“Do good, seek justice.” -Jeremiah 1:17
Black History Month 2023 invites a timely reflection on how we repair the historic root causes of hunger in communities in Africa and in communities elsewhere in the world where people of African descent live. I wrote the following in the 2019 Pan-African Bread devotional:
“[A]fter centuries of structural change, protests, and policy reforms, most often led by Africans and people of African descent, why do these groups still experience such disproportionately high percentages of hunger and poverty today? And why is there still such a wide wealth and income gap between these groups and individuals of European and Asian descent? An essential part of the answer lies in the history of the quadricentennial of the transatlantic voyage of African peoples from the country of Angola in 1619 to Jamestown, Virginia. The practice, and later policy, of enslaving African peoples before, during, and after this time are the foundation on which inequitable policies were established.”
We are in a season in which church and public policy initiatives in 2022 and 2023 have provided some timely responses that move us toward repair of this history. In January 2023, the Church of England’s Church Commissioners released their report of a forensic investigation into one particular component of the Anglican Church’s historic link with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They admitted institutional guilt and moral liability, and then committed to a solemn public effort to make reparation to the present-day descendants of the communities that were negatively impacted.
Repair of this history must also systemically address the environmental crisis and engage climate justice. In November 2022, a new loss and damage fund for which Bread has advocated was adopted at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).
In August 2022, a presentment outlining the harms and offenses of the Catholic Church regarding the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery was presented at the Vatican. The presentment also referenced the legacy of those harms and offenses and reparations measures that are needed for full repair.
“The Catholic Church has admitted that it played a role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” said Kamm Howard, director of Reparations United, who is co-convener of the Global Circle for Reparations and Healing (GCRH). “The focus now will be on continued conversations to move the work forward to ensure repair becomes a reality.”
In 2022, A preliminary report by a statewide panel to study and recommend ways to implement reparations for Black Californians outlined how a “blight law from 1945 paved the way for officials to use eminent domain to destroy Black communities,” according to a Dec. 7, 2022, New York Times article (“A Look at What California Has Done So Far About Reparations”).
This year, Bread has as a primary advocacy focus the reauthorization of the farm bill. The farm bill is our nation’s most important national food system legislation. It is critical to the work of ending hunger at home and abroad. Supporting the farm bill legislation through your offering of letters, lobby visits, phone calls and social media will help build healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems that move us towards repairing historic injustices. Please visit bread.org/offering-letters to learn more about the farm bill and the offering of letters, and to engage this domestic and international timely call for justice.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.