Baking the World a Better Place
Talking to children about various types of protest can empower them to make their voices heard.The spring and early summer of 2020 was a tough time for me and many other parents. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the spotlight on previous victims such as Elijah McClain broke our hearts again and again as we watched graphic videos of police-involved killings and stayed glued to the news. There were days that I woke up crying and went to bed crying.I tried to hide these tears from my daughter. But she had just turned 13 and the pandemic meant we were all together in an apartment. Plus she had a phone. So she had been reading more of the news than I would have liked. A dear friend’s son, also 13, refused to jog in their bucolic suburban neighborhood after Ahmaud Arbery’s death, in defiance of his soccer coaches’ instruction. Our children were suffering, and I know that my friends, of many different backgrounds, were struggling to explain the headlines against the backdrops of safety and possibility they had sought to create in their own homes.That spring, my daughter attended her first protest march. She came home, her arms and legs buzzing with excitement. The gathering, which took place in our relatively small town of Hoboken, N.J., had drawn thousands of people. Organizers and community members, some of them young women like my daughter, spoke at the march, and she was in awe of their voice and their power.Later that summer, I began working on a kids book about the power of protest with my colleagues at The New York Times. “Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter” looks at the summer of 2020 as a case study in the effectiveness of peaceful protest. Experts believe that between 15 million and 26 million people participated in some sort of Black Lives Matter event in the spring of 2020 — most likely making it the largest protest movement in the nation’s history.But as I told my daughter, and as we discuss in the book, you don’t need a bullhorn to raise your voice about the issues you care about. Children and young adults have long taken part in alternative forms of protest, including horseback rides, surfboard paddle outs, bicycle gatherings, concerts, letter writing campaigns and mural painting. There are so many ways to be an activist and our book highlights young people who are changing the world, like pastry chef Paola Velez, 30, of Washington, D.C.I spoke with Paola recently about her effort to harness her passion for baking as a fund-raising tool to support social-justice projects. In spring of 2020, Paola united with fellow pastry chefs Willa Pelini and Rob Rubba to create Bakers Against Racism. Their goal was to convince 80 bakers to make and sell goods to support organizations doing racial justice work. The response was immense; more than 2,000 bakers in at least 41 states and on five continents around the world signed up.Daniella Senior, left, a restauranteur, and Paola Velez bake to benefit causes they care about.Andrew SeaveyFor Paola, who grew up in the Bronx, families were key to making the nationwide bake sale a success. “When I would think about who can reach the most people, I didn’t focus on the celebrity chef. I didn’t focus on the influencer,” she explained during a recent Zoom interview. “I focused on the people that actually knew people. The moms, the dads, the aunties, the cousins, the ones that would have to have this difficult conversation with their family that they might not have had the opportunity to do so, but have been wanting to do for so long.”So far, she said, the organization has raised more than two million dollars in a little over a year for groups such as Black Lives Matter, the United Negro College Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Innocence Project. “What’s really beautiful about it is that I started it with, like, zero dollars down, and just the goodness of other people,” Paola said. “You don’t actually have to wait until you have a ton of money to raise a ton of money.”Bake sales have a long history of being a potent form of political protest. In the 1950s, Georgia Gilmore sold pies and other baked goods to help fund the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery bus boycotts. Paola has seen that pastry can be a great opener for sometimes challenging political discussions: “When we speak about issues that we care about, we do it with a pie in hand,” she said. “And so sometimes it’s a little more graceful and a little more palatable because there’s something sweet at the end of this, like, very charged, very truth-forward statement that we have to make.”The very act of baking, Paola pointed out, is an exercise in mindfulness that lends itself to the thought-provoking work of social justice. “It takes a little bit of patience and it takes a little bit of grace,” she said. “So I always say, you can bake the world a better place, because in those times of reflection, you are really staying still and thinking about how to be someone that gives.” Even non-professional bakers, including children, are welcome to join the effort, she said, and they might benefit from some meditative time with the oven.Most recently, Bakers Against Racism has dedicated efforts to help support organizations working to end hate crimes against Asian Americans and people of Pacific Islander heritage. To participate in one of their initiatives or to organize your own local Bakers Against Racism bake sale, visit bakersagainstracism.com or @bakersagainstracism on Instagram.