Modeling Good Governance

The Diets of Society

Amidst the ongoing social and political turmoil surrounding housing, those in positions of power overlook conversations about ending the housing crisis that seeps into every aspect of our communities. It is the people – organizations such as Aspire for Higher (A4H), who are on the front lines attempting to be a part of a design reformation for Black and racialized communities. How can we leverage resources to address a neglected community’s housing and service needs?

Access emerges as a primary concern in serving Black, and racialized communities, encompassing areas such as healthcare, affordable housing, and community resources. Recognizing the interconnectedness of these crucial aspects, Eldon Holder, Vice-President of Social Impact & Stakeholder Engagement for Aspire for Higher (A4H), has been inspired to unite and address these pressing needs. 

“The activities we undertook for the project involved a multi-phased approach to design, analyze, structure, market, and implement a community bond product for our A4H social purpose real estate project.”

It is a wonder how at times, a sense of calling can demand more from people, propelling them to become activists and catalysts for change in systems that have let them down. While the overcrowding of limitations in healthcare, housing, resources, food insecurity, job insecurity, and more remains a significant concern for the general public, it seems to have become less of a priority for those in positions of power to address and make these factors accessible to all. These issues are the diets of society, often amplified by caste systems where varying economic statuses determine who benefits most.  

To Bridge and to Build

To guarantee better understanding, is to bridge culture gaps. Gaps reveal the misunderstandings of community needs, community spaces, and the cause and effect of neglect. Aspire for Higher aims to create a social impact by setting an example and demonstrating compassion towards those who contribute to society through their livelihoods. They establish a precedent for community perception. Emboldening good governance. 

Through support, Aspire for Higher set out to conduct a community engagement design strategy to identify the community’s needs and outline the breadth of the affordable housing and wellness facility project. 

“Our holistic approach successfully created a sustainable and inclusive model for social purpose real estate development.” 

For systems to deny the requests of people leaves sentimental moods of disappointment and frustration, fostering a sense of detachment from the community. People may feel marginalized and excluded, as if they’ve been pushed to the outskirts. It suggests a growing concern that a society that neglects certain types of communities, seeks to gentrify not only places but also people, eroding diversity and individuality in the process. 

The housing crisis disproportionately impacts Black communities in Canada. They are typically those who are most under-housed outside of core housing needs and have the greatest barriers. In some cases, to access housing. We’re on a mission to solve that challenge through building and acquiring and retrofitting homes to accommodate the needs of Black and other marginalized groups. Increased funding will help us do that and advance that cause. 

A community-oriented strategy allows residents to not only feel appreciated, but to preserve the identity of the physical fabric of neighborhoods. The outer appearances of spaces are imprints of the heart and soul of people. 

By involving residents in the design process, we were able to learn together. The project now fosters a sense of ownership and pride among our network of families and community members. This empowerment, we hope will lead to increased community engagement and a stronger commitment to the success of the project.

“Our future plans for the organization are three-fold: We have a mission to build a wellness facility for Black communities and for Black families to be able to have holistic access to healthcare services. We’ve built the Black healthcare professional network over the last three years and launched the Black healthcare directory, so individuals can find where these healthcare professionals are, who identify with their professional background. The next step in the future is to build a facility that houses these individuals.”  

Materialized Seeds 

Aspire for Higher’s mission is meant to be generational. It’s the epitome of dreams realized. Community members aim to seek comfort and solace in the places they frequent and the houses they call homes. Striving for greater and more meaningful impact within Black communities, Aspire for Higher embodies the value of good governance and its role in shaping our collective efforts in community activism. We can all add to the seeds that they’ve sowed.  

I’ve been part of the work to get the foundation in place, I’ve done a lot of community work to have something like this. This is an opportunity to see the seeds you planted five ten fifteen years ago have materialized into something that is very real and very tangible, and that will hopefully be of value to the community for generations to come. Personally, it feels like a win in a very long game. 

