neighborhoods.

A contemporary movement toward social justice must advance health equity through regenerative place-making. Tangible changes in the built environment of marginalized communities will require collaboration and relationship-building across the lines of race and class. Place-making as a process; when implemented equitably, is inherently a working with process instead of a doing for that emphasizes community assets, visions and indigenous narratives as the foundational ingredients for success. Our communities need leaders that are effective in facilitating place-making projects that result in more equitable community outcomes: increased social cohesion and social capital; improved physical and psychological well-being; improved sense of place; increased community satisfaction and civic engagement; and increased access to healthy food and progress toward community revitalization.

For the past 16 years, I have stewarded Happily Natural Day, an African centered festival dedicated to cultural identity, holistic health and social change. Its inception was disruptive. Even before the explosion of the natural hair industry, Happily Natural Day was engaging audiences regarding inferiority complexes within the black community. By blending informative lectures and workshops with musicians and performers from across the country and globe, Happily Natural Day has become as staple event for the black cultural communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region. The festival ‘s focus on culinary arts has inspired health changes within communities of color by promoting culturally relevant plant-based food-ways while simultaneously providing small businesses with an opportunity to launch and test products in the festival’s African marketplace.

My grassroots, ground up involvement developing the festival inspired my work in urban agriculture. Working with black farmers who served as presenters and vendors in the festival market, we developed a pop-up market in communities of color geographically designated as food deserts. Those relationships evolved into the development of community gardens; school gardens, urban farms, orchards and indoor farms. One area that has eluded me is how to successfully access the levels of philanthropic investment necessary to cultivate sustainable collaborations for sustainable urban agriculture and green infrastructure. The goal is and has always been finding multi-dimensional uses for vacant lots within communities of color, to address the root causes of concentrated poverty. Community ownership and “working with” are embedded within the practice of community greening to achieve sustainable impact. However, those with wealth have either been elusive, outside of our circles of influence or intimidated by our intentional focus on race, cultural identity and social justice – up until recently.

As an activist I spent the first 10 years of my career developing programs targeting qualitative metrics such as raising awareness. My life changed when I decided to start working quantitatively as I focused on urban agriculture as a tool to building community’s capacity to solve their own problems specifically related to health and now more intentionally in the built landscape environment. Since building that first garden in 2012, my journey has evolved towards building deeper collaborations consistent with my prior work dedicated to affirming African Descendant cultural identity; urban greening and agriculture; and collaboration for collective impact that advances racial equity.

As a result of this work, two years ago I took on a new role as Community Engagement Coordinator for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where I was charged with the development of programs to extend the garden “beyond its walls”. The Ginter Urban Gardener Program is informed and inspired by years of working in urban communities developing green infrastructure. The Ginter Urban Gardeners are a corps of community volunteers recruited and trained by Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to lead urban greening initiatives in the marginalized neighborhoods where they live.

Through a philosophy of working with instead of doing for, the program is sowing seeds of change in Jackson Ward, Church Hill, the East End and Fulton by cultivating community engagement to create urban greenspace. The program teaches best practices in sustainable agriculture, urban landscape design, project management and volunteer coordination, empowering Richmond’s most vulnerable populations to affect positive and sustainable change in their own communities. It is an exercise in community building, communication, and collaboration across often insular and isolated public and private entities, and an effort to increase local capacity to accomplish urban greening projects that are often beyond the reach and resources of residents or local government.

The Ginter Urban Gardener Program empowers citizens to leverage their own resources to build better neighborhoods by working with local organizations and passionate people who share a common vision for vibrant urban ecology. Using a grassroots, asset-based approach to community development, and, working in collaboration with community stakeholders and volunteers for collective regional impact, Ginter Urban Gardeners focus on neighborhood-by-neighborhood results. The program develops stakeholder engagement by investing in residents who serve as community liaisons, project managers and volunteer coordinators. Dedicated to building trust and inspiring others, they help cultivate knowledge, pride, self-sufficiency, confidence, a spirit of engagement and a sense of belonging in Richmond’s most marginalized neighborhoods.

