The #LetUsBreathe Collective is an alliance of artists and activists who come together, organizing through a creative lens to imagine a world without prisons and police. The Collective operates the Breathing Room, a Black-led liberation headquarters for arts, organizing, and healing on Chicago’s South Side.
Like music, food crosses all boundaries. It connects the physical and the soul, and it honors our past and our present. It is essential for survival. At The Breathing Room with the #LetUsBreathe Collective, Cherisse Jackson and I have begun a collaboration in bringing a Books & Breakfast program to the space twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 to 9 a.m.. The program honors the Black Radical Tradition and The Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which began in 1969 after The National School Lunch Program provided reduced-price, but not free, lunches for poor children, and the National School Breakfast Program was limited to few schools. In order to address the need in the community, the Panthers initiated the Free Breakfast Program at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland. Bobby Seale planned the program with Father Earl Neil and parishioner Ruth Beckford-Smith, who coordinated the program and recruited neighborhood mothers. The Breakfast Program quickly spread to multiple chapters and sites by the end of 1969, helping to combat neighborhood hunger and fight poverty implemented by a system that perpetually was failing communities. The program flourished thanks to local organizations, churches and volunteers donating their time and resources.
At the Breathing Room, the Books & Breakfast Program began in August 2018 and has continued and helped feed local community members, families and children before they are off for their day. The program was initiated by the Breathing Room’s co-director, Kristiana Rae Colón, and serves a wide range of delicious breakfast foods in a space of mindfulness, music, and calm, all in a library full of books. If one can not attend breakfast, there is fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and other food set outside labeled and protected for anyone who passes by as well. Within the space, the Collective sources local vegetables from an urban farm two blocks away, offering fresh peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and fruit along with donations from the Collective’s close relationship with Su Casa, a Catholic Workers shelter providing housing and meals for those going through housing transitions.
The Books & Breakfast Program has created a meeting space offering warmth and safety within the walls of the Breathing Room, and about 10 families ranging from 10 to 20 people consistently come to eat home-cooked meals, talk, and have somewhere to be. We all deserve to feel as if we all have a safe space somewhere. The children who visit and who we feed range from toddlers to junior high, and their parents often come as well. I have grown to truly enjoy making breakfast for the program each morning. It has taught me about the power of community, caring for one another, and how combating hunger and poor living conditions through food may be simple but powerful. The Collective’s partnership with Make Yourself Useful (MYU) a network of people whose mission is to fortify POC-led racial justice movements in Chicago and who mobilize around the development of concrete ways to stand in direct and available solidarity with Black and Brown organizations has been opened up a doorway of cross collaboration between a non-POC organization and the Collective helping to continue in the Collective’s idea that this work and this space is done with the biggest “WE” in mind, including all those whose politics align and understand #LetUsBreathe’s abolitionist, caring, and visionary spirit.
As the program continues, the Collective hopes to expand the days and gain a larger roster in order to assure sustainability and community participation. Understanding how important it is for children who attend the local nearby schools like Arthur A. Libby and Hamline Elementary in Back of the Yards to begin their day nourished physically and mentally is the driving force behind how the work must continue and how we can not do it without one another.
Featured Image: A hand-painted record bearing the words “We are each other other’s harvest” and the image of intertwining vegetation hangs from a string at Breathing Room. Photo by Ally Almore
Miranda Goosby is a 23-year-old creative from the DMV. She believes in authenticity and expressing one’s truth because you can’t allow someone else to tell your story. In the words of one of her favorite writers, Audre Lorde, “your silence will not save you.” After reading that, she was inspired to write about pieces that express the times we live in and the hard truths that set us free. Miranda is involved with community organizing and also enjoys creating moments through dinner gatherings and think tanks between other writers like herself. She feels that her writing allows one to tap into her mind and the minds of other young, like-minded Black people. Miranda believes in the community coming together creating change through using their collective voice. Miranda is also a Writer-in-Residence at The Breathing Room as part of Sixty’s Envisioning Justice Residency. She hopes to bring a warm energy, an open mind and a strong work ethic.