“South Carolina, like Mississippi, has a painful, traumatic racial history,” says Susan Glisson, the founding director of the Winter Institute who led the training at Carolina. “It’s a history that demands honesty, like it does in Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama. And because it’s small and there are some existing relationships, that can be a good basis for conversations.”
In 2016, Susan and Charles spent three weeks in Birmingham working with our partner The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice in collaboration with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s National Network for Safe Communities. Charles H. Tucker, a Co-Founder of Sustainable Equity, moderated Panel Discussion: Police-Community Reconciliation: Framework and Practice
“Description: For many, the sight of a police uniform evokes a feeling of safety and protection; for others, it triggers anxiety or mistrust. To change this dynamic, police agencies nationwide are striving to rebuild confidence with the communities that trust law enforcement the least. This panel highlights NNSC’s reconciliation framework that is being used by police and community members as part of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice, while also demonstrating that an honest acknowledgment of past harms does not undermine the difficult work police officers undertake, as they protect and serve.”
for the conference held in New York. You can see other videos from the conference and find more information about the work being done here.
Sustainable Equity uses a Trust Building and Social Justice process, a social justice approach, which involves empowering individuals to understand the systems that perpetuate inequality in order to dismantle them through respectful relationships and authentic coalitions. We survey participants prior to the process and one question we ask is “What are your hopes and fears for the program?” Many participants admit that they fear “just another diversity training program”.
According to many sources, this is a valid concern, suggesting that many diversity programs aren’t always effective. The purpose of diversity training is to celebrate contributions from all people. However, opponents have argued that it can be “an oppressive ideology and reeducation tactic that actually reduces the ability of organizations to attain their goals. It has been suggested that diversity training reinforces differences between individuals instead of fostering their commonalities, thus helping to further racialize the workplace, creating situations where people “tiptoe” around issues such as how to relate to people of different cultures as opposed to people learning to communicate with and truly understand each other.” [“Diversity Training Backfires | Competitive Enterprise Institute”. cei.org. Retrieved 2016-05-24.]
While we believe in the importance of diversity training and inclusion, we understand that some forms of training aren’t as involved with the participants and are presented in a lecture format. Fortunately, our process is all about fostering commonalities and educating about privilege and bias, without shaming or blaming. We believe in the three phase approach that begins with trust building in the group. Once trust and relationships have been established, we then move participants forward.
In fact, many of our participants leave with a sense of belonging and connection to their colleagues. Here is what they have to say (we protect their anonymity, so responders are kept confidential):
- “Despite my best efforts, I judged most of my colleagues once I met them initially. Unpacking their past, present and future in a setting free of judgment, ridicule, shame/blame and guilt truly helped me acknowledge that I too need to check my bias. Also, I need to meet people as a blank canvas and get to know them in a way that allows them to be their authentic selves.”
- “Overall, I would do this again and would recommend to every organization as a ‘must do’. I went into this skeptical and emerged a very powerful believer that the education accomplished in one week has the ability to enrich lives and communities into perpetuity.”
- “It’s not the job of one person to solve racism or make the world better. It only works if you have community. All of our small actions lead to big actions and contribute to our communities. It takes resilience and time and patience. Your actions will last or ripple for 7 generations. My coworkers and friends are amazing people.“
- “I will become a better listener while dealing with the public to try and understand the underlying issues that have caused the effect.” –police officer
- “The entire session was effective, but what set it up for success was our first couple of exercises in the circle – specifically, the round-robins when we brought our ancestors into the circle. It leveled the playing field and made it much easier for us all to connect as human beings and put aside tensions that could have made the discussions less productive and more strained.”
- “Connecting with my team on a deeper level and building trust and openness that gives us even more support and power in our daily work.”
We are so grateful to our partners and participants. Without them, change would not be possible. We look forward to future programs and following our partners in their journey to achieving sustainable equity.
Last week, Susan and Charles joined our partner, University of South Carolina: South Carolina Collaborative on Race and Reconciliation, to continue phases 2 and 3 of Sustainable Equity’s Trust-building and Social Justice program. Sustainable Equity is, as Susan states, “sharing tools with them on Trust-building and Social Justice and they’re guiding important conversations on the difficult issue of racism in a state haunted by the Charleston massacre in 2015, as well as South Carolina’s specific place in the painful racial history of our nation.”
Susan and Charles had a great time with the amazing facilitators and participants in USC’s Collaborative for Race and Reconciliation. Susan’s statement goes on to say that she and Charles are “so grateful to get to focus on needed work with thoughtful, courageous, and committed leaders. They’re doing the kind of work that needs to happen across this country.” Our partners keep us on the move and we are forever grateful to collaborate with each and every amazing participant in taking steps toward achieving sustainable equity.
Bud Ferillo, the Project Coordinator, made a statement on our behalf:
“Susan Glisson and Charles Tucker are raising small armies across the country to unite communities and guide the hard but needed conversations about racial reconciliation.
Susan and Charles are national resources for building knowledge, honest, civil conversations and practical action that change attitudes and dispel myths about white supremacy and black inferiority. They know what works and now we are ready, after 18 months of planning, listening, and learning, to move into communities across the state.
You can read this and cheer us on or join us in this important cause.”
It is an honor to hear this praise from Bud. We look forward to working with all of our partners. If you’re interested in learning more about our approach or partnering with us, please contact us.
Of special note: The South Carolina Collaborative for Race and Reconciliation is funded by contributions. If you’d like to make a donation, please send a check in any amount to South Carolina Collaborative for Race and Reconciliation c/o USC Education Foundation, 1027 Barnwell Street. Columbia, SC 28208.
