CEW Visiting Social Activist asks "How Do Black Women Relate to The Land?"

The Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist Program

Each year, the Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist (VSA) Program brings to CEW a social justice activist whose work affects women and recognizes gender equity issues. The primary goal of the program is to build the capacity and effectiveness of social activists. This is accomplished by giving the VSA time, space and support to work on a project that would not be possible under the activist’s usual working circumstances.

CEW Visiting Social Activist

This semester, CEW welcomes Mistinguette Smith as the seventh Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist. During her month-long residency, she will interview black women in Detroit, Flint and other Michigan communities about how they use the land and what it means to them. The Black/Land Project was inspired by links Smith discovered between her work on the topic of urban food security and observations she made during visits to her ancestral home places in Alabama and Haiti. Her interviews with African-Americans, Caribbean-Americans and African immigrants have taken her from Vermont to Ohio to California.

According to Smith, the Black/Land stories of resilience and regeneration document how changes in people’s relationship to land and place affect their lives culturally, economically and politically. By applying the lenses of race and gender, Smith draws connections between issues usually treated as unrelated: the environment, economic development, and civic engagement.

Building upon interviews she has already conducted in rural and urban parts of the U.S., Smith will synthesize her findings into a short video documentary entitled Black/Land: Women’s Voices. Smith sees her documentary as a catalyst for organizing a national conference to educate, celebrate and heal the many relationships between black people and land. “This is going to be a trigger film that documents the insights of black women from the post-industrial Midwest,” says Smith. “Women in this part of the country have been dealing with land use issues longer than in many urban areas. They have creative solutions we can all learn from.”

Mistinguette Smith describes her life’s work as “helping to shape a world that makes possible well-being for black women.” That work has taken many forms, from providing reproductive health care to designing a community organizing model that measurably reduces hunger.  A performance consultant and trainer for social mission organizations, Smith also serves on the faculty of the Center for Whole Communities, where she offers leadership development retreats to conservation and environmental justice leaders. A graduate of Smith College, Smith holds an MPA in Public and Nonprofit Management from New York University.

All presentations and workshop events led by Ms. Smith during her stay as CEW’s 2011 Visiting Social Activist will be open to U-M faculty, staff and students, and to community members in Detroit, Flint and Ann Arbor. For updated program information, see www.cew.umich.edu/progevents/programs. Please contact Beth Sullivan at 734-764-6343 or bsulliva@umich.edu for information about Mistinguette Smith’s visit. More information about the Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist Program can be found at www.cew.umich.edu/action/tfvsa.