Last December, nonprofit executive director Malik Yakini received an unexpected call. The caller, a woman who resides in California, said she wanted to direct a sizeable portion of her inheritance to his organization, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

This type of windfall is indeed rare, but it was the caller’s motivation—revealed over several conversations with Yakini—that was really unusual.

She felt there was “some lack of justice in how the money was acquired” and that she could “contribute to greater justice” by transferring wealth to groups engaged in Black, land-related projects, Yakini recalls. “She sees her work in making these donations as specifically a type of individual reparations.”

The donor, who asked to remain anonymous, is part of a cohort of White Americans of means who are moving beyond checking their privilege to taking the lead from Black folks on how to transmute their privilege into reparative and restorative justice.

Transferring wealth to groups like DBCFSN, which organizes community agriculture and food systems activism in Detroit, is a particularly potent form of reparations with immediate benefits to communities of color and knock-on effects on the environment, health, and philanthropy.

The national discourse on reparations tends to narrowly fixate on government-to-individual payouts, but within Black communities, reparations have long been intertwined with the liberation of all Black people through food justice and land sovereignty.

That’s because “land is the basis for self-determination,” says Akua Deidre Smith, who serves as the land strategies director at BlackOUT Collective and coordinator of Reparations Summer, a program that helps White donors give to BIPOC-led food and land initiatives without strings attached, in a way that allows organizations to decide for themselves where and how those gifts will have the most impact.

“There has never been a significant reparations movement or ask that did not involve land… in order to build towards the reparations that we actually deserve,” says Smith. “We need land, money, and healing and transformation now.”

Black Americans’ connection to land and food systems is undeniably and understandably fraught. Their African ancestors were kidnapped and enslaved precisely because of their agricultural acumen and ability to cultivate appropriated land for White colonizers. Their forced labor—“and intellectual property,” notes Yakini—made the United States an economic superpower.

Read the full article about individual reparations by Ruth Terry at YES! Magazine.