A well designed conference is awesome, in the original sense of the word. It inspires an overwhelming feeling of reverence. I spent last Tuesday at the Closing the Hunger Gap conference in Tacoma, Washington. I found it exhilarating to be among so many people from across the country working with such focus on addressing institutional racism in ways that ensure that all people are nourished.
Awesome can also be overwhelming. Through the morning, participants peppered speakers and each other about action. How do you take action on these huge ideas? What’s our first step towards action? Action became an echo because of an overriding impatience with talking towards no result.
I shared Aim for Action to provide a structure for people to turn their ideas and into action. It calls us to understand and plan for our environment, identify four kinds of barriers, build a team, and integrate reflection into our lives. The stories of the conference participants put these elements into a rich context and gave perspective in ways that I deeply appreciate. I continue to think about environment, team, and reflection in particular.
- The environment related to poverty, race, and charity is one of the hardest in which to make progress. Some participants raised the issue, for example, of Walmart’s low wages driving workers to government assistance (SNAP, etc.) while being the leading receiver of SNAP dollars spent in stores, and also being a leading contributor to Feeding America, a hunger relief organization that in turn supplies food banks (reportedly used by Walmart workers). Deconstructing the vast and complicated food system requires a constellation of courageous individuals taking focused actions coordinated towards a larger goal. That goal isn’t just to understand and plan for the environment but to fundamentally change it.
- Keynote speaker Malik Yakini invited us to create study groups to unpack racism. Indeed, a team holds us accountable and gives support. The team he is calling us to create is one of racially diverse voices able to provide perspective beyond accountability and support. It is a team in which we are held accountable to the goal and the means by which we get there.
- Reflection is vital for groups like those gathered at this conference. As Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of Hope: “Through the process of reflection, individuals may become conscious of the realities other than the one into which they were socialized.” He taught us that we need time to discover the stories that deceive us. These include stories where more is better, even though we celebrate success when fewer people need the services of a food bank and fewer pounds of prepared foods are delivered distant miles. These include stories in which all gifts are appreciated, even though charity often undermines local solutions.
“I got my boots on. I am ready to take action.” That’s what a woman from an incredible organization addressing violence through agriculture proclaimed as she was leaving the conference. I can’t wait to see what she achieves.