“This conversation has me very excited. I connected with Nkoula on Instagram over the summer and knew immediately I’d found a kindred spirit. She is a creative, artist, gardener, Pan African activist, and that’s just the start. She was raised in a family of 10 in Kongolese traditions, songs, and earth rituals. I could go on about the incredible things that this bright light of a woman does, but I’m going to let her speak for herself.” –Michaela
I’ve been to Hudson once and was fascinated by the history that just drips off of every building. I was particularly enamoured with one that had formerly been a synagogue and is now a church. That building right there seemed to exemplify some unmissable shifts that the town has undergone, which is really the foundation for the work you do with Grow Black Hudson. Despite having such a large Black population, there’s no mention of the historical contributions of Black people in the growth and development of the town on the town’s official website! That alone shows how valuable your work is in representation through community building. Can you tell us a little about the history of the Black population in Hudson that the town has failed to mention?
The town of Hudson used to be a red light district back in the day so it went through a lot of controversy and a lot of buildings got burned down and boarded up by the police to cut it off. That created super low rent where a lot of Black and brown families were able to pay and establish homes. Since gentrification, rents have been raised to levels where so many Black people are getting kicked out of their homes and the remaining homes left have been or are being converted to AirBnBs for the tourists. So although the Black and brown community was a lot stronger, as rent goes up and gentrification prevails, it shifts the diversity and representation.
You wear many hats and one that I want to talk about is that of a farmer, specifically with a commitment to empower communities of color to reconnect with our ancestral heritage of connecting with the earth and growing our own food. I’ve been thinking a lot about that ancestral heritage lately since connecting with you. A good portion of my family was enslaved in the south working the fields of their enslaver, and then spent a good portion of their emancipated lives working the fields as tenant farmers, before joining the Great Migration north to cities where working the land wasn’t an option. In my family’s case, there was emotional baggage tied to farming. They wanted to leave it behind because it reminded them of those days. How do we reclaim the narrative?
To reclaim, I believe it helps to have a strong mind towards what you are going for; consistency and real passion about it. Find other likeminded people who are about it and form a team that will have your back, each one can teach one and the enlightenment will spread about coming back home to our roots, food sovereignty and knowledge of our magnificent past and our triumph in survival. We need to be on the same page and open to our spiritual guides and ancestors we are doing it for. They will also support the movement on levels we can’t reach. It’s slowly happening all over the world, so connecting with that frequency will only bring more strength in that movement.
Skipping back to Hudson, something I noted when I was there was that so much of the bustling commercial activity was confined to the Warren Street area, but as we walked further away, the types of businesses and their clientele changed. I stopped into a bodega for some drinks for the road and it was like I was in a completely different town from the one I had seen a few blocks away. I had seen maybe two other Black people up on the main drag and suddenly I was in the company of maybe half a dozen of us in the store. In a town with a big Black population, what gives?
Gentrification creates a clear visual expression of what is and isn’t for us, you experience that shift when the majority of what is in control of the representation of a town is white, that is what you see and that is what message is giving off. It’s almost like a “Whites Only” sign in another way to some of the Black locals here. If they went into any of these stores they would not receive the same warm welcome as someone who is white, that’s just how the business here works, and it’s been like that for so long it stays. Only if you dress like them and speak like them–assimilate–will they even open a little to the possibility of you being a real customer. But they will have a BLM sign in their windows…the hypocrisy is beyond me. BLM, but you don’t say hello when they walk past you in the street. I don’t trust it, and neither does the Black community who feels this unwelcome so the segregation continues. Anyone knows to only go where they feel welcome, or they change themselves to better fit and be welcomed into that environment and may still receive the same treatment. There’s a lot of true reflection and healing that needs addressing.
Growing can be intimidating! I grew up with a dad who grew tomatoes and hot peppers, a mom who grew every kind of windowsill herb imaginable and has now moved onto flowers and I dream of the day when I’ll be able to start growing, too. What tips do you have for a novice looking to get started, whether they’re in an urban location or have a good, hunk of land? Or if they’re not yet ready to dip their toes (or hoes!) in, how can they best support growers of color?
To start your growing journey I would say to start small with a few different type of herbs and veggies, feel the first hand experience of what it is like to care for a plant. I believe a lot of our instincts linked to our compassion through our melanin kick in and we see that water or even just attention is needed. Allow nature to teach you. If you take a walk in the woods or through town, observe the nature around you and how it grows. Sometimes you don’t have to do too much and you can let it do it’s thing and simply guide it with water and soil and love. I feel like it can be simpler then we think but definitely starting small will give you a great introduction into going larger.
And I always try to end the conversation with a few rapid-fire questions. What is…
The thing you grow that brings you the greatest joy? My Family brings me the greatest joy, and the new generations that continue the lessons of love and compassion in healing the earth and ourselves. A Kongolese proverb that guides you on the regular? Ubuntu is a Bantu spiritual belief in all of the connection of life. I am because you are, we are because all is. One day is one day you can only be where you are, everything has its time. The book on the top of your reading pile? Most recently reading Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler. Your favorite restaurant in Hudson? Paulette is one of the only lasting Black businesses in Hudson selling Jamaican West Indian food off the corner of 2nd and Warren. The most resonating lesson you’ve learned during quarantined times in one word? I’ve learned is to slow down, don’t believe everything they tell you, especially when they have and agenda to eliminate your race. Trust in your community and build up your local Black economy encouraging each other to grow and build at home, spend time with your family, take care of your needs, your healing and growth to be better able to help others. Check in on your friends and spread love. Eat healthy, stretch, breathe, enjoy life and keep your spirit open to learnings.
You can keep up with Nkoula and the movement to re-introduce Black and Brown communities to body and soul nourishing growing practices over on Instagram. A preservation workshop was just held (hello, summer produce in the middle of winter!) and I’m excited to see what else is being planted, literally and metaphorically.