Food, Housing, and Racial Justice Symposium

farming food symposium farming food symposium

Thursday, April 13 & Friday, April 14, 2023

University of Miami School of Law
1311 Miller Drive
Coral Gables, FL 33146

This symposium will examine lessons and opportunities for addressing hunger in communities of color. In particular, it will delve into the need to foreground the lived experiences and strategies of survival and resistance of communities of color around food insecurity, food system governance, access to land and natural resources, and the environment.

Please see the symposium agenda and speaker bios. Please also find two web stories on the symposium and the symposium’s Juneteenth Miami Declaration, as well as the Symposium Report, featured in the University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review. 

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  • About the Symposium

    Communities of color, including Indigenous Peoples, undocumented immigrants, and low-income populations, experience higher rates of hunger, food insecurity, and homelessness in the United States (U.S.). The food insecurity rate of people of color in every state is consistently at least two to six times that of whites. The U.S. has long failed to protect its people’s right to food in great part due to the legacy of racial discrimination and colonization that have given way to agricultural, food and nutrition, land, labor, housing, and urban planning policies that systemically deny food to communities of color. Black Americans make up 40% of the homeless population, while only 13% of the overall population. Moreover, intersecting discrimination based on race and gender exacerbates homelessness. Single women with children make up about 21% of the country’s homeless population, and about 50% include single Black mothers.

     These violations have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has brought to light the stark inequities that leave tens of millions in persistent hunger and poverty in the U.S. Millions of people lost their jobs during the pandemic, which was followed by an equally staggering rise in food insecurity. To make things worse, in 2020, the City of Miami passed an ordinance criminalizing food sharing, or the feeding of people experiencing homelessness in groups of twenty-five or more without a permit and at non-designated feeding locations (with only five inconvenient locations designated). By passing this ordinance, the City of Miami is “using hunger as a weapon against the poor.” COVID-19 has further exacerbated housing inequality with thousands of renters evicted from their homes each week. Racial disparities in household net worth and mortgage access place Black families at greater risk of housing instability and homelessness. While almost 75% of white families own their homes, less than half of Black families own their homes.

     COVID-19 is pushing the emergency feeding system to its limits, exposing the true extent of the hunger problem in the U.S. at its roots. The U.S. emergency feeding system, a network of 60,000 frontline pantries, soup kitchens and food banks anchored in almost every community in the U.S., is critical at a time like this. That’s what it was designed for in the early 1970s – emergency relief. Community institutions are doing an essential and life-sustaining job of distributing food against all odds. However, the private charitable emergency feeding system in the U.S.—the largest and most sophisticated in the world—has historically never been able to meet the demand or make a real dent in the rate of food insecurity which has hovered between 11 - 12% over the past 30 years. It is simply not possible to ‘foodbank’ our way out of hunger. Even before the pandemic, 37 million Americans were struggling to get food on the table, while four out of five workers lived paycheck to paycheck. Hunger advocates generally focus on defending existing (and inadequate) government nutrition assistance while the average American citizen looks to the private charitable sector to meet the “emergency” needs of hungry families, rather than recognizing citizens, communities, and the natural resources we depend on as rights holders and governments as duty bearers.

    The right to food is both a call to action and a global legal framework for coordinated reform in food and nutrition, agriculture, land, labor, housing, and urban planning policies. As the pandemic reshapes public life around the globe, it also offers an opportunity to organize and protect everyone’s basic human right to food in the U.S. On November 2, 2021, Maine became the first state in the U.S. to enshrine the human right to food in its state constitution. On December 9, 2021, a city resolution on the right to food was passed in the city of Morgantown, West Virginia, and a right to food constitutional amendment has been introduced and will be considered during the upcoming 2022 legislative session in West Virginia. Groups in Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Hawaii, and other states are considering the proposal of similar right to food constitutional amendments. There is a nascent right to food movement in the U.S. that is expanding and embracing the shift from charity to rights. In parallel, a vibrant movement to recognize housing as a right, rather than a commodity in the U.S. has also started to take shape. President Biden’s platform endorses a right to housing, and there are movements to establish a right to housing at the state and local levels, including in California and Connecticut.

