As part of WhyHunger’s celebration of Black History Month in the United States, we’ve shared stories of just a few of the important contributions Black Americans have made to our food and agriculture systems and the struggle for food justice. There is so much to celebrate; it could not possibly be contained in one month or year. I’d like to take this moment, in honor of Black History Month, to offer my own reflection and share my perspective.
I believe, as is reflected in WhyHunger’s Theory of Change, that we cannot work on the issues of hunger and poverty without working at the intersection of hunger and race. Through more than 40 years of work, we know that racial injustice and privilege are at the root of economic injustice and that economic injustice is a root cause of hunger. When we define the problem of hunger as one of food distribution, we mask our ability to see the root causes that perpetuate the problem and leave us with this chronic social condition that is in fact solvable.
In my work at WhyHunger and in my everyday life, I am encouraged by the continued awakening that is occurring around the deep inequities, structures and systems that keep people of color oppressed in the U.S. We need to further this spiritual transformation through action and a rallying conviction that building racial equity is our great moral imperative. We need to be bold in the certainty that my freedom is tied directly to the freedom of my Black neighbors and friends. By confronting our history of racism and acknowledging the racism that is still prevalent today, we can take an initial step to heal as a nation and embrace our shared humanity.
I know in my own life that difficult conversations are happening to better understand how racism’s painful roots run deep into the systems and institutions that shape our world today. For example, our agricultural system that puts food on our tables was built on the backs of free human labor in the form of Black slaves ripped from their homeland. And we’ve constructed countless other systems and practices that are wrought with inequities to offer opportunity and privilege to some, while holding others down based on skin color. By talking about that painful truth and holding space for it in our work and lives, we can better understand the struggle for Black freedom and support it in meaningful ways. I have found in my own life it is essential to acknowledge that racism exists and to talk openly about it without fear of judgment. Those conversations need to happen first and foremost with White people and they need to be coupled with action.
As a White mom, executive, friend, advocate and student of history, I know that I have benefited from systems and institutions that offered me privilege and opportunity because of the color of my skin, and yet I am committed to trying to change those systems. I hold a deep conviction about the need for racial unity and equity so that we can fully prosper as a people and as a country. White people need to start talking to other White people without being afraid of feelings of guilt or shame and be cognizant of what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “silence of good people.” By being silent we are complicit in accepting the structures that keep people of color down. This is a blind spot for many of us. But there is no denying the truth when you examine things like the industrial prison system, the prevalence of redlining, and how discrimination in the workplace and hiring practices persist.
I will never know what it is like to be Black in America. I was born with the privilege of being White. I don’t fear being stopped by police. I was taught they were on my side and will help me. I don’t have to worry about being turned down for a job because of the name on my resume. I remember decades ago being in one of my first deep conversations about race in America with several colleagues and being struck by how different the daily experience of walking down the street was for my two Black male co-workers. Their stories conveyed a palpable sense of fear and unease that shook me to the core. The daily struggle for Black Americans is real. Why do they experience life so differently than me? While we may never share the same experiences, we can work together to build a just world. How can I use my power and privilege to truly be an ally? How can WhyHunger be an organization that follows anti-oppression practices and builds racial justice throughout our work both internally and externally? How can I, as a White woman, champion racial justice?
There is not one answer or one quick fix. I know that this work requires continual analysis and growth. That it demands partnerships built on trust and respect with Black leaders and Black communities. That it requires White folks to step back and listen, and to create the space for Black leadership and self-determination. That it requires the courage to talk and act in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives. That is what allyship looks like to me and I know we can all do better in working to create a just world where everyone thrives.
At a national gathering I participated in with 500 community organizations and food access groups like soup kitchens, food banks, and food pantries a bold, collective statement emerged from the people working on the frontlines of hunger. I look to their experience as a grounding force in our evolving strategies to end hunger. They stated: "Racial injustice and privilege are at the root of economic injustice. Economic injustice is the root cause of hunger. The only way to end hunger is to end racial injustice." This analysis emanates from communities gripped by the harsh realities of hunger and poverty. When I stand side by side with community leaders experiencing their work firsthand and talking with people who participate in their programs, I believe this to be true and bear witness. When Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres founded our organization so many years ago they knew that hunger was a symptom of poverty and social injustice including racism. Today we carry that work forward informed by our partners and inspired by our founders.
Here at WhyHunger, we are deeply troubled by the escalating violence in America and around the world. We need deep reflection and positive action. Now is the time to put in motion the healing we still must undertake to address the historical roots of racism perpetuated by the systems, institutions, and policies that are its legacy and keep us from reaching our full human potential. We must end violence in all forms if we are to create a peaceful future and one that is free from hunger and poverty. We have to ask ourselves why people of color are disproportionately living with hunger and poverty and why their communities remain under-resourced and marginalized. Racial inequity and hunger are deeply connected and addressing these disparities is critical to building a better future for all Americans. We are not free until all are free; we are not healthy until all are nourished.
