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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Spiritual Outlook: Juneteenth: An Invitation to Reparatory Food Justice

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The Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, a new board member at Bread for the World, recently preached on the theme “Where There Is Water, There Is Life” at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The service, sponsored by Bread, the Black Church Food Security Network, and Ebenezer Baptist Church, included a teach-in about Black farmers, a Black farmers marketplace, and two offerings of letters urging Members of Congress to reauthorize the farm bill.

Ezekiel 47:1-2 and 11-12, was the scriptural basis for Dr. Brown’s message that healing waters flowing from our sanctuaries can also replenish our communities with safe water and nutritious food. He linked this vision to equitable contributions of independent Black farmers in partnership with Black churches.

This vision of healing for people of African descent and of a more equitable life for Black farmers was inherent to the Emancipation Proclamation, which was not delivered to some enslaved people of African descent until 1865—despite being issued in 1863. We honor that late message of freedom on June 19, the Juneteenth holiday. The Emancipation Proclamation legally liberated people of African descent from enslavement, including forced farm labor on lands settled and owned by white planters. But despite the merited celebration at the passage and implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation—with military protections and a short-lived Reconstruction period—formerly enslaved people of African descent saw the limitations of this law as early as 1868.

In 1868 a 14th Amendment became necessary to further ensure the citizenship of people of African descent—a law that would support life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under “the equal protection of the laws.” But this still was not enough. In 1869 the 15th Amendment was passed and guaranteed men of African descent (though not women) the right to vote.

Together, these Constitutional amendments were acts of reparatory justice that sought to move the United States away from the gross injustice of enslaving people of African descent. In so doing, these laws marked not just a moment of reparatory justice, but the beginning of a reparatory journey by the U.S. government. Since then, the nation has made gradual steps towards reparatory justice, impelled by constant demands for this by people of African descent and their allies. But much more still needs to be done, given the significant racialized disparity of generational wealth, the income gap, and the low ownership of lands by Black farmers.

Bread celebrates Juneteenth, but we also recognize the continued need for healing—not only in communities of African descent in the U.S. but within all of us because of these historic and present-day inequities. Bread believes that advocating for the farm bill is one of the ways we support the legacy and spirit of Juneteenth and the movement for reparatory food justice. You are invited to be a part of this. Please go here to learn more about advocating for the farm bill.

Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.

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