The Storm is Passing Over: Making it Through a Tough Time

“O courage, my soul, and let us journey on, For tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long. O thanks be to God, the morning light appears, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!”

Kwesi close up 2012Among other things, I am an entrepreneur. I chose some years ago to start an enterprise of my own rather than work for someone or something else. It was just a choice, on the surface no better or worse than anyones else’s. However, this decision did have consequences and many risks. One result is that my income over these years has been extremely unstable and frequently Issata close upnonexistence for extended periods of time. The perils have been great, with personal sacrifices including both material creature comforts and life necessities as well as unintended tragedies like loss of contact with two of my children due to conflicts with my ex-wife over child support and visitation. While I am no stranger to lack and even poverty at times coming from a working class family, the disconnect from my daughter Issata and son Kwesi has been a cost brutal and severe for me (and I’m sure them) to bear.

CNA logoThis week the firm I lead was successful in renewing relatively large contracts with two of our primary clients, the Atlanta Housing Authority and The Food Commons. These arrangements will provide steady employment for me and my Partners over the next six months or so, perhaps even longer depending on certain factors. Despite all the real agony and pain it took to arrive at this plateau, it is truly an amazing feeling to create ones own job. I have never been really good at working for others. Inevitably, I would tire of doing things in ways that didn’t seem effective or efficient to me. My nature most often leaned toward improving systems and challenging the status quo. Of AFC Fertile Crescent logo - FINAL croppedcourse, this characteristic of mine has not usually made for long term or staple occupations. Over the years I had learned to live with this handicap of sorts, switching frequently from one livelihood to the next with an seemingly unending stream of “Catch Me If You Can” type incarnations: waiter, grocery clerk, courier, officer manager, carpet salesman, public insurance adjuster, cosmetologist, truck driver, non-profit professional, urban farmer, etc. The list goes on.

AF2 logo - EditedEven as I worked in the past to make a living, I never seemed to thrive in any enduring way. In contrast, since I have set myself on this course as a consultant with Atlanta Food & Farm LLC (AF2) there has been no turning back. I have found my purpose and oh what a marvelous and powerful thing! Every day all day, my mission is to help communities and institutions be more successful with any goals they have related to the local food movement and urban agriculture. It is both a narrow specialization as well as an inexhaustible labyrinth of opportunities and possibilities. I happily lose myself in a rabbit hole of revelation, doggedly pursuing the maze of options to answer one simple question, “What ails thee, brother?”. My resulting quest for the Holy Grail of food justice and sovereignty for my community and beyond has set me on an incredible journey of discovery and personal development. It has not been as lucrative an endeavor as my debts and obligations need my occupation to be, but it has certainly been lavishly liberating for me.

Dolores & meOne of the most difficult aspects of these past months rolling into years has been the strain and stress on other family ties and friendships, both personal and professional. There were times when it was not clear to me if I had lost all normal human feeling or fidelity as my focus on birthing this baby of business seemed to consume me to the exclusion of too much else. On one hand, my dear sweet mother was increasing lost to me and my extended family in the claustrophobic cloud of Alzheimer’s disease during this period. The needs of her care have spiked, but I have been unable to respond financially while in my mission midwifery position of building AF2. The burden has fallen unfairly to my more able siblings, though it is no easy weight to bear for most of them either. Another side has been debts to colleagues or friends that I have not been able to honor despite my best efforts. It is a painful thing to fail at responding when payments are owed to those you know and love, particularly when the value has already been given. I am extremely anxious to run from this dark place back into the light of greater integrity and trust again, hopefully agreed.

AF2 team members with coach Cornelia ShipleyGreatest among all this desired redemption and resolution is reconciliation with my eldest children. I tremble at the thought of what may have been lost over these many months since we have been together. My psyche plays mind games of comparing the period to the deployment of a soldier away on a tour of duty, not seeing their loved ones for sometimes a year or so. Could I tell them daddy has been busy fighting for them and it not be a lie, which is why they have not seen me? Or should honesty prevail with my confession that I was just not capable enough to do two huge things at once. The gamble I have taken with my soul in this regard is fearful. But for this year I have made it through the storm of my own making to the light of also my own creation. When Issata and Kwesi are older, I will tell them the story of what it took to make sure they could go to college or have an inheritance to build homes for themselves and their own families. Grace be to God, I pray for their forbearance and forgiveness.

