by Lynn Sableman
Today, I had a lovely lunch, on a protected porch, at the bustling Ferguson Brewing Company. It was a short ride from the “Healthy Flavor Community Garden”, where Erica Williams and Louise Collins and I had just completed two hours of gardening like we do every Tuesday morning. The garden, located in the Village of Riverview, in north St. Louis County, is one of two gardens Erica devotes herself to as part of the mission of her non profit, which she is the director of, A Red Circle. A Red Circle’s mission statement is, “The holistic betterment of our community; reversing the effects of racism one person and cause at a time.” A Red Circle’s current work is to help disinvested areas move from food deserts and food swamps, to healthy wholesome fresh food havens with activities that she hosts at the gardens. Father’s Day will feature four hours of live music. There is Art in the garden, too. The last Saturday of the month A Red Circle hosts the “Healthy Community Market” when cooking demonstrations and recipes using the bountiful fresh flavors close at hand draw crowds. There is laughter and singing around the grill. This garden production coincides with the nearby Zion Travelers Missionary Baptist Church groceries give away.
Louise, is Erica’s mother and an avid volunteer for all of the important community strengthening programs Erica takes on. I enjoyed Louise’s account of the 8 week program “Transitioning Well”, which is a life skills course Erica and guest instructors provided at St.Vincent’s Home for Children in Normandy, for those Foster Care people aging out of the program. The Job Coach was employed at Citi Group and doing the hiring there. Louise said, he taught them how to carry and conduct themselves when interviewing and applying for work. Other skills: balancing the checkbook, paying taxes, cooking easy nutritional meals, and all about the vote, is what Erica made sure they grasped. Erica has a tender spot in her heart for working with young people.
Erica has this ability to do the work of ten people at once. Mother of five, wife, former full time para-legal, student, both her Master Gardener certificate and doctoral program in Public Policy with an emphasis on Policy Analysis. The Dissertation will take on the problem of disadvantaged children having an appropriate environment for learning at school. The school to prison pipeline starts in those early years. A child without good nutrition or music lessons or time climbing a tree or hiking in the woods is not prepared to sit still in class. The teacher reacts with a shout, the child feels badly and when it happens again is content to stay away from school when suspended. What would a school look like that meets these students fundamental, essential needs? Erica is in the research stage. I suggest she visit Finland, and take me along!
Erica has three employees and scads of volunteers working for A Red Circle. She has an office with earthworms in bins that need feeding to produce that most excellent compost. The office has grow lights where she started pans of peppers and several types of basil seedlings. In the office, there is Drew, a Social worker with Community Health expertise. Grant writing is carried out by talented volunteers. But Gardening will stay in Erica’s hands. The trips to Jefferson City Erica makes, and Columbia are about the budget set by rural folks. She must argue for agency funds to go to Urban Agriculture entities.
Back at home in north St. Louis County, Erica and Louis drive through familiar communities, they are insiders. The STEM teaching garden called the North County Agriculture Education Center in Pine Lawn, Missouri has power provided by solar cells, has a vast spread of row upon row of potato plants in bloom as well as orchard trees and herbs and much more to come.
I asked Erica when the ‘doing good for others,’ that she enjoyed while growing up in church and Girl Scouts turned into throwing herself, full throttle, into racial justice activism.
The week of protests and disruption following Michael Brown Jr.’s death kept the schools from opening and Erica’s children had to wait to start school. Erica and her family made signs and stood across from the Ferguson police station. Her sign read- Give us the Truth. A parent named Melissa started a group called “Parents for Peace”. The parents group created welcome back signs for the children of each school, elementary, middle and high school. Walnut Grove Elementary and Ferguson Middle School are where Erica’s children attended. The Parents for Peace created pinwheels to decorate the entry doors in these schools.
A pair of friends of Erica’s, one, Lauren who is Black joined forces with another friend who was Jewish. Together they created a program with a curriculum that covered the Tulsa Massacre, Red Lining and Jim Crow. All new history to most. The point was to teach parents so that the parents could teach their children about racism. Erica received the instruction and founded A Red Circle in 2017 to carry out the dream of racial equity, attract investment to create local jobs, in the area.
Thank you for the tour of St. Vincent’s Home for Children and the North County Agricultural Education Center!