Breaking the Cycle Without Breaking the Culture
An Interview with Jamillah Adjepong

Jamillah Adjepong created and hosted two workshops during Summer 2018 for local community members. She designed the program to help families in the Black & Brown communities. Each session includes discussion about financial skills for food budgeting, how people are perceived through the lens of money, how money affects racial equity issues, and hands-on food preparation practice. The workshops were supported by the Just and Healthy Food System COI and will continue in 2019. The Puyallup Watershed Initiative spoke to Jamillah about her vision.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Jamillah, Millie for short. I have a six-year-old son. I bought my own house in 2016, in Tacoma. I was born in California but lived in Washington for a long time.

I moved in on August 31 and since I moved in, I’ve had 15 families live with me. I try to help out, you know, when people don’t have anywhere to go. Another thing is, my baby’s dad, he is doing ten years, his early release date is in 2020. I myself have been to prison and since I’ve had my son, I’ve had a turnaround. I was in and out of jail because I suffer from bipolar disorder. It’s my experience, it’s not something I’m shameful of.

Where did the idea for this workshop come from?

So it started with this house because I was having families come in, and they were wasting my food. I had only $300 [for food] and typically that’s only for me and my son, but I had to make it fit for that many people so that’s when I started proportioning, that’s when I started to figure out how to feed, how to make that 300 stretch for that whole entire month until a little bit into the other month so I could still pay my bills and they could still save little.

“Breaking the Cycle Without Breaking the Culture” – what does that name mean?

In different cultures, they cook different amounts of foods. Not breaking what you’ve learned but fixing it, so it still fits in your family. If there’s too much food, let’s figure out how to invite more people to come eat. Not breaking what you’re used to, but fixing what you’re used to.

What does “food justice” mean to you?

It depends on our culture. As an African American, I feel like how we get food, how we survive, but also how we waste a lot or how we eat unhealthy, that affects families. How can we get enough food to feed our families and not waste? For me, food is healthy, safety, savings, like that.

How many classes have you taught?

So far two, and then in January, I will teach more.

When teaching this workshop, what experiences did you draw on?

I talk to people how I would want to be talked to. No jargon. When people talk in big words, I be like “What are you talking about?” I’m book smart but then I’m street smart. I have friends who come over and ask me “Can you help me budget?” I try to figure out, “What is your goal, at the end of the day? What are you trying to achieve or where are you at?” And let’s start from there. We have to trust each other.

You’re teaching people financial management skills that you taught yourself. How did you hone those skills?

Just from experience, because my mom didn’t have anything. She wasn’t like me, she didn’t write down a budget. She just told us she couldn’t afford things. I never in my life, from when I was born to 18, ever had a birthday party. I was the middle child, I was always forgot about, but I noticed the little things, the things she was doing. I wasn’t judging, but I noticed the things I could do better. I always look a year ahead, two years ahead. Winter stuff, I buy in the summer, because it’s on sale. I trained myself to do it totally different than how she did things.

Home ownership is a big topic right now, especially with Tacoma’s affordable housing crisis. It can be a huge undertaking. How did you plan your journey toward home ownership?

For me, I didn’t rush it. I paid attention to where the interest rates were, because I was told the interest rate plays a big factor. I did a conventional loan, I did a home inspection, I kind of did a lot of saving and building my credit. I wasn’t the kind of person to mess my credit up. I didn’t get a credit card when I was 18, because a lot of friends did that. I told myself, if it doesn’t belong to me, I don’t need it. Before, I didn’t even look at my credit score because I just assumed it was bad. But then I asked around, asked people questions to get more information.

What does success look like as a result of your workshop?

There’s more savings for food, people have more opportunity to get food, and it cuts the cost on a lot of stuff. If it works out, my job is done! So, my thing is, just to see people get to that cycle, a new cycle, profiting from generation to generation, where we don’t have that waste, we don’t have people out there that can’t get the food that they want. In the future for me, I want to see people engage in saving money-wise, but also food-wise. In my generation, it wasn’t taught, pretty sure it wasn’t taught in my mom’s generation because I didn’t see it from her. For my son, since I broke the cycle already, then he’s going to continue on with it, because he sees me, when I cook foods. He tells other kids, “Don’t waste that.” My son sees it from me, he already speaks it, his son will start to do it as well. It doesn’t need to be taught, because it’s already there.

 

This interview was edited for length. To learn more about "Breaking the Cycle Without Breaking the Culture" workshops, please contact the Just and Healthy Food System Community of Interest via byanez@pwi.org.

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