SEE/Climate Diet Spotlight
Promoting a Vegan Lifestyle That Is as Fun as It Is Beneficial
Interview with Naijha Wright-Brown, Executive Director of Black Veg Society
Q. I’m impressed with the depth and breadth of the services of the Black Veg Society that you are Exec Director of! Can you tell me what is your biggest joy and then your biggest challenge in managing Black Veg Society in Baltimore?
A. The biggest joy is our perseverance in being a black woman-led organization not only catering to the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community but also strategically partnering with other organizations, businesses and individuals sharing the same mission. We started in 2014 by taking a Facebook group that was granted to us and created a nonprofit. We were recognized by one of our initial funders, VegFund, in 2019 at the National Animal Rights Conference. This was so unexpected. We had not realized all the outreach we were doing in Baltimore City and surrounding areas in the counties and Washington, D.C. through our vegan table sampling events, Vegan SoulFest, and meatless dinner events were being recognized.
They were impressed with our ability to organize and collaborate on over two dozen events in a matter of two years with an extremely small team and very little funding. Our initial grant was $150 from them. We would be remiss to not also give special thanks to A Well-Fed World who played a major role in helping our organization become an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit through their support and funding.
Our biggest challenge in managing Black Veg Society is always securing sufficient funding to scale up, expand and produce new, innovative projects, events, and programs. We plan and organize all of our projects and events on a shoestring budget, putting up personal funds at times.
Q . As a plant-based advocate—my major focus has been to get more hard data to environmental, science, and health reporters on climate benefits of plant-based eating as well as personal health benefits. If you could pick one, which of the two inspired you to become a vegan?
A. I was inspired to become a vegan due to personal health reasons. At the age of 33, my cholesterol was diagnosed by an internist as high at the 240 level. What do you think I was told would happen if I did not bring it down? I would need to be placed on prescription meds. Absolutely not! I’m holistic and am an avid user of these types of remedies such as Boiron and Health Concerns Chinese Traditional Formulas.
Q. You have many programs to help people become vegans and to stay vegans—as well as to enjoy veganism. Which of your programs do you see as most effective in teaching plant-based eating?
A. WOW! You are really going to make me choose a favored program, huh? I absolutely cannot. The reason being is because what may be most effective for me or you, may not be effective for someone else. Most of the people we target who are looking to become vegan and stay vegan love food and are interested in either learning what foods to consume and/or how to cook these foods. Vegan SoulFest is effective in a fun and edu-taining way. It shows that vegans are not a group of boring, no-having-fun, deprived bunch. Maryland Vegan Restaurant Month is another campaign that gets folks out with their friends and family and gives an opportunity for restaurants to add vegan and plant-based options on their menus in an effort to bridge the gap, engage with the community and have fun.
I enjoy consuming vegan junk food, at times! However, I do understand based on my personal experience, reading educational materials, and receiving the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate that achieving optimal health in my community is the only way the health disparities gap will begin to close. Through our Food as Medicine webinar series, we did take a more serious approach on educating how food can become “medicine” through consumption of a whole foods, plant-based diet.
Q. How do you measure success for your group—I love the idea of partnerships—are there one or two that stand out as most successful?
A. I measure success for my group through feedback. Hearing that people want more of a particular program or event tells me that it was successful and needs to be kept in motion. Our organization partners with Afro Vegan Society on Vegan SoulFest. We completed our 8th edition in 2023. That’s a lot of festivals so we must be doing something amazing, especially since the past two years it has been a paid event and we had record-breaking numbers last year. Maryland Vegan Restaurant Month is another successful partnership that we have with a veg-friendly restaurant in Baltimore, Golden West Cafe. It started out as Baltimore Vegan Restaurant Week in the summer of 2017. Six years later, without interruption—not even during the pandemic—we’re working to engage the entire state of Maryland in this twice-a-year campaign.
Q. Sustainable Earth Eating/Climate Diet recently wrote to the Pope asking him to re-instate Meatless Fridays—a standard when I was growing up—it would be a massive benefit to the Planet, since he is a climate-conscious advocate. I await an answer. Do you have any ideas for me?
A. That’s wonderful that you wrote to the Pope to get Meatless Fridays reinstated. Is there anyone on the Pope’s religious team you can connect with directly? The Bishop? Based on my research, I found the following in the National Catholic Register, although dated 2016, “Contrary to common misconception, abstinence from meat on Fridays throughout the year has never been abolished from Roman law. If you are passionate about getting anything of such magnitude accomplished, you may have to strategically plan it out and find partners from others that are in alignment. Reinstating, or even implementing, Meatless Fridays is a great idea.
Q. SEE/Climate Diet has a Power of Food program, with a tool kit, that we are trying to make more available for school use—it is a science-based curriculum on the benefits to humans and the planet of plant-based eating. Do you see students and younger people as our best hope to produce more plant-eaters and save ourselves and the planet?
A. Absolutely! Engage the youth. Let them lead. Youth advocacy is on the rise. So much that I have recruited two youth advocates to assist the organization with this outreach and they are not based in Baltimore. They are remote. I love the work that Genesis Butler is doing, and has been doing, since a young child. It shows responsibility and better decision making.
Q. Where do you see Black Veg Society in the next five to ten years?
A. Black Veg Society is interested in becoming a more philanthropic organization, financially. There are a lot of grassroots organizations doing amazing, impactful work in this space and we want to put our own funding behind them and support their mission and efforts while still continuing our own work.
Q. I know you founded Land of Kush in 2011; did that precede the Black Veg Society and how do you manage both—although, does [your husband] Gregory primarily manage the restaurant?
A. Yes, The Land of Kush preceded Black Veg Society. Gregory Brown founded The Land of Kush in 2005 while vending at a local, very popular Jazzy Summer Night festival in Baltimore. Once he identified that there was indeed a market for his vegan soul food, he took the next couple of years to finance such a huge endeavor. He returned in 2007 and gained my interest in the restaurant business venture where I was able to use my marketing and public relations skills to assist with creating the awareness of the brand. Greg is the Chief Executive Officer. He is the visionary and creates and approves the recipes among other things. I simply do what I do best—make connections, relate to the public, assure quality, and produce events.
Q. Did all your knowledge & actual cooking vegan soul food make the Veg Society job that much easier?
A. Somewhat. Having knowledge of the vegan and plant-based movements was important. Cooking is not my passion. I don’t cook a lot but I can cook really well. My husband can vouch for that. My job as an Executive Director was easier because I am a transformational leader with key initiatives: obtain measurable results, get things done, and operate with integrity. Without that, I couldn’t imagine any job in a leadership capacity being easy. Now, if I can just get all the funding that I need, that would be vegan soul sweet! LOL.