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Afros and Knives Miniseries: Devita Davison Transcript

 Afros + knives miniseries: devita davison transcript

Tiffani Rozier: Welcome back to the Afros + Knives podcast miniseries on radio Cherry Bombe. I am your host, Tiffani Rozier, and this is the final episode. Sadly, it is time for me to bid you all adieu. Thank you to the Cherry Bombe crew for their kindness. It has been an amazing opportunity. Each interview has left a lasting impact on me and I hope you as well. If you enjoyed these interviews, be sure to listen to the regular weekly episodes of The Afros + Knives podcast, which is available anywhere you listen to your favorite podcast. You are now a part of the Afros + Knives community, the dopest clique in podcasting.

Today's interview is with the executive director of FoodLab Detroit and hands down one of my favorite humans, Devita Davison. She is unquestionably the GOAT. Her work centers around those who are most affected by an unjust food system. She supports a community of local culinary entrepreneurs who are committed to dismantling racism within that system. She believes investment into the development of businesses owned by black people can usher in a new economy defined by equitable growth. To achieve this mission, FoodLab Detroit provides these community leaders with access to education, mentoring, peer to peer exchange opportunities and a stipend based six-month fellowship opportunity.

My conversation with Devita explores her life as a first generation Detroiter, her passion for farming, and how losing her home on Long Island to Hurricane Sandy inspired her to return to the city of her roots. Thank you to the folks at Traeger Grills and GLOBAL Cutlery USA for supporting this week's conversation. This miniseries quite literally couldn't have happened without you. We'll be right back with Devita Davison after this word from Traeger Grills.

It's summertime and I love to get out of the kitchen and light up the grill. Nothing makes me happier than fire, a little smoke and a really good char. Okay, maybe one thing makes me happier, and that's Traeger Wood Fired Grills sponsoring the Afros +Knives miniseries on radio Cherry Bombe. I know great cooking requires great tools and Traeger makes the bestselling wood-fired grills around. Having a Traeger grill sets you up to master the art of cooking outdoors.

In addition, Traeger is making a special donation to support Kia Feeds the people, a program founded by Chef Kia Damon to fight hunger and food apartheid in Brooklyn, New York. Through education outreach and the redistribution of resources, Kia Feeds the people aids to empower and encourage self-sustainability. The Traeger team worked with Chef Kia last summer at a Cherry Bombe event and they are proud to support her work ensuring that everyone has access to the nourishment they deserve. If you'd like to learn more about Kia's initiative, visit, and to learn more about Traeger, visit and be sure to sign up for their pro classes and to grab a few new recipes while you're there.

Now, here's my conversation with the incredible Devita Davison of FoodLab Detroit.

Devita Davison: My name is Devita Davidson and I am the Executive Director of FoodLab Detroit. It's a nonprofit organization in Detroit that I have been spearheading in this position since 2014. At FoodLab Detroit, we work to build an ecosystem that provides food entrepreneurs, so cooks, chefs, restauranteurs, food truck operators, folks who are purveyors and owners of fruit retail businesses, whether they are small local markets or bakeries or delis. We work with those individuals to provide them with the resources that they need to really scale and to grow good food businesses. And I hope in our conversation, we'll get to describe what a good food business is.

Just a little precursor to that: a good food business in the way that we describe it at FoodLab is one that not only serves great quality, culturally appropriate food, but also creates good jobs that catalyze positive change in their communities. Really the goal of this organization that I spearhead FoodLab Detroit, its real goal was to create a food economy that accomplishes and acknowledges the importance of food at the intersection of really three important things: food justice, community health, and local ownership.

I got into this work and I did not realize that I was really preparing myself for this position - or life I should say was preparing me for this position at a very young age and I didn't realize until I was given the language to describe the work that I'm doing in terms of this work toward food justice or this work toward food sovereignty. I didn't realize that my mother and father was exposing me to that when I was a little girl. How I identify, my pronouns are she/her, I identify as an African American woman, but most importantly, I identify as a first generation Detroiter. What that means is I am the first person in my family who was actually born and raised in Detroit.

My family, my mother, my father came to Detroit in 1962 by way of Alabama. My mother is from Selma, Alabama, and my father is from a city outside of Birmingham called Bessemer, Alabama. And together, they joined over nine million people in this migratory pattern that we all know is the great migration. Mom and dad left Alabama, fleeing the Jim Crow South, violence, state sanctioned segregation, to make a way to make a life in Detroit for their unborn children, those unborn children being my brother and myself, and they came North looking for a better way of life.

