It’s universally known that food is a way to bring people together, and a first-generation Afro-Latin pastry chef decided to use baked goods in the fight for racial justice. With only a dream and zero dollars, Paola Velez launched the Bakers Against Racism initiative shortly after the death of George Floyd, and it is now responsible for bringing together thousands of bakers around the world. United in the fight against racism, the organization has helped raise millions of dollars along the way. BAR is not his first beneficial initiative made using flour and butter.
At the start of 2020, the baker trained at Le Cordon Bleu has just gone through a frustrating ordeal with the unemployment system. Along the way, Velez met many immigrants and discovered that, although she had to overcome obstacles to move her unemployment claim forward, these immigrants simply did not have access to the support she so badly needed. Unlike most people, she decided to do something. In April, Velez opened a month-long pop-up shop selling artisan donuts called Doña Dona. It was a success and through donations of space and resources, she was able to donate to Ayuda DCan organization that provides resources to low-income immigrants.
Shortly after, George Floyd was killed, and the whole country watched as a series of police-related killings came to light, shocking, angering and mobilizing much of the country to fight for change and justice. At the time, Velez – who identifies as black – was approached by fellow pastry chef Willa Pelini to potentially host another pop-up to support the cause.
“I told him, ‘Unfortunately, that’s not enough. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you if I want to participate in something like this again,” Velez said. HipLatina. “I had just finished an entire month of fundraising, and it was really frustrating,” she says. “I realized that if I’m alone I can’t always raise a lot of funds, but if I ask for help – if other bakers participate – then our contribution becomes a bit bigger and we can participate and do more things.”
After considering Pelini’s suggestion and reflecting on her experience with the Doña Dona pop-up, Velez decided to start by creating resources that other bakers could use to start their own anti-racism fundraisers. At that time, she contacted Rob Rubba, another chef friend of hers, and asked him to create graphics for a project she was starting called Bakers Against Racism. Her idea was born and she now has a co-founder in Rubba.
While all of this was going on, Pelini once again reached out to Velez, this time apologizing for his initial suggestion. Velez forgave him and understood that Pelini is a true ally. She sent him everything she imagined for Bakers Against Racism, and Pelini jumped on board as the second co-founder.
“It’s easy for me to say ‘hey, I need you to listen to me’, but also to like this different perspective of ‘okay, so they want us to be allies, let’s find out’ , explains Velez. [Willa] was able to take on this load,” she says of Pelini who is actually responsible for creating some of the reference materials for participating bakers. From there, it narrowed down to a single Instagram post. Velez created a Baker’s Against Racism page and posted a simple call to action using the original graphic created by Rubba, and it went viral almost instantly.
The request was simple: The bakers would agree to sell 150 pieces of any pick-up dessert on June 20, 2020, using the Bakers Against Racism graphics and hashtag to promote the sale, and they would donate most of the proceeds to charitable organisation. of their choice that supports black lives.
Velez and her husband each responded to approximately 900 emails from bakers who wanted to participate, sending them materials that would allow them to use what she learned from making Doña Dona to run their Bakers Against Racism sales. She first heard from bakers across the country and then the initiative grew to become global with people around the world wanting to be part of the change.
Now, Bakers Against Racism has held six or seven global bake sales and several micro-sales, involving thousands of bakers from places as disparate as Texas and Mumbai, and raised a whopping $2.5 million for various anti-racism organizations. Many bakers even participated in more than one bake sale.
Well, that was exactly the point. A pop-up held by a couple of bakers was never going to be enough to spur the kind of change that Velez, as a Black Latina, knew we needed. The goal was to inspire a diverse group of people from all walks of life to action, united against racism and committed to social change for people of color, whether they themselves are POC or not.
“If there are any immigrant children reading this, I want them to be encouraged, to know that they can do great things with zero dollars,” Velez says. “It was an idea and it was a Google folder with a hashtag, which turned into millions of dollars. So hopefully they feel encouraged and don’t give up.