Motivated both by Ricardo Salvador’s 2019 Expo keynote to expand our perceptions of racial equity and its role in agriculture, food systems, and food access, and by the racial and pandemic-related events of 2020, AERO committed to reevaluating our understanding of race and the role of structural and institutional racism in our country and our food systems. We are recognizing our own oversights and feel strongly that all of us must step up to act in support of efforts led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Simultaneously, we must do our own work to listen, reflect, and learn.
AERO’s mission is to empower communities to nurture and promote a more sustainable Montana for all; work that emphasizes resilient communities and food systems. But resilient communities are not achievable if inequality and racism persist unchallenged or ignored.
Simply put: we are responsible, together and individually, for dismantling the structural and institutional racism that exists. To do that, we must first acknowledge and expand our understanding of the deeply-embedded racism within our food systems and our own thinking.
In 2020 we invited our community to join us on a personal learning journey: the 21-Week Racial Equity in the Food System Challenge. More than 300 of you said “Yes!”. At AERO, our learning was deep and, in many ways, just beginning. And so, we are offering this tool again, for ourselves and our community. We hope you will take this opportunity to dive in.
This year we are particularly encouraging community, school, business, and organization staff to participate together, making time in your work schedule to gather regularly for an hour or so, and share your experience. Creating the space and common language for talking about race is an essential first step to the exploration of developing a racial equity plan for your team, business, or organization.
We hope you choose to join us on this year’s personal learning journey: the 21-Week Challenge: 2021.
The Challenge, originally designed and hosted by Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, is shared with organizations and individuals in a 21-Day framework. We have chosen to adapt the original Challenge into a 21-WEEK Learning Journey to allow participants to dive more deeply.
The Challenge is designed to raise awareness and shift understanding by going beyond individual or interpersonal racism to demystify structural and institutional racism. It invites us to dive more deeply into the realities behind terms that make us uncomfortable, like ‘white supremacy’ and ‘white privilege’. Finally, the Challenge inspires us to act – on our own or with others in our organization, business, institution, or personal circles – to change racist systems.
Be prepared to feel uncomfortable and to sit with the complexity of it all. We encourage you to be honest with yourself, to be humbled, and to be inspired.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. We invite you to be compassionate with your process and to be vulnerable in your sharing.
We will be doing the work alongside you.
Every Sunday morning beginning July 4th, you’ll receive an email “prompt” with a short message and a link to the original “21-day challenge” reading, video or audio files. Extra resources are offered if you want to dig further into the topic.
That’s it. The rest is up to you: make time to read, to explore, to reflect. Find ways to act. Accept that this is a long, complex, evolving journey. These weekly prompts can serve as an opportunity to begin building consistent habits surrounding our education and participation in this work. The work does not end after 21 weeks.
We recognize the power of conversation, and the importance of learning together.
In the words of Food Solutions New England:
Building Racial Equity is Best Done with Others!
The work of bringing more racial equity, justice and liberation to our food system requires not only independent study and evolution (though that is important!). Many of us have come to realize that the power of connecting with our friends, co-workers and peers helps us better understand the complex terrain of race, racism, white supremacist culture and the ways those intersect with our work transforming the food system. Together we can learn and act in ways that are simply not possible for isolated individuals.
If you are ready to team up with others at your workplace, school, community group or other organization, here are some tools and resources to help you out.
AERO will be relying on these tools for internal meetings throughout this 21-Week Learning Journey.
At the end of 21 weeks, on November 21st, we will send a follow up note, which we hope will support you in your next steps.
Encouraged by those who participated last year and by others consulted prior to sharing this invitation, we are honored to offer this tool in a structured way to Montanans. We are eager to hear your thoughts and experiences during this 21-Week Learning Journey. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, to share your insights or questions or thoughts regarding this challenge and how we may walk forward together toward an inclusive, equitable, anti-racist society.