What they brought with them, in addition to their passion, their determination, and their unbelievable focus mindset on creating a better way of life and opportunity for their children that they didn't have, is that they brought with them their agricultural skills. My mother and father always had a garden in our backyard. My mother and father get married in '63, they bought their first home in '64, and when they get that first plot of land, the first thing they did was to start to cultivate the earth and the ground, and they created a family garden. I grew up in a home that always had fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and onions and collard greens and kale and squash and zucchini.

What I did not realize was that my mother and father at a very young age were introducing me to food sovereignty and control and what it looks like when you're able to grow your own food to feed your family. I didn't realize that at the time, but what my mother and father were showing me was the importance of taking back the narrative, regardless of what they teach me in the history books, that black folks were slaves, that black farmers were sharecroppers, my mother and father showed me that the land meant power, the land meant sovereignty, the land meant control, and a man who can feed his family is a man who can rule the world.

Tiffani Rozier: Being connected to the ground early on in life, did you stay connected to the ground? Did you find that as you got older and you started to spend more time in the world and connecting with new people and going new places, how far away did you go and then come back?

Devita Davison: Yeah, that's a great question. The reason why it is a great question is because I did stray away from the land. What can you say when you are born in an urban environment and you are a young person growing up in the city of Detroit? I'm not at all embarrassed about my age, I'm 50 years old. The reason why I say that is that I was born and raised at a time when there was not a proliferation of fast food restaurants that were located in the city of Detroit. I can remember when the first McDonald's franchise was built and created in my neighborhood. Here's again, what I did not know.

What I did not realize at the time, was that my community, my neighborhood was undergoing an experiment and I didn't even realize this. I didn't realize this until I heard the author of the book, her name is Marcia Chatelain, just to shout out to her. I did not realize this history until I read her book that was called Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. Be mindful that I told you that my parents moved to Detroit '62. This is pre-the rebellion. What happened in 1967 is all over the country, not only in Detroit, Michigan, but in Harlem, New York, Newark, New Jersey, Oakland, Watts, there were rebellions, there were uprisings all over the city, all over black cities and particularly all over the country.

Isn't it funny how history repeats itself? Because black folks have been rising up, we have been fighting back, we have been shouting that our lives matter for forever. In the '60s as a result of what? Police violence, as a result of the violent slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, as a result of being regulated and segregated to certain communities and being shut out of wealth, the ability to buy homes, we as black folks, we started to burn shit down. There was a rebellion to fight back against the injustices and oppressions that black people were facing up north.

Here my mother and father are, making that migration like so many black folks did leaving the south going to the north, but we don't talk nearly enough about the segregation and the violence that they were met when they moved from the south to the north. The reason why I bring that up is because it's important to realize and I didn't realize how this affected me again until I read Marcia's book. It's important to realize that when black communities burned down in the '60s, an economic development strategy in order to build up black neighborhoods and to also at the intersection, create entrepreneurial opportunities for black folks in these communities was the creation of this economic theory that allowed black folks to buy into fast food franchises. A model, an experiment, a way to bring about the economic development, dare I say small business creation was allowing black people to now buy into fast food franchises.

McDonald's probably being one of the franchises. That, and I would say Burger King in the city of Detroit, was a franchise that many black folks bought into. Here I am thinking, my family really thinking that - what a wonderful opportunity this is to support a black owned business by going to support a black-owned McDonald's franchise when fast food started to enter into my communities in the late '60s, early '70s.

It would have been for me, going out to eat to a fast food restaurant that was owned by a black person, in many cases, black people that we knew, because we went to church together, black people that owned car dealerships in the city of Detroit, black folks who owned fast food restaurants in the city of Detroit. We took it as a sense of pride to support these businesses that were in our communities, that were in our neighborhoods, that were owned by people who went to church with, that we lived next door with. That's when I think I started to get further and further away, because it was now like, "Mama, I don’t want you to make me a hamburger. I want to go to McDonald's and get a big mac, I want those fries."

What I didn't realize and what I know now is that was at the early beginning of me losing that connection to the land a little bit, but more importantly, Tiffani, it was also a way that my palate was changing. It was my palate was being laid with sugar, salt and fat. Then come to find out, that fast food restaurants and the way that we create and process - I’m going to use food, for lack of a better word - it becomes addictive and so you wanted even more. I would say, yeah. I did. I started to lose that connection as a result of the fast food restaurants that started to pop up in my communities in Detroit.

