CEFS CORE Racial Equity Toolkit Level I

The purpose of the CEFS CORE Level I Toolkit is provide continued resource support for participants of our Level I Racial Equity in Food Systems Training. This Toolkit was developed in partnership with dR Works, OpenSource Leadership Strategies, along with a series of respected food systems leaders and organizations as well as stories and realities of People of Color and those most impacted by food systems inequities.

The goal of the CEFS CORE Level I Racial Equity Training is to develop a shared understanding, shared language and shared analysis of structural racism as one of many root causes of food systems disparity. Understanding this lens will support our understanding the intersection of various forms of inequity (i.e. gender and economic) and the historical and current impacts all communities.

The work of CEFS CORE is funded and made possible in part by the WK Kellogg Foundation and by our countless community partners and long-time food systems, social and racial justice advocates, activists and organizers.

Part One: Creating New Equity Practices

Active Listening & Setting Agreements

These tools and techniques are designed to support you and your organizations in developing new practices that will interrupt the pattern of behaviors that have become normalized by dominant culture.

Active Listening

When you are the one listening:

1. Listen with undivided, supportive and focused attention. Anything your partner says is OK. Avoid asking questions; allow your partner to decide what needs to be clarified and what doesn’t. Do not interrupt with your own comments or stories.

2. Do keep the speaker focused on the question at hand in the limited time allowed; if you think it would help to repeat the prompt, you can. Don’t be afraid to allow silence, though, which is often when the speaker is figuring out what they want to say.

3. Do whatever you normally do when you are listening to someone with focused attention, unless you discover it is distracting to the person talking. Some people like to make eye contact, some like to say ‘yeah’ and give encouragement that way, some like to nod or lightly touch the other person. Do whatever is appropriate for you.

When it is your turn to talk:

1. Use all the time you’re allowed whether you think you need it or not.

2. Say whatever you want about the topic. It’s your experience and you deserve to be listened to.

3. If you feel awkward, or don’t know what to say next, that’s OK. Just laugh or explain that you don’t know what to say. Check out how you’re feeling and talk about that.

Shared Agreements

Create a sense of mutual understanding, shared power, relationship and expectation by offering a few "agreements". These are simply a set of general norms that will guide the conversation and hold everyone involved accountable for their actions and contributions.

1. Be Brave. Take Risks.

(Nothing can substitute experience)

2. Be Here Now.

(Be present and aware of yourself and those around you)

3. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

(Take this opportunity to embrace the discomfort and see it as a curve for further learning and engagement)

4. Nothing About Us, Without Us.

(Try to ensure that all ideas and experiences are represented. Plan ahead so that those who are most impacted are included and leading the conversations.

5. Perfect is the Enemy of Good.

(Be open to an imperfect, possibly even messy process. For this reason, we encourage sound facilitation, particularly to help navigate challenging conversations. Keep in mind that the journey to racial equity is a critical and necessary part of the process)

6. Speak Your Truth

(Use "I" statements. Try hard to refrain from speaking for other people or an entire community. Your experience is valuable and although it may be similar, it is likely different from that of others.

Part Two: Building a Shared Language and Understanding of Race and Racialization

We begin by developing a shared understanding that "race" is a socially constructed. This simply means that there is no biological set of genes common to all black people or all white people. Additionally, racial classifications may change depending on location. For example, someone can be considered "black" in one country and "white" in another. Further analysis shows that, historically, racial identities have shifted to benefit some groups politically, economically and socially and to oppress other groups.

Defining "Racism"

Racism requires a particular set of "ingredients". Here is the definition that we have adopted from our partners at dR Works for this training and as a shared definition for our food systems work. Using all components of this definition will support you in explaining and having conversations about what we mean by "racism" and it's impacts on our food system.

Racism = Race Prejudice + Social and Institutional POWER

  • Racism is a system of ADVANTAGE based on race
  • Racism is a system of OPPRESSION based on race
  • Racism is a part of the culture of white supremacy (see the dR Works resource which lists some characteristics associated with the culture of white supremacy. This is a great resource to further your analysis).

Understanding STRUCTURAL RACIALIZATION"Structures are not neutral, and require careful intervention and vigilant monitoring if they are to serve justice and promote inclusion. When structures unevenly distribute opportunities or depress life chances along the axis of race, it can be described as structural racialization. “Racialization” connotes a process rather than a static event. It underscores the fluid and dynamic nature of race “Racialization” implies a process or set of processes that may or may not be animated by conscious forces" - john a. powell

See john powell's explanation of how racialization drives opportunity below.

Part Three: Building a Shared Analysis

Racism is often expressed on three levels. Because each expression reinforces and perpetuates the others, they must be addressed on all three levels in order to have the most impact and potential for long-term, structural change. Be sure to ask the following questions at each level. This tool can be a great resource to evaluate and shift often implicit and unintended ways that you or your organization may be reinforcing racialized practices and norms.

