Off Grid in Color at Carleton

31 January 2019

“There is no better time than now to be self-sufficient. Mother Earth will provide,” announced Chantel Johnson ’10 in her talk last Friday. After setting down roots on her homestead in Salisbury, NC, Chantel has hit the road to present her winter speaking tour, “From Gun Violence to Homesteading.” She hopes to share her story of “how a Black woman from a rough neighborhood in Chicago found peace in learning how to raise animals, grow crops, make households, and supporting others in transition to a more sustainable lifestyle.” The CCCE and Wellstone House of Organizing and Activism sponsored Chantel’s visit to Carleton.

Professor Harry Williams introduced Chantel, his former student, with an affectionate welcome. He connected Chantel’s life and work to the displacement of rural black communities, the Great Migration, a long history of black midwives, the legacy of a racist department of agriculture and discriminatory land and lending policies, asking us to follow these strings as we considered the work Chantel does. It became clear that Chantel is reversing the geography of the Great Migration and reclaiming home and belonging in the rural south.

Chantel’s talk began with an emotional explanation of her community on the south side of Chicago and the impact gun violence has had on her life. She shared startling statistics. Gun violence is the first leading cause of death for black children and teens. There are currently 393 million guns in circulation in this country; which means there are enough for every adult, child and then some to own a gun. These numbers became very real for Chantel when her two brothers suffered multiple gun-related injuries, including a lethal one in 2015. It is for her brother that Chantel gave this talk and does this work.

However, the crowd left with the hope of transformation and healing which Chantel has found on her homestead. She described the resilience she has seen in her land and her animals and expressed the importance of being vulnerable and raw in her communication. On social media, Chantel shares her successes and triumphs, right alongside her struggles and fears. It is this openness and willingness to learn which have drawn so many to Chantel and her story. Chantel will continue her speaking tour in the next month, with several stops in North Carolina.