Tiffani Rozier: It's so funny you mentioned McDonald's because I was raised in South Jersey outside of Philadelphia and Camden. Camden was one of those pretty big metropolitan areas considering, and McDonald's was one of the biggest employers when my parents were in high school around the same time and McDonald's was the place you went, you got a job there. That's where you got your first job. My aunt had a best friend who worked there pretty much from the time that McDonald's opened in our neighborhood, and she moved up the ranks and ended up, I want to say being a franchise owner at some point, and it took her some years to get there, but you're absolutely right.

It was one of the big ways for African Americans to own something at that time in history. To have this franchise, franchising, it's interesting because you still don't see as many African Americans doing it, you don’t see as many black people still doing it. There's a couple of stories that have popped up in the last few years of a young black woman who has a handful of Chick-Fil-A franchises and things like that, but it's not a business model that we are encouraged to pursue. I guess with the increase of black owned restaurants; I think we don't necessarily think about that business model as a way to replicate ourselves. We do have healthier food options.

It's like taking that vegan restaurant, taking that juicing place, taking those places that black people are doing balanced cooking and balanced menus and figuring out how to franchise these concepts and these ideas, making a more balanced food system and I think revisiting the business model is one thing and then rethinking the menu and the outcomes on that, because I think it did work. My mom always said it kept a lot of people employed and at the time where it was really hard to come by a young black person who could find a job and those problems really haven't gone away. If we can figure out how to take the power of that business model and duplicate those restaurants that actually will bring more back into the community and not necessarily take so much from it because those fast food chains they take your health, so they definitely will take a lot.

Devita Davison: What I didn't realize, I agree, I think definitely some best business practices that we can take from the franchisee franchisor model. But I think, Tiffani, that not only for me, as I look back on it now, not only has McDonald's been... Its detriment, the proliferation of fast food restaurants in our community, and we now know how unhealthy fast food is, but what I really didn't realize and I know hindsight is 20/20, I think the most dangerous part of McDonald's, other than the fact that they are everywhere in our community, and they are selling unhealthy food, albeit at a price that is accessible and affordable, but still unhealthy.

I think the most dangerous part is how McDonald's really was able to control the cultural narrative in black communities, and without even thinking about it. In Detroit, we had the McDonald's gospel choir. They were instrumental in sponsoring gospel musicals. They were instrumental in bringing gospel music into a place like the city of Detroit, that was huge. Everybody went to the McDonald's gospel choir extravaganza. They also had what was called the McDonald's All Star basketball team. To be chosen as a McDonald's All Star coming out of high school to make the McDonald's All Star team, that was huge for basketball players.

They also were major contributors to the NAACP, and the Urban Fund. They were sponsors at one of the largest NAACP sit-down dinners in the country. Every Black History Month, we either get our McDonald's calendar, or if you've got a tray, if you actually ate inside the McDonald's, they used to have these tray liners and the tray liners would be different African American historic figures throughout history. And I'm just thinking how much they controlled the narrative and the story and culture in our community. I digress, but I definitely think there's some lessons learned in terms of how do we build our own infrastructure to build our own businesses and then how do we tell our own stories.

Tiffani Rozier: I remember my uncle, when he first started working in finance, one of the first things we talked about was how McDonald's was really about purchasing real estate and the ownership of land. They owned more property than most corporations in the world because every time they buy a plot of land, they build a McDonald's on it and it's like what the value of the McDonald's is, is not in the restaurant, it's in the land. We dug into that and I was like, "When you think about how much property and land they own in certain neighborhoods and certain communities, it's astounding." You're just like, "Wow, okay. No wonder they control the narrative. They control the land."

Back to talking about the land. When did you find yourself revisiting that conversation? When did you find yourself coming back to your roots essentially?

Devita Davison: After I graduated undergrad, I went to New York to pursue my graduate studies. While in New York, I got a job working at Hearst Magazines. I worked at Hearst not in the publishing department or not in the editorial department, but I worked in an area that was called brand development. This was my first time that I was being exposed to licensing. What licensing is, and I'm sure many folks know is that someone makes a product, usually a manufacturer will produce a product and a big name, someone who has a big brand, they don't make it, but they will put their names on it. A lot of big brand designers do licensing deals. One that I used to work for was Mr. Lauren.

Ralph Lauren didn't make all of the things that he sold, absolutely not. He didn't make the watches and the perfumes and all of the bedding and the dishes, no. He had big name manufacturers make them and because he was such a huge brand, he put his name on them, and he got what was called a licensing fee. Well, Hearst was inspired by that model, and they thought, "What is another earned revenue strategy for us?" Again, this was in the '90s, so the revenue strategy for your legacy magazines was one or two ways. One through subscription sales and in individual sale of the magazine, of course. And the other one, the big one at the time, of course, was advertising.

