A Journey Toward Becoming an Anti-Racist and Multicultural Organization

A Journey Toward Becoming an Anti-Racist and Multicultural Organization

A note from the editor: This post is a letter sent on April 16th from The Wallace Center at Winrock International to it’s friends and colleagues. Network Weaver asked to republish this letter, and the accompanying resource, because, like The Wallace Center, we also see the potential for transformational impact in sharing a story of awakening to organizational inequity and enacting systematic change. The authors write: “By sharing our own story, we might encourage others to interrogate their own blind spots, rebuild new systems and processes that prioritize equity, and shift organizational cultures

A couple of years ago, our team at the Wallace Center undertook an honest assessment of our organization’s history, values, culture, operations, and programs to determine where we landed on the Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization. What we realized and learned through that reflection was painful and real, but it marked the beginning of our continuous efforts to learn, grow, and center racial equity in our organization and work.

In the spirit of accountability, vulnerability, and transparency, we want to share the Wallace Center’s Journey Toward Becoming an Anti-Racist and Multicultural Organization

Unfortunately, the timing of this message coincides with the continued brutality against Black and Brown people at the hands of the police. This week’s news reports out of Minneapolis about Daunte Wright’s murder and Derek Chauvin’s ongoing trial demonstrate the urgency for systems change. We will never achieve economic, environmental, and social justice without first achieving racial justice.

Learning from our past.

For decades, the Wallace Center didn’t acknowledge or address the historic and current racism that underpins our farming and food systems. We sat on the sidelines, and our passivity and complacency reinforced racism and racial inequity in the food system and in the movement to change it. Partners and funders substantiated this hard truth; that we as an organization had a lot of work to do to meaningfully center racial justice and equity in our food systems change work and dismantle white supremacy culture within our team and parent organization, Winrock International.

That reflection marked a turning point for our team. Since 2017 we have been in process to put our intentions of being a racially-just organization into practice. This has been and continues to be both a personal and organizational journey for our staff. As a predominantly white team within a predominantly white organization – historically and today – we undertake this work with a sense of humility and from a position of learning rather than knowing. Institutional inequity and white supremacy is deeply entrenched in our organizational structures and systems and is pervasive in the domestic non-profit field as well as the international development sector we are embedded within at Winrock International. This includes not only our own organization, but also those with whom we affiliate, including those who fund our work.

Moving forward, together.

This document provides a summary of our journey thus far towards centering racial justice and equity in our organization in a meaningful, authentic, and accountable way as embodied in our racial equity commitments. There are many resources linked throughout the document that have been instrumental in fueling our internal work and we hope this will be helpful for others. It is not a “how-to” guide – we are not experts in advancing racial equity in organizations – but rather a perspective of how we’re taking steps to undo racism in our organization. One such example is through the Food Systems Leadership Network’s Network Weavers conversations, in which members virtually connected to discuss ways in which our work could contribute to and advance systems change.

We can’t do this work alone.

Our learning journey has been encouraged and supported by the work of other organizations and leaders who have inspired and challenged us. We have kept much of our process and learning internal to the Wallace Center and our parent organization, Winrock International, which has more recently started the work towards equity. It is our work to do. After the killing of George Floyd last year, followed by the international uprising against institutional and structural racism, we felt that our Wallace Center journey could be a helpful reference for Winrock International and other (mostly white-led) organizations who are reckoning with their own complicity in perpetuating white supremacy and racism. By sharing our own story, we might encourage others to interrogate their own blind spots, rebuild new systems and processes that prioritize equity, and shift organizational cultures. We also agreed that sharing our journey and our commitments publicly would enable others to hold us accountable as we work towards becoming an authentic and explicitly anti-racist organization.

We want to specifically thank The Justice Collective for their partnership and support of our team, and honor the hard work and commitment of each staff member at the Wallace Center who has contributed to our evolution. We are still very much in the thick of it – the journey toward our collective liberation has no endpoint – and invite your feedback, reflections, and questions.

In solidarity,
Susan Schempf and Pete Huff, Co-Directors, Wallace Center

The Wallace Center develops partnerships, pilots new ideas, and advances solutions to strengthen communities through resilient farming and food systems. We serve the growing community of organizations, businesses, and public agencies involved in building a good farming and food system in the United States. Our program work focuses on advancing collaborative, regional efforts to grow and move good food – food that is healthy, regeneratively produced, and recognizes and builds value across the entire supply chain, from producers to farm workers, aggregators, processors, distributors, buyers, and the community based organizations supporting the food ecosystem.

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