As a little girl, I lived on the East side of our town, which, like many cities, is divided by a river. Our side of town, in the late 60's and early 70's, was considered the rough side, the more dangerous side. We were, and still are, a city divided by race.
My folks chose to move to the East side in order to help integrate both housing and education in our modest-sized, racially-divided, Iowa city.
In order to buy groceries from somewhere other than a convenience store, my mom had to cross the river to shop at the full-sized grocery store on the other side of town from where we lived.
I loved to go with her.
And more often than not, my mom would run into a friend or acquaintance who would ask her: "What are you doing over here?" As a little girl, that question never struck me as particularly hostile, so I never understood why my mom's voice had a bit of a bite in it when she explained that we didn't have a grocery store like this on the East side, so she was compelled to cross the river to buy food to feed her family.
Now I understand both the ignorance and the underlying hostility of that question. And my family is White. I can only imagine what it felt like, and still feels like, for our friends of color to be asked that kind of question when they had to cross the river in the days when our segregated town was even more segregated than it is today.
I guess I should say, I CAN'T imagine. I've never had to imagine what it feels like to be questioned about my presence at a grocery store. Or why I couldn't just shop in my own neighborhood.
The East side of Waterloo, Iowa, has been a food desert for decades.
But yesterday, some 50 years since shopping with my mom, I attended the grand opening of a brand-new, gorgeous, Black-owned grocery store in the heart of the East side of town. The community joy was palpable. Dignitaries from the city spoke, Nikole-Hannah Jones, Pulitzer prize winning journalist, author and Waterloo native, spoke. Ms Willie-Mae Wright, a family friend and the first Black city councilwoman spoke and was honored for her service to this community. She is royalty in my book.
And I - along with hundreds of folks from our community - shopped. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian ... we all just shopped.
And guess what? I went back today. I saw friends, got some hugs, helped a man figure out what he might have forgotten on his list, talked with the cashier about what we knew about jicamas. It was pure, friendly, small-town goodness.
Friends and neighbors, shop at All-in Grocers on Franklin Street in Waterloo, ok?
Food deserts are a travesty. Let's ensure that no mom, dad or any of our neighbors is ever forced to cross the river to shop for nutritious food again.
Shopping for groceries can be an act of neighborly love.