I went to go work in the branding and licensing department. My job was to work on what we called shelter magazines. For Hearst, that would be, House Beautiful, it would be Country Living, it would be Veranda, all of those home magazines. My job was to really work with large manufacturers and create home based items, and then put the Hearst legacy magazine title of that particular magazine on that product so that we could sell it. Editors would do what was called advertorials to the consumer, and then we would get a deal with the retailer and they would sell it through their retail outlet. I'll give you a couple of examples.

One of the deals that I did was something that was called Country Living, which was a name with the Hearst Magazine. Country Living Pie in a Jar. You can imagine the advertorial was this beautiful pecan pie that a writer would write about and it would be like, "If you want this pecan pie, you can get it in 15 minutes here is the Country Living pie crust mix and here is the filling. You can just take this jar, and you put the filling in, you make your crust and boom." Something else would be like Good Housekeeping salad dressing, or Esquire Magazine barbecue sauce. I could go on and on, but you get the deal.

While I was doing that in Manhattan, in Brooklyn, where a lot of my friends were living, there was a movement that was happening. That was this Made in Brooklyn movement that was happening, where you had folks that were raising chickens on the top of rooftops in Brooklyn, and they were taking the eggs that were hatched by the chickens and turning them into, I don't know, mayonnaise. You had folks that were making handmade beef jerky. You had people who were rethinking their own childhood candy, but was making it more from an artisanal perspective. We were launching this farm to table, nose to tail, really small restaurants.

There was a Made in Brooklyn movement that was happening in Brooklyn, where I was in Manhattan, in bed with big agriculture. And my friends were like, "What are you doing?" And I've got to tell you, I think that I was a little bit annoyed, because when I would go to Brooklyn and I would go to these restaurants or I would go to these small hyperlocal markets, and I would see the fresh jams and jellies and preserves and pickles that were on the shelves, I just thought to myself, "Surely to God, these white folks then think that they invented handmade jams and jellies and pickles. This is things that my grandmother, my great grandmother had been doing for forever. Farm to table was just the way we ate when I was growing up."

And I just thought to myself, "Oh my God, this is my story." And there are no black folks that look like me, who are a part of what's happening in Brooklyn telling this story. As a result of things changing, the digital movement becoming more prevalent, Hearst Magazine decided that they were going to strategically shift gears, and they were going to employ a digital strategy and they were going to move all of their content online. A couple of departments had to go in order for them to make this transition and my department was one of the departments on the block to be eliminated. So I got offered a buyout.

I actually took it, and with that buyout, I opened a store that was called The Southern Pantry Company. It was a small hyperlocal market where I sold all of the things that friends of mine, purveyors, artisans, creatives were making and selling, I sold them in my store. It was probably open maybe for about a year, maybe a year and a half, because even though the store was in Brooklyn, at this time, I had bought a house in Long Island, in a really cute maritime community in Nassau County called South Freeport. It was my first home that I had bought. I was married at the time, and then in 2012, a hurricane or a super storm that called Sandy came barreling ashore.

My house was located in South Freeport, a maritime community that was in between two canals, the Hudson and the Woodclift. Those two canals feed out to the Long Island Sound. The Long Island Sound, of course, feeds out to the Atlantic. When Hurricane Sandy came barreling ashore, it wiped my house out. Nine feet of water came through that house, knocked it down and I lost everything. Even though the store was not destroyed, another community in Brooklyn called Red Hook, Brooklyn was deeply impacted.

And Red Hook, Brooklyn is where a lot of warehouses were and that's where a lot of the manufacturers and purveyors and the artisans that's where they would store most of the things that they made, and all of that was destroyed. All of those warehouses was destroyed. It wasn't like I could call a mainline distributor and I was like, "I need more ketchup, I need more processed food to..." I had nothing to say. As a result of that, as a result of being rendered homeless, I left New York, and that's how I moved back to Detroit. That happened at the end of 2012 and then I moved back to Detroit permanently in 2013.

Tiffani Rozier: Don't go away. We'll be right back after this word from GLOBAL Cutlery USA.

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Now I’m back to my conversation with Devita Davison of FoodLab Detroit.

