Featured Leader: Anton Seals Jr, Lead Steward & Co-Founder of Grow Greater Englewood
In this Months Featured Leader, we hear from Anton Seals, Jr, Lead Steward and Co-Founder of Grow Greater Englewood in Southside Chicago. Anton is driven by his identity as a husband, father and son, and made an impression on everyone at the Spring 2019 FSLN Systems Leadership Retreat with his thoughtful remarks and bold questions shared with the group. Read on, as Anton lays down some serious nuggets of wisdom and encouragement that will get you fired up for the year ahead!
Who are you?
I am Anton Seals Jr, son of the southside of Chicago. Working to help organize and strategize black communities, in particular in Chicago, to eliminate oppression and seek more just systems for our people and all people to not just survive but thrive. My life has been dedicated to service and being an entrepreneur. I am a husband and father and son. I use those marquees because they are what drive me and shape me. A black man molded by the larger community that raised me to commit to the struggle for freedom and the end of oppression and the systems created by a narrow, fear-based vision.
I love people and servicing people. As an artist, I like to construct narratives that allow for us to ponder and stretch beyond, to configure the imagination to inspire the next generation.
What inspired you to get involved in food systems work?
I was inspired to get involved in food systems work via policy. In 2005, I worked as a senior district aide to Congressman Bobby L Rush, and his long commitment to food access goes back to the free breakfast program that the Black Panthers offered back in the 60’s. Working as an aide Congressman Rush, I saw that the community wanted to have access to better foods, and it was a few years in a post 9-11 world, so security took on another connotation, given the incidents that struck the mainland United States. In Chicago, there was a long history, in particular in the black community, of plant-based diets and access to living food as the main source of consumption. While not fully mainstream, it would not be of surprise that this food history existed in Chicago. We created the Good Greens network, that brought a federal agency to be much more accessible to the community, to offer the largess of the federal agency for access to resources. Many larger players entered into the space, and further cultivated an industry that was based on the lack of access. The work of food deserts being codified gained momentum in policy circles, albeit, a flawed terminology and inaccurate. I was inspired that working and organizing people around this issue could further combat, leverage and subsume the dialogue that was being positioned to members of congress through traditional nodes- i.e. lobbyist, etc.
What is the source of your motivation and inspiration as you continue this work?
The cadre of farmers and community that I am humbled to be a member of. In Chicago and Illinois, the commitment to overcome and defy the conventional about what is possible. Further understanding that is not just on my timeline, and that nature, the mother earth responds as she needs to, how he needs to, regardless of our ideas. The Erika Allens of Urban Growers Collective, the Kenya and Julians (Dusable Ancestral Vineyards) of the world, Your Bountiful Harvest (Safia Rashid) the Getting Grown Collective, Rep. Sonya Harper, who is the mother of Grow Greater Englewood. All of us connected, and demonstrating unity, solidarity, love, fierceness, patience. These people and things keep me inspired to play my role as a connector, to build, to cultivate, and protect our spaces in the world.
What does food systems leadership mean to you?
Food Systems leadership, means that we are freedom fighters, making the use of our time to help improve the overall health and function in communities across many aspects. Starting with the soil and land, and the concept of ownership versus stewardship. Possession, and that concept in an empire who has gained wealth and power, through the destruction of those closest to the land. Food Systems leadership means that we are caretakers and stewards of not just the land, but the people as well. I think we are all attempting to find new economies and ways that farmers and those close to the land can be supported in multiple ways.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you, or someone you look up to. Why and how has this person impacted your life?
I have to lift up the early work of Ladonna Redmond, Fred and Jifunza Carter, The Allen family (Ericka and Will) Orrin Williams and so many others who quietly go about effectuating change and advancement, by just getting out here and growing good food. The Dara Coopers and the Malik Yakinis who are raising the national conversation around black folks and indigenous customs in urban, peri-urban and rural contexts, who are organizing and showing the ways that we practice resilience.
What’s one thing you’ve learned in the last month that you’d like to share with the network?
I’ve learned that sometimes you have to move quickly, and other times you have to slow down. The winds of life are always moving. I’ve learned that things grow at different paces and are impacted by the seasons we are experiencing in our journeys and we bring that to the work and space. I’ve learned to stay true to the vision, but not stuck in the dream of that vision. I’ve learned that systems are in need of creativity, ideas, and new ways to do things, and the real need for money, but also to inspire, as we begin to have more representation politically to move us forward. Lastly, is seeking the right questions to ponder and act upon.
What’s your greatest leadership challenge now, and what are you looking for support for? Something fellow members could help with.
Our greatest challenge is intersecting our work in food systems with the extraction that has been brought by western philosophy of industry for the temporary, short term, that stymies the creativity that dwells in so many communities and people on the planet. Seeking to restore order, to protect the sources that provide life. In America, that will take a tremendous shift, since the culture is built on convenience and resource. We are competing with dollars, and technology that seeks to make ease or bring efficiencies, but at a cost. Leading in these times, where the scarcity model has increased the human capacity to preserve for self. We need to lead on the emerging industry like cannabis and hemp, and make sure the essence of plant-based solutions are not gobbled by the system to only make money. This challenge will continue to help hold us all to account on in our collective works across the globe.
Any words of encouragement or advice to share with your fellow food systems leaders?
I think food systems leaders have to be mindful and aware that there are a lot of systems in play. As in nature, we are part of a web of roots and weeds, dirt, water, air, sunshine that make life possible, and that there is no one way, that victory will come in many forms, and we just may miss it looking for the big IMPACT. Continue to organize, push beyond what we know now, create spaces where there is access to clean water, fresh air, and abundance. As stewards of the earth who are working with our heads, hands and hearts, leave the spaces we occupy with lessons for those who follow, like those that were left for us.
Thank you, Anton, for sharing your story and your passion with the FSLN!