The events in Ferguson were the beginning of Rose McGee’s special brand of “baketivism,” using food culture and other creative forms of relationship-building to create change in our world.
Since that fateful day, Sweet Potato Comfort Pie has continued to deliver much-needed connection, conversation and catalytic action among educators, leaders in positions of governance, communities experiencing recent trauma, youth and elders in cross-generational mentorship programs, and many others. Our work includes:
Healing: Response to racial trauma/crisis with story circles and group baking; uplifting and honoring marginalized community heroes with the sweet potato comfort pie; special healing retreats such as the Black Women’s Healing retreat; and healing tea parties — facilitated conversations that celebrate the Black cultural tradition of tea houses and tea ceremonies.
Live community-building events: Our two largest annual events are the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday of Service in January and our summer Jubilee in Celebration of Juneteenth. These bring people of all backgrounds together to deepen understanding and build relationships.
Speaker series that amplify Black and BIPOC voices and perspectives: We have produced numerous speaker series to deepen understanding of Black and BIPOC experiences among allies and to build solidarity and racial justice commitment. These speaker series are produced by the organization or in partnership, such as our award-winning How Can We Breathe series produced in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center after the murder of Mr. George Floyd. We also produce story circles that center BIPOC voices and engage policy makers, educators and others.
The arts: Our original photo exhibit, “Character Values: Upholding Our Beloved Community,” honors diverse community heroes with the characteristics essential to building community. It has been displayed at numerous schools, galleries, churches and other organizations. Contact us to inquire about displaying the exhibit, or for access to our digital version of the photo exhibit. Other arts activities include the production of an original play, “Kumbayah, The Juneteenth Story.” This educational and moving play about the origins and meaning of Juneteenth was shown in Minneapolis and Duluth in 2022. The play will be going on tour to St. Peter/Mankato, Rochester, and St. Cloud in 2023.
The Rose Service Scholar Cohort is a mutual-mentorship program that connects Black and other BIPOC youth and elders. Elders learn about technology and gain connection while youth focus on areas of cultural identity, healing and career paths. In addition to this cohort, more youth work has included pie bakes and conversation with Robbinsdale School District, Hopkins West Jr. High and other schools.
SWEET POTATO COMFORT PIE JUBILEE IN CELEBRATION OF JUNETEENTH. The Jubilee is our keynote summer event. In 2021, Sweet Potato Comfort Pie partnered with the 25th Annual Peace Celebration for a Jubilee celebration and festival. Held in St. Paul’s Western Sculpture Park, the event drew an amazing crowd and featured SPCP’s photo exhibit, Character Values: Upholding Our Beloved Community (see below). Read more about the 2021 event here. In 2022, the Jubilee featured the production and staging of an original play, Kumbayah, The Juneteenth Story, which drew over 400 people to performances at the Breck School’s Cargill Theater (more details here).
ANNUAL DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. SERVICE HOLIDAY. What began as an idea and partnership in our resident city (Golden Valley) has grown into a huge annual event, as well as a model adopted by other organizations for meaningful celebration of this day. The event brings together people of all races and generations for celebration and education, and to have conversations about the ongoing impact of racism and our fight for Beloved Community.
THE ROSE SERVICE SCHOLARS COHORT. This is a cross-generational, mutual mentorship program that connects Black youth and elders around topics of cultural identity, career, technology and community. Elders gain community and connection while the youth gain support, a sense of belonging and identity, as well as practical career insight and resources.
Shown at left: Rose Service Scholars Kai Miller (on left) and Ayres Warren (right) with Rose McGee (center). They’re attending the 88th birthday of elder civil rights icon Dr. James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962
SPEAKERS & OTHER SERIES. We create speaker series, story circle events and healing spaces that amplify Black and BIPOC voices. A few of our key events to date have been the four-part “How Can We Breathe” series with the Minnesota Humanities Center; the Katie Sample Series of conversations; and a week of healing events during the anniversary week of the murder of Mr. George Floyd. By popular demand, this series of Virtual Healing Tea Circles was held again in 2022.
PHOTO EXHIBIT: “CHARACTER VALUES: UPHOLDING BELOVED COMMUNITY.” The Character Values: Upholding Our Beloved Community exhibit made its initial showing to the public at our first annual Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Jubilee in 2021. This exhibit uplifts and amplifies community heroes who embody characteristics that build Beloved Community. Since its debut, the photo exhibit has gone on the road and been shown at churches, schools, galleries and events. A digital version of the photo exhibit is available by request for educational or other purposes. Please contact us to request it.