Getting back to Detroit, I can't imagine you're looking at your life going, “Okay, what do we do now?" When you get back to Detroit, what do you find there? Are you finding the place you left? Are you finding it really altered? Do you see opportunity there or are you initially just shell shocked from what happened to you in New York and then really look at Detroit and go, "You know what? This is what can be happening here. This is what should be happening here."?

Devita Davison: I wish I could tell you that I came back to Detroit and immediately saw opportunity and immediately saw a life for myself in Detroit, but I didn't recognize anything. I had lived in New York for almost 20 years and Detroit and New York are completely polar opposites of one another. Not only had I lived in New York for almost 20 years, but the neighborhood and the home that I grew up in, my parents didn't live there anymore. My parents had left Detroit when I went away to undergrad and they had a home built outside of Detroit in a outer ring suburb called Southfield, Michigan.

Of course, I used to come back and visit when I lived in New York, but it was during the holidays, on the weekends, and I had never lived in the suburbs of Detroit before. Now being in this home, it was very different. Then I had just lost everything and I can remember like it was yesterday being depressed for several days, laying on the couch in the family room unable to eat, unable to do much of anything but just question, "Why, me Lord? Why did I have to lose everything?" How arrogant of me to question what God was doing and the way God was moving and the way God was preparing me in my life.

My mother, who of course, is a preacher's wife, because my father is a pastor, she came over to me as only a mother could, a mother of faith, a mother who had been praying for me, came over to me after about three days of me sitting on the couch and said, "Devita, I've let you sit on this couch long enough. The Lord didn't send the waters to drown you. The Lord sent the waters to move you. There's work for you to do in Detroit. There's a new chapter in your life that you have to write, but you got to get up off this couch in order to do that. Having that support system, having somebody hold me, having somebody say that the only thing that you got to do is move and I will do the rest, your family will do the rest." That's a blessing.

And I think about that now, in the context of today when I read this morning that 1.8 million Americans fired for unemployment, I think about people who are right now unemployed, or people right now who are maybe experiencing health challenges as a result of this global pandemic that we're in and who don't have access to affordable health care. I think about the people who cannot pay their rent all over the country and I think about how important it is to have somebody hold you, have somebody support you, have somebody who has it and who doesn't, and I just thank God that I did. Because of that, because so many black people we're trying to figure out, Tiffani on a day to day basis how to survive.

We don't even have time to sit back and think about what our next move is going to be because we're so in the moment. I had the opportunity to sit back and decide what is my next moment move going to be because somebody was like, "I got you. While you think about it, while you dream up new possibilities for yourself. I got you." That's what my parents did for me. That gave me the space, the ability to imagine, to dream, to have vision about how I wanted to reshape the next chapter in my life. I had read about this place, it was a co-working space called The Green Garage in Detroit, and at this time it was 2013.

I met the owners, Tom and Peggy Brennan, who were the owners of Green Garage, I went there, I set up an appointment, I introduced myself, I told them who I was and what I was doing. And they put two and two together and they said, "You know what, there's somebody who we want to connect you with. There's a woman, she is of Asian American descent, she came to Detroit from California, and she has this little group called FoodLab, and they are just a meetup group at the time, but they're doing food stuff. They're food entrepreneurs, and they're just trying to figure things out."

Detroit at that time was on the precipice of filing for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country, so there wasn't a lot of infrastructure, there wasn't a lot of resources, it was just folks just coming together who wanted to do stuff. Her name was Jess Daniels. I was introduced to her and I met her. I would go to the FoodLab meetings, I met people that were in the food community. They were people who reminded me of my old Detroit. Men and women who were making food out of their homes and catering. Men who were barbecuing in their backyard. Brothers who were frying turkeys and selling them doing Thanksgiving out of their garages. Sisters who were making cakes and selling them out of their homes.

I thought, "This is my community. This is Detroit. This is what I remember." I became attached to that community, I sat and I listened and I joined and when the time came, I asked what could I do to help? And Jess said to me, she says, "Devita, we're thinking about, actually, how do we take this group that we now have, hundreds of entrepreneurs on our listserv, people are coming to our meeting, and they're looking to start businesses. We need to figure out how do we take folks from this informal economy that they're working in now, and how do we help propel them into a formal economy so they can begin to launch food businesses, do what they love, on their pursuit of freedom and liberation, by having their own business."

Again, this harkens back to my days of me being proud of supporting black businesses, even though in many cases again, I told you those black businesses were franchises. I'm now starting to feel myself a little bit, I'm starting to feel myself in old Detroit again. And I thought to myself, "Well, how can I help?" And she says, "Well, the first thing that folks need in order to start their own business, they need infrastructure." I thought, yeah. She said they need a place where they could legally cook their food, and they need access to a licensed commercial kitchen. So now they can cook their food in a licensed legal kitchen and they can begin to sell it.