With support, dedication and an unwavering commitment to social justice, WhyHunger knows we have a critical and unique role to play. We work in partnership with communities of color who are working to achieve land access and ownership to grow and produce bountiful food. You can see some of that work in our "What Ferguson Means for the Food Justice Movement" series, in which Black leaders discuss and analyze the ways in which Black communities are oppressed by our current food system, and solutions led by those communities are lifted up. Together, with thousands of diverse grassroots partners around the world, we are transforming our food system so that it is economically just, environmentally sound and addresses oppression at home and abroad. This journey is long and hard, yet indispensable to a peaceful future. We cannot do it alone. We need the leadership of people most affected by the injustices of poverty, along with grassroots organizations and champions of our work, like you. The change we seek is possible and that more peaceful future is ours to create.
WhyHunger is proud to join over 1,500 national, state and community-based organizations in signing onto the below statement opposing block granting for school meals. The statement, organized by our friends at FRAC (the Food, Research & Action Center), is an important step in protecting the health, food security and well-being of tens of millions of kids across the country.
The United States has a history of strong bipartisan commitment to support effective programs focused on school nutrition ensuring that children do not go hungry and are prepared to learn in the classroom. These vital programs are being targeted and are threatened under the guise of a three-state demonstration pilot project that would block grant important school meal programs. These programs have proven their effectiveness time and time again, and block granting them would remove the federal government’s important role in ensuring their implementation, protecting nutritional standards and even potentially limit their ability to increase funding in areas that show need. Giving states discretion on how to spend federal funds and set their own criteria for programs like School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Team Nutrition and the Special Milk program poses a threat to those families who are currently relying on these programs to keep their kids healthy and fed. Many low-income children stand to be left out of these vital programs as intended dollars can easily be diverted to other priorities of the state. For example, there is no requirement for running the programs year round or providing funding for more than one meal a day. Block granting is a bad idea and too ambiguous, leaving no mechanism for holding states accountable and ultimately undermining the proven effectiveness of these important nutrition programs.
Now is the time to take action! Please join FRAC and WhyHunger and commit to the fight against the flawed child nutrition reauthorization bill or H.R. 5003 – especially the block grant:
Step 1: Sign the statement opposing the school meals block grant provision in the House CNR bill here.
Step 2: Use social media to help get the word out:
• Sample Tweet: Join [@your org hashtag] & over 1500 orgs opposing school meal block grant. Sign the statement today! //bit.ly/1XPG0OT #SaveSchoolMeals #CNR2016
Step 1: Check out FRAC’s Legislative Action Center for updates on CNR, advocacy tools, social media templates, and more.
Background (Provided by FRAC):
On May 18, the House Education and the Workforce Committee voted out the House Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) bill, H.R. 5003, including a dangerous three-state block grant proposal for the school meal programs. This block grant would end the federal government’s ability to increase funding in areas of need, enforce child nutrition standards in school meals, and ensure students in need receive enough nutritious food year-round. Many other provisions of H.R. 5003 are also of serious concern, including a more difficult application process, harmful changes in community eligibility, and weakened school nutrition standards.
To learn more about the House CNR Bill and the block grant provision, read FRAC’s latest analysis of the bill.
Opposition Statement to School Meal Block Grant Provision Included in “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003)
We write to express our strong opposition to the block grant provision included in the “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003), and we would oppose any proposal to block grant any child nutrition program. The highly effective child nutrition programs are designed to reduce hunger, improve health, and support learning. Block granting them is misguided and would diminish their ability to accomplish these fundamental goals.
The three-state block grant proposal included in the House bill would immediately cut the funding to operate the school nutrition programs in those states. It would eliminate the additional six-cent reimbursement that 98 percent of school districts receive for meeting the improved nutrition standards and the federal funding provided to support paid meals. After that cut, funding is capped at the fiscal year 2016 funding level. With each year, the programs’ ability to serve low-income children will erode even further as the states will no longer qualify for the annual funding adjustments that are based on food price inflation – resulting in fewer meals provided to fewer needy children. Additionally, this approach means that states will be unable to respond to any increase in need arising from a recession or population growth.
Furthermore, the meals would no longer have to meet consistent nutrition standards as they are only required to be “healthy.” This would create a patchwork of standards that seriously diminishes the school meals programs’ ability to promote good nutrition and improve child health outcomes and makes it difficult to procure the food needed. Participating states could set their own eligibility rules. Moreover, there would be no requirement that children have access to both school breakfast and lunch, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have minimal authority to ensure that the child nutrition funding that the states receive is being used to meet the nutritional needs of the children in the state.
The current structure of the child nutrition programs is based upon a shared, bipartisan commitment to provide children access to the nutritious meals they need in order to grow up healthy and achieve academically, and it allows the programs to respond to any increase in need. This commitment must be maintained. We urge you to reject any proposals to block grant the child nutrition programs.
Read and sign on here.