Afro-Dominican Baker Paola Velez Has Raised Millions With Bakers Against Racism Initiative

It’s universally known that food is one way to unite people and one first-generation Afro-Latina pastry chef decided that she’d use baked goods in the fight for racial justice

paola velez bakers against racism

Photo: Hector Velez

It’s universally known that food is one way to unite people and one first-generation Afro-Latina pastry chef decided that she’d 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 George Floyd was killed, and she’s now responsible for bringing together thousands of bakers across the globe. United in the fight against racism, the organization has helped raise millions of dollars along the way. BAR isn’t her first do-good initiative brought to life with the help of flour and butter.

In early 2020 the Le Cordon Bleu-trained baker had just gone through a frustrating ordeal with the unemployment system.  Along the way, Velez encountered a lot of immigrants, and discovered that while she had to go through some hurdles to push through her unemployment claim, those immigrants simply didn’t have access to the much-needed support that she did. Unlike most people, she decided to do something about it. In April, Velez set up a month-long pop-up shop selling craft donuts called Doña Dona. It was a success and thanks to donations of space and resources, she was able to make a donation to Ayuda D.C., an organization that provides resources to low-income immigrants.

Not long after, George Floyd was killed, and the entire country watched as a string 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 about potentially hosting another pop-up as a way to support the cause.

“I told her, ‘sadly, 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 tells HipLatina. “I’d just come off of a whole month of fundraising, and it was really frustrating,” she says. “I realized that if I am by myself, I can’t always raise a lot of funds, but if I ask for help—if other bakers participate—then, our contribution becomes a little big bigger and we can participate and do more things.”

After thoughtfully considering Pelini’s suggestion and reflecting on her experience with the Doña Dona pop-up, Velez decided to start by creating some resources that other bakers could use to launch their own anti-racism fundraisers. At that point, she reached out to Rob Rubba, another chef friend of hers, and asked him to come up with some graphics for a project she was launching she was calling Bakers Against Racism. Her idea was born and she now had a co-founder in Rubba.

While this was all going on, Pelini reached out to Velez again, this time to apologize for her original suggestion. Velez forgave her and came to understand that Pelini is a true ally. She sent her everything she had come up with for Bakers Against Racism, and Pelini jumped onboard as a second co-founder.

“It’s easy for me to be like, ‘hey, I need you to listen to me,’ but also like that different perspective of, ‘alright, so they want us to be allies, let’s figure it out,” Velez explains. She [Willa] was able to take hold of that charge,” she says about Pelini who is actually responsible for creating some of the reference materials for participating bakers. From there, it came 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.

CALLING ALL BAKERS, CHEFS, HOME BAKERS & COOKS!!!!!!!!! @bakersagainstracism is a call to action: to fight and stand up against the unjust treatment of BLACK people in the United States. We are armed to fight racism with the tools we know how to utilize, our FOOD,” the post caption read.
The request was simple: bakers would agree to sell 150 pieces of any dessert for pick up on June 20, 2020, using the graphics and hashtag from Bakers Against Racism to promote the sale, and they would donate the bulk of the proceeds to a charity of their choosing that supports Black lives.  
Velez and her husband each answered about 900 emails from bakers who wanted to participate, sending them materials that would allow them to use what she learned doing Doña Dona to host their Bakers Against Racism sales. She initially heard from bakers all over the country and then the initiative grew to become worldwide with people all over the globe wanting to be part of the change.
Now, Bakers Against Racism has organized six or seven global bake sales and multiple mirco-sales, involving thousands of bakers from places as seemingly disparate as Texas and Mumbai, and raised a whopping $2.5 million for various anti-racism organizations. Many bakers have even participated in more than one bake sale.
“Our bakeshop took part a couple of times at the start of the initiative and it was really inspiring to bake and raise money for black/POC run organizations local to me,” Afro-Dominican baker, Melanie Lino of Made by Lino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania tells us. “To be able to witness the amount of bakers worldwide that took the time and made the effort to bake for something greater than themselves was really special,” she says. The entire experience inspired her to start her own organization, Afros in Nature, aimed at connecting BIPOC to nature.
And well, that was exactly the point. One pop-up held by a couple of bakers was never going to be enough to incite the kind of change Velez, as a Black Latina, knew we needed. The point was inspire a diverse group of people from all walks of life into action, united against racism and committed to social change for people of color, whether they themselves are POC or not.
“If there are children of immigrants that are reading this, I want them to be encouraged, to know that they can do big things with zero dollars,” Velez says. “This was an idea and this was a Google folder with a hashtag, that turned into millions of dollars. So, I hope that they feel encouraged and that they don’t give up.”

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