     The need for deep reflection, innovative thinking, and joint strategizing with regards to hunger and food equity that put the needs and interests of communities of color at the center is urgent. This event, hosted by the University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights Program and Clinic, in collaboration with the Human Rights Society, West Virginia University Center for Resilient Communities, and partners, will focus on human rights and racialized approaches to addressing hunger. It will reflect on ways to implement the CERD’s Concluding Observations to the U.S. and discuss the new and revitalized focus on government action as the primary duty-bearer of the right to food. The event will also examine lessons and opportunities for the practical implementation of this framework and dimensions critical for addressing hunger in communities of color. In particular, the panel will delve into the need to foreground the lived experiences and strategies of survival and resistance of communities of color around food insecurity, food system governance, access to land and natural resources, and the environment.

     Additionally, the event will include an art exhibit focused on the human right to housing, kicking-off the Human Rights Program’s Art and Human Rights Initiative. The exhibit will use visuals to connect to community experiences and illustrate the seven dimensions of the right to housing in powerful and concrete ways in the U.S. context. These dimensions comprise legal security of tenure, availability of services, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location, and cultural adequacy.

    The exhibit would form part of a continuing Art and Human Rights Initiative. This initiative seeks to raise the profile of social and economic rights in the U.S. and locally in Miami and provide a platform for creative thinking and the development of imaginative advocacy resources for realizing the rights to food, health, and housing in the U.S. It would further provide an opportunity to connect various strands of work on the rights to food, health, and housing at the University of Miami and locally with national and global advocacy.

     

  • Videos from the Symposium

    Symposium Snapshot - Created by Mackenzie Steele, Student Intern, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law


    "What Does the Right to Food Mean to You?" - Created by Mackenzie Steele, Student Intern, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law



    People's Tribunal on Violations of the Rights to Food and Hosuing in Miami

Photos from the Symposium

Food, Housing, and Racial Justice Symposium

2023 Symposium Agenda

Thursday, April 13

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  • Thursday, April 13

    THURSDAY, APRIL 13

    10:00 a.m. Welcome Remarks

    David Yellen, Dean and M. Minnette Massey Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law
    Denisse Córdova Montes, Acting Associate Director, Human Rights Clinic; Faculty Advisor, Human Rights Program; Lecturer in Law, University of Miami School of Law
    Tamar Ezer, Acting Director, Human Rights Clinic; Faculty Director, Human Rights Program; Lecturer in Law, University of Miami School of Law

    10:15 a.m. Keynote Speakers

    Michael Fakhri, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (video remarks)
    Smith Narula, Haub Distinguished Professor of International Law, Elisabeth Haub School of Law, Pace University (video remarks)
    Delegate Danielle Walker, West Virginia State Legislature
    David Peery, Founder and Executive Director, Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity (MCARE)

    11:00 a.m. Defining the Human Right to Food in the U.S. 

    Moderator: Denisse Córdova Montes, Acting Associate Director, Human Rights Clinic; Faculty Advisor, Human Rights Program; Lecturer in Law, University of Miami School of Law

    Speakers:

    Amy Cohen, Robert J. Reinstein Chair in Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law
    Antonio Tovar, Senior Policy Associate, National Family Farm Coalition
    Mariana Chilton, Professor, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University
    Malik Yakini, Executive Director, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
    Austen-Monet McClendon, Board Member, Black Church Food Security Network

    1:00 p.m. Right to Food and Housing Intersections

    Moderator: Tamar Ezer, Acting Director, Human Rights Clinic; Faculty Director, Human Rights Program; Lecturer in Law, University of Miami School of Law

    Speakers:

    Rhoda Rosen, Executive Director, Red Line Service; Adjunct Associate Professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    Robert Robinson, Senior Advisor, Partners for Dignity and Rights; Lecturer, Parsons New School University
    Abigail Fleming, Mysun Foundation Practitioner-in-Residence, Environmental Justice Clinic; Faculty, Environmental Law Program, University of Miami School of Law
    Eric Tars, Legal Director, National Homelessness Law Center
    Hannah Smaglis, Intern, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law

    2:30 p.m. UN CERD Review of the U.S.

