Black Self-Determination: Jordan Weber
Jordan Weber is a Des Moines, IA based artist, activist, and environmentalist whose work addresses issues of environmental justice and inner-city communities with a focus on the Midwest. As an A Blade of Grass Fellow for Socially Engaged Art, Weber traveled to the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation in North Omaha, NE, the birthplace of the Black Power leader, to create a living artwork.
Weber: One of the things that stuck with me
with Malcolm X's idea
by any means necessary, building whatever you need to,
to feel like you have some sort of control of your body
and the body of land that you live in.
Malcolm X gave his body for the community, the environment.
He was an example of using your body,
putting yourself on the line to make change.
Louis: Malcolm X was born here in Omaha, Nebraska,
May 19, 1925.
Malcolm's principles throughout his life
were self-reliance, self-determination.
And so we try to emulate that
here at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.
Gonna have them come contribute
to the garden a little bit.
Weber: Collaboration with the Malcolm X Foundation was key.
Leo and JoAnna kind of guided me
to what could be possible in this space and on this land.
When Jordan said, "I want to do a greenhouse,"
we said yes.
LeFlore: Jordan's idea had a lot of value to us
because we prioritize sustainability of a community.
Weber: When people ask you, "Why is this greenhouse
sitting right next to the placard of Malcolm X?"
I just tell them that it's built on these four pillars --
having a space to clear one's mind,
and then it starts with this space being a food desert.
I have a ton of knowledge about agriculture
because I'm from Iowa.
So it's the number one agricultural powerhouse
in the entire US.
You can see what happens to land
when indigenous peoples are kicked off of it.
In Iowa, we have less than 1% of indigenous land left.
The only thing you see when you look out the window
from a place that used to be predominantly prairie grass
has now been replaced with soy and corn.
Monocropping is extremely detrimental
to the health of the body,
to the health of the land and the,
you know, nutrients in the soil.
Omaha, in general, is a humongous Superfund site.
There's a lot of lead contamination
and heavy metals in the soil.
So mitigation of land is another aspect of this greenhouse.
Environmental justice, social justice, and the arts,
all ball into one in the form
of this construct of the greenhouse.
LeFlore: Historically, Black and brown people
have been deprived of simple, basic human needs,
and food is at the top of that list.
Weber: Food insecurity in Omaha is
just like it is in every other inner city across the US.
The lack of fresh food and the health effects from it
in North Omaha is extremely apparent.
So the idea was to counter that with the greenhouse.
We plan to start the seedlings in the greenhouse,
which are essentially baby plants,
before you transplant them literally out into the garden.
Louis: Our community garden allows people to see
the whole process from the soil to maturity,
maturity to harvesting.
The greenhouse and the garden
help the individuals in the community
to actually grow their own food, to eat organic,
and to get the health benefits from that process.
All of the components of the greenhouse
and its goals really center around the idea of empowerment.
So whether that's empowerment of the mind, of the body,
of the spirit.
So we wanted to make sure our meditation was a part of that,
primarily because Malcolm X's religion and faith
was based in the Muslim tradition,
and prayer is very important.
Meditation is very important.
Weber: This whole building is true east.
That's extremely important in Salah prayer
to be facing Mecca.
Meditation has always been a key for me
to dealing with trauma being POC in the Midwest.
It's a way to decompress and center yourself
and reflect upon your environment.
I knew it wouldn't function just as a greenhouse.
I knew it was going to be in flux.
You know, there's weddings here.
There's different programing to activate the space more.
The community is taking it
and making it whatever they need to make it.
LeFlore: We're hosting a second annual festival
that focused on food and sustainability
and using the arts to communicate that.
-♪ 100, 100, 100
♪ Most people are gonna keep it 100 ♪
-The 4MX Greenhouse is a centerpiece
for the Malcolm X Sol Food + Music Fest.
Showing a progress that our community
is making towards wellness and food security.
It represents activism, art, and agriculture,
which is everything the festival is all about.
Weber: Building the structure and then passing it
onto the community is vital to the success of the program.
It's always been this collaborative process,
which is what my practice is in general.
It's really in the hands of the Malcolm X
Memorial Foundation and the community.
-[ Rapping indistinctly ]
LeFlore: The thing that I want people to understand
about what we're doing
and the example that Jordan is setting with his project
is that each person actually has something
to contribute to the whole.
And our mission is to make sure people actually understand
that not only they have a purpose,
but that is respected, that is needed,
and we can't move together without a unified understanding
of what we came here to do.
-♪ Hey, hey, hey
♪ 100, 100, 100
♪ Most people don't keep it 100 ♪
♪ You hear what I'm saying, but I ain't perfect ♪
♪ Keep sharp because it's worth it ♪
♪ 'Cause I know I got it
♪ 100, 100, 100
♪ Most people don't keep it 100 ♪