Accessing a way through a compromised food system

The Importance of Recognition  

It’s a rigorous fight when tackling food insecurity, since the global food ecosystem is riddled in prejudice. Black food entrepreneurs face demeaning trials as they seek access for support and funding. They, in fact, grapple with a system that impedes their progress. The data reveals that the Black representation in the food industry only accounts for 4.9%, further highlighting the stark reality of their marginalization. Painting Black communities as second-class citizens. It is a stirring reminder of the systemic biases that undermine the recognition of the historical significance of Black entrepreneurs. Perpetuating their disenfranchisement within the industry.     

Janice Bartley, founder of Foodpreneur Lab, punctuates the critical issue of access to land. She outlines the barriers faced by Black food entrepreneurs. These calculated obstacles, that often red tape Black farmers, hinder their ability to secure funding; creating more lags in the system. The Foodprenur Lab, is a digital platform that aims to connect Black Foodpreneurs & Suppliers, to consumer-packaged goods producers. Janice envisions Foodpreneur as the premier hub for food knowledge. A place that garners valuable information, abundant resources, and a network of supportive community members.  

Seeing that there is a national demand to reform a complex food system, Janice has found herself in a position to help mitigate a simpler path for Black food entrepreneurs.

We’re trying to minimize the risk for them. Really teach them what the food ecosystem looks like and where opportunities lie for them to scale.  

With three decades of entrepreneurship experience, running accelerators and incubators, Janice is well-equipped to offer knowledge, support individuals in vulnerable situations, and help them access the right resources. 

A Bootstrap Narrative 

When the data shows you that you represent only a fraction of a larger sample, it can be easy to internalize this as a reflection of your worth; that this somehow represents who you are and how much you contribute. Thereby constraining your sense of possibility and potential. 

Historical teachings often pin the story of a Black entrepreneur as synonymous with the bootstrap narrative, perpetuating the notion that success can only be achieved through individual effort. This narrative overlooks the systemic structures that perpetuate inequality, ensuring that for someone to rise to the top, someone else must inevitably occupy the bottom rung of the ladder. 

So, how can we shift the bootstrap narrative into one where Black farmers are integrated into a broader context where the playing field is leveled, ensuring equitable practices? Where access to land is readily accessible with adequate support and mentorship. When will Black farmers be recognized as essential partners in securing quality food and addressing the deficiencies of a faltering food system? 

Foodpreneur Lab, has supported 154 Black farmers across Canada, creating bonds and community while sharing similar experiences when navigating the food industry. To gain a greater perspective of what Black entrepreneurs bear witness to, they’ve conducted the Africulture Study. The study features their overlooked contributions to the agricultural landscape. The approach included a literature review, food security survey, and focus group discussions.   

Hearing the perspectives of 1000 Black Canadians on food security brought a rich tapestry of experiences to light, underscoring the diverse challenges faced. Yet, perhaps most impactful, was the crafting of recommendations born from these interactions, meticulously tailored to the specific desires and needs of Black farmers. It’s more than just data; it’s the essence of understanding, empathy, and a commitment to creating positive change. In essence, our achievements go beyond statistics – they embody a genuine connection, a shared narrative, and a roadmap for a more inclusive and supportive future for Black farmers in Canada. 

The Power of Persistence
In Janice’s view, “food is the new currency.” Food insecurity also represents a significant aspect of economic hardship, particularly when access to affordable, nutritious options is restricted in certain communities. Black farmers are cultivating food to alleviate the burden of food insecurity. However, it takes a lot to voice this denigrating dilemma. It takes the voices of a community to expose and express their lived experiences in this plight.

Nobody is listening. At some point, the more you talk, the more people start to pay attention. Because you’re not going away.

Accessing a way through a compromised food system forces individuals to overcome and bootstrap unnecessary obstacles. Access to quality, affordable food is a fundamental human right. Moreover, it is essential for Black farmers to access opportunities to grow food that resonates with their cultural heritage and nourish their communities. As Janice put it, “to humanize, and legitimize.”