By integrating trust building principles with community development initiatives, Ginter Urban Gardeners also aim to engage residents in building the authentic relationships which will foster cultural change. As trainees learn to facilitate difficult conversations, understand the impact that community history has on contemporary issues, honor inclusivity and diversity and embrace personal development as keys to community change, they help cultivate the interpersonal values that are necessary for sustainable community empowerment.


Let them Eat Kale: The misplaced narrative of food access

Critically examines supermarket incentive policies that have aimed to
eliminate disparities in access to healthy food and, by doing so, reduce diet-
related chronic diseases. Public investments of hundreds of millions of
dollars have subsidized supermarket development through such programs, despite
research showing that merely expanding access to food retail has no
appreciable effect on shopping patterns, food choices, health, obesity, or
diet-related diseases. The article examines the emergence of food access as a
policy issue, current approaches to increasing food access, and possible
alternatives for reducing economic and health disparities within food systems.

DIY Raised Bed Manual by The Food Project

DIY Raised Bed Manual

The Food Project wants to make it easy for others to build their own raised beds. We hope you find the information in this manual useful for your current and future gardening projects. This manual includes:
• Step-by-step instructions for how to build one type of raised bed
• The Food Project’s experiences and ideas for sourcing materials
• Guidance for people interested in growing food in raised beds

Download PDF 

Two Faced Racism: Whites in the Frontstage and Backstage

Racial events that reveal the larger forces of racism in society are common and obvious in the sociospatial realm we term the backstage, especially in situations where whites interact with white friends and relatives. Backstage settings, where interactions typically take place among whites only, involve an array of complex interactions and performances. There we observe all dimensions of racial events– indications of who is allowed and not allowed in the backstage, what racialized performances are tolerated or expected there, the sociospatial character of contexts, the impact of conventional racial framing, and the pervasive influence of the larger society. Here we go beyond the content of “what” happened to numerous other dimensions. Although we deem it important to provide descriptions of events, our goal is also to access how and where these interactions transpire, as well as various underlying features.

The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent, Racism by Consequence

The discipline of Sociology has generated great contributions to scholarship and research about American race relations. Much of the theorizing on American race relations in America is expressed in binary terms of black and white. Historically, the study of American race relations typically problematizes the “othered” status, that is, the non-white status in America’s racial hierarchy. However, the sociology of race relations has historically failed to take into account both sides of the black/white binary paradigm when addressing racial inequality.

In other words, in the case of race, it becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees. Thus, in Sociology, we find less scholarship about the role “whiteness as the norm” plays in sustaining social privilege beyond that which is accorded marginalize others. In order to examine the historical black/white binary
paradigm of race in America, it is important to understand its structuration. This article extends the applicability of sociologies of knowledge (Thomas Theorem, social constructionism) and Gidden’s structuration theory to inform a postmodern analysis of America’s binary racial paradigm.

Discourse and the denial of racism

Within the broader framework of a research programme on the
reproduction of racism in discourse and communication, the present
article examines the prominent role of the denial of racism, especially
among the elites, in much contemporary text and talk about ethnic rela-
tions. After a conceptual analysis of denial strategies in interpersonal
impression formation on the one hand, and within the social-political
context of minority and immigration management on the other, various
types of denial are examined in everyday conversations, press reports and
parliamentary debates. Among these forms of denial are disclaimers,
mitigation, euphemism, excuses, blaming the victim, reversal and other
moves of defence, face-keeping and positive self-presentation in negative
discourse about minorities, immigrants and (other) anti-racists

Blackness and Blood: Interpreting African American Identity

In his Tanner Lectures, “The State and the Shaping of Identity,” Kwame
Anthony Appiah defends a version of liberalism that would give the state a substantial role in deliberately sustaining, reshaping, and even creating the social identities of its citizens-our identities as African American, women, Hispanic, gay, Jewish, and the like.’ He calls this role “soul-making,” which is “the political project of intervening in the process of interpretation through which each citizen develops an identity with the aim of increasing her chances of living an ethically successful life.”

