It’s been nearly six months since George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police officers after a store accused him of using counterfeit money.
Floyd’s murder horrified the world.
White police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, while Floyd repeated, “I can’t breathe.”
Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the globe in the wake of his death and the countless other deaths in the Black community at the hands of white police officers.
Floyd’s death became the veritable straw that broke the camel’s back; it ushered in major signs of progress.
Iconic brands including Aunt Jemima’s and Uncle Ben’s pledged to remove their long-standing mascots accused of promoting racist stereotypes.
Two blocks of Washington D.C.’s 16th Street were renamed as “Black Lives Matter Plaza” while the city’s NFL team, formerly the Washington Redskins, removed its long-criticized Indian head mascot.
Companies and organizations issued detailed equity pledges and joined the flurry of hashtags sweeping social media in solidarity with protestors, committing to do better, to protect and to stand up for the BIPOC community.
Veganism and racial justice
The vegan community became a strong voice for that change, too.
VegFund, a leading provider of grants to support vegan advocates in their efforts to educate the public about the benefits of vegan living, launched a $50,000 Social Justice Fund in June following Floyd’s death.
Out of 50 nominees, it awarded 22 organizations altogether, with 13 of those founded or run by women.
The Social Justice Fund prioritized organizations with operating budgets of under $225,000 and recognized a range of initiatives that include shaping community models and institutions that advance Black inclusion and prosperity.
The groups are also providing resources to reduce incarceration and prison recidivism through mentorship and employment, as well as creating safer communities through public health approaches and using hip hop as therapy for young men of color.
“I was thrilled to learn that a number of the organizations nominated for the VegFund Social Justice Fund who were not expressly vegan already include access to healthy foods and nutrition education as a cornerstone of their programmatic strategies,” Leslie Barcus, executive director of VegFund, said in a statement. “Certainly racial, economic, and political justice intersect with an individual’s choice of vegan living.”
VegFund recognized excellence in both advancing vegan living in Black communities, and the work of organizations “furthering racial, economic, and political justice among Black individuals and families”.
Among the awardees is The Sistah Vegan Project, run by renowned feminist and anti-racism scholar Dr Amie “Breeze” Harper. Its aim is promoting equity and inclusion in the vegan movement.
The work has come a long way in the 15 years since she started, said Dr Harper. “I’ve seen a tremendous paradigm shift from many vegan and animal rights organizations. They are finally acknowledging that systemic speciesism cannot be dismantled without understanding and dismantling systemic racism and creating racial equity in the USA.”
Tracye McQuirter’s 10,000 Black Vegan Women program was also recognized.
McQuirter is an award-winning public health nutritionist and author. She secured more than 10,000 Black women participants before her free 21-day online program to provide nutritional support and guidance officially kicked off in October.
“With all that’s going on in this country and the world right now, it’s no small act that 10,000 Black women are taking this time to focus on their health,” said McQuirter.
The list of recipients also included the Facebook group Vegans for Black Lives Matter, founded by Vegan Outreach activist Gwenna Hunter.
The group, which, at the time of writing, boasts more than 4,600 members, aims to show solidarity as vegans for the Black Lives Matter movement.
It hosts solution-oriented conversations, watch parties, and allocates one day a week solely for the BIPOC community to post in the group.
“It’s important to demonstrate that we care deeply for the plight of humans just as we do the animals,” Hunter said. “We understand that we are simultaneously capable of both while also demonstrating compassion to one another and allowing each other’s voices to be heard.”
Other female-fronted recipients of the inaugural VegFund Social Justice Fund included:
Encompass led by Aryenishi Birdie, whose mission is to foster a racially inclusive vegan movement.
Black Vegetarian Society of Maryland led by executive director and entrepreneur Naijha Wright-Brown (co-owner of The Land of Kush vegan soul food restaurant in Baltimore and organizer of the annual Vegan SoulFest event).
Black Vegetarian Society of GA founded by Traci Thomas, which promotes a plant-based diet through education and support programs to address the disproportionate levels of chronic and degenerative diseases that affect African Americans.
Afro-Vegan Society led by executive director Brenda Sanders, which works to bring healthy, nourishing plant-based foods to marginalized neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Auntie Na’s Village founded by Sonia Brown (aka Auntie Na), which works with chronically underserved low-income residents in the west side of Detroit by providing food boxes containing fresh produce. Auntie Na’s also plans to offer cooking demos and plant-based nutrition.
Gangstas to Growers led by founder Abiodun Henderson, which provides resources to gang members and other formerly incarcerated youth ranging from 18 to 24, with the overarching goal to reduce prison recidivism. Mentored by local farmers, the participants learn skills to grow and cultivate produce on Black-owned farmland for the local food market while earning income for their efforts. Participants also have access to vegan cooking classes and financial literacy training.
Homeless Children’s Playtime Project led by executive director Jamila Larson, and deputy director Ivelina E Benitez in Washington, DC, which partnered with Urban Beet in the Summer of 2019 to provide biweekly bags of fresh vegetables to homeless families.
The Village Method (TVM) led by co-founder and executive director Mahea Gaskins. This is a community grassroots organization that provides youth development in South Alameda county.
Black Organizing Project led by executive director Jackie Byers, which works for racial, social and economic justice through grassroots community organizing and policy in Oakland.
GirlVow, Inc. led by founder Dawn Rowe, which open doors for girls who’ve been impacted by juvenile justice, poverty, or the New York City foster care system.
Jill Ettinger is a writer, editor, and business development consultant focused on vegan and sustainable industries. She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter and their two rescue cats.