ASK: How are People of Color excluded, underserved, financially exploited, oppressed and/or invalidated?

ASK: How are White People disproportionally included, served, financially resourced, uplifted and/or validated?

  1. Personal Expressions - INDIVIDUAL ACTS - How are individuals reproducing or colluding with racism and racialization in their attitudes and behaviors?
  2. Institutional Expressions - POLICIES AND PRACTICES - How is your organization and institution reinforcing racism or racialization in their policies, practices and procedures?
  3. Cultural Expressions - BELIEFS, VALUES and NORMS - How do institutional and community beliefs values and norms validate whiteness and invalidate People and Communities of Color?
Understanding the Phases of Your Racial Equity Practice

Organizations that make a commitment to racial equity often move through a predictable set of "phases". Each phase typically leads in o the phase directly following it. Determining your organization's racial equity phase can be useful in planning strategic and explicit racial equity goals, which we address in our Level II Training. The phases below provide detail and insight designed to support organizations in their transition through their racial equity development in order to deepen their commitment, understanding and analysis without shaming or blaming others.


  1. Familiar Dysfunction - Most organizations start their equity commitment with an already established identity as white-led, predominantly white, or operating out of a white culture ideology. People of Color (POC) are expected to "fit in" to that existing culture or as a multicultural organization that values diversity but does not challenge white culture practices and ideology. Essentially everyone in this organization has adjusted to this norm at the expense of the POC in the organization and/or the POC communities served. Suggestion to move forward: Begin the conversation by using "Organizing Mind". Look around and see who is with you and begin building relationships.
  2. Explicit Commitment to Racial Equity - As the organization begins to state an explicit commitment to racial equity, equilibrium begins to shift. As people in the organization begin to develop a shared language and framework for understanding racism as race prejudice + social and institutional power, familiar dysfunction begins to unravel. POC begin to hold renewed hope that the organization might become more response to their strengths, needs and wisdom as white people begin to question what once seemed certain. Suggestion to move forward: Build your "Circle of Influence". Once you have incorporated "Organizing Mind", use that strategy to build mass and engage those people within your organization with whom you are already familiar to build a larger racial equity cohort.
  3. Culture Shift - This is the beginning of a culture shift in the organization. POC often read white people's ignorance as intentional; they may also equate racial equity with the need for white people to change, which can diminish their sense of power and agency. As a result they may feel a high level of frustration and/or hopelessness. They begin to take every challenge by others as an opportunity to prove they are one of the "good" white people. POC in the organization begin to "flip the script" as the organization engages in more either/or thinking. Suggestion to move forward: Engage, honor and build power on the margins. Make sure that those most affected by disparity within your organization take leadership and ownership as you begin to develop a new culture within your organization.
  4. Not Knowing - This is a place where many experience frustration and/or fear. Many want the process to offer clarity and quick fixes. At the same time in the middle of "not knowing" relationships may begin to subtly shift as some individuals within the organization work to negotiate conflict with heightened personal awareness and increased accountability to the mission. Suggestion to move forward: Establish or revisit your shared agreements. As you do so, make sure you are being accountable to and continuing the practice of incorporating the previous principals you have begun to adopt.
  5. Relational Trust - The organization acknowledges that culture shift is messy and chaotic and focuses efforts to build relational trust and a culture of appreciation to help move people and the organization through chaos. People start to identify their individual and collective power to make change or shift the organization without focusing on depending on others to change. Both POC and white people are working to bring intention and impact closer together out of a mutual respect for the hard personal work involved in a racial equity commitment. Suggestion to move forward: Continue to think and act collectively. Establish a routine practice to open the door to dialogue about racial equity. Be sure to allow for people to share their own stories of how they are practicing racial equity in their work and daily lives.
  6. Equity Goals Clarified - The organization is ready to identify and name specific and explicit racial equity goals at the cultural, institutional and personal levels. Naming these goals now rather than earlier, before the culture shift and "not knowing" stages, allows these goals to address the nuance and complexities inherent in equity work. Naming these goals now also means the groundwork has been laid for everyone to understand the integral interconnection between institutional, cultural and personal work. Suggestion to move forward: Evaluate your goals to see if/how they address all three levels - personal, institutional and cultural. Be sure to ask questions about how they impact POC and white people.
  7. Equity Practice - Once goals have been clarified, the organization leans into the equity work with an appreciation for complexity, ongoing learning and reflection. The organization works to establish a culture that provides support and accountability, one that presumes good intent while continually improving on the effort to bring intent and impact closer together through improved communication and mutual respect. The organization understands racial equity as an ongoing practice rather than a specific destination. People have learned how to offer appreciation, disagree, make mistakes, call into account, reflect and revise.

Determine which stage best describes your organization. Take the time to map a course to reach the next stage.

Created By
Shorlette Ammons


Created with images by gustavofrazao - "Hand writing the text: Be An Active Listener" • underverse - "we listen word under torn black sugar paper" dR Works OpenSource Leadership Strategies, Inc.

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