The email subject line was “seriously??????” It came from a reputable source so I opened it. My day was shot before I could even drink my first cup of coffee. The email referred to yet another reason for me to blog about Chicago State University and the aquaponics project. This time it wasn’t going to be praise for the sterling efforts of Emmanuel Pratt, a young man who as Naomi Davis of Blacks in Green puts it, is the “Rock Star of Aquaponics”.
My cup of java, so lovingly made by my spouse, cooled as I heated up. Apparently, Dr. Daniel Block of Chicago State University’s Department of Geography believes he has single handedly lead the way for developing urban agriculture for black people in Chicago. Dr. Block is white and I only mention that fact because he makes a big deal about it in the abstract he and De Paul University Research Assistant at the Egan Urban Research Center, Nadya Engler (also not black) mention it. Certainly Dr. Block has been traveling around the country talking about urban agriculture. You can find his talks on You Tube, his Power Point presentations and papers on the web. You will rarely if ever see him working in the aquaponics lab at Chicago State University. I’ve made a many trip out to CSU/ Sweet Water Aquaponics Lab over the past year or more. My husband volunteers out there. Guess what, never seen Dr. Block there, unless he was passing through to show of the work of Dr. Emmanuel Pratt, the same Emmanuel who has put together aquaponic learning systems in dozens of Chicago public schools; hauled in dirt and plantings for local community gardens and taught thousands of minority kids about science, technology and math through aquaponics. Interestingly though, Block never introduces Dr. Pratt as the brains and brawn, in fact the heart and soul of the project when he (Block) chooses to visit the lab with VIP types. I have always found this mildly insulting. But what I am feeling this morning is anything but mild. I am livid. Here is a blurb from the abstract submitted by Dr. Block to the Association of American Geographers.
Chicago State University is a predominantly African-American institution on Chicago's South Side with an increasing interest in Urban Agriculture education. In 2010, CSU opened an aquaponics center, creating a great deal of community interest. Building from this, curricula in Urban Agriculture were created within the Biology and Geography programs, which balance preparing graduates for professional careers in urban agriculture and general training in the life and social sciences. CSU also coordinates a community urban agriculture network and linkages to Chicago community colleges and youth programs. These are generally led by myself, a white male, and are attended by a racially mixed group of community gardeners and other interested parties. The ultimate goals of these programs are to make Chicago State the center of a South Side network of interest in Urban Agriculture and to create an academic pipeline for students interested in urban agriculture. The racial dynamics of this effort have been interesting. For both many participants and many at the university, the project is about racial uplift, in particular the development of black entrepreneurship. However, many (but not all) of the professors working on the project are white, and the project has received attention, before it has fully developed, from majority white institutions who wish to partner with a predominately black institution working on urban agriculture education. This presentation will discuss the evolution of the new curricula, connections between community, race, and student learning, and this project as an example of an applied community geography approach.
Has Dr. Block forgotten not only Emmanuel Pratt, also a professor at Chicago State University in the department of Geography, but also leaders in the industry of urban agriculture like Will Allen, urban agriculture and food industry authoritarian, Orrin Williams? It appears that whenever a trend moves into the realm of genius and innovation people of color are moved to the back of the bus. The flip side of this is evidenced by a telephone call I received earlier this week. It went something like this.
“Mom, I know you are very involved in urban agriculture and S.T.E.M. education what do you think about the “learning gardens”? I took a look at the website for the Denver based group The Kitchen Community installing the learning gardens. I’m all for teaching kids to eat better. I am a strong supporter of project based education. What worried me was a cartoon I found at the Occupy CPS website. This made swallowing my veggies difficult. Was my son being asked to support a hot button topic that might put him in a seat with Jean-Claude Brizard, off of the bus entirely and running for your political life? Put a black face in front and let him/her take the stoning.
Comments are welcome and if you feel the need, make a call out to the President’s office at Chicago State University. Ask them how did a professor of Geography at their institution get away with re-crafting history before it can even be made? I think that’s called fiction.