published: March 14, 2011
It’s a vicious cycle all too familiar in large, urban areas like Jacksonville: Poverty and lack of access to healthy, fresh foods trap residents in many parts of the urban core in a loop of obesity, poor health and reliance on others.
Enter Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a longtime community activist and Jacksonville-area resident. Ms. Hughes enjoyed a singing career in New York in the 60s but soon turned her attention to women’s and children’s issues. She organized the first shelter for battered women in New York City and co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development. In 2000, she began her second residency in Northeast Florida and currently owns Gateway Bookstore on the Northside.
In 1992, Hughes co-founded the Charles Junction Historic Preservation Society and began planning a community garden on the former homestead in order to “bring hope to the former inhabitants, deliver jobs, healthy food, a sense of dignity in farming…” among other benefits. She realized, though, that she could leverage the organizational and fundraising efforts for that project and bring many of the same benefits to communities in need in Jacksonville. Thus, the Jacksonville Community Garden Projects organization was born. “The intent,” Hughes says, “would be to take a comprehensive approach to developing long-term solutions to ensure availability of healthy food products affordable to families that are economically challenged.” Her particular hope is that the planned series of Jacksonville gardens, with their educational and farmers market components, will bring jobs and entrepreneurship as, she says, “Without economic empowerment, there will be no social or political freedom.”
The project organizers have already partnered with Episcopal Children’s Services to design a garden on the Northside. The Community Garden Projects organizers will set up the garden. Then, ECS will connect them with unemployed Northside residents who will be trained and who will, in turn, become the caretakers of the enterprise. Hughes also envisions working with teachers to develop a program for children to learn to value their connection to the earth and the healthy food they grow. Part of the plan is to put an educational setting for children into each garden they start. Eventually though, Hughes sees the community gardens they set up as becoming independent and managed by the communities they serve. “For me, it is not about coming in to the community and running the community. It’s about me coming in to the community and helping the community to run itself – to help the people own and work for what they want.”
Early in the planning process, Hughes partnered with her longtime friend and fellow activist, Gloria Steinem, to make the dream a reality. Ms. Steinem is a celebrated feminist and social justice activist. She and Hughes co-founded the Women’s Action Alliance in 1971 and spoke together throughout the 1970s. Steinem is also a writer and is co-founder of Ms. magazine and, in 2004, co-founded the Women’s Media Center.
Steinem and Hughes will be speaking together in Jacksonville in order to raise funds and awareness for the Community Garden Projects and for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville. The Lift, Don’t Separate forum, focusing on the topic “Women and the Power of Partnership” and moderated by WJCT’s Melissa Ross, will convey the message that “the work to achieve full economic, social and political equality among all people continues.”
Deborah Gianoulis serves as Honorary Chair. Hughes is grateful for volunteers like Gianoulis. “She’s already playing a great role,” says Hughes. “She’s been able to get people to come out and make contributions, she’s come to meetings, she introduced us to [Episcopal Children’s Services].” Ms. Gianoulis is a former WJXT news anchor, advocate for children and education, and former state Senate candidate. Gianoulis says, “It is indeed my honor to stand with Gloria and Dorothy, two visionaries who imagined a world with full equality and opportunity for all. We have come a long way, and we have a long way to go. Join us as we come together to create the future.”
Hughes adds, “I would really like to suggest that anyone who would like to get involved call me because we are going to have a meeting very shortly after [the forum] with people who want to get involved. I would like to appeal to people to get in touch with us.” In addition to contacting organizers at the phone numbers below, those interested can write to the Charles Junction Historic Preservation Society at 5000-11 Norwood Ave.
Join Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, two legends in the fight for social, racial, economic, and gender equality, in improving our community. The Lift, Don’t Separate! forum will take place during Women’s History Month, on Thursday, March 10, at 7 pm in the University of North Florida’s Lazzara Theater. General seating tickets are $40. Tickets for the forum plus the 5:30 pm VIP reception are $100. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.liftdontseparate.org or call 382-5725 or 386-9703.
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