By Andrea Breaux, Healthy Healing Eats
Many African American residents of North St. Louis County, Missouri live in low-income households and neighborhoods that are food deserts—no restaurants, grocery stores, or gardens. Development in this district has lagged for decades. When Erica Williams, a fighter for social justice causes, and an expert in economic development for vulnerable communities, became aware of what was happening, she started A Red Circle, a collaborative, community benefit organization “to stimulate the investment needed to revitalize North County.”
While studying for a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration she read a paper that focused on pastors’ valuable influence on their congregations. “If a pastor gets behind eating healthy and exercising, that helps the congregation do the same,” she explains. Inspired by this, she sought and received the support of the 24:1 Clergy Coalition, led by Pastor E.G. Shields, who encourages area pastors and other church leaders to support A Red Circle’s goals.
The year 2019 was a busy one for A Red Circle and its founder. The organization moved into new office space in March and hosted the grand opening of its Community Market in May. In October, Ms. Williams was a featured speaker at the Green The Church national summit. While there, she accepted a $5,000 Growing Green Solutions Seed Funding grant to continue her organization’s work to build an urban farm. Not only does the grant enable this project to grow, but it also advances both organizations’ mutual goals.
For Green The Church, this grant multiplies the practice of green theology, which encourages economic empowerment. For A Red Circle, the money funds their ability to continue their mission to work for the holistic betterment of our community, reversing the effects of racism one person and cause at a time.
A Red Circle’s work is ongoing. Plans for the fall garden move forward while policies for volunteers to learn the new social-distancing requirements due to the COVID19 pandemic are implemented. Fundraising efforts continue: “The environmental justice movement in St. Louis is coming around. They are beginning to turn their attention to where people live and understand the effects of smog, asthma, and the scarcity of healthy food now that A Red Circle and other organizations are bringing it to light,” says Erica. “It helped that the Green The Church summit was held in St. Louis. The summit did a good job of highlighting its work in partnership with ministers and how other churches can get involved.”
In keeping with A Red Circle’s focus to combat economic segregation through Employment, Education, Holistic Living, Policy and the Arts, the organization will start January 2021 with plans to build the farm and create a food and justice fellowship for young adults. This program will introduce students to the issues of food equity and justice, and support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and business entrepreneurship education, as students learn what goes into developing a garden and managing a farmer’s market.
Philippians 2: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.