Appiah believes that an ethically successful life is integral to an objectively good life. “A life has gone well,” he tells us, “if a person has mostly done for others what she owed them (and thus is morally successful) and has succeeded in creating things of significance and in fulfilling her ambitions (and is thus ethically successful).”3 He supports a liberal democratic, soul-making state that not only would seek to protect persons from harming themselves but also would seek to promote for citizens the kinds of lives that are good or valuable, perhaps even if these citizens failed to recognize how such governmental interventions would contribute to their objective well-being.

Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better Than Food Deserts in the United States

This paper investigates the effect of food environments, characterized as food swamps, on adult obesity rates. Food swamps have been described as areas with a high-density of establishments selling high-calorie fast food and junk food, relative to healthier food options. This study examines multiple ways of categorizing food environments as food swamps and food deserts, including alternate versions of the Retail Food Environment Index. We merged food outlet, sociodemographic and obesity data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Environment Atlas, the American Community Survey, and a commercial street reference dataset. We employed an instrumental variables (IV) strategy to correct for the endogeneity of food
environments (i.e., that individuals self-select into neighborhoods and may consider food availability in their decision). Our results suggest that the presence of a food swamp is a stronger predictor of obesity rates than the absence of full-service grocery stores. We found, even after controlling
for food desert effects, food swamps have a positive, statistically significant effect on adult obesity rates. All three food swamp measures indicated the same positive association, but reflected different magnitudes of the food swamp effect on rates of adult obesity (p values ranged from 0.00 to 0.16).
Our adjustment for reverse causality, using an IV approach, revealed a stronger effect of food swamps than would have been obtained by naïve ordinary least squares (OLS) estimates. The food swamp effect was stronger in counties with greater income inequality ( p< 0.05) and where residents are
less mobile (p< 0.01). Based on these findings, local government policies such as zoning laws simultaneously restricting access to unhealthy food outlets and incentivizing healthy food retailers to locate in underserved neighborhoods warrant consideration as strategies to increase health equity.

Racial disparities in health among nonpoor African Americans and Hispanics: The role of acute and chronic discrimination

Racial disparities in health tend to be more pronounced at the upper ends of the socioeconomic (SES) spectrum. Despite having access to above average social and economic resources, nonpoor African Americans and Latinos report significantly worse health compared to nonpoor Whites. We combine data from the parents and children of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) to address two specific research aims. First, we generate longitudinal SES trajectories over a 33-year period to estimate the extent to which socioeconomic mobility is associated with exposure to discrimination (acute and chronic) across different racial/ethnic groups (nonHispanic Whites, nonHispanic Blacks, and Hispanics). Then we determine if the disparate relationship between SES and self-rated health across these groups can be accounted for by more frequent exposure to unfair treatment. For Whites, moderate income gains over time result in significantly less exposure to both acute and chronic discrimination.

Upwardly mobile African Americans and Hispanics, however, were significantly more likely to experience acute and chronic discrimination, respectively, than their socioeconomically stable counterparts. We also
find that differential exposure to unfair treatment explains a substantial proportion of the Black/White, but not the Hispanic/White, gap in self-rated health among this nationally representative sample of upwardly mobile young adults. The current study adds to the debate that the shape of the SES/health
gradient differs, in important ways, across race and provides empirical support for the diminishing health returns hypothesis for racial/ethnic minorities.


This reader is intended to be an introduction to the theory called Afro-pessimism. Collected in this volume are articles spanning three decades of thought, with topics ranging from police violence, the labor of Black women, and the slave’s transformation following emancipation, to the struggles of
the Black Liberation Army and elements of anti-Blackness in Indigenous struggles for sovereignty. Although the authors use differing methods of analysis, they all approach them with a shared theoretical understanding of slavery, race, and the totality of anti-Blackness; it is this shared understanding that has been called Afro-pessimism. Importantly though, rather than a fixed
ideology, Afro-pessimism is better thought of as a theoretical lens for situating relations of power, at the level of the political and the libidinal.

Afro-pessimism, in many ways, picks up the critiques started by Black revolutionaries in the 1960s and 70s, elaborating their short-comings and addressing their failures. While we don’t intend to explicate at great length the theory of Afro-pessimism here—this will be done by the articles—it may be helpful to start with a brief overview to give those readers without a context
some footing with which to go forward.