Unexpected Challenges During My First Historically Black Colleges and Universities Outreach Tour

By Jamila Alfred, VO Maryland/DC Events and Outreach Coordinator

Jamila Alfred and Kayla Malveaux
Jamila Alfred and Kayla Malveaux

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.

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Students Morgan State

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.

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Kayla Malveaux

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!

15 thoughts on “Unexpected Challenges During My First Historically Black Colleges and Universities Outreach Tour

  1. Stay brave and focused on your important task. You will always be up against people who don’t trust change and are uncomfortable with it. You found your voice for the animals.
    Keep talking.

  2. Thank you, Jamila, for being a true hero for animals. You are an amazing inspiration! Wishing you always love, strength, peace and respect!

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Jamila, and I’m so sad (and angry, to be honest) that you were in situations with ignorant (and hateful) people that created a sense of fear and danger for you. It’s hard to believe people like that still exist. I’m so sorry you had that experience. Thank you for what you’re doing. I’m cheering you on.

  4. Thank you for your courage in the face of an unfriendly and even hostile environment. Your sense of purpose and commitment to spreading the vegan message is inspiring.

  5. Thanks Jamila for this post – sounds like you’re doing amazing work and so glad you got back safe – yes, going out with more than one person definitely would be a better option in the future! Also, can’t wait to visit Atlanta one day and check some of those places out!

  6. Thank you for being a courageous & wonderful educator despite the bizarre & backward cultures you were forced to deal with. It always hurts me to hear how fellow human beings could be so mean hearted. Our movement need to grow in diversity for the cause of compassion. Thank You!

  7. I knew there was still some racial tensions in America but gee whiz this is the 21st century people get over it.
    We are all part of the “human family ” regardless of race, color or culture.
    Maybe next time smile & say hi to these people & if the are rude I’d say “my blood is red line yours it’s just my skin different color.

  8. Thank you, Jamila. You did great! I’m with you. And it really angers me to hear about the unwelcoming, to say the least, behavior. Stay safe and know that I and many folks of all colors appreciate your work.

  9. You are indeed a trail blazer! As an old white “yankee” woman who has relocated to the South, feel free to look me up next time you’re in Northwest Arkansas, Jamila. I know where the vegan food can be found and I’d love to take you to dinner!

  10. I love this. Thanks for sharing your experience! I am set to head out in two days advocating for animal rights with F.A.R.M.’s 10 Billion Lives Southwest Tour, up and down California, and it is inspiring to read about others that have taken the time to spread the word about a vegan lifestyle. Keep educating and advocating, and thank you for your service.

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