 

G.O. Conference 2014 Day One: From Atlanta to Amelia

G.O. conference logoFor the past several years, the preeminent annual professional development event in the local area of my chosen industry has approached without an expectation on my part of attending. For one reason or another, the resources for registration or travel and lodging in the case of this year just weren’t available in the necessary time frame. However, each time a proverbial “ram in the bush” has appeared in the nick of time as if my presence at the Georgia Organics conference was a divinely ordained necessity. This year’s sacrifice was made by my friend and neighbor named Shawn Walton of WeCycle HABESHA IncAtlanta, who declined a registration scholarship he had and transferred it to me (many thanks Big Brah!). Additionally, transportation to the atypical venue of Jekyll Island GA from Atlanta where I reside was graciously offered by Baba Cashawn Meyers of HABESHA Inc (give thanks!). Being from the area close to Jekyll, Cashawn also opened his family’s home to the group of us he adopted for this sojourn of agricultural education. Altogether, grace of a particularly well designed and intentional sort has made things possible for those of us who needed a way.

HW-Slider-20132There are twelve total on this trip together in a rented thirteen passenger van, some of us acquaintances or close friends already while others only known to each other by reputation or not at all. We are now bonded together by a fellowship born out of both desire and necessity. Our shared passions for food justice or “abundance” has motivated us to undertake this pilgrimage, while limited resources invented the requirement that we find a communal way to make attendance at the the vanconference happen for the group. As the sweet succor of fabricated family descended upon us within our van of vindication, I savored my reflections on how wonderful it was that we were together in this way. Sons and daughters of those enslaved or sharecropped in this most southern state of the South have chosen to both reclaim and remake our collective heritage and inheritance as people of soil’s toils. The circle has not only been unbroken, it is also being enlarged and transformed.

Cashaen walking in front of his childhood home

Cashaen walking in front of his childhood home

Cashawn’s family is based in a small town called Woodbine, close to the coastal area of Georgia’s sea islands. After a more than pleasant road trip across the Peach state from its capitol, we rolled into the Meyers compound in wonder of what we would experience and find together. Our first step out of the vehicle was met by the soft welcome of Georgia’s finest earth, producing a bounty of food in an impressive backyard market garden cultivated by the family’s neighbor. We were clearly in the right place. The heads of collard greens were full and flush with the chlorophyll of life, their leaves wrapped in spirals of vigorous Meyers neighbor garden 2nutritiousness. I instinctively reached down to feel and then taste the tender leaves of mustards, craving the peppery and pungent flavor that I favor among the greens family. Having been traumatized as urban farmers by the hostile and hazardous recent winter weather in Atlanta, many of us were caught in a temporary trance of sorts by the contrast of this rural horticultural sanctuary. What a difference 300 miles can make.

Meyers backyard 2We then had the pleasure of meeting Cashawn’s grandparents and learning a bit about the origins of our Brother-Soldier in Chief. Revelations from him about childhood experiences and nicknames led to a round robin disclosure from us all who carried alternative monikers of one type or another. Each one was interesting, some were funny, others were poignant. In all, the spontaneous group sharing morning yoga 3brought us immediately closer together in one of those unplanned but perfectly purposeful ways. My sharing was that the family called me “Bolo” for a time when I was a toddler and young child, as my early years were accompanied by “baby fat”. However, while typing this reflection I remember that it was my eldest and recently deceased brother Dannie who dubbed me with this nickname and mostly used it. I press on with this sharing, allowing the still persistence grief and loss to pass over me prickly once again (I miss you Dannie).

chillin @ Tina houseLast on the itinerary for the day was a evening meal hosted by Cashawn’s cousin Tina Meyers who also lives not too far away on Amelia Island FL. Her residence was equally or perhaps exceedingly cultivated in home garden abundance just as the first site we met. There were numerous beds of buoyant vegetables plots in the front as well as a full blown fruit orchard in her backyard. At this point, most in our entourage were questioning the choice to reside in a landlocked city of mere mortal food production chillin @ Tina house 2capacity. But we all have our ancestral assignments. Tina had blessed her pots with a seemingly endless flow of brilliantly flavorful vegetarian fare and we broke bread together as family should, touched by both wine and wisdom from conversations intoxicated with spirits of all kinds. I feel almost guilty divulging all this, knowing how much envy it may stir in those who would also enjoy an excursion of this nature. Truly, what happens in Amelia should stay in Amelia. But still …

morning yoga

Morning yoga, led by Baba Charles Greenlea

I am writing this blog the next morning as our crew arises from night’s slumber and are busy preparing themselves for the day’s activities with our ostensible purpose for being here, the Georgia Organics conference. However, I can’t help but feel that the conference may now be the side show and the real center of this trip is the fellowship of the brothers and sisters I am blessed to share. Whatever may await us in the plenary sessions and workshops of this event, it is likely to pale in comparison to what we have learned about ourselves already. Ase’?

Cashaen walking in neighbor garden

 

Alsie & Khari

Alsei Parks and Khari Diop

collards up close