The Struggle Continues: A Lamentation in Three Parts by Duron Chavis

Exposing the rejection and hypocrisy within black philanthropic circles, this article delves into the urgent need for black power and reparative justice, highlighting the struggle faced by black communities and the imperative for genuine support from both black and white allies.

Richmond Racial Equity Essays — 2023 Series
Duron Chavis

Part I: The Need for Black Power

“Make God Proud” - My Mother

In all of my years in urban agriculture work, I have never been approached for funding by my city’s black philanthropic circles. Not once. Early on in my work, I was denied funding for being “too militant.” Later in my career, I was explicitly told to watch what I say about white philanthropy on social media by a black person. I have always been explicit about black self-determination and self-defense, but I have never promoted violence. Even still, my experience with black philanthropy has been one of rejection and people trying to tone down my truth to make white people comfortable. This rejection hurts because it is from my own community. I, however, have received one hundred thousand dollar checks from white philanthropists as acts of reparative justice and had a white leader at a white organization defend my right to speak my truth. The irony of this is truly crazy to me. Unfortunately, for many black people, making white people feel safe is a survival mechanism. As a result, they tone police, use racist dog whistling tactics, gate keep and marginalize other black voices in order to maintain their proximity to whiteness. They sacrifice black self-determination in order to keep that proximity. This is not unique to Richmond, it happens all over and too often. If we are to do the work of black liberation, we need black philanthropy and black leaders to support more black community organizations that are working for self-determination, period. The work of black self-determination must be unencumbered by the desire for validation from anyone except God and our ancestors.

“Black power” is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.” - Kwame Ture

Though spoken decades ago, the words of Kwame Ture quoted above describes the work black people need to do now and next to work for our own liberation. Time is of the essence. While black and brown organizations work through how we will access capital and resources to implement strategies for self-determination, white organizations are co-opting language, snatching up resources and white people are moving into the same neighborhoods we are being pushed out of due to gentrification. 

Part II: Away from Colonization

“…Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories...” - Amilcar Cabral

Some white-led organizations that grow food in black neighborhoods are starting to call their work food justice. Unless organizations like this - with predominantly white staff, volunteers and a white donor base, began redistributing land and resources to black and brown farmers and hiring from within the communities in which they show up - calling their work food justice is a lie. White-led food organizations doing work in black and brown communities that are not actively engaged in acts of reparation don’t get to call that work food justice. What is “just” about having the privilege of whiteness and access to wealth, paying the salaries of white people working in black communities but not using that privilege to redistribute resources to black and brown communities?

While we all operate on a gradient of what food justice is, white people who are not actively accomplices in shifting power and systems, but call their work food justice, are colonizers. Colonizers come into established communities and take over the land and resources. The salaries and benefits paid to white staff could be used to support black and brown people, our community organizations and our community infrastructure needs. What we need are more white-led nonprofit, religious and philanthropic organizations to support, fund, and redistribute land and resources towards the work of reparations and reparative justice that directly benefit black people. 

Part III: Towards Real Reparative Justice

“The land free, the land free for all, land without overseers and without masters...” -Emiliano Zapata

When the George Floyd rebellions popped off, there was plenty of talk about white folks and their organizations becoming allied to racial justice work being done by black and brown organizations.   Since then, a lot of those organizations have betrayed their commitments by not maintaining an internal policy toward reparative justice. However, I have been part of a process that provides a great example of real reparative justice and how white people can be accomplices in black liberation work. 

As a black farmer organizer from the city, much of my work has been impeded by lack of land tenure and land access. In 2021, we collaborated with the Agrarian Trust, a white-led nonprofit based in the northeast that removes land from the speculative real estate market to preserve that land for agricultural use. The Agrarian Trust agreed to provide legal and fundraising support for the acquisition of land with us. As a result of that commitment, we formed the Central Virginia Agrarian Commons to redistribute land to black and brown farmers. 

After the formation of the Central Virginia Agrarian Commons, a white woman donated seventy acres to the Central Virginia Agrarian Commons, so the land could be used for black and brown farmers. The Agrarian Trust provided legal support and helped guide that donor in the process of transferring the deed and title. This is actually two examples of reparative justice in one: (1) that a white person donated the land and (2) a white-led organization helped with the legal work to make the transfer happen. After providing legal support for the land donation process, the Agrarian Trust proceeded to fundraise for the purchase of a five acre farm. They helped with the down payment for the purchase and then pushed the fundraising effort into their networks, raising over two hundred thousand dollars in two months. 

The Agrarian Trust is a great example of what it means to be an accomplice to our work to build black self-determination. 

Our work to build black self-determination is predicated upon land justice. As a black-led community organization, we do not have access to wealth and capital in the way that predominantly white-led organizations do. They transferred capital and resources to our community-based agricultural work. Other well-resourced white-led organizations should take a lesson from our playbook and really DO the work of reparative justice, both in their processes and outcomes. 

The Struggle Continues…

This racial justice work is iterative, it is in progress and continues to evolve. I hope to see more black philanthropic organizations step up and support radical black organizations and more predominately white organizations engage in acts of reparative justice, especially in the food movement. Despite recent investment from the Mellon Foundation, the surge and later disappearance of funding for black-led organizations in the aftermath of the George Floyd Rebellion is real. Well-resourced radical black community organizations in Richmond, Virginia are few and far between, and so the struggle continues…

About the author

Duron Chavis

Duron Chavis creates synergy between corporate social responsibility; public policy and traditional grassroots activism that builds community capacity for transformation. Transforming communities is an act that must take place through the community itself. By crafting collaborative approaches to collective impact; community work and personal evolution merge for sustainable systemic impact. From Happily Natural Day; to poverty mitigation; to urban agriculture; to racial equity; Duron articulates the role of cultural identity plays in sustainable community wellness. He challenges organizations and institutions to think outside of silos and to confront conversations of race and class courageously and authentically. Social media: IG: @happilynaturalfestival @duronchavis FB: TW: @brothermanifest

Duron Chavis
About the author

Duron Chavis

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