Community Highlight: The Okra Project
In a 2015 study, the National Center for Transgender Equality reported a disproportionately high rate of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and assault among black transgender Americans comparative to any other demographic. The U.S. Transgender Survey found:
- 42% of black trans people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
- 20% were unemployed; that’s twice as likely as black Americans in general and compared to 16% of trans people overall (Bellis, 2017).
- 38% were living in poverty, compared to 24% of black Americans and 29% of trans people in general. The overall U.S. poverty rate in 2015 was just 14% (Edmonds, Fellow, 2016).
This disproportionate disenfranchisement means that black trans people often struggle with food insecurity, lacking the means to grocery shop or cook for themselves. This isn’t just an American-centric problem; it’s global.
The Okra Project
When coming to terms with the struggles that plague the black trans community, founders of the Okra Project decided to launch a charitable initiative that would bring home cooked, nutritious, delicious and culturally-relevant meals into the homes of black trans people, at no cost to them. They also seek to foster a sense of community for their trans brothers, sisters and nonbinary siblings worldwide while giving them the skills they need to pursue careers in food service if they so choose.
Operating via individual donations, the organization pays black trans chefs to visit black trans people’s homes and cook for them right in their kitchen. They create healthy, delicious food and it’s fresher than delivery. However, considering the rate of homelessness within the community, the Okra Project accounted for the high likelihood that those needing their services wouldn’t have a kitchen to cook out of. Thus they collaborate with local community spaces and deliver the chef’s meals to one of those locations for the beneficiaries to pick up.
One session costs the Project $90, accounting for groceries and the chef’s salary. They take donations of any amount however as even the smallest contribution helps reach their goal. Donate directly to their PayPal.
They’re also offering a small COVID-19 relief fund. On the front page of their website, they invite black trans people in need to apply and receive a minimum of $80; this effort helps support the community during this extreme time of need, where more people than ever are struggling financially.
Check out their Instagram to learn more about the initiative; see what resources, meals and services they offer; and learn about the founders and what they have to say.
The Okra Project is finding ways to support their black trans community in addition to providing them with nutritious hot meals. They launched #FeedTheSoul to address other issues harming the community, provide a safe space and foster community. In their own words, this work focuses on producing community efforts, providing resources, and creating affinity spaces that will encourage folks in our community to feed not just their bellies but also their souls.
- Okra Academy
The next logical step from having chefs cook incredible meals for people in need is teaching the black trans community how to prepare some amazing recipes themselves. Okra Academy is a weekend-long online training course where qualified chefs teach kitchen basics and easy recipes, which improves the quality of food people make in their own kitchen and teaches them skills that can help kickstart their own careers in food service.
This is an especially great initiative because it offers free job training to a community riddled with unemployment and homelessness; though the problem is largely a systemic one, Okra Academy hopefully creates more job opportunities for some black trans people who would otherwise not have the means to train for culinary careers.
Okra Academy is also another step toward building relationships within and providing culturally-relevant meals for the black trans community, by giving them the know-how to make delicious food themselves.
- International Grocery Fund
Because the disenfranchisement of black trans people is a worldwide issue, The Okra Project wanted to expand relief efforts to help those suffering outside of the U.S. as well.
Through monthly fundraising efforts, they pay out $40 grants to black trans people all around the world. This gives them the opportunity to stock up on emergency grocery supplies if they’re suffering from financial difficulties, food insecurity or other repercussions of poverty which disproportionately affect black trans people everywhere.
- Okra Outings
The Okra Project connects with local theater and artistic communities to create opportunities for black trans people to see performances in their area, at local spots as well as popular Off-Broadway locations. With every free ticket, Okra Outings also gives the recipient a prepackaged meal made by one of their chefs so that the person can enjoy dinner and a show.
When experiencing disproportionately high rates of poverty, homelessness and other struggles, people often don’t have the time or money to spend on luxuries like a good night out. Okra Outings gives black trans people the opportunity to enjoy some of these great productions for free.
- #ByOkra Series
In line with nurturing black trans minds, bodies and spirits, #ByOkra is a monthly Affinity and Wellness space for the community to practice effective self-care techniques. Black trans bodies are heavily policed by society, and the systematic oppression the community faces can have an extremely negative impact on mental health.
They have three programs: #BeautyByOkra for black trans women, #BrothaByOkra for black trans men, and #SpectrumByOkra for black nonbinary people. These give black trans people of any gender a chance to connect with one another and promote self-care through kindness to their bodies and minds. As the Project puts it, “In a world that is constantly traumatizing our bodies the #ByOkra series is meant to remind Black Trans people of the importance of their relaxation and joy.”
The Okra Project was inspired to create these self-care spaces by Black Power Naps, a sculptural installation dedicated to reclaiming the power and privilege of rest and being idle. Relaxation is a luxury that not everyone can afford, but black trans people deserve it as much as anyone else and #ByOkra seeks to promote that.
As we enter an unprecedented age where the COVID-19 pandemic still ravages the country and Black Lives Matter protests proliferate in cities around the world, black trans people continue to struggle not only with these universal issues but also with the systemic transphobia that’s lead to their severe rates of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and other, similar markers of oppression.
The Okra Project seeks the end of food insecurity for the black trans community while also promoting self-love, self-care and leisure. They’re raising awareness for the deep-seated issues affecting the trans community and simultaneously supporting health and happiness for their black trans brothers, sisters and nonbinary siblings.
Bellis, Rich. LGBTQ workers still face higher unemployment rates. Fastcompany.com, Fast Company, 8 November 2017, https://www.fastcompany.com/40493319/lgbtq-workers-still-face-higher-unemployment-rates.
Edmonds, Fellow, Jillian. Transgender People are Facing Incredibly High Rates of Poverty. NWLC.org, National Womens Law Center, 9 December 2016, https://nwlc.org/blog/income-security-is-elusive-for-many-transgender-people-according-to-u-s-transgender-survey/.
James, S. E., Brown, C., & Wilson, I. (2017). 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey: Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents. Washington, DC and Dallas, TX: National Center for Transgender Equality, Black Trans Advocacy, & National Black Justice Coalition.
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