The Continued Evolving and Deepening of a Network Commitment and Innovation: FSNE’s 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“Things are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”
-adrienne maree brown
On April 5, 2021, the 7th Annual Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge will launch. IISC is excited to continue our partnership with FSNE in offering the Challenge as an initiative for advancing the conversation about and action towards undoing racism and white supremacy in our food and related systems.
The FSNE Challenge is an enhanced and more sector-specific form of an exercise created by Dr. Eddie Moore (founder of the Privilege Institute), Debbie Irving (author of Waking Up White), and Dr. Marguerite W. Penick-Parks (Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh). After FSNE formalized its commitment to racial equity in its sustainable food system work about 8 years ago (more on our journey in this article), a small design team saw the potential of using the Challenge to invite more widespread (networked!) conversation about the connection between race, racism and food systems and ultimately greater action for racial and food justice.
“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)
We also saw the on-line version of the Challenge as a way of creating “network effects” around the justice work that many are already doing in our region and beyond through small world reach, rapid dissemination, adaptation, and creating new patterns of connection and flow. Participation in and the complexity of the Challenge continue to grow – in 2014 we had 200 participants, mainly from the six state region of “New England,” and last year we had some 8,000 people participate from all 50 states in the US, and some 20 different countries.
The point of the Racial Equity Challenge is not simply to spread but also deepen the commitment to racial equity and food justice. So we hope that participants return each year, and many do, and also continue the work in between. Because of this, we make sure that the Challenge continues to evolve in content and format, increasingly with a bias towards action. Four years ago, seeing how things were developing, we created the “ladder of engagement” below to think about how to continue to move people along a continuum from “not paying attention” to “actively organizing.”
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
Can make it out here alone.”
It has been inspiring to see many organizations and communities self-organize to take the Challenge in-house, convening colleagues, fellow congregants, neighbors, family members and classmates to reflect together on learning and making commitments to action. This has included groups such as Health Care Without Harm; the Wallace Center at Winrock International; Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems; Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; Southside Community Land Trust (Providence, RI); Agricultural Sustainability Institute at University of California-Davis, Georgia Organics and many others who have convened around the Challenge.
Two years ago we responded to these organic efforts and some specific requests by creating a discussion guide for facilitators to design and steward conversations in their organizations/communities. In 2019, the Challenge also went deep in the home institution of Food Solutions New England, the University of New Hampshire (the Sustainability Institute serves as the network’s “backbone”). With the support of a Professorship that I shared with Karen Spiller (and which Karen continues to hold), we did considerable “in-reach” to staff, faculty and students, including a launch event and campus presentations, which resulted in more than 500 people participating in the Challenge from UNH. We also turned the Challenge into workshops that we offered at gatherings such as the White Privilege Conference. That work has continued to grow and flourish this year.
Over the last few years, we have heard how participation is moving people from learning to action:
- to create a community racial equity summit
- to bring racial equity centrally into organizational strategy
- to shift values in an organization to put racial equity front and center
- to shift one’s job so that they can focus more centrally on issues of racial disparities and injustice
- to bolster people’s courage to have courageous conversations about race, racism and white supremacy
- to shift hiring practices and leadership structures
- to bring a racial equity focus to food policy work
We hope these ripples will continue to be amplified this year!
So what exactly is the Challenge?
It is a self-guided (individual and group) learning journey examining the history and impacts of racism, how it is connected to our food and related systems, examples of and tools for how to undo racism and build racial equity and food justice.
How does the Challenge work?
People sign up (YOU can register here) and then starting April 5th, they receive daily email prompts focused on a different theme along with links to related resources (readings, video, audio) that take about 10-15 minutes each day. In addition, there is a robust Resource List for people to look through and continue their learning. Those who register also have access to an online discussion forum for those who want to talk and think out loud about the daily prompts and other learning along the way.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
– Arundhati Roy
How is the Challenge evolving in 2021?
To meet the growing interest and demands of participants and the expressed desire for many to go deeper and further and to replicate and extend the Challenge in different ways, we have developed a variety of additional supports.
- In addition to an orienting webinar for participants, this year we offered a webinar specifically for people who want to facilitate groups around the Challenge.
- We also offered two 2.5 hour virtual trainings for people who are interested in facilitating groups to prepare themselves for that undertaking. These sessions drew from the Discussion Guide as well as IISC’s Fundamentals for Facilitation for Racial Justice Work.
- New this year we will host a facilitator debrief to hear and share about progress and challenges. This will happen on May 21, 2021 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm Eastern Time.
- Another feature is a more robust Outreach Kit that has been pulled together by FSNE Communications Director, Lisa Fernandes. The Kit includes sample communications that can be used to recruit others to participate in the Challenge through email, social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook), as an outreach flyer.
- This year like last, organizations (such as non-profits, agencies, schools, businesses and other groups) can register to be listed as “organizational participants” of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. Each individual should still register with their own email address in order to receive the daily prompts during the Challenge, but organizations can now indicate to the world their support for the work of building equity and dismantling racism in our food system! Contact FSNE with any questions about this.
- An addition this year is an optional #FSNEEquityChallenge registration question about what indigenous traditional lands people reside upon (see below for a word cloud of answers as of a few days ago).
- Also this year like last, we will host a Friday drop in discussion on Zoom for participants who would like to meet others, share what they are learning and doing and hear this from others.
- A new addition this year is a crowd-sourced playlist of musical selections that move and motivate participants in their pursuit of justice and liberation. People are invited to email email@example.com with tunes to add to the list.
- And as was the case for the past few years, we will have guest bloggers throughout the Challenge, the numbers of which have steadily grown.
All of this is in line with how FSNE sees itself evolving as a network into its next decade, creating robust, accessible and supportive resources that might be shared and easily adapted through aligned, diverse and robust connections in the region and beyond.
Please join us, spread the word, the invitation, the conversation and the commitment to others. These are daunting times, that are laying bare the damaging and deadly patterns that have existed for some time. It is beyond time to lean in, get real, bond together, and weave the better world we know is possible!