Let it Go. Let it Grow.
An introduction to a three part expose on Fredericksburg Virginia’s Downtown Greens and white supremacy.
My entire life has changed in the past two months.
Deaths and births as well as birthdays and death-days to celebrate and constant health issues have kept me from writing. Oftentimes writing helps me cope with anxiety and depression and being physically and mentally too exhausted to even do so really exacerbated those two issues. It becomes a vicious cycle that can quickly take over one’s life.
As spring came into the city I began thinking about ways to find city land to grow food for the community.
On my own backyards and a small network of friend’s we have been for some years now trying to get Food is Free project off the ground. When bringing up to city leaders the desire to take land and make a garden accessible to the poor communities in my town I was directed to go meet with Downtown Greens Inc. a local non-profit in the heart of a fast-gentrifying, historically Black neighborhood. A neighborhood I am too familiar with and an organization which I wish I was not so well acquainted with.
As a teen, more than ten years ago I spent a lot of summer evenings in this neighborhood since many of my friends lived in Hazel Hill Apartments.
We knew that area cross the train tracks back then as “Down Bottom.”
The type of wealth disparity you see in Fredericksburg was palpable there: Past Hazel Hill to the East lays Mayfield, also a working-class Black neighborhood, a place that not more than twenty years ago, the Fredericksburg Police Department and emergency services would not avoid per se, but certainly would show up late to any emergency calls, usually arresting everyone first and asking questions later. These along with Bragg Hill were considered ‘the bad neighborhoods.’
Two blocks North, right on the shores of the Rappahannock River however, lay carefully manicured lawns featuring ancient gnarled trees attended by Latinos, men whom could be my father. Freshly painted white homes are still now scattered still with Hillary signs. There, the richest in Fredericksburg (plus a couple of FPD snitches) live comfortably, knowing that if a person of color from the next neighborhood over walks past their front yards slow enough, the police department will be there on the double to hand out justice by arresting first and asking questions later.
As a young adult, I spent time Down Bottom when I was brought into New City Fellowship a Presbyterian Church of America, a congregation which prides itself in seeking to be cross-cultural despite the PCA’s disgusting, racist past and despite the fact that most of the people attending there are either bold faced supremacists or the usual white saviour complex types found in evangelical circles, whom are also racist. I fell into the church for a few years and experienced so much racism there that the trauma is still hard to deal with sometimes.
I became active with the Women in the Church and eventually held a position within its leadership before I was church disciplined, that’s really when I can pinpoint the first time I began witnessing the racism ingrained in otherwise pleasant, nice, ‘well meaning’ white women: When it was time to canvass the community which we were supposed to be serving, a lot of women explained that they were afraid to venture into the neighborhood to preach the gospel. This froze me at first but I was resolved to show these women that Christ’s work dictate our own and that we are to go to places that make us feel uncomfortable, whats more there was no reason to feel that way in the first place! Some women were more receptive than others. I proposed to the pastors a women in the church led initiative: to take a spare piece of land the church owned and turn it into a free food garden for the community.
The church’s leadership refused to give away this space, later selling the lot for a big modern home to be built there instead. They did however believed in the outreach project enough to offer to pay for materials and help with labor and maintenance of the gardens if we presented Downtown Greens Inc. with the idea of working together to feed and get to know the neighborhood.
I did so and they refused, citing that they simply “did not do food growing.” That this was “a green space for the community,” however little the community was using it and that they had once tried to grow food there and that the neighbors (working class POC folks with no time to watch the grass grow, much less water it) let it go, “there was rotting tomatoes everywhere. What a waste!”
Two years later they attempted to start a food co-opt on the land and charge neighbors and followers of the DTG cult to rent space to grow food. This initiative was unsuccessful and with good reason: folks in this neighborhood whom cannot afford fresh produce are sure to Not be able to afford paying a plot to rent and all the things needed to grow food for a family. Not to mention how time consuming growing your own produce is. This option was simply not an option for community folks.
At first, I thought that these liberal white feminists refusal was a reluctance to work with a faith based organization and let it go.
Two years ago my perception changed and about two months ago I decided that I could no longer keep quiet in the face of blatant racism and exploitation. This is the dirty little secrets Downtown Greens of Fredericksburg has been working hard to bury to this day.