The Freedom Georgia Initiative: A Model for Anti-Racist Sustainability?
The birth of a black-owned, women-owned city named ‘Freedom’ could be a game-changer for intersectional environmentalism.
Imagine a fresh start. Actually — imagine a fresh start in a place that is anti-racist. A place where like-minded people pool together time, resources, and knowledge to create a community that is intentional in uplifting those who might be downtrodden elsewhere. Somewhere that aspires to be Freedom in name and in experience, as around the country people of color continue to miss out on the true meaning of the word.
In a time where it feels that we keep losing — jobs, health, people — this might be more appealing than ever before.
This seemingly unreal place is currently in the works. The Freedom Georgia Initiative was the brainchild of two Black women: Ashley Scott and Renee Walters. Like many things created by Black women (caller ID, the home security system, the ironing board, etc) the initiative was born out of a frustration with the current system and a need for change.
Following unrest around the United States after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of the police, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery while jogging, these women were prompted to search for a new community where they and their Black families could feel safe and begin healing from the trauma.
Scott explains in an op-ed, “We figured we could try to fix a broken system or we could start fresh. Start a city that could be a shining example of being the change you want to see. We wanted to be more involved in creating the lives we really want for our Black families. And maybe, just maybe, create some generational wealth for ourselves by investing in the land. Investing in creating a community that is built around our core values and beliefs.”
To do this, 19 Black families came together to purchase over 96 acres of land in Toomsboro, Georgia, with the vision to develop it into a city that promotes environmentally sustainable-living, economic development, health and wellness, and the arts.
The community, which will be named Freedom, aims to create a safe haven for black families and their allies, which is particularly pertinent as many have been impacted in some way by the financial instability, health disparities, racial trauma, and/or global pandemic which have made the year 2020 one for the books.
The initiative’s website shares that, “Out of our desire to create generational wealth for our families, we wanted to provide a place for restoration, recreation, and reformation for your families during this time.” They have formed a LLC (limited liability company) that is Black-owned, woman-owned, family-owned and veteran-managed with the mission to socially and economically benefit its members.
As part of Freedom’s mission, it hopes to be an innovative model for environmental sustainability, cooperative economics, and self-sufficiency among Black people, Indigenous people and other communities of color. This presents a unique opportunity for the city to break the mould of what sustainable living across a community can look like.
A community built with green environmentally safe and eco-friendly building materials that honor Mother Nature and all Her glory! A community that is self-sufficient and thriving with a living food system built by Black farmers to provide food security for all its neighbors. — Ashley Scott
Environmental sustainability is often restricted to improving established systems to make their impact less harmful. We are often limited by infrastructure, resources and an aversion to change, which prevents the necessary shifts towards large-scale, community-wide sustainable systems.
By having to work around structures that are already in place, some of those problematic systems have been left unchecked. For too long, the sustainability sector has developed policies, goals and strategies without consideration for the ways in which structural inequality means that climate change disproportionately impacts marginalised communities.
However, when starting afresh sustainability isn’t confined to making alterations so not to destroy the planet, but instead has the breathing space to be innovative and creative in utilising new approaches. Freedom is a clean slate to create a sustainability system that is truly for us by us, and put in place anti-racist practices to ensure that the city is not just eco-friendly, but built to last.
The chance for a new system in Freedom comes at a time when intersectional environmentalism is getting more exposure than ever before. It is part of a movement that not only advocates to protect people and the planet, but to identify how injustices towards marginalized communities are interlinked with those done to the earth. It is built off of the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, which highlights how having intersecting identities (eg being Black and a woman) means being impacted by multiple human rights and social justice issues, and intersectional environmentalism calls on the environmental community to do better in amplifying the voices of the silenced.
This initiative allows intersectional environmentalism to be implemented into the roots of the community. It is a chance for the values, investments, services, policies, and practices to acknowledge that all people have the right to a happy and healthy environment, and to protect against the exploitation and negligence which could undermine that right. The prospect of Freedom leads to a lot of questions that I am eager to see answered: What could be the impact of a system that is intentional in being harmonious with its environment? In what ways does the health and longevity of a community improve when sustainability is at its foundation? How do Black women thrive when they are given the space and resources to do so?
The Freedom Georgia Initiative is offering Black people a unique opportunity to be intentional in how we build the infrastructure that supports our community. For the sustainability sector, this is a much needed reminder of shortcomings in climate change activism thus far, and could present a model for what intersectional environmental activism could be moving forward.