Atlanta is a diverse city consisting of a 51% black population according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However black residents are 5x more likely than white residents to be jailed before their 20s. Even more surprising, 50% of young people end up going back into the system within three years of release.
Who is Gangstas to Growers?
The organization, Gangstas to Growers (G2G) was formed to lower the number of youth re-entering the prison system through an agricultural program focused on education, holistic growth, and valuable business lessons.
Gangstas to Growers was founded by Abiodun Henderson who was born and raised in Brooklyn. Henderson learned about activism from her parents. Her mother—a Liberian-born social worker, educator, and entrepreneur who started both a school and an employment agency for immigrant women, was a big influence. Henderson’s mother died of AIDS-related complications when Henderson was 14. She was also inspired by her father, a “rank and file Black Panther member,” who passed when she was 29, eight days before the start of the Occupy movement.
What do they do?
The social enterprise focuses on worker-owned cooperatives that develop entrepreneurial skills among at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Through the G2G program, students learn about innovation and business skills in the field of agriculture. They are responsible for growing their food, coming up with business plans, and encouraged to design selling strategies for their products. Each student is treated as a member of a business and are able to earn $15 an hour which is much higher than the $7.25 Georgia minimum wage (mandated minimum by federal law).
On the holistic side, G2G connects its students with mindfulness practices, like yoga and provides trainings with black educators that teach students about self esteem, community, and love, which have been lacking in “a white-centered supremacist society,” as said in one of their social media posts. In an interview with Patrick Jonsson, Abiodun Henderson explained G2G’s mission, “We are trying to do real-life things that will change the trajectory of our neighborhoods…and we are doing it with love, knowledge, and money. It’s hard, but we’re not going to quit.”
Through programs like the Shark Therapy Project G2G aims to protect wild sharks while teaching students to learn about environmental challenges in the oceans near them.
When talking about Sweet Sol, Henderson recalls the beginning of the idea, born at a local Farmers Market, “I just picked up a whole bunch of random seasonings: lavender, turmeric, muscovado sugar. I had never even heard of muscovado sugar…The result? A fragrant, fiery blend the color of Georgia clay that somehow tastes great on everything.”
The graduates from the Gangstas to Growers Training Program have an opportunity to join the Sweet Sol Hot Sauce Co-Op as Part Owners . The program highlights the importance of ownership in the black community and the need to focus on Generational Wealth. “Most people in our respective neighborhoods don’t know how to start a business or mainly just don’t have the capital it takes to sustain it so that’s an area where we come in and help we work with formerly incarcerated, at risk and homeless 17-24 year olds.”
Originally, G2G was debating making either a tomato sauce or hot sauce, and settled on hot sauce after hearing Beyonce’s song singing, “hot sauce in my bag, swag.” The name of the sauce itself was created in a marketing workshop at a church kitchen in Atlanta. Their hot sauce sells for $12 a bottle online on their website, and in-person at many Atlanta Farmers Markets.
Looking for opportunities for her students, Henderson partners with SWAG Co-op, a Southwest Atlanta farmers’ organization dedicated to sustainable urban food systems, along with other food businesses and restaurants around the city. The partnerships and lessons learned in G2G help students get jobs and externships around the city.
Flor Chavez Barriga is an undergraduate student at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA studying History and Sociology with a focus on research. She was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and grew up in Atlanta surrounded by the rich history of Martin Luther King’s legacy. She previously attended Freedom University where she was given the opportunity to achieve higher education, while also learning about collective action and human rights. Flor is passionate about the south’s reaction to immigration with its restrictive policies and infamous detention centers. She hopes to highlight the voices of communities in the south that have helped combat all the hurdles that continue making immigrant lives harder.