Master Narratives: Calling a Storyteller by Her Name

On Sunday, June 18th, a grounds with an assorted history awoke to new life humming through its cemetery grasses. Storyteller, Denise Valentine, and members of FICA Capoeira created a timeline of knowledge, passing through a personal history and into shared Philadelphia lineage. The event was called, “Neighborhood Histories, The Master Narrative,” where Denise and Kamau led their audience in movement through time and place. Music and story sharing at the Fair Hill Burial Grounds revealed the land as a cite of many small details, embedded with historical intricacies. Being the home of many deceased abolitionists, the soil endlessly stirs with contradiction. As Valentine brought to light, anywhere there is abolition, there is slavery, and so she accounts for those hidden lives not mentioned on the grave stones.

After expressing a history of plantation travel between the Islands and the States, Valentine paints a picture of a precious item held onto by the Norris family for generations. The Norris family stems from Thomas Norris, a plantation owner in Jamaica, and predecessor of Isaac Norris, one of the colonizing founders of Philadelphia. The significance of a silver dish passed through his lineage has held such high importance in Philadelphia history, that it remains preserved inside the glass case of the Philadelphia History Museum. This dish traveled with the Norris family from their Jamaica plantation to their Fairhill estate grounds in Philadelphia. Hidden in the seams of this story, is a little girl. This little girl has a history of her own, having survived her enslaved African father who was killed in an earthquake in Port Royal, Jamaica. Her father died in efforts to save Isaac Norris from that very earthquake, but she survived and was brought to the U.S. as a slave of the Norris family. She grew to be a woman and mother on Philadelphia soil. As a small child, this unnamed soul floated down a Jamaican river in a basket, surviving an earthquake and arriving to safety with a beautiful silver dish by her side.

Eventually, she was named free by the later generation of Norris's, but the name she walked with every day was never put into the history books. Valentine has made it her mission to continue searching, delving into the work of the ancestors, and seeking to name this person lost in the waves of oceanic turbulence.

As Valentine spins webs, connections begin to resonate in the berimbau-graced air. She tells of journeys with family members through the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, in Delaware, and how connection to place changes understanding of history...

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Facing Race: A Reflection

By Rebekkah Scharf

On November 10, 2016, roughly 3000 racial justice leaders and advocates gathereed at the Hilton in downtown Atlanta, people of color and allies alike, for Facing Race: A National Conference, organized by Race Forward. This was despite that less than 72 hours earlier, in the early hours of Wednesday, November 10th, at around 3am, fear, anxiety, anger, rage, disappointment, and tears were some of the many feelings that seized millions of Americans, upon the announcement of the 2016 election results.

Upon entering the ballroom for the opening ceremony, I could feel the tension in the air, an unsettled-ness, everything seeming to move slower. The communal lack of sleep, constant stress, dried tears, and ever-present fear combined, wallowed in every single soul in the room. The weight of the 2016 presidential election rested on our shoulders. It was terrifying. It was amazing.

It was so g-ddamn heavy.

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Mid-Atlantic Agroecology Encounter: Reflections of an Elder

By Rev. Dele

Peace and Blessings Family!

Spirit recently revealed to me that those who are truly “spiritual and not religious” have no difficulty accepting those who are “spiritual and religious” because to be spiritual is to recognize oneness in the midst of diversity. It is to embrace our African ancestor’s belief that sacred cannot be separated from secular any more than breath can be separated from the body and still live. Intelligence of the head cannot supercede intelligence of the heart nor political power become more important than spiritual power. To do so is to continue the oppression of wisdom and women’ s ways of speaking and being. I am prayerful we will not repeat these oversights of our previous liberation movements.

