George Floyd Fellowship: Healing Roots
Last fall the St. Olaf College Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion announced the inaugural recipients of the George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change. Throughout this academic year, each of these four students — Isaac Coutier ’22, Tashonna Douglas ’21, Dezzy Newell ’22, and Joshua Wyatt ’21 — developed a project focused on advancing racial justice, social justice, and equity. As their fellowship wraps up, they are each sharing in their own words what inspired their project and the impact they hope it has had.
BY DESTINY NEWELL ’22
The purpose of my George Floyd Fellowship project is to create a program in my community that focuses on dealing with mental health issues through gardening. The goal of this project, titled Healing Roots, is to get a group of people together to not only garden together but talk about our personal mental health issues and how we are coping with it. Not everyone can afford a therapist, but sometimes all we need is a listening ear. This garden will feature flowers, vegetables, greens, and fruits that we will harvest and share with the community along with our personal stories.
What inspired you to create your project?
During the summer of 2020, I spent a lot of time gardening at home because it was the only thing that could ground me during the turmoil of living seven blocks away from where George Floyd was murdered. I spent most of my days educating people online or being on the front lines, marching and speaking for people who are no longer here to speak for themselves. I found myself crying many mornings for people I never knew personally — but it hurt just as much as if they were family because I understand what it’s like to not feel safe and to not feel heard. I have six African-American brothers and an African-American father and almost every day I have to worry about whether or not I’m going to see them again. I have told them not to stick up for themselves in an argument with a white person or cop because I just want them to make it home. Just a couple of weeks ago one of my younger brothers called me when he was pulled over by the police for an expired tab, and it took everything in me not to start crying because he needed me to be strong for him. He was looking to me to make sure he was going to be okay. We shouldn’t have to live our everyday lives like this, and I found that gardening was one of the only things that could bring me back to myself. I realized if I could have that epiphany and that gratefulness for nature and life that we can create, I should share that with everyone else.
What impact do you hope it has (or see it already having)?
I hope to support people my age and younger who may not have access to mental health care. It’s so important that we teach Black and brown youth that it is okay to express your feelings — it’s hard living in the U.S. And it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to hurt, and it’s okay to laugh, and it’s okay to smile. Even when everything in the world seems to be falling apart, it’s okay to react how you need to in order to live another day. I hope that I can provide a space for young people to come together and talk about how gardening has impacted their mental health for the better. I hope they learn how consuming fresh organic produce has helped their physical health for them and their families. I hope to provide this food to our transient population. I just hope that people can look at the garden while passing by on the street and realize that life is still here in our community.
How can the broader community support your project and ongoing work?
Spread the word! We are always open to receiving donations of soil, compost, rainwater, seeds, tools — you name it. But the most important thing is to internalize our message. Black and brown bodies have been taken for granted for hundreds of years now, and we want our non-BIPOC family and friends to sit in this discomfort and be able to try to understand what we have to go through on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully, through reading books, watching movies, and listening to podcasts, our non-BIPOC community can help us start to dismantle the systems that make our lives much harder than they need to be. Also, feel free to buy fruits and veggies from local farmer’s markets and bring them to the grassroots organizations supporting Black and brown communities because we are often the people who do not have access to fresh produce.