REAL Talks Episode 4 - Finding Success in the Coalition DEI Journey: Part 3 of Our Conversation with Double Up HeartlandAuthor: Kolia Souza, Andrea Weiss, and Lindsay Mensch
In our third and final conversation with Double Up Heartland, our guests answer the question, "What are some successes that you've experienced through the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) process?"
Our guests speak to the adaptability and flexibility that's needed for engaging in DEI practice and culture building.
The Double Up Heartland coalition includes the following partners:
- Cultivate Kansas City
- Mid-America Regional Council
- Kansas State Research & Extension
- University of Missouri Extension
- West Central Community Action Agency
- University of Kansas Medical Center
To learn more about Double Up Heartland, visit their website at www.doubleupheartland.org.
Episode 4 Transcript
Kolia Souza: Welcome to episode four of REAL Talks, Reaching for Equity in All Lives. I'm Kolia Souza, Food System Equity and Advocacy Specialist with Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
Andrea Weiss: And my name is Andrea Weiss. I'm Communications Director at MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.
Kolia Souza: And we're your hosts for this podcast. For the past two episodes, we've been talking with Double Up Heartland, a coalition of six partner organizations implementing Double Up Food Bucks, a nutrition incentive program at grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands and mobile markets in Kansas and Missouri. More specifically, we've been talking with three individuals from the diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, committee.
Lauren Schaumburg: Hi there. My name is Lauren Schaumburg. I'm a public health planner for the Mid-America Regional Council. I also coordinate with the Double Up Food Bucks grocery store locations and help with project management.
Lana Dominguez: My name is Lana Dominguez. I'm the food access program manager working at Cultivate Kansas City. I work alongside my colleague Eli to coordinate the Double Up Food Bucks program at Kansas City farmers markets in farm stands.
Donna Martin: I'm Donna Martin. I am the project director for the Double Up Food Bucks, Heartland program. I work at MARC, Mid-America Regional Council, which is the metropolitan planning organization for the Kansas City metropolitan region. And my official-official title at MARC is senior public health planner.
Kolia Souza: So, thinking about the previous episode where Lana, Lauren and Donna shared very candidly about navigating difficult conversations and how different conceptions of identity come to the forefront, for me, cake, initially came to mind.
Andrea Weiss: Cake? Do you mean like layers? Maybe we could use a healthier food layers reference. This is a podcast for nutrition incentive programs. Okay... Onions. Zucchini lasagna. I've had some really good zucchini lasagna.
Kolia Souza: Okay. You're very funny, Andrea, and actually, so have I. And I've got a good recipe, but okay. I digress. This is what I was thinking. This part of the DEI process, this is where we're making the batter. You take each ingredient one by one and add them to the mixing bowl, or maybe we're using multiple mixing bowls because certain ingredients go together at different points in the process.
Andrea Weiss: Okay. I think I see where you're going with this.
Kolia Souza: It's coming together, right? And some ingredients need to go through different processes together, but eventually it all ends up in one big mixing bowl. And this is how the smaller conversations come together as the bigger conversation, but we don't have a cake until we add some heat. And that's what these difficult conversations bring.
Andrea Weiss: They're a catalyst. And although the heat is uncomfortable, it is essential. Without the difficult conversations, we just have batter. You can't put frosting on the batter and make it delicious, beautiful art. Without the heat, the challenging discussions, the work falls flat. We don't really get anywhere, but Lana, Lauren, Donna, and their colleagues have stuck with it through the heat and they're seeing some great successes.
Kolia Souza: What about some success that you experienced through the process, coming out on the other side of some of these initial lessons that were learned?
Lauren Schaumburg: I think through this process, what we found is that we all had these ideas and feelings about how this work could look for Double Up Food Bucks, but also for ourselves personally and also for the organizations that we work for. So, trying to hone in on the different goals that are personal versus professional, tangible versus intangible, internal to our work group and external, you know, our external facing program to the public, like how do we take all of these things that are sort of conflicting and different and hard to say, "What does this mean exactly for me to every anybody else in the group?" So, the way that we tried to pull this all together was just defining buckets of work and then finding ways to filter all of our priorities into those buckets. And those sort of became our overarching goals and purpose of the committee.
So, the three goals that we decided on were, one, education and consensus. So, this is educating ourselves internally about the food system, about injustices in the food system and then gaining consensus and a built understanding on why it's important for us to know this. The second bucket is critical self-reflection. So, creating opportunities for folks in our work group, both the committee and the broader group, to reflect on themselves. So, this might look like us just asking folks to ponder on questions that we share with them during a meeting, really creating that opportunity and space for us to think about our roles and what's going on. And then sort of the last bucket is really the things that are actionable, so items that we can physically do as a group. Some of the things we've floated around in this category is, trying to think more critically about, like our criteria for onboarding new sites, things that we can really measure, things that we can look at and see versus sort, these are the categories that are more about consensus and self-reflection and improvement.
