Systems Change in the Neighborhood: Meet Reverend Willard W. Bass, Jr.


Meet Reverend Willard W. Bass, Jr., co-director of SHARE Cooperative and recent Trust grantee. We sat down with Rev. Bass for his perspective on what long-term change looks like for his community in Forsyth County.

What is the mission you’re working to accomplish in Forsyth County?

The mission (and acronym) of SHARE is supplying honest and respectful engagement. Whatever we do, whatever way we do it—we always want to supply honest and respectful engagement.

When we learned that Winston-Salem, Forsyth County is the fifth largest food desert in the nation, we knew this issue could be a way for us to apply our ongoing work with social justice and anti-racism, and model it for our community.

I wanted to build an economic model of self-sustainability, but I wanted to do it so that it began to unite the community, to help people get together. To figure out what the model would look like, we looked at co-ops and their history, because co-ops provide a way to build community and address an issue.

We run our business as a foundation, provide food in food insecure communities, and use profits to help those in need of further assistance.

What motivates you to work for change?

I grew up believing in people, believing in life.

I grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, going to segregated schools. I majored in chemistry and had a long career working for different companies, and had my first experiences with racism in very public ways.

I had several other jobs, started and sold my own company, and eventually came into ministry. Turns out that divinity school was the same experience I was going through in society. The institution that I thought was the most geared toward being inclusive turned out to be an institution that perpetuated racism.

That’s the life I experienced. It set me on my journey of doing this work.

How is racial equity and anti-racism critical to your work?

Prior to starting SHARE, I would go around the state working with communities, talking about anti-racism and how racism has socialized and conditioned us to act and be in certain ways. I realized people go to trainings, but they don’t change as people. Trainings don’t get people into a place where they’re actually able to be what I call—transformed.

I began to look at our work and ask, “How do we help people take the tools they learn in dismantling racism and put them to action in the community?”

Our anti-racism model works by helping people understand that culture is really at the crux of where we are. Our experiences shape us, make us, and set our minds. If we can understand culture, the impact of institutions on culture, and how culture is used to socialize us … we feel that people can work from there and begin to understand how they’ve been conditioned.

Once someone can agree that they do not want to be conditioned that way any longer, we invite them into what we call a new way. A way to be transformed. We support people to make changes in their everyday lives, and then through the institutions they are a part of.

Nicole Little, an e-commerce associate, stands in front of the Harvest Market Depot in Winston-Salem.

So, what’s happening in the neighborhood?

SHARE Cooperative is a business and a nonprofit entity. We are dedicated to providing food, nutrition education, counseling and immigrant sustainability support, and local health and food equity policy support.

We run a food store—Harvest Market—that is going to be the model to help transform people. We are in our third year of developing the market. Before the pandemic hit, we were developing the infrastructure for the store, but then everything got slowed down. It allowed us time to reflect, to connect with our 450 members, and to build an online platform so customers can now buy groceries online, like they can at other large grocery stores.

We are also working to help people understand this idea about how we have been socialized to be inferior, to be superior, to do racism. We are running anti-racist learning circles, inviting people in to talk about race and learn about how to go forward and get into spaces where authentic community is going on.

What will success look like when you achieve our mission?

It is all about self-education. I can help, but it is up to you to continue the journey yourself. It is this idea of reclaiming your identity, reclaiming who you are as a person and human being, and beginning to walk in that.

If we do not do as much as we can now, once the pandemic is over, it is going to be business as usual. Our nation is divided right now, but as I always say, there are no enemies. We are all in this together. We just must take the ones who are ready first and do a little bit harder work for the ones who will be coming along.

We must engage with people. We are people with God’s spirit in us, whether we accept it or not, whether we know it or not. It is there. We must get to that.

Martin Luther King Jr. said we either live together in unity or we die together as fools. That is where we are right now. That is where we are.

Learn more and get involved with SHARE Cooperative, Harvest Market, and the Institute for Dismantling Racism.