Food, Housing and Time for a Sick-Out: Craig Willse, Imani Henry & Soul Fire Farm

Author Craig Willse and organizer Imani Henry discuss housing, homelessness and the role of nonprofits in change-making (or not).

Plus, an exclusive report from an upstate New York farm that's feeding people while fighting the school-to-prison pipeline.

All that and Laura, inspired by Detroit's teachers, wonders when we’ll be ready for a grand national sick out.


Laura Flanders: Craig Willse is a professor at George Mason University and author who's also worked in social service. His new book is The Value of Homelessness, Managing Surplus Life in the United States. Imani Henry is the founder of Equality for Flatbush. A community-based organization in New York. As well as being a writer and performer, his works appeared in several books including the Landa Award winning Does Your Mamma Know? and Marxism, Reparations, and the Black Freedom Struggle.

Welcome to the program, both of you.

Craig Willse: Thanks
Imani Henry: Thank You.

Laura Flanders:  What are the challenges as you see it Imani that people are facing where you live in Flatbush, which may not be familiar to a lot of our viewers?

Imani Henry: Flatbush is a very diverse community that has mostly migrant folks. Folks are coming from ... It's one of the largest enclaves of Caribbean, English speaking Caribbean, of Creole, Haitian, French-speaking Caribbean, African immigrants, but also Central American and particularly Mexican immigrants at this point, and South Asian immigrants. As well as a long history of Jewish and Irish and Italian families have lived there. The big issue is that it's always been a working to middle class community, and at this point, we're really seeing luxury developments popping up all over the place. Studio apartments now going for almost two thousand dollars for a studio apartment. A two bedroom for four thousand dollars and people that are used to paying affordable rents, particularly in 2014 we had about thirty-three thousand units of rent-stabilized apartments in Flatbush and we're seeing such a decrease in that.


Laura Flanders: There's the diversity of us and our experience, and then there's the diversity of this situation over time. Which is one of the things you write about really insightfully I think in The Value of Homelessness. Can you talk to us a little bit about how these processes have changed? You talk about homelessness being very different in the 1930's than it is today.

Craig Willse: Sure. In the 1930's people living without shelter, for the most part, they were experiencing life without shelter because of joblessness or low employment or exceedingly low wages.

Laura Flanders: Were they called the homeless in those days?

Craig Willse: Sometimes, in some context, but they often were again seen more in terms of labor, right? They were seen as unemployed. Of course, the conditions that people were living in were common conditions for immigrant populations and for African-Americans in the United States, but when white male laborers faced that same crisis, the federal government responded because it understood there's a problem it needed to respond to. The fix was largely a fix around labor. It was about finding ways to put people to work and some forms of housing that were a kind of work camp basically.


Leah Penniman: The Movement for Black Lives is very much about ending police-sanctioned violence against our people. Against black and brown people. And so the state sanctions all kinds of violence so we know about police brutality, and murder, and we know about mass incarceration, that's all over the news and it should be, it's really important.

But a lot of times what fall away from the conversation is that the top five killers for black and Latino people in the United States is diet-related illness and that's not accidental. There's all these policies in place that are state created that cause this disconnect between black folks and good food. Similarly, over our history, our access to land has very much been influenced by U. S. policy, USDA discrimination by violence from the Ku Klux Klan that targeted black landowners.

So, the fact that our very lives depend on good land and depend on good food, and the state is not currently supportive of those connections is another form of violence against our people. And so I think that Black Lives Matter, that we're trying to address all these different facets.


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