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‘And Justice For All’

By Karen Shirer, Associate Dean — Family Development

University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development is an institution that administers a U.S. Department of Agriculture program — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, or SNAP-Ed. As such, our SNAP-Ed educators are required to display an “And Justice For All” poster whenever they teach a class or set up a food demonstration.

half of the USDA "And Justice For All" poster
Image: Food and Nutrition Service/USDA

The poster has directions for filing a complaint alleging discrimination by "the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs." (Read the full USDA Information Statements.)

But what do you do when that which is committing discrimination isn't a person, or even an institution?

Addressing Inequality

Poverty discriminates. People of color are poorer and face economic injustice at a much higher rate in Minnesota and the United States than the majority population (for data, see National Center for Children in Poverty). During last year's Family Development staff conference, we focused on the racial and cultural inequities our state and country struggle with. This year’s conference builds on the theme of inequities, focusing on the area of poverty and income inequality.

Addressing poverty and income inequality requires the will and commitment to work together in order to effectively address them. The 2016 presidential election cycle has produced a great deal of contention, polarization, and disagreement about how to solve big problems like income equality. Thi contentious atmosphere makes it difficult for us as a nation to talk about and come to agreement on solutions.

Focus on Fundamental Needs

But consider this advice from Left Brain Buddha. In the Monday, July 4 email, this quote from Sarah Rudell Beach caught my eye:

As those of us in the United States honor the 240th anniversary of our declaration of independence, of the founding of our nation, it's perhaps a good time to pause and consider how we continue the ongoing conversation that was begun in 1776.

Beach goes on to advise that when embarking on difficult conversations, we focus on the fundamental human needs that we all share. These needs include connection, well-being, safety, meaning, and play.

As we engage in dialogue around hot-button issues, we need to consider what we are saying and assess whether it meets these criteria for civil communication: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? And is it kind? When you hear a statement or witness an action that rubs you the wrong way, ask yourself, “What is the fundamental human need underlying this behavior or this statement?” By asking ourselves these questions, Beach says, we will be able to recognize our common humanity. (Read the entire article: A Simple Mindful Practice for Keeping Friends While Trying to Influence People on Social Media.)

Next week, we will explore new ways to address income and poverty issues that we see firsthand in our work. We do not have to agree on the solutions, but we do need to discuss and consider each others ideas with respect. Poverty may discriminate, but we don’t have to.

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