This article discusses “Sundown Towns” in the Midwest and their struggles in finding reconciliation. “These are the stories of ‘sundown towns’ – towns where, black Americans knew, they were not welcome once the sun went down. In some cases, such as Goshen, town brochures boasted of “no negro population” as recently as 1955. In others, such as Pierce City, Mo., the first African-American didn’t graduate from high school until 2003, according to a local historian.”
“Getting communities to learn and address the past is difficult, but vital, says Glisson.
‘Some real damage was done. There’s always the rush to move forward without engaging with the damage from the past. We’ve been good at that for 400 years.’
The answer is in building trust, she adds.
‘You have to get people to trust each other to have a difficult conversation. It begins with self-reflection about who we are and the values we hold. And then we begin with historical facts that we’ve inherited. And saying that nobody alive invented racism,” she says. “It’s easier to hear the truth when it’s someone you have a relationship with rather than someone you don’t.’
Amanda Abrams with Yes! Magazine writes “We Aren’t So Different—3 Steps to Overcome Hate and Fear: Avoiding Trump supporters only increases our already dangerous polarization. Here’s how to really listen and find compassion.”
Amanda points to evidence of the rise in hate crimes following the election. She then dives into the importance of building relationships during this divisive time and what it will take to begin building trust between people who may not agree with one another. She quotes Nelson Mandela, Everett Worthington of Virginia Commonwealth University, Pamela Ayo Yetunde, a pastoral counselor and community dharma leader in the Atlanta and our co-founder Dr. Susan Glisson.
“On a practical level, that might mean venturing into new places that include a wide mix of people—new restaurants, places of worship, or volunteer organizations. But don’t dive right into asking about people’s political affiliations, Glisson cautions. Take the time to learn who they are first: What do they value about themselves? Where do they feel safe? Only after trust has been established can the most powerful changes—on all sides—occur.”
Sustainable Equity, LLC was created on the principle that achieving justice requires both the inner work of individuals examining their own attitudes and biases combined with the outer work of building trusting and respectful relationships that lead toward advocacy and policies for justice. Our firm offers a learning journey to organizations seeking to make the greatest collective impact on creating inclusive, trusting and humane work and social environments. We believe that strengthening civil society is the path to achieving sustainable equity, especially for the most vulnerable populations. Our approach is an antidote to inequality, a prevention for extremism, and transformative experience based on self-reflection and authentic and meaningful connections.
By changing interpersonal and public conditions that undergird inequality and separation, we can reset biased attitudes and mindsets and intervene in discriminatory behaviors. At its core, our work is about creating a culture of connection and truth-telling for transformation. It is important to remember these values when questioning the role of social justice in sustainable agriculture.
Many advocates for sustainable agriculture including International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) believe that “Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities. Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings.”¹ This principle emphasizes cultivating human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties – farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers. We agree. We believe this overlaps with the general principles of social justice: fairness and respect at all levels. Our goal of achieving sustainable equity relies on the idea that a sustainable society is nurtured by relationships among individuals. Science suggests that, despite our individual and societal needs for self-reliance, we are wired for relationships. The sustainability of a society perhaps depends even more upon strong relationships among its members than upon strong individual members.
As John Ikerd (Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO) points out, “The sustainability of a society perhaps depends even more upon strong relationships among its members than upon strong individual members. A sustainable economy must meet the material needs of people by means that are perceived to be equitable and just by the society that supports it.”²
Further, he states “Almost everyone agrees; our food and farming systems must be ecologically sound and economically viable if they are to be sustainable over time. Even giant agribusiness corporations, such as Monsanto and Du Pont, have sustainable agriculture programs that address environmental and economic concerns. However, there is far less agreement concerning the third essential aspect of sustainability the question of social justice. Any system of food and farming that fails to meet the needs of a society, will not be sustained by that society, no matter how ecologically benign or profitable it may appear to be. A society has physical and material needs, however, one of the most basic needs of any society is a sense of social equity or justice. Any food and farming system that is not socially just does not meet this basic need, and thus, is not sustainable.”²
Social justice demands that all people have adequate food, clothing and shelter. This includes employment equity for farmers, farm workers, and others employed in the system. “Sustainability is a question of environmental integrity and economic viability, but sustainability is also a question of social justice.”² Agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty.
The question of sustainable agriculture and social justice is becoming greater in our society. Some organizations in Mississippi are aiming to practice this principle and are working to achieve sustainable agriculture.
Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN) is based in Oxford, Mississippi and we thank them for the work they do in our communities. MSAN is a network of farmers, consumers, educators, and activists working together to create a sustainable agricultural system in Mississippi. MSAN provides a forum where Mississippi farmers and food consumers share ideas, tips, techniques, and information; and outreach, support and educational opportunities that promote sustainable farming and local food systems in Mississippi. They offer several wonderful programs including Farm to School. “Farm to School programs benefit everyone involved. From directly combating America’s obesity epidemic to keeping money in the local economy, Farm to School strengthens communities.”³
Despite being an agricultural state, 90% of all food consumed in Mississippi is imported. Farm to School programs support local farmers so that cafeteria food is fresher and travels a shorter distance from field to plate. School districts are ideal customers for local farmers because they purchase frequently on a large scale. Farm to School programs typically raise school lunch participation by 11%. Through efforts like this, sustainable agriculture can help us promote social justice and work towards a sustainable, equitable society.
Please take the time to learn about their network and if possible, offer your support.