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.