On January 2nd 2016, the Ujamaa Community Land Trust (Ujamaa) was incorporated. As the first community-owned land trust in Englewood, it focuses on preserving land and culture in Englewood and beyond. However, this is not the complete story; and it would be irresponsible of us to talk about Ujamaa without acknowledging the urban agricultural work that took place in Englewood for more than a decade before our existence. We want to use our first blog post to honor Englewood residents and leaders who paved the way for us and other recent initiatives. While others may claim that they came into Englewood and did was others were not doing – we want the village to know the truth.
Urban agricultural work has been in practice in Englewood since 2004. Teamwork Englewood, under the leadership of their Executive Director Wanda White Gills, led a community process where residents came up with an urban agricultural district through the Englewood Quality of Life Plan. This was before any urban farms; before urban agriculture became popular. In fact, Orrin Williams, a native Black resident of Englewood and elder urban planner, describes this time as the renaissance. Leaders from Teamwork Englewood, himself, and our transitioned elder Alderman Ted Thomas worked tirelessly to introduce urban agriculture to residents in Englewood.
“Sometimes what happens is that outsider groups – missionary groups – put a stranglehold on the language and the vision and objectives of folks in the community. We had plenty of conversations with people like, our transitioned elder Wanda White Gills, who was the Executive Director of Teamwork Englewood at that time. And we said, it really is about more than just urban agriculture. Its about housing, other businesses, food related opportunities and eventually a food system.”
As a result of Aldermanic and the City’s interest in urban agriculture in Englewood, Orrin – with help from residents and the New Communities program – developed the 59th Street Green Business District in 2005. This 20-page document outlined a new paradigm for Englewood – one that focused on urban agriculture but also included worker cooperatives, businesses, and other enterprises. Almost 10 years later, the City comes out with their 59th Street Urban Agricultural District. Orrin again:
“Folks hijack things from the community all the time. Black people know a whole lot. People know things but there is no way to actualize it and put it into practice because they don’t have the resources.”
This kind of assault on the intellectual and physical property of Black people is happening all across the nation and the world. In Englewood, it is ongoing and rampant. While Grow Greater Englewood helped to broker residential needs with the goals of organizations looking to develop urban agriculture since 2012, savior-minded organizations are operating in Englewood without real residential input, reciprocity and workers’ rights.
There is a history of Black land loss in the United States. As Orrin points out, “black folks have gone through a whole bunch of things in terms of land loss and have loss millions of acres in the last hundred of years or so”. In Englewood, it is also a real and present danger as several residents have complained of not being sold property because they are Black.
This is why Ujamaa is so critical at this moment. Orrin explains that:
“Ujamaa brings a holistic systemic notion of community into focus and into the forefront. So its about the land on one hand but housing, food, or whatever other activities may be. And it is inline with what we think 21st century cities need to become.”
Indigenous organizations like Ujamaa – where the board is predominantly people who live and work in Englewood – are critical for local control and ownership of land, technical support and training. This leads to commercial, residential and other practices and processes that are facilitated by the residents. For Ujamaa, this is translocal, global work for generations; and it is intergenerational.
“And I think the hope with Ujamaa – and we all have a lot of work to do – groups like Ujamaa and the folks down in Jackson and other folks around the country, and the community wealth folks, that is the paradigm for making the evolution that is to occur if we are to survive as a species. That is the hope I have and the spirit I try to bring to it.”
By Elisha Hall | Ujamaa Community Land Trust