Plant The Power: A Safe Space for Vegan-Curious Black Community
They came for the food and stayed for the community
Posted on December 8, 2020 by Ivory Levert
This is a guest post by Ivory Levert, founder of Plant The Power 614.
Before my transition, I believed veganism was a “White thing.” Nobody ever told me that; my perception was based on what I saw in mainstream media.
When I went plant-based in 2017, I struggled to find a community in Columbus, Ohio, that could help me navigate this way of living from a perspective that was culturally rooted. I wanted a space where I could be my authentic self and still eat flavorful foods representative of Black culture while remaining conscious of how these foods affect my body, other animals, and our world.
Plant The Power 614 seeks to cultivate a caring plant-based community for people of African descent that demonstrates unconditional love for ourselves, other animals, and our world.
We do this through social and educational events to help Black people explore the benefits of transitioning to plant-based living.
Collaboration – We take a collaborative approach to our learning environment. While we often invite guests as subject-matter experts, we also create space for dialogue and intentional reflection so that we can learn from each other. Our goal is to help people make informed decisions about their food choices.
Collective Care – We seek to create a safe space for our community. Our hope is to “meet people where they are” in their knowledge of veganism and plant-based living. We recognize the interconnected oppressions among speciesism, racism, classism, sexism, and others that can create barriers to going vegan for many.
Compassion – We seek to raise the levels of consciousness and compassion for our communities. Many Black people are not initially interested in plant-based living for animal rights due to the history of racial inequities and discriminatory systems that they have experienced. Our goal is to increase awareness about the interconnected oppressions we share with nonhuman animals.
Angela Mitchell, who is now a PTP advisory board member, found the support she needed from day one.
“Plant The Power is more than an organization — it’s a family! I knew I had found my tribe after attending the kick-off meeting in October 2019. I had just competed in — and won — my first bodybuilding competition. If you know anything about bodybuilding, the common belief is that animal protein = muscles. I was curious about how to maintain and grow muscle on a plant-based diet. Everyone was incredibly supportive, encouraging, and willing to share advice. I never felt judged or less-than for consuming a traditional Western diet. Fast forward to today, I’m fully plant-based, and beyond that, I’ve gained a true family in Plant The Power. Not to mention, my knowledge, awareness, and respect for all animals (human and nonhuman) continues to increase.”
Initially, I was only interested in “eating more plants” to improve my health and encourage shifts in my immediate family. I grew up in the rural south of Texas, where eating and hunting animals are the norm. I was deeply concerned about my family members who were dying early of preventable illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory disease, and more. I recognized that racial disparities have created and sustained these health inequities in Black communities, and I wanted to be a part of the change in my family trajectory.
L–R: Ernest Levert Jr. and Ivory Levert
At first, I was inspired by my older sister, who went vegan a few months before I did, but ultimately, it was the book Sistah Vegan by Breeze Harper that ignited my transition. Sistah Vegan is centered around the lives of Black women and goes beyond “just being vegan.” This book also explores holistic health practices and their intersections with race, class, gender, religion, able-bodiedness, and more. For me, it was important to pursue this lifestyle change through an intersectional lens and gain further knowledge and perspective from other Black women whose experiences I could identify with. I went from simply thinking about my personal health to being deeply disturbed by animal agriculture and exploitation. The last day I ate animals was Christmas Day of 2017. My mom prepared a full meal that I did not want to go to waste, but one year into my journey, both my mom and partner also transitioned to plant-based living!
As I reflected on how I wanted to continue my plant-based journey, three things came to mind.
I wanted to surround myself with people whom I could continue to learn from and who would sustain my motivation. I wanted this lifestyle change to feel affirmed and normalized.
It was no longer just about my immediate family and me. Knowing that Black communities are disproportionately impacted by animal agriculture, I envisioned creating safe spaces for people of African descent to explore the benefits of transitioning to plant-based living in a way that allowed them to make informed decisions.
There was no organized community like this in Columbus. One thing I knew for sure: I wasn’t an expert on these issues, and I didn’t want to pretend to be. My hope was simply to organize.
With the support of my husband (Ernest), the Black vegan community, and the local nonprofit vegan organization Caring Veg Community (formerly known as Columbus Veg Community), we officially launched the first meeting of Plant The Power 614 in October 2019.
At first, we had no logo, no funds, and no official organizing team outside of Ernest and me. We began by assessing the resources for Black vegans in Columbus.
At the time, we only knew of one Black-owned vegan business in Columbus, which was Willowbeez SoulVeg, founded and owned by two brothers and friends of ours, Carnell and Malik Willoughby. Willowbeez SoulVeg has been a true pillar in introducing much of the Black population of Columbus to good vegan food. Willowbeez SoulVeg attracts both vegans and non-vegans. They come for the food and stay for the community. Ernest built strong connections through Willowbeez weekly pop-ups and gathered insight about folks’ desire for a plant-based vegan community for Black people.