“Character Values: Upholding Our Beloved Community” is an original product of and produced by Sweet Potato Comfort Pie®. Please avoid copying or distributing this content without permission from Sweet Potato Comfort Pie. Produced June 2021. This exhibit was made possible by the Bush Foundation’s Bush Connect Program. Expansion of this exhibit was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
Responding to the Call — Keeping Our Eyes on the Pies!
AUGUST 9, 2014 … another bloody hot day. There I sat in the comfort of my air-conditioned home watching media coverage of another Black mother’s son lying lifeless on a scorching asphalt street — this time in Ferguson, Missouri. Like others prior, the news of Michael Brown’s death tore at my heart as I thought, that could have been my son. I ached for the unknown mother who would never again hear a response to her call, “Come on inside baby, it’s time to eat!”
And so I wept.
Escalating hotter than the weather was the tremendous tension of the protests. As I viewed eyes filled with anger and fear flash across my television screen, I asked myself, What can I do? There came a soft, yet clear response (I believe from God): “Go into your kitchen, make some sweet potato pies, pack your car and deliver them down to Ferguson.” And so I did.
On Friday, August 29, 2014, at the crack of dawn, my son Adam and I hit the road with 30 freshly-baked sweet potato pies in the trunk of my car. My pastor daughter, Rosalyn, created a poem to accompany each pie (see The Pie). Upon arrival, first I asked permission of each person as I offered them a gift of a pie and soon discovered that each one had something to share about how the pie had come at just the right time. And so I listened.
“During the table discussions, we were asked to discuss a time we had felt injustice. Like a down coat allows you to face the cold, I feel as though these pies give us warmth. They allow us to face the discomfort. Receiving a Sweet Potato Comfort Pie is wonderful, but there’s also a deeply healing aspect of baking the pies in an environment of cooperation and respect.”
Martin Spies, Pie Baker
“I was truly skeptical as to the power that pie had to bring people together. I’ve never been a sentimental person, nor do I think I will ever be. But I decided that there was no group more deserving than the amazing young people I work with, so I shared the pie with them. It helped me really understand the entire purpose of the pie sharing in a way that I wasn’t able to. Sharing the pie was less about the pie and more about the people I was sharing the space with. There was a certain shift in the mood following the passage I read after offering them the pie. It became a more emotionally-connected room. I was much more aware and in tune with the people in the room and how absolutely excited they were to eat some pie. It wasn’t until much later that I reflected on what exactly the pie sharing experience had helped me realize. The pie itself did not have as much meaning as the gesture of giving the pie did. It took me a while, but I now understand how important it is to reach out and what better way than to build community through pie.”
– Sara Osman, Pie to Youth Undoing Institutional Racism
“We met many of the survivors of the Tree of Life tragedy, listened to their stories, shared tears with them, some in shul, and some in their homes. We sang Adon Olam to the tune of the Minnesota Rouser, taught them John Orenstein’s Mi Chamocha, toured the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. We shared the story of how we baked the kosher pies, and they LOVED the pies. Laminated Jewish stars hang from trees around the neighborhood. The Starbucks is decorated with illustrations of hearts and words of our Middot, our values. Kindness, Hope, Love. חסד תקווה אהבה.ץ.
What stuck out to me most was the security guards and the custodians, most of them African American, which is relevant only in the sense that they greeted us with great anticipation, saying, “I haven’t had sweet potato pie since my mom passed.” And then they proceeded to tell us about the impact of the shootings on what they referred to as, “Our congregants.” They have been the witnesses to how the people are moving through the grief. Keith said he works seven days a week, because he knows his congregants need the consistency. He also spoke about being a martial arts expert, and knows that his hands and quick action would be more crucial than his gun if he had to defend anyone. He shared that he’s willing to put his life on the line for these people. He also said he wears a bright neon green security vest, and a baseball hat that says “Security” in big yellow letters because he knows that out on the street, he’s a target due to the color of his skin.
People had been anticipating our visit and were waiting for these pies. Each had a story.”
– Wendy Goldberg, Pies to Tree of Life Synagogue
“The gift of a Sweet Potato Comfort Pie shaped my DNA – it was about love and the potential of the community.”
– Dr. Carlton Jenkins
Former Superintendent, Robbinsdale Public Schools
Pie from Andrea Bejarao-Robinson
“We live in a world that has universal adversity. The Creator has many gifts to send through other people. The Creator sends angels out with gifts. This is how I received my gift one day. My angel came to me delivering a pie. My angel’s name is Freesia Towle. Her Native-given name is White Owl Woman. Adversity is one of the tools Creator uses to strengthen us. Rose McGee’s Sweet Potato Comfort Pies come to us sent by angels so we are never alone in our adversity.”
