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Dismantling Institutional Racism in Minnesota’s Food System

By Jamie Bain, Extension Educator and MFAN Coordinator

This August, the Metro Food Access Network (MFAN) will facilitate a meeting about institutional racism for its partners at the Robert J. Jones Urban Outreach-Engagement Center in North Minneapolis. Aided by co-facilitators from The Food Group and Appetite for Change, attendees will work together to learn about and discuss their role in both upholding and dismantling institutional racism in the food system.

Why Institutional Racism?

Institutional racism is a form of racism expressed through the practices of organizations and institutions. It perpetuates inequity on a systemic scale. MFAN’s mission is to advance equity in accessing the Twin Cities food system, so understanding and dismantling institutional racism is a key part of our mission.

MFAN partners meet quarterly as a large group. For the last three years, the third quarterly meeting in August has focused on issues of equity, our cultural lenses, and internal and dominant narratives. We seek to understand the unique ways we and others view the world, and to recognize how inequities in the food system came to be. This is the only way we can make meaningful progress in eliminating disparities in health and wealth.

Building a Foundation of Equity

In 2015, the August MFAN meeting was facilitated by Janice Barbee from the Community Engagement Institute of Nexus Community Partners. We focused on recognizing the cultural perspectives we bring to our work and understanding the difference between authentic community engagement versus outreach. A key resource introduced at the meeting was the Community Engagement Institute’s Community Engagement Assessment Tool (PDF). This tool helps to identify the difference between community engagement and outreach in our work.

One of five questions from the Community Engagement Institute's Community Engagement Assessment Tool.

In 2016, the August MFAN meeting was facilitated by the MFAN Equity Action Team. The meeting helped partners understand our own internal narratives about others and how that influences our personal and professional lives. For a recap of the content covered, check out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk on The Danger of a Single Story.

That was not the only equity-focused MFAN event in 2016, however. Later that year, the MFAN Equity Action Team facilitated an Equity Timeline event. The team constructed a 50-foot timeline of the policies and systems that have been put in place over the centuries to create today’s food system. At the meeting, partners “walked the timeline.”

Along the way, they saw tangible representations of reasons why study after study shows Minnesota has one of the worst rates of food access, especially for people of color. As a refresher, check out the MFAN Resource Page for the resources used to develop the timeline (DOCX).

Next Steps

So that brings us to 2017. We've looked at ourselves and tried to understand the different ways we implicitly and explicitly uphold and dismantle racism in society. From this foundation, we will look at how an alliance of organizations and institutions of people with known and unknown biases can have a profound influence on how a whole system affects society. We will look at MFAN’s role within the food system and what we, the partners, can do to no longer uphold but only dismantle racism within our own institutions and organizations.

All are welcome. Come to learn, engage, and connect with others with a focus on taking action.

What: Q3 MFAN Meeting
When: 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Where: 2001 Plymouth Ave N, Minneapolis
RSVP for Q3 MFAN Meeting

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