On this Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, I’m happy I can share part of the eloquent post Mat Davis just wrote about the successful resolution to issues he has been struggling with recently. I was fortunate to meet Mat at the Kheprw Institute. Mat has been on the board of an Indianapolis food coop and wasn’t treated well by the board when he raised some legitimate issues about the store’s policies, and how well the neighborhood the store is in was being served. Indianapolis has a huge problem with food deserts, adding to the importance of this issue.
As I have said since October, I don’t think anyone individually is racist or bigoted whatsoever, BUT that doesn’t mean that this institution hasn’t been practicing racism and classism for a long time now. The discrimination I experienced and how it was handled is a very clear example of that pattern.
Our resolution is a testament to how co-ops can be used as a business model that can make equity and access a priority even when leadership makes a major mistake. In a co-op, community always has the power to address and properly confront issues that hold them back from serving their mission.
Moving forward, responsiveness builds trust and should be the outcome of accountability. Despite their behavior and mistakes, we as members and community showed (and will continue to show) where the leadership needs to improve and how we as a board and staff can better serve the real mission of the co-op. Here are 10 immediate, concrete changes that have come out of this issue of discrimination:
1. Reinstatement of a discriminated board member
2. All hostile board and staff are no longer at the store
3. Better and responsive communication between board and members
4. $150 Membership fee can now be paid in income based installments over longer time frame (Ex. $25 once a year for up to 5 years)
5. 10% discount for ALL members going forward on everything in the store (expect alcohol) along with that discount being extended to SNAP recipients, even if they’re not members
6. Donated and transferred memberships for low-income residents on the Near Eastside
7. WIC access will be provided soon after initial stabilization is secured
8. Open board elections next month will start early 2 weeks early to encourage candidates (and all members) who are committed to food access to build off of the momentum of these changes
9. Various community engagement and food access initiatives including community meal, classes and workshops
10. Strategic plan about how we plan to increase food access on the Near East Side and turn the store around
I grew up in Martindale-Brightwood and the Near East Side and lived here most of my life. I’ve done a lot to help improve my neighborhood but I think we would see something incredibly transformative for my hood and city if we were to turn this store around! I think it would send a clear message to everyone, everywhere about Indianapolis if we successfully support the store and increase food access in the one of the worst food deserts in the country.
I want to be clear about some reflection on race that are being discussed around this conflict:
It’s ok for professionals of color to be and stand up for themselves in this city;
It’s ok for white people with privilege, resources, leverage, and networks to trust the participation, input, and leadership of black people and other people of color, especially if we’re preaching diversity and inclusion;
It’s also ok to care about people in our neighborhood who are working class or live in poverty;
It’s also ok for white people to make a mistake in regards to race or class and let people support them in finding a solution.
If you’re someone who didn’t agree with my side of the story, my approach or some of the truths exposed because of how it was handled BUT you truly do want to increase food access for the Near East Side and across the city, then hopefully you can see that despite our disagreements, I have done this in good faith and hope that we can actually serve the mission the co-op set out to accomplish. I’ve been community organizing for 12 years and I know the difficulty of trying to help increase awareness on an institutional/systemic issues to create change and having decision makers or gatekeepers constantly confuse it for an interpersonal dynamic or character flaw, sometimes purposefully. It’s so important that organizers or activists (or those aspiring) to help people in institutions understand that organizing isn’t divisive or “too political” because it prioritizes social change and real impact for people who need it the most. I hope a year from now we can look back on this process and find an even deeper appreciation for this resolution when the store is steady and the community is engaged! All of this effort was done out of love by HUNDREDS of people who wanted to see some real change in our neighborhood, the local food community and the whole city in general. I am grateful and now it’s time to work!
#LoveWins #WhitePrivilegeLost #EastsidePride #FoodJustice #BestMLKDayEver #CoopsWork #MatsBack #TimeToWork
And I’d like to mention the book I’m reading in case you are interested: “And Still I Rise: Black American Since MLK”, by Henry L. Gates and Kevin M. Burke explores the last half century of the African American Experience, including many photos.