“America is an old house. We can never declare the work over. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation. When you live in an old house, you may not want to go into the basement after a storm to see what the rains have wrought. Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.”
– Isabel Wilkerson, from Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Institutional racism shows up in both formalized and informal ways, from human resources policies that privilege white-dominant norms of “professionalism” to cultures that instill a sense of belongingto those who feel more comfortable in norms of whiteness. We invite you to watch this 3-minute video summing up institutional racism in the US, and to read this article on equity and inclusion as the basis of organizational well-being.
Transformative change in the food system will not happen unless we work towards racial justice and equity.
Anderson, S., Colasanti, K., Didla, N., and Ogden, C. (2020). A Call to Build Trust and Center Values in Food Systems Work. Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
In September of 2019, I was fortunate enough to be invited to co-facilitate a gathering of over 70 people from across the U.S. to learn from one other about the work of coordinating state and regional level food system plans. At least that was the initial idea. The gathering was convened by the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University. I was joined in this work by the very generous and talented Noel Didla, Sade Anderson, and Kathryn Collasanti. As is the case with so many good things, the out of the gate vision for the convening gave way to a more emergent planning process that moved us away from purely technical practices and knowledge sharing to the more complex and adaptive work of bringing people together across various lines of difference to have “real talk” and wrestle with tough questions.
What became clear very quickly, with the leadership of Sade and Noel in particular, was that considerations of racial equity and economic justice had to be at the center of our design and facilitation. That included:
how we got in “right relationship” with one another as a team
how we framed the gathering for invitees
who was invited to attend and present at the gathering
the choice of where to have the convening
the way we designed both the agenda and the gathering space
the way we held what essentially became one rich two-day conversation
“I am taking away a lot of thoughts about meeting structure and facilitation from the overall convening planning, structure and flow. The structure of the agenda to put racial equity at the forefront and the structure of the conversations that allowed for honest discussion and audience participation was very effective and made for interesting conversations. These are techniques that would be helpful for us to use in our presentations and to share with food policy councils.”
2019 national gathering participant from the Mid-Atlantic
What we experienced during and heard after the event was pretty encouraging – how for many this was one of the best “conferences” they had ever attended, how people left challenged and inspired, how many of the conversations we started at Wayne County Community College stayed with people and continued.
Our original intent as a co-facilitation team was to write up a report of the event not long after we arrived back in our respective homes. Instead, things simmered for a while and the right time to wrap up the writing emerged during COVI19, as certain things that we had already been emphasizing were put into more stark view.
The linked publication, entitled “A Call to Build Trust and Center Values in Food Systems Work,” is meant to be a way to holding ourselves accountable to the work of racial justice by sharing our reflections on two practices to advance equity that anyone can incorporate into their life and work: building trust and centering values. Here we describe what these threads looked like in this national gathering—including both our personal experiences of the process, the practical event decisions we made, and more about what what participants had to say.
Our collective hope is to challenge readers (and ourselves) to consider the many ways in which food systems activity is either welcoming or exclusionary and either embodies equitable belonging or perpetuates “othering.” And because the conversation must continue, we welcome any reflections and reactions, including how you are leading with values, including racial equity, and trust in 2021.
“We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand.”
– URSULA K. Le GUIN
Image by Stephen Bowler, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
A note on the quotes below (and the Le Guin quote above): I am grateful for the beautiful piece by Evan Bissel, “Frames for Life, Liberation and Belonging,” which appears in the Othering and Belonging Journal. This piece lifts up some central elements of an emerging and humanizing narrative for our times, with focus on themes such as transition, liberation, belonging, commons, interconnection, abundance, sacred, curiosity, play, and place. I strongly encourage readers to check it out, to sit with the piece and let it soak in, and to share it.
This post follows the thread of a conversation that has been evolving across events I have been involved with the past few months, and a bigger and broader conversation that is clearly informing it. This is certainly not a new conversation, but there seems to be a renewed or perhaps more public vigor to it, at least in multi-racial and multi-generational social change groups and initiatives with which I have been involved.
It has cropped up in a network leadership program where a discussion about the difference between working for equity and working for justice pointed in the direction of the need to pursue liberation, and not simply inclusion and accommodation in fundamentally harmful systems. Read More
“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along those sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
– Herman Melville
2017-2018 NLI cohort members engage in a team building exercise focused on the dimensions of collaborative success.
