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Learning from the Past to Promote Our Future

Wisdom Circle: Collective Courage

On the afternoon of Sunday, February 21, a dozen ONE DC, Cooperation DC, and Black Workers Center members and organizers gathered to discuss Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, written by ONE DC and Shared Leadership Team member Jessica Gordon Nembhard.

The group discussion, centered around Part I of Collective Courage, highlighted inspiring examples of cooperative groups working toward collective ownership. These examples demonstrate the resiliency of Black communities to build together in the face of extreme prejudice and threats to undermine that collective strength. The group discussion emphasized the importance of political organizing and action in building economic power.

Multiple groups highlighted in the book experienced active attempts to derail or discredit them, and therefore encountered higher incidences of failure than white ventures. The Wisdom Circle posited that without political or legal backing, economic development initiatives today would also encounter similar roadblocks. However, the Wisdom Circle also discussed that by building economic power for ourselves, we might free resources and time to be able to contribute more substantially to critical political efforts to change the structures that create macro-level inequality. There was hope expressed that ONE DC and the Wisdom Circle itself will continue to foster an environment that links politics and economics in critical ways to build Black economic power and dismantle inequitable economic structures.

Overall, through learning examples of cooperative strength, we can both motivate ourselves to strive for success while applying the principles of what works best to achieve longevity in collective economic power. As education is a core element of this cooperative strength, learning of past collective efforts will help us develop better cooperative projects moving forward.

To buy your own copy of Collective Courage, email organizer@onedconline.org. Sliding scale $25- $40. Proceeds go directly to fund the organizing work of ONE DC.

The Wisdom Circle will meet again for Part II of Collective Courage on Sunday, April 3, 2016.

For more on Collective Courage, Jessica Gordon Nembhard's interview with Laura Flanders can be found here


Jessica Gordon Nembhard's Collective Courage Receives Enthusiastic Reception in DC & Baltimore

By John Duda, The Democracy Collaborative

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a member of ONE-DC’s shared leadership team, offered two area talks to mark the release of her long-awaited book Collective Courage: African-American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice Dr. Nembhard, who is also an Associate Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Department of Africana Studies at CUNY’s John Jay College, and a member of the Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective, was the featured speaker in an evening program exploring the intersections of economic and racial justice at the new Impact Hub DC space on June 3rd, and spoke in Baltimore the next night at Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative bookstore and coffeehouse.

collective_courage_JGN.jpgAt the event on the 3rd, which was sponsored by The Democracy Collaborative, Impact Hub DC, and ONE-DC, Dr. Nembhard was joined by local cooperative development advocate and fellow GEO collective member Ajowa Ifateyo for a conversation on the history of African-American cooperatives uncovered in the long years of research that went into the book, as well as the way this history informs attempts to organize cooperative economic institutions in communities of color today.  According to Nembhard, our understanding of cooperatives as primarily something that get created in relatively privileged white communities is by and large a total mistake.

In part, this mistaken impression is due to the consequences of the need to keep cooperative organizing in African-American communities clandestine due to fear of racist retaliation—because co-ops were kept quiet, they also were kept out of the historical record.  Despite facing this challenge along with many others, an extensive and vital tradition of African American cooperative activity nevertheless provided a key economic base of support and an indispensible site of leadership training during the long civil rights movement.  The hope expressed in the conversation was that this important and formerly unknown history can help guide and inspire today’s movements working to use cooperatives to empower marginalized communities.

Indeed, as the updates the audience in DC heard—on ONE DC's Black Worker's Center, Impact Hub DC's new worker cooperative incubator, Community Farming Alliance's DC-based farm cooperative for people of color and women, and on Black Belt Justice Center's efforts to expand African American community ownership of land—amply demonstrated, the struggle for economic self-determination so wonderfully chronicled in Dr. Nembhard’s Collective Courage is very much alive and well today.