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  • Writer's pictureOnita Morgan-Edwards

Destination: Gem City Market

An invitation to do a guided tour of Gem City Market in late February gave me an opportunity to see the inside before they open. Sawdust littered the floor in one place, some machines were still in their wrapping, shelves seemed to be waiting to receive and prop up produce, meat, and every other product this grocery store will have on May 12th.

Third Perk Express has space there. There is a teaching kitchen, where individuals can teach, people can learn to cook, or where couples can do a date night. There is also a health clinic. By the time the tour group arrived at the community room, I was overwhelmed with pride and joy, and I said aloud that my heart melted from being in that space.

Kroger on Gettysburg is gone. Aldi in Westown — also gone.

As the tour wrapped up, I walked with the group past the three checkout lanes and realized how awesome an endeavor this is and what an asset this will be to the Dayton community.

The new market has “wrap around services for prospective moms and new moms. I really want this to be a catalyst for the community,” said Amaha Sellassie, Co-executive Director of Co-op Dayton.

“We have three types of local: West Dayton-local, regional-local, and statewide-local. By supporting the market, “we build up the local economy,” says Sellassie, “especially on the westside.”

When asked how the community can help support the market’s efforts, Sellassie said, “There's a couple ways to help. First is by making that your first destination to shop. Another way the community can help is by “adding your aspirations and gifts to the emerging vision of the market, because it is not only that ‘we are the ones we've been waiting for,’ but part of that is how do we leverage our gifts and talents for the community that we want to work and play in? That is the notion of collective hope. How we co-create the vision and then we leverage our resources to make it happen. Hope releases the latent gifts in the community.”

“Sometimes people come to me and they say, are you going to do this? Are you going to do that? Sellassie says, “And these are great ideas for programming, but I will ask them, Are WE going to do it? It almost like, people will hand off their idea and then dip (expecting someone else to execute it). We are co-owners of this market. The market is going to be what we co-create together.”

He adds, “If you are willing to help make that happen, let's do it. I really want the community to understand that it is a co-op. It is not Kroger or some entity, where you shop and that is the end of it. We are co-creating it together. What we want to see is what we will make it be. It is an opportunity to leverage the gifts in our community and collaborate. Gem City Market wants to be a beehive, where things are coming in and going out. Like a watering hole for the community, a place to build deeper relationships to transform our community.

“Let us know what things you want in the store,” he says. “The community can also help by being patient, because in the beginning, it takes time to get the right product mix. We will need your feedback. Tell us there is too much of this and not enough of that, so that we can get the mix right. It will take some tweaking, but what are the needs of our community and its residents? Add your vision to the market as a member-owner.”

When I referred to Dayton as a food desert, Sellassie suggested a more appropriate term:

Because “food desert” implies that [what has happened to Dayton] is natural. “We're moving away from saying food desert, and instead using the term food apartheid,” which happens intentionally to “structurally underdeveloped communities, and the result is a food desert,” said Sellassie. “We are building structural mechanisms to reverse that. We are structurally changing the narrative. It is a counter-narrative to underdevelopment. It is a counter-narrative to this community does not deserve resources, this community does not deserve good things, so it is easy to justify underdevelopment, it justifies divestment, (because of redlining, etc.), so we are changing the narrative that we are worthy, that we can self-determine the community we want, and that we can build our own oases. Because it was imagined (the way under-development was not natural, it was systemic, it was intentional), it was [first] an imagination of what it means to be black. So, as we are reimagining blackness to include everybody's humanity, we are also building the mechanisms to ensure a thriving community, to ensure a flourishing community. How are we flourishing and creating opportunities in an area that has [exasperated by] divestment, so that we can literally be an oasis? Not only by word but by demonstration.”

“Five Rivers will be at Gem City Market three days a week. Tiffany Brown, APRN, will be there on Thursdays providing health and wellness services. With approximately 90 partners so far,” Sellassie says, “the health clinic will provide traditional medicine, alternative medicine, health and wellness, and people can sign up for WIC. We are trying to meet the needs of the community.”

Lela Klein said, “I am so proud to have been part of the team that brought this market to life. Gem City Market is a clear demonstration of what we can do as a community when we act in solidarity with each other. I can’t wait to see what we do next!”

“I have to say thank you,” said Sellassie, “because often there are a couple of people at the forefront, but there are countless people behind the scenes, who are all working together to help co-create this vision together including a multitude of volunteers, organizations, philanthropic partners, city, state, and federal government, that helped make this happen. Sometimes people think that [because they see] one, two, or three people,” that that is it, “but that is not the reality. No different than the Civil Rights Movement. How many countless Freedom Fighters who were women (for instance) who are underneath the radar, including people like Ella Baker, who was—to me—the biggest OG of them all.

“As a community, we must decide how are we going to activate the space. We have it. How will we make the space meaningful? How do we make it a destination spot? And what do we want to see [in the space]? What do we need? What kind of programming do we want to have in the community room? Who wants to utilize the committee room to hold their meetings and gatherings? All these things are totally up to the community to determine, so I am excited for the process and we will see how it goes. “

Gem City Market is truly for the people, by the people. Let’s take care of it.

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