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Black Earth Day unites Tacoma community at Hilltop Urban Gardens

VIDEO: Black Earth Day celebrates 'black indigeneity' and earth

Hilltop Urban Gardens founder Dean Jackson hopes to repair African-Americans’ “wounded connection” to Earth
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Hilltop Urban Gardens founder Dean Jackson hopes to repair African-Americans’ “wounded connection” to Earth

Dean Jackson might have just coined a new movement: Black Earth Day.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years now,” the executive director of the Hilltop Urban Gardens said. “This is the first year we’ve had the capacity to do it.”

If Saturday’s turnout is any indication, Jackson might be on to something.

The community center of Peace Lutheran Church in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood was filled with parents and children, community leaders and neighbors, all there to see what Black Earth Day was about.

Stationed around the room were ways for people to interact with the natural environment. That included the chance to artfully decorate rocks, dig in soil, pick plant starts — including strawberries and raspberries — and a station showing how to make jam.

There also was a photo booth, music and spoken word demonstrations, earth-based healing and birth practices, and a chance for people to register to vote.

“I wanted to do something that was really about bringing black people together to help repair what I would call a wounded connection to the Earth,” Jackson said.

Some black people have a negative association with farming and gardening because of the history of slavery in the African-American culture, Jackson said.

Jackson wants to change that. Black Earth Day was a way to remind people we all come from the earth and need to celebrate “black indigeneity.”

“It’s a celebration of blackness, and it’s something that can connect us,” Jackson said.

I wanted to do something that was really about bringing black people together to help repair what I would call a wounded connection to the Earth.

Dean Jackson, executive director and founder, Hilltop Urban Gardens

A group of children exemplified Jackon’s message as they dug in one of the garden beds of the HUG garden at South 19th and South Ainsworth streets. They worked together to plant cucumber seeds and passed around their discoveries: earthworms and a centipede.

The children were there with their mothers as part of an outing with Jack and Jill of America, an organization focused on nurturing African-American children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropy and civic duty.

Participants came from chapters in Tacoma, Seattle and even Portland.

“I’m all about 52-10,” said Monique DuBose, vice president of the Tacoma chapter of Jack and Jill of America.

She was referring to guidelines for keeping kids healthy. It translates to eating five fruits and vegetables a day, allowing only two hours of “screen” time, getting at least one hour of outdoor play and zero sugary drinks like juice or pop.

“Obesity and diabetes are associated with African-Americans, so I wanted to make sure we don’t fall into that,” DuBose said of why she pushes getting kids outdoors and teaching them about gardening and healthy food choices.

“The connection with the Earth and where we’re from, that’s awesome,” DuBose said.

Locky Kamau, who was also there with the Tacoma Jack and Jill chapter, liked that her 7-year-old son Jeremy was able to get hands-on experience in the garden.

“We talk to them all day about the earth but this allows them to get in there,” Kamau said.

That’s exactly what Jackson wanted. Scanning the room watching people share their stories and move between stations, Jackson marveled at the success of what hopefully will be the first of many Black Earth Day events to come.

“From what I am feeling, people are having a great time connecting,” Jackson said.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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