For some optimistic news, look no farther than Oakland, where former Black Panther activist Elaine Brown has put together a beautiful reentry project. Civil Eats reports: 

Brown’s project, announced last October, is ambitious. The first step has been establishing a for-profit West Oakland Farms, whose 40 raised beds are already overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, kale, squash, corn, and other produce. Down the road, Brown wants to add a juice bar, fitness center, grocery store, and tech design space, along with affordable housing on the city-owned property under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization she founded last year, Oakland & the World Enterprises.

“I’m not in the farm business,” she told Civil Eats recently. “I’m in the business of creating opportunities for Black men and women who are poor and lack the education, skills, and resources to return to a community that is rapidly gentrifying without economic avenues for them in mind.”

Think of it as part prisoner re-entry program, part small business startup incubator, and part community hub. Brown chaired the Black Panthers from 1974 to 1977 and, after more than a 30-year absence, moved back to Oakland in 2010. The project marks her return to activism in the city. Since 2013, Brown has been working closely with Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson on youth and employment re-entry projects in West Oakland.

This strikes me as a very exciting program for so many reasons, not the least of which is connecting disenfranchised populations with fresh produce and high-quality food often unavailable in the “food deserts” of poor neighborhoods. I hope it succeeds and flourishes.

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