And they need to be inspected by the health department, they can get their license and they can begin to sell their food." And I thought, "Great, what you're talking about is a food incubator. We've got plenty. We have plenty of those in New York, right?" And she was like, "Yeah, exactly. A food incubator." I was just like, "Well, where's the food incubator in Detroit?" She was just there like, "There is no food incubator in Detroit. Girl, Detroit is about to file for bankruptcy." And I was just like, "Did you write a grant? Are you about to build a food incubator?" She's like, "FoodLab is not even a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. No, we don't have no grant."

And I looked at her and said, "Well, girl, what the hell do you think I'm supposed to do? You don't even have no money." Then she says, "Well, Detroit at one particular point in time had a population of almost two million people. As you know, the population now is about 675,000. There's been a huge population loss in the city of Detroit and as a result of that, people tend to as they moved out of Detroit, they found new church homes and there are a lot of churches in the city of Detroit." I thought, "Yay, they..." Then I just stopped. And I was like, "You're right. There are a lot of churches in Detroit, and if there are a lot of churches, there are a lot of church kitchens."

She said, "Exactly." And she was like, "I need for you to tap into the church kitchen network and see if churches will allow us to utilize their commercial kitchen spaces to put food entrepreneurs in so they could get licensed." And I thought, " Uh-huh, there's only one person who could probably make this happen, my mama. It's just like, "Mama, you got to get on the phone. We got to start calling the churches to see if there any church kitchens in the city of Detroit that will open up their doors to us for free." Long story short, that was in 2013, Oprah Winfrey got a hold of it. Oprah Winfrey gave us a grant for $50,000.

She announced the Detroit Kitchen Connect is what we called it initiative when she came to Detroit and made a stop that was called Living Your Best Life. She introduced me on stage, the initiative. She did a whole video in partnership with Toyota, 50,000, we were off and running and the rest is history. We launched 22 businesses out of four church kitchens, FoodLab Detroit turned into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and we've been doing the work in the community ever since. That's been about six years ago.

Tiffani Rozier: You're one of those black women who sit at the center of a lot of conversations for people. You're the voice of reason and you're also an unreasonable voice when necessary. That's my thing that I love about you. And it's just like sometimes you have to be absolutely unreasonable with the system and unreasonable with people until you get some change. To that point, your mother coming in and stepping in, because my mom would have done the same thing is like, "You've been staying here long enough, you need to go ahead and get a shower and do your hair and get your life and pull it together."

To that point, one of the biggest challenges I have right now with the narratives around a lot of the social change people are demanding and as they should they and rightfully should, is that so often, black women are not part of those conversations and they should be actually centralized to them, just seeing your mother pull you up and like you said, there needs to be space for people to be held, there needs to be space for people to have... You need to hold space for each other to think, to actually just do some productive thinking and figure out what your next course of action is. And a lot of times those spaces aren't being held, but that's because black women aren't being put in the center of these conversations.

I think a lot of issues people are having with, why can't we sustain any type of momentum? Why can't we see real change happening in these conversations around social justice and police brutality and things like that? Why isn't there any real movement? It's, that's because we continue to center everybody else but black women, and black women are at the center of societies and communities and nations and just down to science and biology, almost all the human population, 99% of our DNA is traced back to a single black woman. It's just like we're a central figure in history as well.

What I'd love to hear from you is why is it important that we start to persist and insist that black women be the center of a lot of these justice conversations, a lot of these food equality conversation, food equity conversations? Why is it important that black women sit at the center of these conversations?

Devita Davison: I think the main reason is at FoodLab what I try to think about all the time and the culture that I try to create at FoodLab Detroit is really understanding that a prerequisite to catalyzing is something that you lifted up but not only catalyzing, but sustaining our desire for change, particularly in this local food economy is that our work must be guided by the voices of not only the people who have long been left behind, not only the people who have been marginalized. Yes, it's important to do that, but for me, is more important for our work to be guided by the voices of people whose bodies sit at the intersection of oppression.

The reason why it is important is because they experience pain and trauma to a degree that most people do not. And because they are experiencing this pain and in this trauma because of how their bodies lie in the intersection, when they come up and design solutions, these are solutions that not only will benefit them, but will benefit everybody. Just think about bodies that lie in the intersection. That is me not only being black, a part of a marginalized group, but I am a woman, that is another intersection. I think about my sisters who are part of the LGBTQI community, my sisters who are part of the trans community, that's another intersection, my sisters who are part of the disability community, that's another intersection.

