Georgetown’s MLK Initiative is an annual celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and consists of events, programs, and other opportunities to deepen the University’s commitment to the principles that animated Dr. King’s life and witness. Mission in Motion has written about one facet of the initiative, “Teach the Speech,” an annual invitation for students, faculty, and staff to explore critical dimensions of a speech by Dr. King with particular relevance for contemporary events.
This past week, the MLK Initiative convened a panel to discuss issues of food, racial justice, and grassroots advocacy in Washington, D.C. The event, “Cultivating DC’s Food Economy to Sustain Racial Justice,” was a conversation among experts with experience in the hospitality industry, local government, community-based farming, food culture, and environmental sustainability. Dr. Erinn Tucker, SCS faculty director of the Global Hospitality Leadership program, as well as co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week, offered her insights about how the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged an ecosystem among Black-owned restaurants and increased awareness of what Black-owned restaurants need to sustain their businesses. The hour-long program was a deep exploration of how we at Georgetown can engage in the critical work of food justice in our local communities.
Christopher Bradshaw, founder and executive director of Dreaming Out Loud, a local food equity non-profit organization (featured in Mission in Motion as a site of SCS staff member Tremell Horne’s regular volunteer activity), made the foundational point that we care about food because it is a common bond that we all share and it tells a story about us. Food reveals not only the ways our society comes together, but also the ways that our society is divided. Bradshaw called attention to the ways that Black farmers have historically been driven from their land, contributing to a significant racial wealth gap that persists today.
Dr. Erinn Tucker focused many of her contributions in the discussion to the way that the COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced the need for collaboration in supporting Black-owned businesses. A healthy, sustainable business ecosystem requires cooperation among many stakeholders. The pandemic has highlighted, for example, how small Black-owned businesses need more support from the technology industry in order to meet consumer demands during a prolonged period of take-out ordering. Dr. Tucker commented that many in this hospitality space are wondering how to most effectively harness the increased corporate financial support and interest in Black-owned businesses in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. An ongoing challenge, which all of the panelists presented on to some degree, is to sustain and build upon some of the pandemic-related lessons learned about how to advance the goals of Black-owned restaurants and small businesses.
The MLK Initiative event was an important reminder about the critical importance of sustaining mutually-beneficial partnerships with local communities. The academic and professional discourses about food justice, the hospitality industry, and urban policy development provide opportunities for further exploration. The discussion illustrated two important insights about integral ecology and local culture from Pope Francis’s teaching document Laudato Si:
“There is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing…To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practice a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good (129).
A consumerist vision of human beings, encouraged by the mechanisms of today’s globalized economy, has a levelling effect on cultures, diminishing the immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity. Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlooking the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community… There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture. Nor can the notion of the quality of life be imposed from without, for quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each human group (144).”