Detroit Food Justice Movement Harnesses Power of Cooperative Ownership

Malik Yakini uses the power of grassroots work, peer collaboration, and sharing of models to bring forth solutions from the community, for the community, by the community.

Themes: Share Ownership

Malik Yakini, Detroit-based BALLE Fellow and Executive Director of Detroit Black Food Security Network, ends each of his emails with “Respect, Malik.” When you speak with him, you feel his selflessness and desire to uplift, nourish, and elevate all who he comes into contact with.

Malik’s family is a source of great inspiration, as is his love for growing food, and the opportunities he sees within his hometown of Detroit.  Harnessing opportunities to bring back the history and legacy of African Americans to solve their own problems, through collaborative solutions rooted in community, largely drives him to do the work he does.

Let’s take co-ops, for example. African American communities have a long history of using cooperative purchasing to access land, seeds, tools, and food. Through cooperative buying, citizens save money, foster equity, and access goods to meet their basic needs. Malik is inspired by the power of co-ops to demonstrate how financial resources are just one subset of community resources – no greater in value than human resources and environmental resources that our myopic view of economic development has for too long disregarded.

 “It is an act of affirming our humanity to declare, through our actions, that we are not merely a market.  Co-ops allow us more control over our collective destiny.  Instead of being saddled with exploitive economic relationships, we meet our own needs and use our buying power to build strong healthy communities,” says Malik.

Treating humans as just another market is a missed opportunity to nourish the city’s greatest resource – its people. People lie at the heart of co-ops, which is why Malik is so drawn to this as a solution for combating not only wealth disparities, but for fostering greater equity of voices. Cooperative-ownership models provide opportunities for hands-on training and community building, and bring a tremendous amount of ownership – one of BALLE’s key tenets – for the member-owners.

Malik is one of many active Local Economy leaders taking an active interest in developing our country’s “people resources.” In an earlier Featured Fellows series, we shared how Oakland-based Nikki Silvestri and People’s Grocery are working to open People’s Community Market, a grocery store opening in the underserved community of West Oakland. And enter D’Artagnan Scorza, who is also investigating cooperative-ownership models as a specific strategy for democratizing the food system in Los Angeles. These three BALLE Local Economy Fellows, and additional staff from the organizations they lead, toured Malik’s hometown of Detroit last weekend and discussed how it might look to use local resources to meet the local needs within each of their respective communities.

Through the member-owned cooperative model, Malik is harnessing the power of his Detroit community.  He is using the power of grassroots work, peer collaboration, and sharing of models to bring forth solutions from the community, for the community, by the community.  Learn more about his work at the Detroit Black Food Security Network, his work as a BALLE Fellow, and about the $750,000 grant that DBFSN was just awarded to further strengthen their grassroots program in Detroit.