To sit in fellowship, in community with bodies who lie at the intersection, they bring perspectives from a lived experience that I might not have. But I do reckon that when those bodies become free, we all become free. The reason why I think that black women should be centered is because black women not only have held me but they have given me the narrative, they have given me the language, in order to do my work. What I love about black women is that they involve community, Tiffani, they don't do this work in silo. They don't look to be upheld as this iconic, heroic cisgendered hero, they do it in relationship with other people by God. Black women gave us Black Lives Matter. Black women did that.

Black women gave us the word intersectionality, black women gave us Massanois, black women gave us Black Girls Magic, black women gave us Free Our Girls. You understand? This is the work of black women. We do this. Black women gave us Say Her Name. Black women gave us Me Too. When I think about the movements that black women have given us and have sustained, and I'm talking about just in this generation, I have to wonder, why is it that people don't listen to and follow black women? It's not only this generation, but we do our work, black women do our work because we understand our history and our legacy and we do our work by leveraging the foundations that black women before us laid.

I think about Fannie Lou Hamer, and what a genius she was because Fannie Lou Hamer gave us cooperative economics. She talked about the importance of business models that were created in cooperation with each other. Then through Fannie Lou Hamer, she also gave us the rally cry, I'm Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired. Then it was a black woman who took that rally cry to write a book, and the book that she wrote, Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired was all about health care activism that was undertaken by black women in the first half of the 20th century. My question becomes, Tiffani, how many folks know about the activism and the movement building that black women did around healthcare?

Probably not many. Why? Because it was black men, black male leaders, your Booker T. Washington or your Dr. Roscoe Brown, they received credit for creating black health movements. But Tiffani, it was really black women, it was volunteers, it was black women who were midwives and who were operating around referee. It was black women who were nurses and teachers and club members or sorority sisters, they were the ones that were integral to the implementation of black health programs at the local level, at the community level. They were the ones that sustained black communities in the face of institutional racial discrimination and government neglect. It was black women who did that.

So many times our work is not acknowledged and more importantly, it is not written in the canon of history that we can refer back to. When the story is told, I want to make sure that black women is centered in my work so I can lift up their work. And if you take health and you begin to use health as an example, I think one of the baddest, one of the boldest, one of the largest healthcare movements right now for black women and girls has to be the community that was created by Vanessa and Morgan at GirlTrek. And what guys are doing as a community of black women, because they are fighting to lower hypertension and diabetes.

It's black women who are suffering from the stressors of systemic racism, they are doing that in community with thousands of black women, all over the country. We believe in fighting together. There is no hierarchical system when we fight. We lock arms with one another and we move on one accord as a community. That's why it's important for black women because community holds us, community keeps us accountable to one another. If one person falls, there's another one to lift us up, there's another one to help guide the group. We have to center, at least I do in my work, I have to center us because there are no better movement build, there are no better archetypes, designers, organizers, than those like black women.

Tiffani Rozier: That's just such a rich thought, and I understand people will be resistant to this idea, because it's like, well, why center just this one type of person? Into your point about because we sit at all the intersections. Because if you do for black women, what we're asking you to do you do for everybody, everyone is affected. The entire community and society is held up if you do the right thing for us. You see it now. We have Black Lives Matter painted in streets, we've seen the fall of the Aunt Jemima label, and a couple of other things that black people did not ask for.

There's been no solutions, no answers, no offerings, towards the things we actually did ask for, is to stop being brutalized, to equalize a system that has never considered us even human beings. For me, it's like those are the very specific requests of black women. Like you said, three black women started The Black Lives Matter Organization and I've been, in my daily conversations, making sure people are very aware of that, because I know people who had no idea. They're running around saying it, using the hashtag and not a clue of where it came from. It was the same challenges with the Me Too movement.

It was commandeered and taken from the hands of the woman who started it, and black women have to push back and go, "No, what you cannot do is co-op this and turn it into something it is not." To keep us centered in these movements, to keep us centered in these conversations means that the message continues to stay true. It doesn't get polluted by a lot of... It doesn't get commercialized, it doesn't get bought and sold, it doesn't get utilized to sell bumper stickers and t-shirts. It doesn't get used in commercials and it's not performative at that point because black women if we do nothing else, we will hold you accountable to what you say and if it is not the truth, we will know very quickly and so will the rest of the world.

