©Pete Marovich/American Reportage. July 29, 2013.
ABOUT THE BLACK BELT JUSTICE CENTER
The Black Belt Justice Center (BBJC) is a legal and advocacy nonprofit organization that serves African American farmers, landowners, and communities in the Black Belt region in efforts to retain and increase land ownership and stewardship; to create sustainable, regenerative land-based cooperatives and entrepreneurial businesses; and to ensure intergenerational and community wealth.
In 2011, the Center for Social Inclusion published a seminal working paper, Regaining Ground: Cultivating Community Assets and Preserving Black Land, which resulted from a two-year process of collective discussions with various Black land loss advocates. A key consideration that emerged out of the report was the establishment of a regional legal action group to serve as the central portal for issues of Black land loss. Founded in 2012, the BBJC was conceived to address the historical dilemma that continues to hinder African American rural communities from achieving full economic prosperity and holistic wellness. The BBJC believes that custodial land ownership, sustainable land stewardship, and hyperlocalized community foodsheds are essential to advancing resilient, self-determined rural economies. Unfortunately, too many African American rural communities are “land rich but cash poor.” Even more daunting are the unmet needs of African American returning generation farmers who lack access to both farmland and non-extractive capital for their fledging farm enterprises.
The BBJC provides a range of legal and business services to African American farmers and landowners, including business formation and entity selection, tax assessment appeals, lease agreements and innovative tenure agreements, estate planning, probate, heir property mediation, foreclosure prevention, debt settlements, cooperative development, land trusts, and conservation easements. Additionally, the BBJC facilitates pro bono trainings and community workshops in partnership with allied organizations (i.e., Dirt Rich Preserving Black Family Land Teach-Ins), coordinates a network of law firms and attorneys for pro bono assignments, and develops educational curricula to prepare the next generation of attorneys, academic scholars, land rights advocates, and land stewards. In addition to serving farm families, land stewards, and agricultural cooperatives, the BBJC has provided legal representation and business assistance to numerous community-based organizations that serve African American farmers and rural communities, including the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Rural Advancement Fund, Operation Spring Plant, and the Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON).
In 2018, a representative from the Black Belt Justice Center was elected to serve on the Black Farmers Council, an eight-member council charged with developing recommendations for judicial consideration regarding the remaining $8 million Phase II Cy Pres fund for the historic In Re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation Settlement (Black farmers class action discrimination lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture for systemic discriminatory lending practices that contributed to epidemic Black land loss). Guided by a community-based participatory research methodology, the Black Belt Justice Center researched and drafted recommendations on behalf of 200+ multigenerational farmers, returning generation farmers, urban growers, land rights advocates, and attorneys.
Produce training materials and other effective educational tools that provide a historical analysis of the crisis of African American land tenure in the United States as well as integrated solutions to stabilize African American land tenure and regenerate land-based livelihoods.
Land Protection and Preservation
Provide a range of legal and business assistance services to African American farmers and landowners that empower them to make informed decisions regarding land ownership, transference, and stewardship for future generations. Develop and fortify a regional attorney network committed to the delivery of effective and affordable legal representation to African American farmers and landowners throughout the Black Belt region.
Land-Based Livelihoods and Generational Community Wealth Creation
Impart legal, business, and technical assistance services to African American farmers, landowners, and communities with the aim of increasing resilient local economies, land access, and sustainable land-based cooperatives and enterprises.
Create and expand cultural events on African American farmlands to educate and reconnect the African Diasporian community to the abundant legacy of Black agrarianism/traditional knowledge.
Legislative and Policy Reformation
Advocate for land reforms and increased ownership of farm-to-consumer processes that ensure the economic self-sufficiency of African American farmers as well as dismantle the legal mechanisms and hierarchical networks that contribute to alarming land loss in African American rural communities.