At The Root is a new MLK50 series that highlights everyday radical action. As the writer and activist Angela Davis said, “radical means simply grasping something at the root.” This visually-driven feature will be recurring. To suggest an idea for At The Root, email visuals director Andrea Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the winter of 2018, a group of organizers sought a space for a new idea. They knew they needed something accessible, affordable and welcoming to Memphis’ Latinx and immigrant communities.
The organizers, in their work with groups like Comunidades Unidas en una Voz (CUUV) and the Memphis Intercultural Coalition, sensed the desire for fellowship in the communities they were serving. Inspired by another group — C3 and their Books and Breakfast program (a tip of the hat to the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program) — they secured space at the Gaisman Community Center, in one of Memphis’ largely immigrant neighborhoods.
Using personal funds, donations and extra hands, the first Desayuno con Libros (“Breakfast with Books” in Spanish) took place in March 2018. Park employees at the community center kept wheeling chairs into the activity room where families showed up to enjoy pancakes, chilaquiles and free books for the choosing that covered long tables.
“We knew that this is something our people were missing,” Yuleiny Escobar, one of the organizers with CUUV, said.
Every third Saturday of the month, a hand-drawn sign was hung on the door of the community center welcoming folks to the event. On those days, Gaisman bustled more than usual. On Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the smell of copal traveled through the old building as people placed offerings on the altar in the gym. On the El Dia del Niño, volunteers gathered a small army of piñatas that had children lined up for hours. Books and stories were always a part of it. Parents who brought their children became more involved in the program.
All that ceased, like many other things in our lives, in the beginning of 2020 with the pandemic.
“The isolation definitely had me feeling disconnected from my community,” Escobar said.
It took about a year of weathering the fear and uncertainty before they moved toward reuniting in the spring of 2021. Slowly, the event returned to Gaisman, as strong as before.
“Being together again was beautiful,” Escobar said. “There were families and friends who had maybe only attended once or twice early when we started in 2018. They also came back. It was a hard year for all of us.”
Earlier this year, however, the city announced that the Gaisman Community Center and park would be closed for at least 18 months for renovations.
Desayuno con Libros moved to The Village in Binghampton for a few months and will soon be starting their monthly gatherings at The Commons, also in Binghampton. Finding a venue as perfect as Gaisman wasn’t easy with a tight budget, but it wasn’t an insurmountable challenge, according to Escobar.
“People think that us who put this on are all trained organizers, but that’s not the case,” she said. “Many of us are mothers who have this way of working as a team, which has allowed everyone to carve out new strengths. We have all the resources we need to make things happen right in our community. By making this space and allowing our energy to flow together, magic happens.”
Adrienne Johnson Martin is the executive editor for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Email her at email@example.com
Andrea Morales is the visuals director for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.