While this was occurring, we also began to identify vegan organizations that were already established in Columbus and stumbled on Caring Veg Community (CVC). I met with founder and executive director Kaylyn Rhoads to learn about CVC’s environment and culture. She was quite aware that CVC needed to strengthen their anti-racist stance and be more proactive in welcoming people of color. While actively working to shift CVC to a more intersectional approach, Kaylyn also recognized and understood the value of a BIPOC-only (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) space and fully supported PTP in our official launch. Shortly after we first connected in the summer of 2019, we collaborated to organize a film-screening event and PTP’s official launch meeting. The Caring Veg Community has been and continues to be a strong supporter of PTP.
In September of 2019, I participated as a panelist for a screening of The Invisible Vegan. This 90-minute documentary explores the problem of unhealthy dietary patterns in the African–American community, emphasizing the health and wellness benefits of plant-based vegan living. As a panelist, I spoke about my own vegan journey and discussed opportunities for Black folks to connect with and learn about Plant The Power. This event was held in collaboration with the Caring Veg Community and served as the first public launching pad for PTP. In October, we hosted our first PTP meeting.
Our first meeting
After two weeks of promotion, we had about 40 attendees. Our meeting included a range of people of African descent — from those who were simply considering eating more plant-based foods to those who had been vegan for 30-plus years. At this meeting, we presented our mission for the organization and our intention to build and connect the community.
The response to our first meeting was overwhelmingly positive. We were showered with love and support, and people were enthusiastic about how the organization would benefit the community:
“What a wonderful kick-off to an important initiative.”
“Yesterday was absolutely amazing; thank you for creating this space for us to network and build friendships!”
“Thank you for planting this seed… excited for what’s gonna come from this!!!”
After the first meeting, we held monthly meetups and other events dedicated to social and educational engagement.
In November of 2019, we facilitated a dialogue around the historical evolution of soul food in the Black community. During this event, we watched clips from TheInvisible Vegan and discussed our personal and historical upbringing with soul food. In a panel of vegan businesses, Willowbeez SoulVeg, The Power Plant Kitchen, and Joveganista shared their version of vegan soul food and their own journeys.
New Year, More Greens
This event in January of 2020 consisted of educational and practical tools to help the community explore the benefits of transitioning to plant-based living in affordable and sustainable ways. Guest speaker Jori Turner with nonprofit Local Matters provided strategies for implementation. This event concluded with a panel of guests sharing their personal experiences of plant-based living.
Monthly meetups (pre-COVID)
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we organized monthly meetups at local vegan restaurants and pop-ups to support the businesses and introduce people to the many delicious and nutritious food options available.
Tanya Walker, PTP advisory board member, remembers her first impressions after attending a meeting.
“What initially captured my attention was the refreshing representation of like-minded people of color, interested in plant-based eating and overall wellness. A colleague invited me to a PTP meeting, where I was immediately greeted by the most incredible experience and education about the overall value of adopting a plant-based lifestyle. Being a member of PTP has been an amazing learning journey and lifestyle change! I consider PTP to be my plant-based power source, meaning, I know that when I become discouraged that I can always reach out to any member to be energized!”
The impact of COVID
As is the case for many other organizations and businesses, our team has had to slow down during the COVID-19 pandemic and reimagine our plans and intentions for the organization. While we weren’t able to do everything we originally planned for 2020, we were still able to develop stronger connections within our community and positively influence their plant-based journeys.
In April of 2020, PTP facilitated a community book discussion on By Any Greens Necessary by Tracye McQuirter. During this virtual event, we covered four main topics: Black culture and communities, politics and power, animal cruelty, and healthy transitions. And, we were pleasantly surprised by a virtual visit from the author, Tracye McQuirter, herself!
In the summer of 2020, we volunteered with the Bronzeville Growers Market, an urban farm-stand experience for adults and youth, hosted by Dr. Julialynne Walker of the Bronzeville Growers Market and The Maroon Arts Group. The growers market included fresh produce, vendors, and family-friendly activities. PTP provided free literature and talked with people about the benefits of transitioning to plant-based vegan living.
What’s next for Plant The Power?
As we prepare for 2021, we are excited to continue expanding folks’ understanding beyond health and branch more into animal rights and environmental justice as well as cultural/historical education. Stay connected with Plant The Power by following our social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook (@PlantThePower614).
The featured cover image was taken by Kadrian Hinton (@ForeignWorldMedia), at Lifestyle Café, a vegan restaurant in Columbus, Ohio [L–R: Tanya Walker, Angela Mitchell, Kim Freeman, Ivory Levert, Ernest Levert Jr., Clayton Freeman]