Stories and Movement from Arkansas and Beyond: Blogging for Human Rights Day, Partnership with the Ella Baker Center

Vigil in LIttle Rock to end immigrant detention.

Earlier this month the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights put out a call for writers, site administrators, and bloggers around the nation to come together on Monday December 10th, Human Rights Day, for an event they titled “Blogging for Human Rights Day — a one day blog carnival to shed light on human rights abuses and victories here in the United States.”

The goal of this event, explained the Ella Baker Center, is to “bring conversations about human rights to our own backyards.”  Our core goal at the Boiled Down Juice are to provide a platform for a multi-layered discussions regarding the both the strengths we see, and the problems we face, in our the places we call home. Our readers come from rural areas, urban areas, small towns, and all places in between. We attempt to make this suite a place for the ever-growing discussion of honoring the beauty in our communities and exploring the the messy, beautiful, difficult, and long-term process of problem solving. We’re pretty Arkansas-centric, but as you will see from this post, we cover topics from other places as well.

So, to join with the Ella Baker Center, we asked our readers and friends to tell us a little about the work that’s going on in their backyards and create a patchwork quilt of information to share with others. Below you will find their submissions, in their own words. We’re so very thankful for all the great work that is being done in Arkansas and beyond.

 


CANAS: The Central Arkansas New Agrarian Society
Ryan Boswell

The Central Arkansas New Agrarian Society (CANAS) is a network of forward thinking farmers and community minded citizens working to reorient our friends and neighbors in the importance of food to our common humanity. This coalition acknowledges the many failures of the modern industrial food system – a toxic chemical agriculture that devastates soil, ecology, and farming communities. CANAS works to support a local food system that builds community and reveres nature’s bounty. Contrary to the centralized, energy intensive big agriculture model, CANAS farmers practice low energy, closed-loop agriculture that supports diversity and encourages harmony with natural systems. CANAS members cooperate to build equitable community farms in urban neighborhoods, sharing knowledge, tools, and resources to accomplish mutual goals.

Current projects of the Central Arkansas New Agrarian Society include the Victory Garden Project, 12th and Oak Street Garden, the University of Arkansas Little Rock native plant garden, with more initiatives being developed for the spring. The CANAS network meets once monthly to share ideas, comradery, and frosty beverages at Vino’s Brewpub in Little Rock, AR. Engaged citizens and aspiring small farmers can find out more by joining the CANAS group on Facebook or by e mailing canas.vgp@gmail.com.

 

Community Threads
Kyle O’Donnell 

My home, Bowling Green, Kentucky, is a designated refugee city.  To help these refugees become integrated into society and the economy, the refugee center finds jobs for refugees, but makes assumptions about the refugees’ skill level.  They assume that they have low skills.  As a result, many husbands end up working at the Tyson slaughterhouse, thereby leaving their wives at home with no employment.  Before our economic empowerment program, Community Threads, the Burmese women could not work in entry-level jobs because of two major hurdles:

  1. 1. Transportation
  2. 2. English language skills

To solve these problems, we founded Community Threads, a weaving cooperative that provides “at home employment” for the Burmese women and uses their traditional hand weaving skills.   By working from home, we bypass the transportation hurdle, empowering Women like Kumoh to provide for their families. By partnering with Enactus, a WKU student entrepreneurship club, students sell the Burmese hand-woven goods.  This circumvents the English language hurdle and gives the student hands-on retail experience at the downtown Enactus Store and the Community Farmers’ market.   Through this community partnership, we are able to satisfy article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which ensures the right to work and to fair conditions.

 

The Convergence
Marquis Hunt

The Convergence is a grassroots organization for spiritual progressives who are mindful of the interconnection between spirituality and liberation.

These individuals are passionate about building creative and innovative frameworks to renew the energy of people who are disenchanted with institutional hypocrisy. The focal point of this community is sacred activism. We are currently practicing the spiritual disciplines of mindfulness as we continue to discover new ways to live in community.

