ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Today 1000 King School children are involved in growing, preparing and sharing fresh food,
and food-related activities are woven into the entire curriculum. Math classes measure garden beds.
Science classes study drainage and soil erosion.
Books by James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs
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Food Future PastBy Grace Lee Bogg
In her article titled Eating for Credit on the Op-Ed page of the February 24 New York Times, Alice Waters provides an inspiring example of how to engage schools and schoolchildren in solving some of our most challenging problems, including how to change our values. Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse, a restaurant in Berkeley, California, which uses only fresh ingredients grown in accordance with the principles of sustainable agriculture. Opened in 1971, it has been described by Gourmet Magazine as the best restaurant in the U.S. Ten years ago Waters helped establish a gardening and cooking project called the Edible Schoolyard in the local public schools because she believes that every child in this world needs to have a relationship with the land…to know how to nourish themselves…and to know how to connect with the community around them.” The program began at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School with a kitchen classroom and garden full of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Today 1000 King School children are involved in growing, preparing and sharing fresh food, and food-related activities are woven into the entire curriculum. Math classes measure garden beds. Science classes study drainage and soil erosion. History classes learn about pre-Columbian civilizations while grinding corn. The food program has not only become a model for a district-wide school lunch initiative. It is helping to combat the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes which currently threatens millions of American children addicted to a fast-food diet of fries and burgers.
Not only are our children eating this unhealthy food, writes Waters, they’re digesting the values that go with it: the idea that food has to be fast, cheap and easy; that abundance is permanent and effortless; that it doesn’t matter where food actually comes from. As a nation, we need to take back responsibility for the health of not just our children, but also our culture. Another innovative food-centered school program that I have described in earlier columns is the Urban Nutrition Initiative created by the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the West Philadelphia Partnership and Philadelphia Public Schools. This interdisciplinary program uses college students learning horticulture and nutrition to teach high school students, to teach middle school students, to teach elementary school students about health, nutrition and business development, according to University of Maryland Professor in African American Studies Jessica Gordon Nembhard. It is a dynamic educational process based on experiential learning and community problem-solving integrated with public service. The program combines a community health curriculum, school-based urban gardens and entrepreneurial and business development
Students (mostly African American) combine learning about nutrition, teaching it to others, growing healthy food and creating businesses to sell and market the food. The young participants develop entrepreneurship and many related skills (math, science, marketing, communications). What will it take to get more people thinking in these holistic and nurturing ways about education? Why are Michigan Governor Granholm state legislators, school board and other officials so locked inside the box that they can only come up with punitive proposals like tougher graduation standards ? In a 2-hour televised town meeting nearly three years ago Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick declared We have to talk about how to educate our children. Our entire city needs to be engaged. We are losing the battle. We are not radical enough. We are still trying to protect this system. We cannot protect it. We have to break it up. Why hasn¹t the Mayor initiated this discussion? If he won¹t or cant lead it, who will?
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To help get the discussion going, the Boggs Center has recently published a 5th printing of my columns on education. FREEDOM SCHOOLING: BRINGING THE NEIGHBOR BACK INTO THE HOOD can be ordered from http://www.boggscenter.org or purchased at the Michigan Citizen office, 2669 Bagley. 79 pp. $10 + SH$2.
Source: Michigan Citizen, March 12-18, 2006
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Eating for Credit
Excerpts by Alice Waters
Universal physical education is a start, and it’s a shame that schools have been cutting back on recess and gym. But in a country where nine million children over 6 are obese we need the diet part of the equation, too. It’s time for students to start getting credit for eating a good lunch.
I know from experience that teaching children about food changes their lives. I helped establish a gardening and cooking project in the public schools here in Berkeley called the Edible Schoolyard, and I’ve come to believe that lunch should be at the center of every school’s curriculum.
Schools should not just serve food; they should teach it in an interactive, hands-on way, as an academic subject. Children’s eating habits stay with them for the rest of their lives. The best way to defeat the obesity epidemic is to teach children about foodand thereby prevent them from ever becoming obese. . . .
But when a healthy lunch is a part of a class that all children have to take, for creditand when they can follow food from the garden to the kitchen to the table, doing much of the work themselves something amazing happens. The students want to taste everything. They get lured in by foods that are beautiful, that taste and smell good, that appeal to their senses. When children grow and prepare good, healthy food themselves, they want to eat it, and, what’s more, they like this way of learning.
We need a revolution, a delicious revolution, that will induce childrenin a pleasurable wayto think critically about what they eat. The study of food, and school lunch, should become part of the core curriculum for all students from kindergarten through high school. Such a move will take significant investment and the kind of resolve that this country showed a half-century ago. It will be costly, but if we don’t pay now, the health care bill later will be astronomical.
Alice Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Cafe and the founder of the Chez Panisse Foundation.
Source: New York Times (24 February 2006)
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Thanks, Grace, for bringing this story to my attention. I was raised in the countryside on a small farm. I did not really appreciate it however until I had lived in the city and saw what urban children missed out on–digging one hands in plowed ground and the smell of the earth, walking barefoot, of seeing beans and watermelons grow. Planting radishes in the red hills of eastern Zaire was one of the most wonderful experiences I had while I was there.
