This month for our Member Spotlight series, we are highlighting FCCP leader Erin Dale Byrd. Erin currently serves as Executive Director at The Partnership Funds and is a founding Owner of Fertile Ground Food Cooperative in Southeast Raleigh.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a military family; I moved every few years, living in Germany and Korea as a child. It was just my nuclear family and I never really felt what it was like to live around cousins and aunts. I never felt like I was from a “place”. That all changed when I came to North Carolina. My work with civic engagement started at NC Voters for Clean Elections. There, we successfully advocated for the first judicial public financing legislation in the United States. After that, I served at the Southerners for Economic Justice before moving to Blueprint NC, a collaborative of 58 progressive organizations working for a fairer, more just North Carolina and an early member of the State Voices network.
At Blueprint, I was able to build the community I was looking for. We prioritized building relationships between folks. Movements start and fall apart. What gives them staying power are the relationships that hold them together. I helped build Blueprint from the ground up, but after 12 years, I knew it was time to move on. I’d given everything to build the organization’s foundations, and now it was time for someone else to continue its growth and expansion. It was time for a sharper vision for the organization. I think many times people stay too long, and the organization and the people suffer as a result.
Most importantly, I’m a soldier for North Carolina. I’m a soldier for the folks that are here. I see my job as serving to help strengthen our movement and protect our communities. As I start at The Partnership Funds, I am not leaving NC and remain committed the community I built here.
What drew you to The Partnership Funds?
I believe to build power, organizations cannot be tied to foundations or other funding streams. The Partnership Funds’ theory of change aligns with that: organizations have to be accountable to the base, be deeply invested in a leadership strategy that moves people from the base into leadership and decision making positions, and be in an ecosystem of groups in alignment with a set of shared values and a strategy to govern that they can articulate as a collective. This framework is clear, rigorous and accountable to the people. It gave me a clear sense how I can help organizations sharpen their political analysis, deepen their organizing skills and root that work in relationships where we see each others dignity and humanity. I’m excited to build on the work that Steven Cole-Schwartz started. He built the relationships necessary and now I get to run with it.
As The Partnership Funds move into their next phase as an organization, I am glad to have FCCP as a partner in the work. Civic engagement alone is insufficient to win real power. We need to be looking at groups on the ground who are truly working locally, who are building relationships in a thoughtful, long-term, and meaningful way and who are investing in the people and building power with the people. Helping to uplift that work is critical to The Partnership Funds, and a value I believe is closely linked to the mission of FCCP.
What else are you working on?
I describe myself as a “deeply committed cooperator.” There is a long legacy of cooperatives in the Black community as a means to give people the ability to practice their own power by working together to meet a community need and have a deciding role in their institutions and lives. I’m driven by the questions: how can the community own our own labor? Our institutions? I am a founding Owner of Fertile Ground Food Cooperative in Southeast Raleigh to attempt to fill the gap. While I am incredibly passionate about the work I’ve done on voting rights and civic engagement, however that work can feel insufficient when my neighbors are still hungry.
The mission of the Fertile Ground Food Cooperative (FGFC) is to open and operate a grocery store that will be a community gathering space focused on: healthy conscious food, building a sense of community connection and belonging and serving as a space where we can work and shop with dignity. Fertile Ground is democratically controlled by its member owners, the majority of whom are drawn from Southeast Raleigh.
It’s a community hub as well as a place for members to foster their assets and have access to fresh and healthy food options.
In March 2018, Fertile Ground’s member base surpassed 370 Owner Members. I’m incredibly excited for our future and the potential this coop has to reclaim our power and sustain the community for generations to come.
Erin, thank you for sharing your story with us. We can’t wait to see how all of this great work progresses.