In January, we will be launching a weekly gathering to nurture our abilities and to support each other as we respond to the demands of environmental and social justice in Central Arkansas. Written by Marquis Hunt, co-founder and spiritual director of Convergence. 

 

Vigil in LIttle Rock to end immigrant detention.

El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center and the Work to End Immigrant Detention
Sara Mullally

In Little Rock, Arkansas there is work being done to promote the human rights of all people, regardless of their immigration status. Yesterday, around 50 people gathered in front of a Catholic Church to hold a vigil for changes.

The attendees asked Obama to immediately close 10 of the nation’s worst immigrant detention centers and jails. While none of the 10 worst are in Arkansas, we know that our neighbors can be detained and may be moved to any of the over 250 facilities across the country. Many Arkansans are moved to the detention center in rural Jena, LA, which is run by a private prison firm called GEO Group, a group that has been admonished for its human rights violations.

But this is not an issue of one bad company, a bad apple guard, or just one sickness caused by inadequate medical care. This is a huge problem once you look at the total system, which arbitrarily incarcerates 400,000 per year. We ask our President to make just reforms, with the ultimate goal of ending the system of immigrant detention that plagues this country. Click here to learn more about El Zocalo. 

 

Fighting Hunger in Arkansas
Rachel Townsend

I am excited to participate in the Ella Baker Center, Blogging for Human Rights Day. #blog4hr

Arkansas is the hungriest state in the nation, tying with Mississippi with 19% food insecurity. Food insecurity, as defined by the US Department of Agriculture is the reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet, disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. Food is an elementary human right. It fulfills a basic need; it allows us to function day to day. Without our basic needs tended to, it is difficult if not impossible, to work towards changing the systems of injustice that keep people hungry.

In Arkansas there are a lot of people working to end hunger. There is a statewide campaign to feed some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, children. Across the state, grassroots organizations, neighborhoods, faith communities and governmental agencies are working to provide kids with meals outside of school hours. During the summer over 100 new locations for kids to get a meal were created by the No Kid Hungry campaign.

Working as a part of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, the No Kid Hungry team identified areas of need, and paired these with organizations that could provide meals. In addition to summer meals, new opportunities for dinner time meals and weekend meals for kids, throughout the school year are being created daily. These programs focus on not just food but on enriching lives with mentoring programs, tutoring, gardening and physical activities.

There are other organizations like Feed Fayetteville in the Northwest corner of the state that have started the first SNAP garden. SNAP is the new name for food stamps. Since 1973 people have been able to use their SNAP benefits to buy seeds and plants that produce food.  Feed Fayetteville is educating people about this fact. Feed Fayetteville supported Fayetteville city parks and rec department created community gardening space for SNAP participants. The garden was located next to the Senior Activity Center and fresh produce was given to the seniors’ meal program there, as well as feeding families who used the space to grow their own food.

Care Cropping is a program of Seeds that Feed. Working in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Care Cropping is a type of ‘gleaning.’ Volunteers worked at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market to collect fresh produce and plant donations from patrons and farmers. At the end of market day, that healthy, often organic produce went to food pantries, community meals and the Canning Hunger project. Food that is often priced out of reach of families in poverty is now readily available for free. 

~ Rachel Townsend is the No Kid Hungry Field Manager at the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance

 

Photo by Mira Johnson.