Last week I worked with the Backbone Team of Food Solutions New England to launch the second cohort of the Network Leadership Institute (NLI) at Ohana Camp in Fairlee, Vermont. This initiative has grown out of FSNE’s commitment to cultivating both thought leadership and network leadership“to support the emergence and viability of a New England food system that is a driver of healthy food for all, racial equity, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.” Another impetus for the NLI was a year spent doing system mapping and analysis that revealed four leverage areas for advancing a just, sustainable and democratically-owned and operated regional food system, including cultivating and connecting leadership (see image below). Read More
Food Solutions New England (FSNE) is a regional, collaborative network organized to “support the emergence of a New England food system that is a resilient driver of racial equity and food justice, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.”
For the past 5 years, IISC has supported FSNE to launch and structure itself as a formal network, as well as to concretize and evolve its core commitment to racial equity as it has become more diverse and inclusive and focused on systemic transformation. Over the winter, editorial staff from the Othering and Belonging Journal at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society solicited an article submission from FSNE to tell the story of why and how the network has operationalized its commitment to racial equity and food justice.
“While Othering processes marginalize people on the basis of perceived group differences, Belonging confers the privileges of membership in a community, including the care and concern of other members. As [john a.] powell has previously written, ‘Belonging means more than just being seen. Belonging entails having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of social and cultural structures. Belonging means having the right to contribute to, and make demands on, society and political institutions.'”
The following is a slightly edited re-post from a couple of years ago. The impetus for both the re-posting and editing was a recent conversation on On Being with Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk, writer/speaker on the topic of gratitude, and known for his participation in interfaith dialogue and his work on the interaction between spirituality and science.
In a recent interview with Brother David Steindl-Rast, On Being host Krista Tippett introduces the topic of gratitude, by saying that at times it can come across as fairly cerebral or precious without much gravitas. Case in point, writer Barbara Ehrenreich, approaches gratitude with considerable skepticism, seeing it as another “feel good” way to be self-satisfied and unconcerned with the world and people who are suffering and oppressed. Yet Brother David, who has lived through war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country (Austria), teaches what he calls “gratefulness” as a deep and important spiritual practice.
Gratefulness in Brother David’s view and experience is not at all superficial, or a practice purely for the privileged. It allows for and leans into the very real anxieties of life, and when invoked in “full-bodied ways” can help prevent those anxieties from becoming disabling fear. Brother David acknowledges the tragedies and injustices of the world, while saying: Read More
Two weeks ago I wrapped up Harold Jarche’s on-line course on social learning and am committing to practicing some of what I learned through blogging as “learning out loud.” This is not an entirely unusual practice for me, but Harold has helped me to better appreciate the value of turning off the critic and putting “rough draft thinking” out there, as a way of crystalizing and mastering my own knowledge but also (possibly) connecting it to others who may be on the same wavelength/ have similar lines of inquiry and (perhaps) contributing to social change. Preposterous? Maybe.
But consider how our understanding of how the world works is shifting through our ability to see connections, appreciate the social creation of knowledge and grasp the emergent nature of change. Seeing reality through a living systems lens helps us to understand ideas as seeds, expression as sowing, interaction as fertilizer and social networks as the metabolic infrastructure to bring new things fully to fruition. Read More
The following is a slightly modified post from a little over a year ago. In recent months, the notion of puttingcare at the center of “net work” – to ground it, make it real and people accountable – has surfaced a number of times and strengthened. The original post included the phrase “the empathic turn.” Since that time I’ve come to see “caring” as a more appropriate word, rather than “empathy,” as it evokes for me not simply feeling but action. This re-post is inspired by the activists and thought leaders who are about to gather in Oakland, CA for the “Othering and Belonging” Conference, hosted by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of sanity, Wendell Berry, talks about what he calls “the turn towards affection.” Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human capacity to despoil landscapes and demonize “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination:
“For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.”
In other words, by his assessment, imagination thrives on contact, on an intimate form of knowing that is not simply intellectual, but intimate and holistic. For Berry it is only this kind of knowing that can lead to truly “responsible” action.
Others, past and present, hold the truth and power of this kind of fuller bodied knowing to be self-evident, in environmental conservation and social justice efforts and in what it means to be a responsible human. Professor john a. powell writes in his book Racing to Justice:
“There is a need for an alternative vision, a beloved community where being connected to the other is seen as the foundation of a healthy self, not its destruction, and where the racial other is seen not as the infinite other, but rather as the other that is always and already a part of us.”
“Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.”
– Peter Block
|Photo by Bilal Kamoon|http://www.flickr.com/photos/55255903@N07/6835060992/in/photolist-bpZtvb-8A6i9c-8p2AtP-do8Bez-do8JT3-7RiJTU-ao63dG-7Cjh9a-7Co7Fm-ihgH2m-9dXKU2-bgGa4c-8CkodQ-azGM3y-cBFFBS-8ChFDT-bX6EoZ-fPzNoo-9PBH3p-7GZn1X-9iKHnC-8nxop8-9tQh9o-9tMiYv-9tMj4F-7QpV8y-do8JVU-7Co7vW-7Gh8sv-8qQBZ9-eUDNUt-7Gh3sp-9ESmzs-8nAwhG-8nxom2-8nxonr-8nAwhf-8nAwgm|
Three of our IISC blogger-practitioners have been in conversation about 3 questions they are each carrying with them into 2014 to guide and develop their practice to support social change. We invite your reflections on and additions to these: Read More
|Photo by USDAGov|http://www.flickr.com/photos/41284017@N08/7740419400/in/photolist-cMZF1U-9bjsio-9ZTS3b-9UWk5k-fomtZ4-9UYk2h-agjHzA-agjHTo-ajSoZJ-agBMia-ajSogU-ajPA7r-9X7pyg-9UVcQZ-9UVnmz-9UVof4-9X1Gip-9ZTSSh-9X1S7v-9X4syC-9ZQZbV-9X1Mbc-9UVktD-9UVqix-9UVrU6-9UYipj-9X1Kh2-9X1PgP-9X1SSH-9X1QhF-9ZQZSx-a4uQan-9X4DWN-9X1Eut-9X4va3-9X1CqT-9X1HtB-9X4x9W-a4xKTw-9X1BKF-9X1R5e-a4uUin-a4uPkp-ccXodW|
I am increasingly interested in how networks can help to reclaim and reshape marketplaces, bringing them back down to earth and keeping them more stimulating of local economies, helping give value to what is not formally valued, as well as shifting and restructuring flows for greater equity and abundance. So I was delighted to get a number of tips on this front from Lawrence CommunityWorks during a visit there last week. Staff and residents shared a number of ways in which they help to identify and exchange assets as a part of daily operations. For example, here is an exercise called “Marketplaces” which comes from Bill Traynor. Read More
|Image by photologic|http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/3107777489|
The physicist Fritjof Capra, founder of the Elmwood Institute, tells the story about a meeting convened years ago by him and his colleagues with a group of Native American elders and thought leaders to explore different perspectives around ecological thinking. From the outset, the gathering was marked by some suspicion towards the Elmwood group, given the historic dynamics of exploitation. The meeting opened with a round of introductions, and an Okanagan woman from British Columbia was first to speak. She began by stating the tribe from which she came and then described the landscape where the tribe lives. She then talked about her father’s and paternal grandparents’ origins, in similar detail, and continued with a description of where her mother and maternal grandparents’ came from. In the end, she linked each family member not just to a named geographic location, but also an illustration of the associated rivers, mountains, plants, and animals. “This is who I am,” she said, wrapping up. “The features of the land determine my conduct, responsibility, and ethics. Now I want to know to whom I am talking, before I say anything else of substance. And I don’t want to hear the books you’ve read, the degrees you’ve obtained, or the organizations you are a part of.” Read More
Several years ago I worked with a friend who is an outdoor educator to put together an orientation session for a group of high school students who had signed on to be part of a youth activism project I was directing. The program invited young people to explore issues in their community and to select and address those that spoke to them. As part of our orientation, my friend put together an “alien test,” something he learned from the tracker and educator Tom Brown. Just before the session we scoured the school grounds gathering leaves and bark, plants and nuts, a bird’s egg, soil, and other sundry items and brought these into the classroom where we met after school, along with a series of prepared questions. One by one, my friend laid the objects and questions out in front of the students: What is this? Is this plant edible? Can you tell me whether this soil is healthy or not? Where does your water come from? Do you know which, if any, of the items you ate for lunch today was locally grown? There was a marked silence after most of the questions. The point was made poignantly clear – in many respects we are aliens to our immediate surroundings. For us to do meaningful community change work, we suggested, it behooves us to really get to know our community, or as someone once put it, take a step towards inhabiting it not just residing there. Read More