I think it is indeed important to engage urban kidsbring to them new hands on, enlivening experiences who are isolated along mean, barren streets. Can you believe there are people who think peanuts grow above ground?Rudy
Rudy, This is an overlooked aspect of Alex Haley’s “Roots” and connecting with our ancestry. The most overlooked ingredient in Black culture is passing along values from generation to generation, visiting with relatives, going to the home place of our parents and homecoming at the churches that link us to our past struggles and achievements. We lost that in the integration movement and civil rights era when all the things that we had were no longer good enough and abandoned…
The greatest advancements for Black People in America occurred in the short 10 year period after the end of the Civil War when the illiterate learned to read and write, land was purchased and families were reunited and legally established land and property ownership. And then came Jim Crow laws which were in direct violation of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments of the American Constitution and are grounds for extensive reparations.
They need to be read and digested by everyone to understand the magnanimity of this injustice to Black People. Too many of our children know NOTHING of their grandparents and very little about their parents.Charles H. Atkinson (Decatur, GA)
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Charles, advancing technologies disrupted the agrarian life and the transmission of the culture of which you speak. That includes the widespread use of radio and tv during our childhood. The mechanization of agriculture and the ensuing urbanization changed that life entirely which you harken. Additional social policies which were intended to improve our lives nailed the coffin on that way of life. The building of senior citizen multi-floor residences was among the reforms that also separated the generations. Every blessing challenges us.
Almost every aspect of our social and political development disrupted the traditional transmission of culture (folktales, folksongs, folkways, etc., in short, old family and family values) by our Christian slave ancestors. The building of churches, schools, acquisition of land all had their impact on that traditional way of life, in which we, so to speak, were all in the same barrel, in the same briar patch. That is, this reorganization of traditional life had negative aspects, divisive and corrosive effects.
As in all “progress,” there is uneven development, which generates conflict and changes that are not altogether best for the whole community. All, individually, did not acquire land. My immediate family, headed by William Norman Lewis (1905-1970) did not come into land ownership until 1948, the year of the birth of his first two grandsons. His mother Mary, born in the 1870s and who raised him and his seven male siblings alone without a husband or a father, was never a landowner. She, under the thumb of a local white farmer, lived into her 90s.
Our family church, which laid its foundation soon after the War in 1870, owned about 30 acres. It promoted land acquisition and education. But that church, in becoming a part of a network of churches, itself undermined the traditional religion, which was basically congregational and democratic. The black landowners ran the church and generated new social and religious values that divided the community into those who had power (land) and those who didn’t. Such unchecked power always leads to perversions. William’s mother Mary, black as a Guinea woman, called these new church leaders sons of bitches. Most of these church leaders, including William’s father who was a deacon, were yella and damn near white. Many frowned on the spirituals in favor of Methodist hymnals.
Even without integration, public education and the growing literacy after the Civil War also disrupted the old manner of the transmission of culture. The book and magazine culture that came into the community from white publishers and white writers challenged the folk tales and the folk songs and the folk dances and the folk worship and eventually displaced them.
Schools, William was fond of saying, created “educated fools.” My first African was seen in a National Geographic magazine. Public education is a white collar middle-class education, usually deriding peasant and working class cultures. Such was the Dick and Jane readers. William boasted he had only gone to school one day. Yet he could read, write, and figure. Maybe that was a gift of God. His readings, however, were restricted to the Bible and almanacs. Though religious, he restricted his involvement in church activities. He, however, could plant and he could build houses.
In short, the traditional culture created by our Christian slave ancestors in the antebellum South was not supplanted solely by the social, political, and cultural revolutions of the 1960s and the 1970s. Our liberation itself began changes not altogether in the best interests of all of the community. Recall the dilemma of Moses and the Hebrews children in the Sinai after their liberation. At least, they had forty years to collect themselves. We were tossed into the terrorist pot and told to swim as we might, like Shine.
The emphasis on book literacy, land acquisition, and church construction, in a sense, opened the door wider to “satanic” influences.
Still we are not altogether forlorn, without resources. We discovered that when we first stepped off the boat and have not forgotten that. Inwardly we still retain some of the spiritual values handed down by our slave ancestors. We adapt. We create. We have a love for life. We have our victories. We have a faith that we still can overcome life obstacles. . . .
It’s important to study our histories. Some of it is useful. Too much romance of it, however, is dangerous. Romance can blind us to the realities of our histories and struggles, and our present obstacles. Our life in America has never been static but rather always dynamic and forward. We should shun those who now worship the past and hierarchy and argue for a static universe, and other escapist fantasies. Those structured mindsets will not serve us all.Rudy
posted 15 March 2006
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Grace Lee Boggs is an activist, writer, and speaker whose sixty years of political involvement encompass the major U.S. social movements of this century: Labor, Civil Rights, Black Power, Asian American, Women’s and Environmental Justice. Born in Providence, R.I. of Chinese immigrant parents in l915, Grace received her B.A. from Barnard College in l935 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in l940.
In the l940s and l950s she worked with West Indian Marxist historian C.L.R.James and in l953 she came to Detroit where she married James Boggs, African American labor activist, writer and strategist. Working together in grassroots groups and projects, they were partners for over 40 years until James’ death in July l993.
Their book, Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, was published by Monthly Review Press in l974. In l992, with James Boggs and others, she founded DETROIT SUMMER, a multi-cultural, intergenerational youth program to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up which completed its ninth season in June 2000.
Currently she is active in the Detroit Agricultural Network, the Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit, writes for the weekly Michigan Citizen, and does a monthly commentary on WORT (Madison, Wisconsin).
Her Living for Change: An Autobiography published by the University of Minnesota Press in March l998, now in its second printing, is widely used in university classes on social movements and autobiography writing. — http://www.boggscenter.org/
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African Slave Trade: Precolonial History, 1450-1850 (Basil Davidson)
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 12 January 2012