The opening mystica of the Mid-Atlantic Agroecology Encounter offered a heart based exercise that simulated shifting social and environmental climates. Gathered around Harriet Tubman’s witness tree, we explored strategies to navigate these shifts when things fall apart. We acknowledged the fact that Mother Earth is rebirthing and that female rise to power around the globe reflects this movement. We connected to the spiritual expression that is indigenous to the land and Harriet Tubman. It set the tone for continued heart based intelligence that exploded in original songs and prophetic raps from our youth in powerful mysticas throughout the weekend.

As our numbers swelled from 40 to 80 and our ages spread from 3 to 70, our comfort in the land also expanded. The first night produced experts in pitching tents. Then joyful forest explorers emerged. And finally we moved our cars away from our tents to the parking lot. The release of this final “security blanket” sealed our natural environment and created expanded opportunities for exercise and reflection. Our ability to expand inner awareness is directly proportional to our ability to embrace the silence of trees and open grasslands unencumbered by human made equipment. Agroecology is a beautiful tool from South America that recreates cooperative communities that are economically empowered by their relationship to the land. I pray that we use our innate creativity to blend Ubuntu into the pedagogy so that our healing of Africans with the land can be complete. Much Love!!

-Rev Dele

Rev. Dele is a grandmother, theologian, visiting professor in permaculture, contemplative and social activist who uses her skills as a Climate Reality Leader and spiritual director to assist churches to model sustainability efforts in underserved communities. She serves as a grant making advisor for The Pollination Project, regional liaison for Green the Church, board member for Virginia Interfaith Power & Light and council member for the National Congress of Black American Indians. Through ​the​ Nature’s Friends network​, she works to train the next generation of mission leaders in faith, ecology and policy. Her ​​Soil & Souls LLC is seeking a core management team to collectively launch a wholesale nursery and regenerative design business based on land in Virginia. ​

​Rev's​ vision is for all human souls to redeem and nurture the earth’s soil for climate resilience​. For speaking engagements contact : (804) 389-5150

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Mid-Atlantic Agroecology Encounter:Reflections of a Teenager

By Manny Coreano

If you asked me a year ago if i’d be interested in camping out in the wilderness for an entire weekend I might have thought you were insane. Something inside of me changed when I started learning about my culture and who I was, who my ancestors were, and how we could use the world around us to naturally benefit from its resources. The earth has all of the answers, we just have to look within it to truly find it.

Before arriving to the campsite I was facing a lot of anxiety; that all went away when I met the person carpooling me to the campsite and the rest of the Philly crew. I was immediately immersed in a community of different colors of the rainbow, people just like me that shared an interest in agriculture.

I was not aware of what the term Agroecology was until I participated in this encounter. I enjoyed every aspect of of the training, getting to fully invest myself on the soil of Black Dirt Farm and learning the history of the land that we resided on. I now feel more prepared than ever before to speak on certain issues, and my passion for food justice has truly increased. I went from being a queer Latinx individual, living in North Philly and knowing nothing about gardening, to becoming someone who is so passionate about agroecology and food justice.

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Recursos 2015 Sobre Terrenos Desocupados

En Philadelphia hay decenas de miles de terrenos desocupados. Aproximadamente 25 % de ellos son propiedad de la ciudad. Por décadas, los residentes de Philadelphia han cuidado de las tierras de la ciudad. Hemos creado espacios verdes y huertos de lugares abandonados. Ahora contamos con cientos de huertos en toda la ciudad. Muchos han existido por generaciones. Son lugares muy especiales que forman parte de la identidad de nuestras comunidades. También brindan muchos beneficios. Sin embargo, sabemos cuán difícil es obtener autorización legal para utilizar espacios nuevos para cultivar alimentos o construir zonas recreativas al aire libre. Además, con frecuencia los horticultores carecen de las protecciones legales que necesitan para permanecer donde están.

Recursos 2015 Sobre Terrenos Desocupados

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Vacant Land 215 Skill Share and Seed Swap

Learn more about land access, seed saving and starting your own garden on Saturday, October 29th 2-3:30 pm at Northeast Regional Library, 2228 Cottman Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19149.

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