Upload new images. The image library for this site will open in a new window.
Upload new documents. The document library for this site will open in a new window.
Show web part zones on the page. Web parts can be added to display dynamic content such as calendars or photo galleries.
Choose between different arrangements of page sections. Page layouts can be changed even after content has been added.
Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.
Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.
Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.
Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.
Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.
Cycle through size options for this image or video.
Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.
Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.
Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.
Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.
Remove the video from the media panel.
Africana Studies graduate student Austen-Monet McClendon displays
bags of fresh produce available at the Soil to Sanctuary markets
organized by the Black Church Food Security Network. The events provide
fresh produce to neighborhoods suffering from food injustice.
usten-Monet McClendon is a food justice organizer who is dedicated to
making life better for Black communities. She uses education as a way
to empower others to help themselves.
A master’s student in the University of Delaware’s Department of Africana Studies,
she has a passion for the history of Pan-Africanism, Africana religious
traditions and resistance movements in the African diaspora.
McClendon’s research has led to a belief that Black people can create
real change in their communities by depending on themselves rather than
She puts this belief into practice as a member of the board of directors of the Black Church Food Security Network
(BCFSN), a network of Black churches “organized to advance health,
wealth and power for our people,” according to the organization’s
website. The Network was founded in 2015 at McClendon’s church, Pleasant
Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
Rather than relying on a charity model like food banks to solve food
insecurity, BCFSN runs several programs that connect Black farmers
across the mid-Atlantic and South with churches in neighborhoods
affected by food apartheid, a term used to describe how Black Americans
are impacted by inequalities in the country’s food systems. Produce and
meats are transported, processed and distributed to the churches, which
then hold regular farmers markets events called Soil to Sanctuary
Markets to sell the food. The programs have created a Black-owned food
supply chain with the churches as the hub.
“What guides a lot of this is the idea that the church is an
organization that Black people control,” McClendon said. “It’s the
institution we’ve controlled the longest since we've been in this
country. And it is an institutional base support system in its own way.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Volunteers at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland
work in “Maxine’s Garden,” a vegetable and herb garden located on the
church’s front lawn. Named for a senior parishioner who tended the
garden from its initial stages, the church sells the produce at onsite
farmers market events.
Earlier this spring as part of her research for her master’s thesis,
McClendon started a political education program to teach BCFSN staff
about the Black liberation values on which the Network operates.
“Food apartheid is a symptom,” she said. “That's not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is lack of power.”
She held four sessions, covering topics such as Black miseducation,
Pan-Africanism, Black radicalism, deconstructing colonial Christianity
and food and land justice. The lessons examined the teachings of
historic figures like Thomas Sankara, proponent of Pan-Africanism and
former president of Burkina Faso, and civil rights activists Malcolm X,
Marcus Garvey and Fannie Lou Hamer, among others, along with
“This isn’t like job training,” McClendon said. “I’m really trying to
introduce them to the values that guide our work because if you
understand those values and theories, then that can be applied anywhere.
I think it’s sort of narrow to think of it just in terms of your job
role. It’s bigger than a job. It’s a movement.
“If people aren't doing political education in organizing spaces, you
can wind up reinforcing systems of oppression, just because it's just
so much a part of our every day.”
Africana Studies graduate student Austen-Monet McClendon serves on
the board of directors of the Black Church Food Security Network which
connects Black farmers and churches to create a food supply system in
neighborhoods affected by food apartheid.
Shirley Taylor is a minister and financial director at Pleasant Hope
Baptist Church and a financial administrator for BCFSN who participated
in the program. A former member of the Black Panthers political party,
she was familiar with some of the information in McClendon’s sessions,
but said the lessons went much deeper.
“She presented some new ideas and she expounded on the ancestors that some of us knew about and some of us didn’t,” Taylor said.
“I’m not part of Gen X,” said Taylor, who is 70. “I was not familiar
with this new term ‘woke’ or ‘being woke’ and she presented that through
her program. It had a lot to do with being conscious or unconscious.
She would present scenarios and get us to think about those scenarios
and how they relate to the work of the Black Church Food Security
“I feel like Black people have a negative view of farming that goes
back to slavery time. So a lot of people have gotten away from growing
their own vegetables and produce. One of the sayings of Fannie Lou Hamer
is ‘if you’ve got vegetables and a pig then nobody can push you
Austen-Monet McClendon (left) works with Reverend Heber Brown, III, founder of the Black Church Food Security Network.
roots for BCFSN lie in a garden outside Pleasant Hope Baptist Church.
In 2010, the lawn in front of the church was replaced with a vegetable
and herb garden as part of a congregation-wide Earth Day celebration.
The pastor, Reverend Heber Brown, III, was inspired to start the garden
after visiting church members who were ill, many of whom had
dietary-related illnesses but did not have access to fresh, affordable
healthy produce. Parishioners tended the garden, giving them a
connection to land. Markets were held on the weekends to sell the
produce to church members and the local community.
Five years later protests erupted across Baltimore after Freddie
Gray died from injuries he received while in police custody. Markets in
Black neighborhoods were cut off from food deliveries during the
uprisings. Brown recognized that the church could play a role in solving
the problem. He worked with local Black farmers, other congregations
and community members to bring produce to churches in the affected
The protests ended, but food insecurity did not. In 2020, 24% of
Black people in the city were food insecure, according to Feeding
America, a national network of food banks and charities that tracks food
insecurity rates at local levels.
Today, the Network has grown dramatically, with 125 Black farmers
supplying food to 215 Black churches in BCFSN chapters in Baltimore and
Jacksonville, Florida. BCFSN also partners with churches to create or
expand gardens or agricultural projects on church-owned land, giving
parishes the tools to be agents of change in their own communities.
“I want to make sure that as we expand our operations that we don't
lose our soul. I don't want it to just be like, we're doing a bunch of
programs,” McClendon said. “Without doing regular political education,
we risk becoming just another nonprofit, and that's not good.”
Kathryn Benjamin Golden, assistant professor in the Department of
Africana Studies, served as McClendon’s adviser. Golden said McClendon’s
program “is a powerful engagement between community centered pedagogy,
scholarship, and the activist tradition out of which Africana Studies
“Austen-Monet is working in the fullest capacity of the mission of
Africana studies,” Golden said, “and her continued work and success in
our program and in the world stands in the service of the health and
wellbeing, as well as the knowledge empowering Black people.”
Article by Hilary Douwes, photos courtesy of Austen-Monet MClendon
Published May 17, 2023