    Laura Leira, Fellow, Human Rights Clinic; President, Human Rights Society, University of Miami School of Law
    Taylor Moore, Fellow, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law (video remarks)

    2:45 p.m.  Closing Remarks

    Senator Craig Hickman, Maine State Legislature (video remarks)
    Kayla Bokzam, Editor-in-Chief, International & Comparative Law Review
    Ileana Porras, Affiliated Faculty, Environmental Law Program; Senior Lecturer, University of Miami School of Law

    4:15 p.m. People's Tribunal on Violations of the Rights to Food and Housing in Miami, SMASH House, 1611 N.W. 65th St. 

    In 2020, the City of Miami passed an ordinance criminalizing food sharing, or the feeding of people experiencing homelessness in groups of twenty-five or more without a permit and at non-designated feeding locations (with only five inconvenient locations designated).9 By passing this ordinance, the City of Miami is “using hunger as a weapon against the poor.”10
    The Tribunal will bring together members of local organizations, human rights lawyers and scholars, and community members to share, discuss, and mobilize around violations of the rights to food and housing in Miami. The Tribunal will give food providers and people experiencing homelessness a platform to provide testimony about their experiences with violations of their rights to food and housing and racial discrimination related to the City of Miami Ordinance. After hearing community testimonies, the panel of judges will analyze the rights to housing and food using human rights frameworks and issue recommendations to realize human rights in Miami.

    Opening Remarks:
    David Peery, Founder and Executive Director, Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity
    (MCARE)

    Community Testimony:
    Robert Robinson, Senior Advisor, Partners for Dignity and Rights; Lecturer, Parsons New School University
    Cortes Maria Lewis, Board Member, Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity (MCARE)
    Noelvis Gonzalez, Food Provider, One World One Heart
    Gabriela Cordell, Food Provider, Choose Love Foundation

    Judges:
    Delegate Danielle Walker, West Virginia State Legislature
    Eric Tars, Legal Director, National Homelessness Law Center
    Dr. Shanequa Smith, Restorative Practitioner, Restorative Actions and Black Voter Impact Initiative (BVII)

    Closing Remarks:
    Jason Smith, Director, Equity and Engagement, Office of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava

  • Friday, April 14

    FRIDAY, APRIL 14

    Background

    The purpose of this meeting on Day 2 of the symposium is to further define the goals, processes and actionable strategies emerging from 2 years of learning conversations and community building through the growing National Right to Food Community of Practice.

    A landscape analysis of the food security, food justice and food sovereignty work underway in the U.S. can be generally characterized by the following: it is abundant and ever-evolving, not sufficiently coordinated or multi-sectoral, and only marginally connected to global processes and international movements. And, yet, there are projects and efforts currently underway that are working towards the realization of the right to adequate food and nutrition in state legislatures (notably Maine became the first state in the nation in 2021 to amend its constitution through popular vote to include the right to food).

    The National Right to Food Community of Practice (National RtF CoP) has been meeting bi-monthly for the past two and a half years. Logistical support -- which has included convening and facilitating meetings, operational planning, fundraising, communication tools (fact sheets, narrative frames, press outreach ), and website development (www.righttofoodusa.org) -- has been provided by grassroots organizers in West Virginia, Washington and Maine and national grassroots support providers.

    The Human Rights Clinic of the University of Miami Law School has provided, since the first meeting of this community of practice, legal consultation to Maine and West Virginia advocates. They have supported law students to write legal briefs and produce popular communication tools as they interacted with the Maine Attorney General to respond to legal challenges to the resolution before it was passed in November 2021.

    In West Virginia, a municipal resolution on the Right to Food in Morgantown City Council was unanimously adopted in December 2021. Although not binding, it sets a precedent and fuels advocates who are working on similar resolutions in other municipalities. Delegate Danielle Walker, a Democratic representative for District 51 in the West Virginia House of Delegates, introduced legislation known as the Right to Food, Food Sovereignty, and Freedom From Hunger Amendment. The language in this bill, in collaboration with advocates in Maine, was largely drawn from the language of Maine’s original legislation. Organizers in West Virginia have just launched a Hunger Leadership Circle to engage with and build capacity of people with lived experience of hunger to advocate for their right to food.

    In Washington, advocacy efforts to realize the right to food are being led by Northwest Harvest, a Seattle-based independent food bank supporting 375 food access agencies, meal programs and high- needs schools. Since January 2021, Northwest Harvest has convened monthly meetings of the Community Advisory Network -- 11 members who are actively experiencing food insecurity, the majority of whom identify as Black, Latinx or Native American and represent different parts of the state. The advisory network is currently working on identifying and sharing the barriers they've experienced to accessibility, availability, and adequacy of food and developing policy and community- based solutions. The policy solutions will be the basis for the language and organizing efforts for the legislation that will effectively create a right to food in Washington.

