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Race-Relationships-Food and Love

What does it really mean for me in my life? It all begins with RACE.

Take for example the upcoming The Summit on Race and Equity: A Call to Government and Community, May 16th and 17th in Boston. The event is a culmination of almost two years of planning between a diverse group of community and City of Boston partners focused on developing policy platforms and institutional change around Advancing Racial Equity in Boston, Greater Boston, and New England.  I like to ask the question, “How do we talk RACE first in Boston and Greater Boston? “

The Boston Alliance for Racial Equity (BARE) is a collaborative organizing this two-day summit with the City of Boston and Governing Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE), a network of government jurisdictions working to achieve racial equity and eliminate institutional and structural racism, the root causes of racial inequities.  BARE brings together community residents, organizations, and government leaders committed to transformation and healing, to work in partnership based on the idea that we must address race first as the root cause of issues across the many sectors of our community, including housing, transportation, public health, education, criminal justice, the environment, climate resiliency, and FOOD!


I'm a person of color. My mother and father met during the Vietnam War---a big, white GI from Texas and a lovely young beauty from Saigon---and fell in love in the 60's. I am a mixed-race war baby. I look like a lot of different things---Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Inuit, etc.---whatever categories you think is the result of the Texas-Saigon love story.  In some places, I am not white or black enough---in a curious few, not ethnic Asian or Vietnamese enough. I have noticed the monoculture of pathways for success---the whiteness of the halls of academia, government, politics, and institutions.  It compelled me to understand more about systemic and structural racism [Rinku Sen will be at Summit!], my own identity, and how the dynamics of race and equity have shaped my work the last 21 years, fueled primarily by a large network of RELATIONSHIPS.


I started my first organizing work in 1990, canvassing door-to-door and learning about toxic waste dump sights, incinerators, and the connection between environment and race. It was an organic step into Environmental Justice (EJ), which is the lens of my life’s work. I moved from North Carolina to Oregon in 1993 and later co-founded two organizations in Portland, OPAL and Groundwork Portland. For the last five years, I have been the coalition coordinator for On The Move: The Greater Boston Transportation Justice Coalition, which focuses on Transportation Equity, the intersection of EJ, Racial Equity, and Transportation. All of my work since 1990 has been about the quality and effectiveness of RELATIONSHIPS with community, culture, organizations, government, elders, youth, leaders, etc. And it’s about empowerment and change. It also connects my work to my own family and FOOD!


Some of my earliest memories of food take me back to my mother’s restaurant, The Jade Dragon, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to one of the largest military bases in the world, Fort Bragg. Ginger, garlic, schezchuan peppercorns and an ever-boiling chicken stock orchestrated by a one-woman symphony; I can smell the hot oil from the wok and the Chinese five-spice mist as my mother effortlessly flash sautés veggies, scolds my 17-year-old mullet cut (yeah, I sported a super cool mullet in the late 80’s), and scans the rice cooker steam for the right Jasmine smell---a multitasking master.  I was rewarded with the origins of her true being---Vietnamese FOOD of the super-duper kind---lemongrass chicken, pho, cha gio, and splendid salads of daikon, cilantro, ginger, and beautifully prepared pork.  She is still my master chef and the driving force behind why I love FOOD. But as happy and joyful as my mother could be in the kitchen, she was challenged by racism as a Vietnamese-American in a predominately white America.  It was hurtful to see her cry and struggle with the bias and ignorance. It gave me motivation for my next stage of life and LOVE.


My passion and fire is around community organizing, racial justice and issues like gentrification/displacement. I was consumed with making change—and yet, because of LOVE, I was at the intersection of my own life change.  In 2010, I moved to Massachusetts with my life partner, Sarah, and we had a child, Isaac De Odell, in her hometown of Gloucester. My son is now 6 years old and provides a motivation I’ve never felt before, an intersection of my life concepts and themes for change beyond self. He completes this circle of my life—and the work is now more important than ever. I LOVE him!

The Summit on Race and Equity 2016: A Call to Government and Community

LOVE is a powerful component of the Summit—there is a healing and understanding theme that we are intentionally creating for the two-days in May. BARE began working with Julie Nelson from GARE, in the summer of 2015, which culminated in a workshop around Advancing Racial Equity, held in October 2015. This workshop was in collaboration with national partners GARE and the Haas Institute, with the shared goal of developing the Summit in 2016.

We are interested in amazing strategies and tools addressing race and equity across the USA, like the Food Solutions New England Racial Equity Challenge, which gives us the connection between FOOD and RACE equity.  I love the lens of this issue to racial equity—my organizing work across three states has uncovered the hidden nastiness around food deserts, food access, and how issues like Gentrification and Displacement have created a food economy dichotomized by race and class.  I am hosting a panel at the Summit called “The Intersection of Racial Equity and Environmental Justice”, which explores issues across the US like food access, transportation, and public health, and strategies to address them.

The Summit promises to offer powerful tools to create and adjust policies so they work better for everyone. Additionally, the summit serves to launch an ongoing regional network across Greater Boston and New England. The ongoing work will support collective learning, the implementation of new strategies, and a network of aligned government, residents, and organizations measuring change.

For me, it is the next step in my evolving pursuit and themes of RACE-RELATIONSHIPS-FOOD and LOVE. 

Summit flyer

Click here to register


The Boston Alliance for Racial Equity (BARE) is a cross-sector collaborative of partners from housing, transportation, public health, and environmental justice working together to advance Racial Equity and Racial Justice in the Greater Boston area. 

BARE planning partners include the City of Boston’s Office of Fair Housing and Equity, Southern Jamaica Plain Community Health Center, Action for Regional Equity, Boston Public Schools, the Boston Tenants’ Coalition, Somerville Community Corporation, Mayor’s Office: Chief Resilience Officer, the Boston Racial Justice and Equity Initiative, and On The Move (OTM).

Kevin Raymond Odell is an organizer and father who is the current coalition coordinator for On The Move (OTM). Odell brings over 20 years of political advocacy, grant writing, policy development and grassroots organizing experience to OTM and Boston. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his family and is in great denial about his age, fascination with Curious George and consumption of post-work beverages.