During recent Kwanzaa celebrations there was a call for collective economics. “Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.” This was explained by many as a call to “Buy Black” with others accepting that it was a call for supporting “Black Capitalism.” I want to offer a critique of this understanding from the standpoint of what would be progressive and beneficial in a transformative way to the black community.
Eliminating food deserts and building community ownership are keys to sustainable development
Steve Dubb and David Zuckerman recently published a great article explaining how eliminating food deserts is critical to developing sustainable communities. This is precisely what the folks in Northeast Greensboro are working on through the Renaissance Community Coop. We are thrilled to join them in this effort and excited about the transformative potential it has for their community, and the city of Greensboro more broadly.
The authors point out that grassroots focused economic development is important – critically important – but that community ownership is equally vital and often times overlooked. They go on to briefly outline other communities using community-owned cooperatives to eliminate food deserts and build community wealth:
One strategy for ensuring community ownership can be seen in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. In 2008, community organizations successfully negotiated the city’s first ever Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). As part of this agreement, the Hill House Economic Development Corporation received $2 million in commitments from the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to help develop the neighborhood’s first grocery store in over 30 years.
Importantly, Hill House EDC continues to own the land on which the store is built, ensuring that lease payments provide earned income revenue for years to come to financially support the nonprofit. Additionally, as part of the CBA, Hill District residents referred by a newly established First Source Center receive first consideration for all hires.
They close by noting that,
A framework for revitalization that includes local purchasing and hiring, employee and community ownership, and anchor institution and community stakeholder support is necessary to guarantee that, over the long term, the community retains control of its important assets.
Ridding communities of food deserts so that the people have access to healthy and affordable food is a cornerstone piece of redeveloping our neighborhoods to be sustainable. Community-owned businesses can play a critical role in this work. Reinvesting money directly back into those communities through democratic processes is equally important. The Renaissance Community Coop is building just such a business and, in the process, re-imagining their community as one that is democratic, just and sustainable.