    As the news of Maine’s victory spread in late 2021, additional state advocates from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and California have made inquiries or joined the community of practice to learn and contribute.

    9:00 a.m. Welcome Remarks, Introductions, and Agenda Overview

    Moderators:
    Alison M. Cohen, Right to Food and Nutrition Advocate
    Joshua Lohnes, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Geology & Geography, West Virginia University
    Rita Chang, Campaign Manager, Right to Food, Northwest Harvest
    Suzanne Babb, Senior Co-Director US Programs, WhyHunger
    Denisse Córdova Montes, Acting Associate Director, Human Rights Clinic; Faculty Advisor, Human Rights Program; Lecturer in Law, University of Miami School of Law

    10:00 a.m. Debrief on People's Tribunal in Miami

    This session will enable a collective analysis of the People’s Tribunal as well as its potential to be replicated in other cities, towns, and communities.

    Moderators:
    Denisse Córdova Montes, Acting Associate Director, Human Rights Clinic; Faculty Advisor, Human Rights Program; Lecturer in Law, University of Miami School of Law
    Photini Kamvisseli Suarez, Student Intern, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law
    Mackenzie Steele, Student Intern, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law

    11:00 a.m. Working Group Session: Codifying the Right to Food in Multiple Policy Spaces: From Big Ideas to Progressive Realization

    Legal geographies in the U.S. are nested in a complex web of laws, resolutions and governing documents that inform the obligations and responsibilities of public and private institutions at different scales. This session will explore the multiple policy spaces in which we can advance efforts to codify the Right to Food in the U.S. and how each might contribute to progressively realizing it in practice.

    Moderator: Joshua Lohnes, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Geology & Geography, West Virginia University

    1:15 p.m. Our Story: The National Right to Food Community of Practice 

    Moderator:
    Alison M. Cohen, Right to Food and Nutrition Advocate

    1:30 p.m.  Contextual and Power Analysis 

    This session will seek to gain better insight for action planning, narrative change and communications strategy, and power building and organizing approaches.

    Moderators:
    Alison M. Cohen, Right to Food and Nutrition Advocate
    Suzanne Babb, Senior Co-Director US Programs, WhyHunger

    4:00 p.m. National Right to Food Community of Practice Strategy Sessions

    Participants will self-select their group and provide direct feedback to the current rationale and plans for each topic below as currently written in our strategy document.

    Groups/topics:
    • People’s Implementation and Monitoring
    • Narrative Change Campaigns and Strategies
    • Organizing at the state and national level
    • International connections and alliances
    • Legal Support

    Moderator:
    Rita Chang, Campaign Manager, Right to Food, Northwest Harvest

    5:00 p.m. Evaluation and Closing Remarks

    Moderator:
    Alison M. Cohen, Right to Food and Nutrition Advocate

Symposium Publications

The University of Miami School of Law's International and Comparative Law Review has published the below articles following up on the Food, Housing, and Racial Justice Symposium:

The Radical Potential of Creating Communities of Care Through Art
Rhoda Rosen and Amanda Leigh Davis

The Uneven Legal Geographies of Nutrition Entitlement Programs in the United States. Realizing or Hindering the Right to Food?
Joshua Lohnes and Mackenzie Steele

Sacred Nutrition: Asserting Indigenous Sovereignty and Rights of Women and Nature to Ensure the Right to Food in the United States
Mariana Chilton, PhD, MPH

Food, Housing, and Racial Justice Symposium
Denisse Córdova Montes, Tamar Ezer, Photini Kamvisseli Suarez, Katherine Murray, Julian Seethal, Mackenzie Steele, and Sarah Walters

Sponsors

  • National Right to Food Community of Practice
  • West Virginia University Center for Resilient Communities
  • WhyHunger
  • University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic
  • University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights Program
  • University of Miami School of Law’s Office of Intellectual Life
  • University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights Society
  • University of Miami School of Law International and Comparative Law Review
  • University of Miami School of Law's Environmental Law Program

For Information

HRP@law.miami.edu

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