Kolia Souza: What you've just described, Lauren, is a really important point about how we approach this massive undertaking to create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion and start operationalizing it, making it practical and achievable. What would you say are the most important practical actions and shared understandings that Double Up Heartland has figured out so far?
Donna Martin: The big success that is still coming out of sort of that awkward kind of, like, we have this moment and now we need to step back and rethink a little bit about what we're doing, and really sort of that real-, for me at least, that realization of some of the reasons why this might be more challenging that whole, bringing every different groups together and trying to figure out where we are going with this work. We have taken a step back and we've really started to think about what's our vision, what is our long end goal? And I don't know that we've completely answered that yet. We're still in the process of answering sort of what do we want out of this and what is our approach. I guess, to get there, we're asking ourselves a whole series of questions, which I think has been really valuable to hear from the whole subcommittee, what their thoughts are, which, of course we didn't know before we started.
So, we're asking things like what's important to you about this work? What are your goals or what are your organization's goals? What are the concerns that you have about the work? And I think that's a valid point to bring up from people who do different parts of the Double Up Food Bucks Program, what are the concerns that they have? And all of our organizations are very different, so there may be different things that come up there. Then we're working on, what do we all agree on and what do we need to work on?
Lauren Schaumburg: Through our group visioning process, I think one of the most important pieces was just sharing with one another, why this work was important to us. And I wanted to share with you some of the responses that folks in the committee gave. So firstly, to improve ourselves and to look at ways to guide our work with more intention of diversity, equity and inclusion. To make the Double Up Food Bucks Program the most effective tool that we can offer to folks that are struggling to access healthy food. And we also want to improve our program reach and improve our communication challenges. On a personal level, and also addressing that some of us have intersecting identities, that this work is about justice and liberation. Another response was the workplace often is an autocratic environment, so we want to find places where we can relax in the hierarchy and come together as peers. And then finally, a commitment to dismantling racism in both our personal and professional lives.
Kolia Souza: Beautiful. Thank you for adding that in there, Lauren. Pulling together the successes and the challenges you've experienced thus far as a collaborative. What words of wisdom do you have for other organizations who want to do more with diversity, equity and inclusion?
Lana Dominguez: One of the things that we, I think realized really early on when we were having those tensions is realizing that none of us are experts in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion. There are people that spend their entire lifetimes and careers dedicated to facilitating these types of conversations that we were having. Word of advice, if you can hire a facilitator in those early roadmap building days, definitely do it. I think that would keep the conversation moving in a productive way where everyone's feeling heard and you're getting all your ideas out there. Another one is early on as well, making sure that you're building consensus on everything that you agree on. And another thing that we didn't mention earlier, one of the great things that we've incorporated into our committee work is creating basically ground rules, where every meeting someone different is going to facilitate. We have to build consensus before we move forward, and we need to hear from everybody first before we make a decision one way or another, and on and on, essentially. I think that was also really important for us, especially when we added more people into the mix.
Andrea Weiss: Kolia, I don't know about you, but I've had to give this conversation some time to sink in.
Kolia Souza: Yeah, I fully agree. DEI practice is a lifetime process and yet we engage it in one hour meetings and 20 minute podcasts, because these are the structures we operate in. It's a hard balance.
Andrea Weiss: The processes and challenges and adaptations this team has navigated are so dynamic. And I think they probably reflect what many organizations and teams go through.
Kolia Souza: I think the story that Lana, Lauren and Donna share really speaks to the adaptability and flexibility that's needed for engaging in DEI practice and culture building. So as a coalition, they're creating a new space, a synthesis of each organization's values and that synthesis isn't a linear process. You drop into the process at some point and the response informs where to go next, whether that's forward, backward, diagonal, or in a circle. The dialogue just needs to get started, and you read the room and allow for this emergent process design to come forth. That's not to say we can't utilize some tools and resources out there to complement and enhance the process, but it still needs to be a fit for the group.
Andrea Weiss: Yes. And as our friends from Double Up Heartland said, another way that this may be really different from how people have worked together before is because it's more personal, too. It feels different. And sometimes it requires something new from us like emotional vulnerability in a new space or with new people and opening up these new and different spaces benefits every angle of collaborations.
Kolia Souza: So, I just want to take a moment to thank our Double Up Heartland coalition guests, Donna Martin and Lauren Schaumburg of Mid-America Regional Council and Lana Dominguez of Cultivate Kansas City. We're all working toward developing our own unique cultures of diversity, equity and inclusion and sharing these stories as a way for us to support each other in the process.
Andrea Weiss: We hope that you have enjoyed this series of episodes with our colleagues at Double Up Heartland and are encouraged or inspired in your own DEI journey.
Kolia Souza: If you want to find out more about Double Up Heartland, visit their website at www.doubleupheartland.org. And to dive deeper into this work, you can check out diversity, equity and inclusion resources like the Food Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion webinar series provided on the Nutrition Incentive Hub website www.nutritionincentivehub.org.
Andrea Weiss: You can find all Real Talks episodes on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, and Spotify. Please share this podcast and check out our other episodes. Real Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University, Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program. Grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
REAL Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss, and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.