From Our Hands: A Women’s Handicraft Gathering
Molly Bollick

I work with  From Our Hands: A Women’s Handicraft Gathering, started by FolkArtPA at Jumpstreet in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The program is a gathering place for refugee and immigrant women to come together and work on their craft, share ideas, and build community among traditional craft artists in the area. In this space, women who have been resettled in Harrisburg have the chance to sit, talk, and create a place where their knowledge of how to create a functional and beautiful craft can be practiced. The program focuses on the sustainability of traditional skills and knowledge after resettlement, a maintenance that is often overlooked when placed next to issues like housing, employment, and transportation. Similarly, social service agencies are often not able to address these issues in their own mental health and wellness programs. The Gathering recognizes that the process of creating a traditional craft in such a place can be a cathartic act for refugee and recently resettled women, one in which their own traditional process and knowledge are valued. It is in these spaces that inter-generational learning can take place and traditional arts can be sustained for newcomer communities. From Our Hands also addresses the need for economic self-sufficiency and additional income among women in these communities. By selling traditional crafts at local markets and events, the women who choose to participate in the program are able to independently generate alternative income for their households based on their own labor and production timelines.

 

Image by Saira Khan-Hendrix.

Learning About Growing in Central Arkansas
McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, & Community Action

The McElroy House is a research and advocacy organization based in the Yell and Pope counties of semi-rural central Arkansas. We have been greatly inspired by the writings of Ella Baker, Paulo Friere, Myles Horton, Grace Lee Boggs, and numerous others who call for participatory-based solution-building from the ground up. We are a place-based organization engaged in exploration of folklife, oral history, sustainability, holistic land use, community action, and inter-cultural and inter-generational partnerships in Yell County and the Arkansas river valley.   We operate from that idea that by exploring our unique community assets to address the problems we face such as poverty, racism, lack of cross-generational dialogue and loss of land to outside development.Our core is to be a perpetual student of our own home region and find local solutions to local problems while honoring and helping to sustain healthy local traditions. In an area that is typically financially poor yet land-rich, we are currently working on an asset mapping community outreach project, meeting with area growers and learning more about the conceptual push behind the importance of a more sustainable life for both English and Spanish-speaking communities in our region, and learning how we can encourage a more sustainable future for upcoming generations. You can read more about our work here. 

 

From the Little Rock Stories team.

Little Rock Stories
Megan Strickland and the Little Rock Stories Team

Little Rock Stories emerged from a group of solutionaries who believe that stories can be an agent of change. We believe that stories can build the kind of lasting and learning relationships that are essential to strengthening communities and even building sustainable local economies. The group is still in an infant stage, but together we are dedicated to harnessing our passion for storytelling and our vision for Little Rock. We are starting out by speaking with neighborhoods in Little Rock who are impacted by eminent domain abuse, and we plan to expand community storytelling all over the city, whether in homeless shelters or cul de sacs. We intend to help individuals and communities across Little Rock share their stories, particularly their stories about their neighborhoods and their visions for strengthening Little Rock neighborhoods, in whatever way they want, whether it’s a YouTube channel, an open mic night, a group storytelling event, radio spots on the local NPR affiliate, one-on-one interviews, community art projects, interviewing trainings, or any other way that stories can be shared. Our goal is for these stories to form the spring board for future efforts toward strengthening this city we love.

 

Village Commons and Summer of Solutions.

Summer of Solutions, Youth Environmental Justice Project
Acadia Roher

Little Rock Summer of Solutions, a “by youth, for youth” environmental justice project, will begin its first season in June of 2013.  Though sponsored by a national organization, Grand Aspirations, which supports similar programs across the United States, Little Rock Summer of Solutions is the result of ongoing conversations and actions at the local level around the pillars of sustainability, justice, prosperity, and community.  The program will nurture the leadership capacities of a group of young people in the 16-26 age range through setting up cooperative business and service ventures in local food production, home weatherization, ecological management, and other areas.  Participants will learn tangible entrepreneurial and community organizing skills, grow their confidence by mentoring and teaching younger children, and grow their souls through personal and collective transformation.  We hope to use the summer as a catalyst for a year-round initiative wherein youth participants and the community will build community resiliency and expand capacity to work for justice for all. Little Rock is a city full of possibilities, soul, and grassroots energy, and Summer of Solutions intends to unlock and inspire that forward movement.

 

We’d love to include your stories! Please contact us and tell us what’s going on in your backyard.

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