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Center for a Livable Future


Growing Justice in the Food System

13th Annual Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture
April 30, 2013

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“There can be no food justice without social justice,” says Malik Yakini, the founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Addressing the broken food system, sharp class division, and the imbalance of policies that benefit the rich, he stated his position clearly: capitalism is not a good system for human beings. “In the food movement, nothing is more important than justice and equity,” he said.

This week, Mr. Yakini spoke at the Bloomberg School, hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The talk was the Center’s 13th Annual Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture, titled “Fostering a Just and Sustainable Food System.” He began by referring to the recent takeover in Detroit by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, a move that preempts the authority of elected officials in the city. “Greetings from Detroit, where democracy has been put into a deep coma,” he said. “Essentially, we have a dictatorship now.”

The U.S. has never effectively responded to the problems of poverty, racism, and the “colonized mind,” said Mr. Yakini. The current situation in Detroit is a living example of that disregard. There are no longer any national chain supermarkets in Detroit; instead, supermarkets ring the city in the mostly white and affluent suburbs. And without supermarkets, populations lack access to what Mr. Yakini calls “good, clean, healthy food.” “In cities like Detroit where the population is predominantly African-American,” he said, “we are seen as markets for inferior goods.”

Mr. Yakini described the core values of he Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) as justice, equity, democracy, self-determination, and love. “Humans were not put here to dominate the planets,” he said. “We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the Earth.” But in order for any food movement to be just, he said, everyone involved has work to do, both personally and in groups. One important part of this work is to challenge systemic and institutional racism, both in the food movement and at large. The goal, he said, is to restore ma’at on Earth, an ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice.

Specifically, organizations involved in the movement for just food should try to highlight the stories of people of color who are involved in the food movement; funders should try to fund initiatives led by people of color; and food conferences should offer tracks on racial equity. In addition, the image of “the farmer” needs to be reformed, and there needs to be greater recognition of and respect for women, who comprised the majority of farmers in the world.

“We need to reframe farming as honorable work,” said Mr. Yakini. African-Americans thumb their noses at farming, he said, because of the negative associations they hold toward the profession, mainly because of the histories of slavery, tenant farming, and sharecropping. “We need to reframe the work of farming as an act of self-determination,” he said.

Mr. Yakini is currently a fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and a recipient of last year’s James Beard Foundation Leadership Award. He is involved in the organization Uprooting Racism Planting Justice, and he helped to spearhead the Detroit Food Policy Council. With DBCFSN, he helps to run a seven-acre farm, which has a reputation among some Detroiters for growing the sweetest collard greens in town.

By Christine Grillo




Malik Yakini

malik yakini

Malik Yakini
Founder and Executive Director,
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network

Malik Kenyatta Yakini is a founder and the Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which operates a seven-acre farm in Detroit. His dedication to identifying and alleviating the impact of racism and white privilege on the food system is spurred by an understanding of the “good food revolution” as part of the larger movement for freedom, justice, and equality. He is committed to developing an international food sovereignty movement that embraces Black farmers in the Americas, the Caribbean and Africa.

Mr. Yakini chaired the Detroit Food Policy Council from December 2009 - May 2012, served as a member of the Michigan Food Policy Council from 2008 - 2010 and currently serves on the steering committee of Uprooting Racism Planting Justice. From 1990 - 2011 Mr. Yakini acted as Executive Director of Nsoroma Institute Public School Academy, one of Detroit’s leading African-centered schools. In 2006 the Michigan Association of Public School Academies honored him as “Administrator of the Year.” He served on the Board of Directors of Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology from 2004-2011 and is C.E.O. of Black Star Educational Management.

Mr. Yakini has presented on food justice and community food security practices at local community meetings and national conferences. He is featured in the book, Blacks Living Green and the movie, Urban Roots. He is a current Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Food and Community Fellow, a Business Alliance for Local Living Economies Fellow, and recently received the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award. Mr. Yakini is a vegan and an avid organic grower.

Photo: Michael Milli, 2013.