– Linda Lucero
Traditional Healer and 7th-generation Circle Keeper of White Earth Nation
Pie from Freesia Towle
“One morning as I was getting ready for work, I was hit with the devastating news that I needed to submit $300 to my landlord that I didn’t have…[at a] Sweet Potato Comfort Pie planning session, we were asked to go around the circle to share our own story about what brought us there. I shared how I knew that I represented youth who are being racially profiled and being denied access to a host of opportunities. Overwhelmed, I burst into tears. The people in the room were amazingly open and kind. Everyone cried with me. They cared about me and my story. Then, Rose McGee came over with the sweet potato pie that she was planning to give to a dignitary in the room, saying, ‘I’ve decided that you’re the one who needs this pie.’ And I really did. For those who say sweet potato pie can’t change people’s lives, they need to hear my story.”
– Cleveland Darnell Miller, Pie from Rose McGee
“In August 2017, I participated in a pie baking following the bombing at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center and also the explosion at Minnehaha Academy. Leslie Redmond, who would go on to serve as President of the NAACP, was one of our bakers and she brought several pies for her Take Back the Community event at Shiloh Church in North Minneapolis. She gave one of those pies to me, and I shared it with Latriste Graham, the Executive Director of Coming Out of Bondage, a nonprofit organization that is liberating young women from sex trafficking and helping them rebuild their lives. Latriste ended up becoming a dear friend. An inspirational speaker who pulled herself from a life of drugs and sex trafficking, was then the keynote speaker for our 6th Annual MLK Holiday of Service. The connections forged at SPCP are powerful alliances for advancement and change.”
– Kate Towle, Pie from Leslie Redmond, Pie to Latriste Graham
“As for many, the murder of George Floyd threw me into a dark place of grief and rage. Although I have worked for a long time in the space of electoral politics and specifically on anti-racism policy, I found this event required something more than my usual approach. I found that ‘something more’ in a group bake called by Rose McGee. Through the process of baking, delivering pies to the memorial site, and gathering for reflection, I found myself both deeply fortified and deeply informed for the work ahead. Sweet Potato Comfort Pie events remain a go-to when I need to listen to BIPOC voices, activists and leadership to inform my work, and it remains a go-to when I need healing, comeraderie, and strength. It is hard to put the magic of SPCP into words – I only know it is essential for both my life, and my life’s work.”
– Barbara Prindle, Pies to George Floyd Memorial Site Volunteers
“I gave mine to a veteran friend who had a stroke. He has no refrigerator, so we brought it along with lunch, and shared with an older mom (living there) and her daughter (visiting her) who sat at our table. I told the story of why and how the pies were baked, and about Ferguson, Charleston, and the rest. They were deeply moved, and thankful that people were making this kind of an effort. With the large portion that was left, I got my friend’s permission to bring it to the program I run at Plymouth church for adults struggling with mental illness. They are generally people hassled out in the world, not because of skin color, but because of their condition. They also, as a group, tend to be kinder and more caring of one another than just about any group I’ve ever been in. I read Roz’s poem, told again the story of why and how the pies were baked, and then we ate pie. They loved everything about it.”
– Larry Johnson, Pie Baker for Annual Martin Luther King Holiday of Service Event
“I gave one of your delicious pies to Debbie Wells. Debbie works with children and families in St. Louis Park, and her big heart and deep caring touched me. I first met Debbie while volunteering to try to preserve and increase affordable housing here in St. Louis Park. Debbie was working at Meadowbrook, a huge complex of affordable apartments and townhouses. Debbie’s job through the Meadowbrook Collaborative (a collaborative of the St. Louis Park schools, Park Nicollet Foundation and others), was to work with children after school at Meadowbrook to help them with school work and learning enhancement. When the Meadowbrook complex was sold to a new owner and rents were raised, many families were forced to move and seek other affordable housing, which is very scarce. Families came to Debbie for emotional support and help finding resources. Debbie went far above and beyond the call of duty to try to help these families and children. She was deeply honored by the gift of the pie.”
– Janice Goldberg, Pie Baker for Annual Martin Luther King Holiday of Service Event
“We delivered a Sweet Potato Comfort Pie to Leslie Redmond [president of Minneapolis NAACP]. She mentioned usually being on the other side of giving a pie! It was a special moment to express gratitude to Leslie for her endless fight, and for being a main source of news through her Facebook posts. We’ve been listening and learning how to activate as witness to her real time documentation of what’s happening across our city and world. Thank you Ms. Rose, thank you Leslie. Truly at this time, I’m listening, and stand by you in support as we activate change together.”
– Andrea Hartman, Pie to Leslie Redmond