In these last few moments, let us know how we can support FoodLab Detroit and what your future work might look like after this pandemic has finally managed to get under control and what your ambitions are with FoodLab Detroit or just for yourself.

Devita Davison: It was so interesting that you were talking about the commodification of movements that were created by black women, and I don't think I could get off the phone with you without talking about one that annoys me. That is, it was an African American lesbian writer by the name of Audre Lorde who said, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it's self-preservation." Audre Lorde actually gave us self-care and now self-care has been commodified to turn into like eye masks and facials and going to get massages.

No, self-care for Audre Lorde as a lesbian black woman was just no, how dare someone black, how dare someone poor or working class, how dare someone say, as a black lesbian woman whose body sits at the intersection that I matter? And that I'm putting myself first? That in itself is just a radical act that says, "You know what? Mm-hmm (Negative). Self-care to me is going to be me laying this burden down, me not allowing people to put more on my shoulders than I can bear and I'm going to spend some time to take care of myself." That within itself is a radical act. I just want to remind folks of who gave us the whole notion of self-care, and what the word self-care really, really means.

How folks can find me is they can find me ranting on Twitter @DevitaDavison or they can always find me on Instagram @thefoodlabdetroit website, I manage that Instagram account. FoodLab will be launching our new website in a couple of weeks on July 20th, when we announce our new class of FoodLab fellows. That website launches on July 20th. Y'all can find me at

Tiffani Rozier: Yes, please go follow Devita on Twitter, y'all because she will gather your life on a daily basis, even if you didn't realize your life was not properly gathered. In the morning you will wake up and it's literally the first thing I do in the morning. I will get on Twitter and I'm scrolling, "What did Devita say this morning? What did she say last night? What did I miss?"

Devita Davison: Listen, as that bird app can be a hellscape for many because sometimes I got to shut it down. Girl, what I love about Twitter too, is that black Twitter, folks are not tuned into black Twitter, we find joy in places that people just would not imagine, even in the midst of what is happening all around the world. I love us because we are still able to find joy even in the midst of tragedy. Some of the hashtags, girl, that trend on black Twitter. Tiffani, really? Who else but black people can create a remix of You Gonna Lose Your Job?

Tiffani Rozier: Because what you're not going to do is brutalize us, arrest us unjustly and we're not going to turn something into... I was like, "Look, black people are experts at turning pain into something brilliant." We will always get... Don't mean you need to keep giving us pain. Don't misunderstand me, but we know how to take this pain that we live in every day and instead of compressing it down and making us live with a level of rage. My girl Kim said, she was like, "You're lucky that what black people want is equality and not revenge."

Because the reason why we have managed to live in that elevated space to think about equality no matter how much we are brutalized, is that we persist on finding joy in spaces that most people will never find it and we know how to take our pain and turn it into something brilliant every single time. Yes, you will see a TikTok dance after somebody that got arrested and they’re just letting the police know the truth of a thing.

Devita Davison: We're such brilliant and creative people and how we have been able to survive is the culture has held us and we have been able to survive from it. But I swear they should have never gave us access to a software program, but it was great talking to you.

Tiffani Rozier: I appreciate you so much. I appreciate your voice and your role and you're such a grounding presence. Like I said, you understand when it's time to be unreasonable and when it's time to be reasonable, and I definitely, absolutely appreciate that guidance, because sometimes I get real hype about something and I'll go, "Let me go see if Devita is mad about this because if she's not, I probably shouldn't be." I appreciate you just being such a voice of reason and adding so much wisdom to all of these conversations that we are having across a lot of industries and in a lot of spaces right now, so thank you again.

That's it for today's show and for the Afros + Knives miniseries on radio Cherry Bombe. Thank you to Jocelyn, Ianne, Qiana and Devita for sharing their stories. It was my honor to host you. A big shout out to the tribe at Cherry Bombe for collaborating with me and to you, our listeners for tuning in with us every week. If you'd like to know more about Devita, follow her work on Instagram @foodlabdetroit and @foodlabsydney and then check out their respective websites and And for the ultimate life hack, go follow Devita on Twitter.

Thank you to the folks at Traeger Grills and GLOBAL Cutlery USA for supporting this week's conversation. This miniseries quite literally couldn't have happened without you. This miniseries has been brought to you by the folks at Cherry Bombe. It is produced with help from Kerry Diamond and edited by Kat Garelli. Our theme song is called Calling Each Other Friends by BLAEKER. Until we meet again, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be happy, may you be at peace.