In the weeks following George Floyd's death, with widespread protests combating police brutality and white supremacy still marching across America, there seems to be endless ways to get involved. There are events all over the world, a wide variety of organizations seeking donations, and local campaigns to swing votes and put pressure on officials. But one particularly easy way to contribute? By buying baked goods.
The ongoing Bakers Against Racism campaign was co-created by James Beard finalist Paola Velez, a currently furloughed pastry chef at Washington D.C.'s Kith/Kin, and Willa Pelini, a pastry chef at Emilie's. According to Washingtonian, Pelini reached out to Velez, to ask if she'd be interested in collaborating on some kind of pop-up bake shop that could support Black Lives Matter and other racial justice organizations. (Velez had recently launched Doña Dona, a donut pop-up that has been raising money for Ayuda, an organization that provides legal, social, and language services for immigrants.)
Their conversation led to the creation of Bakers Against Racism, a virtual bake sale that has encouraged more than 1,000 professional and amateur chefs to bake and sell at least 150 pieces of a dessert (or desserts), and then to donate the majority of the proceeds to an organization that supports Black lives or a local organization that is "fighting for change." Participating bakers began taking pre-orders on Monday—some have already sold out—and all items are to be delivered by Saturday.
"I really wanted folks to not only participate in this, but to research the local organizations that are impacting change within their very own communities,” Velez said. “Every baker that participates has the power within their own hands to choose the organization that best represents them and what they believe is going to make lasting change to Black lives.”
Of course, Bakers Against Racism isn't the first campaign to bring together chefs and home cooks to fight racism. In 1955, Georgia Gilmore was listening to the radio in her Montgomery, Alabama home when she heard that a woman named Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to surrender her bus seat to some now-long-forgotten white passenger. Gilmore, a then-35-year-old chef, had stopped riding the buses several months earlier, after being humiliated by a bus driver who collected her fare, then drove off while she was making her way toward the rear entrance that Black riders were forced to use.
Four days after Parks' arrest, Montgomery's Black citizens were encouraged not to ride the bus "to work, to town, to school, or anyplace," and at a meeting to discuss continuing that boycott, Gilmore heard Martin Luther King, Jr. address the crowd about the intimidation and oppression that Black residents had endured while riding the city's buses. "There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair," he said, encouraging the Black community to stick together as they continued their non-violent protests.
Gilmore quickly became an essential part of the boycott, establishing the "Club From Nowhere" whose members cooked everything from pound cakes and sweet potato pies to plates of fried fish and pork chops, and then sold them at local businesses and at protest meetings. The money raised was turned over to leaders of the boycott, who used it to pay for more than 300 cars, trucks, and wagons that transported Black workers to their jobs throughout the city.
"Gilmore organized Black women and told them that the knowledge they nurtured as domestics in white kitchens was valuable," John T. Edge wrote in The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South. "She offered these women, many of whose grandmothers were born into slavery, a way to contribute to the cause that would not raise suspicions of white employers who might fire them from their jobs, or white landowners who might evict them from the houses they rented."
Gilmore was fired from her own job at the white-owned National Lunch Company, but she was undeterred. King provided financial support, helped her remodel her kitchen, and Gilmore's modest home became a regular meeting space for members of the movement. (She also got up at four every morning so she could start prepping whatever she'd serve for lunch that day.) "Dr. King needed a place where he could go. You know, he couldn’t go just anywhere and eat," Reverend Al Dixon said. "He needed someplace where he could not only trust the people around him but also trust the food. And that was Georgia’s.”
In 1986, an interviewer asked Gilmore why she thought that the Black community in Montgomery was ready for a major bus boycott. "Well, you know, you can take things, and take things, and take things and you know we were dealing with a new generation," she said. "And they, this new generation had decided that they just had taken as much as they could."
Three decades later, a new generation seems to have made a similar decision.