By Jamila Alfred, VO Maryland/DC Events and Outreach Coordinator
As the first black outreach coordinator, hired to help with Vegan Outreach’s focus on diversity and inclusion, I was extremely excited, yet nervous, for my first college leafleting tour.
Much to my delight, I was assigned to leaflet at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the Southeast. I knew I would be perfect for the job.
I graduated from an HBCU—Bowie State University—last spring. I understand the importance of attending educational institutions where you’re surrounded by people who want you to succeed, especially because of the color of your skin.
Although I was a commuter and didn’t participate in many social activities on campus, the sense of community in my learning environment definitely pushed me to excel. Now, I want to return the love I received from my people to others beyond my school.
When I graduated I promised myself I wouldn’t take a job until I found the career of my dreams—spreading the vegan message to my brothers and sisters.
I’m now living my dream.
The first leafletings I did at HBCUs in Maryland and DC went smoothly since I was still in my bubble and understood local customs. As I moved south, the sizes of these institutions got smaller and smaller and were in more isolated areas.
Outside of these schools, in their respective towns, I couldn’t help but notice the curious stares and the Confederate flags. I didn’t want to think much about it because I was on a mission and didn’t want any concern to sink in on this grassroots expedition, but let’s just say these places were probably not the best place for a black woman with locs to be at night.
While having a lot of fun, the trip took an ugly turn when my car broke down in Smithfield, NC. This is when I truly realized I was no longer home.
The stares and tensions were menacing as I walked about in a shopping center, desperate to find vegan food. Luckily I was able to find some, but with rude customer service. After a very expensive and time-consuming repair to my vehicle, I rushed out of that town so fast. I was emotionally exhausted.
That experience lingered with me the rest of the week until my car broke down again in rural Albany, GA. Luckily, my car had enough life to get me to a nearby gas station, but the gawks from white townsfolk intimidated me.
Determined to have my car fixed, I walked up to the only friendly face in the area who just so happened to be a black man. He directed me to a nearby tire shop where the front desk workers were white and the car repair employees were black. That wouldn’t have been a weird coincidence if the man at the front desk didn’t go out of his way to not look me in the eye while speaking to me, or if one of the women didn’t look square at my name on my ID and call me “Jamaica.” I wasn’t amused.
After this, my trip got better, but I continued to feel like I was different from what is preferable. It wasn’t until my first day leafleting in Atlanta, GA when the stress from my car issues completely melted away. A big thank you to Muki Pederson and her husband for treating me like a princess! I was able to fully relax thanks to their warm hospitality.
Just being in the Atlanta area for a few days made me feel a sense of community with my brothers and sisters—from the schools I leafleted to the city streets. And did I mention the food was fantastic? Every restaurant I dined at was black-owned, scrumptious, and oh-so easy to find.
Unfortunately, I had to end my tour almost two weeks early. I was truly looking forward to finishing this trip with a bang—which I totally did in Atlanta—but the obvious risks, along with racial tensions in the South with the upcoming election, became an inevitable issue.
Although there’s many things I’d do differently about this tour, I’m proud of my courage for speaking up for the animals despite safety risks, especially as someone who’s new to leafleting. I proved to myself that I’m capable of anything and won’t allow racial intimidation to deter me from including the black community in the vegan movement. No one can stop me!
After I returned home, I went straight to working on local community engagement projects. The goal is to create new support systems for people of color who want to go vegan. People of color are typically left out of the equation when it comes to helping people transition to a vegan lifestyle, which is shameful because veganism benefits everyone.
Along with that, my goal is to build a community for vegans who are struggling with the lifestyle. It’s quite common that many vegans experience recidivism in their journeys, and I’ll make it my business to help them stay put.
The trip was a learning experience for Vegan Outreach as well as myself. I had to drive through unfriendly rural areas where the typical white male leafleter would have been safe. As a queer, black woman traveling alone, the threat of a racially-based attack was all too real. And in some places, I could feel that I was not welcomed.
Becoming a more diverse organization means learning, listening, and making adjustments. Campaigns involving one type of employee might not be effective, or even safe. Therefore, Vegan Outreach has decided that in the future I’ll have an intern with me for all of my touring.
We’re excited for my 2017 outreach! Please contact me at Jamila@VeganOutreach.org if you’re interested in accompanying me on my tour!