Ariel FitzHugh

Happy New Year! What’s your social justice resolution for the new decade?

By Divya Anand, Ariel FitzHugh, Noah Segal

The New Year marks a new beginning, a chance for us to perhaps take up the roads less traveled, the challenges we were not able to meet in the past or make new promises for us to keep. And this is not by accident but by design, as the holidays give us the much needed time to relax, reflect, and recoup in body, mind, and spirit. It is also the season of giving when we are encouraged to spread kindness, and the holiday cheer, donate, care for those less fortunate than us, and teach children to be kind. According to the Digital Giving Index, 31% of donations received by non-profits occur in December. So we are more inclined to toss loose change into buckets for causes, donate to our favorite non-profit with donations matched or doubled by a for-profit, and find time to volunteer in a food bank or a shelter. It is the season of “feel good”, where we give with not many expectations but to experience the joy of giving before the start of a New Year. 

In fact, Black Friday, coming on the heels of Thanksgiving, sets the stage for the season of giving. Stores have holiday sales both online and in-store with offers that we just cannot refuse. The Thanksgiving weekend from Thursday to Sunday, with the year’s best sales and discounts, is often also the time many families get to spend time together and buy necessities they cannot otherwise afford. The irony remains that Black Friday fervor always falls after Thanksgiving, an American holiday built on the historic fallacy of a happy meal celebrated together by Settlers and Indigenous Communities. 

The holidays help us contemplate and reflect about who we are, what we want out of life and what we need to change to meet those goals. This line of thinking is often accompanied with New Year resolutions, firm decisions to do or not do something. And for the majority of us, it marks the end of our giving and “social justice” efforts.

If we are so bold to commit to carrying on with our social justice efforts beyond the season of giving and buying, what can we do? As more often than not, the causes we supported in cash or kind, do remain. How can we think critically and get creative to increase the impact all year round? The following is a few suggestions:

  •  Model your social justice work throughout the year. Recognize the privilege when one gets to choose one month of a year to do the “giving” work. If we don’t engage in this work all year round we are teaching our children, that “charity” or “kindness” is a trait to practice once a year. Let’s make it a life-long practice!
  • Social justice causes need not all be about money. While money and other material donations are very important they are also often Band-Aid fixes that do not address or alter the root causes that create the “need for donations” in the first place. And for most of us while donating money or time for one month is what seems doable—there is more that we can leverage or give throughout the year. It is the power of our connections and networks and sharing those with people, who don’t have the same, to take action for themselves. It is offering our time to mentor someone. It is reaching out to staff in social justice organizations doing the work, about what they need the most.
  •  Revisit the causes that we were part of in the “giving” season. How can we continue to build authentic relationships? How can we listen in, learn, and amplify the voices of those who are directly affected?  How can we make sure their own voices are heard while offering the resources, networks, and expertise we have? 
  • At every chance, reading and educating ourselves on the systemic gaps that have created situations of inequities for the causes/organizations we support is very important. It could be at dinner conversations or at conference intervals that we might find a kindred soul who may join our cause. Or it could be for a grant proposal that the staff may need some additional help. And more importantly, it would be for us to learn and never be the expert on the lived realities of people who are different from ourselves.
  • Reflecting on the ways, we may inadvertently be complicit in creating and sustaining inequities is another step. It may be as small as changing the way we shop for our food or how we celebrate certain holidays.
  • Most importantly, rewiring our thinking—are we “giving” to feel good for ourselves or to make an actual change? How do we ensure our efforts are impactful and equitably? And who can we partner with to make the maximum impact? Working backward from the impact to the actions we need to take, is key. Our “feel good” intentions alone may not go so far in changing people’s lived realities in any meaningful way.
  • Operating from a sense of humility is another key step to engage in social justice as a life-long practice. It is important for us to realize that no matter how much we give or educate ourselves—it is not about us—our expertise or resources do not trump people’s lived experiences. We are not the “saviors” who get to decide “what people need” or decide on what “help is required” with the expectation that people need to be grateful for what we “give” or we need to be “appreciated” for our “giving”.
  • Set the goal of decentering ourselves and investing time and effort to build relationships and trust. Let it be something that is part of our lives, all the time, not something that is outside of our reality that we can choose to engage with or not.

On that note, Happy New Year and a Happy New Decade for Social Justice and Anti-racism to all you folk out there! 

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MADE IN MEDFORD: Community Building Examples

We are so thrilled to share our first community recipes fundraiser calendar, “Made in Medford!” This calendar is brought to life by the effort, time and commitment of a bunch of residents in Medford, MA. The idea for this calendar fundraiser came from one of our advisors Kate Godin, a postdoc fellow at Harvard and an officer at the EHS Biosafety Program at MIT. (Kate is also the brains behind our gender and robot activity, soon to have its rerun at the Cambridge Science Festival in April 2020! Keep an eye out for it!).

The idea for this calendar project took inspiration from the Hubb Community Project, and the publication of Together: Our Community Cookbook to generate funds for the 2017 London Grenfell fire victims. It was supported and promoted by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. In the “Foreword” to the book, she touched on how cooking together melds identities in a shared space and builds connections, reflecting on the universal need to connect, nurture, and commune through food, in crisis or joy. It is this spirit and idea of a community cooking fundraiser that brought alive this calendar project.  And for each of us, it was an opportunity for the community to come together, exchange ideas, and learn from each other, while sharing stories of our families, cuisines, and cultures.

We shared our ideas with Dr. Marie Cassidy, Director of the Medford Family Network and community leader extraordinaire. Marie connected us with Lisa Tonello, the Resident Services Coordinator at Medford Public Housing who came on board from our first meeting and has been our biggest supporter making this project possible for all of us. From inviting us to the Thanksgiving Gathering at the public housing to organizing meetings and cooking sessions, Lisa was at the forefront every step of the way.

From the very outset, there were a few guidelines we set for how the project was going to unfold. Our role was to facilitate the creation of a community group, who would then drive, own, and benefit from this Project. And we laid out a tentative plan to: 

  • Identify a group of residents interested in leading and organizing the cooking class.
  • The resident group decides on the dishes they would like to showcase.
  • The recipes will be collected over the course of the year with us helping with cooking demonstrations to collect the recipes. (We were to be the extra pair of hands to help from chopping up vegetables to cleaning the kitchen.)
  • Solicit a local organization or volunteer to photograph the event/s.
  • Culminate with the production of a fundraising calendar featuring the recipes and photographs from the cooking class.

Our hope is this fundraising effort can be sustained annually with new recipe contributions from both new and old residents.

Local businesses Plough & Stars, Wegmans, and Whole Foods came through with gift cards for ingredients as did Betsy Lenora who volunteered her time to photograph the dishes for us. It was over the course of a year we had multiple meetings from planning meetings to cooking demonstrations to photography and collecting recipes, to a community potluck where all the dishes were shared! We sure, also, had glitches and gaps, and we hope to learn and remedy them as we move forward. We had delays with printing and shipping, and we hope we can find a local printer for next year. 

And why does this story needs to be told…

We felt that this experience needed to be shared as it was inspired by another community fundraising project from across the world, and we hope it encourages other individuals and communities to engage in similar efforts. As a social justice advocacy company, it was important to us that this project centered and showcased community residents, from its design to execution, where they were the decision-makers at every step of the way. The project enriched us and our families in so many different ways, building community, sharing food and stories and forging friendships across all age groups and cultures. The project truly showed us the beauty of operating from a space of cultural humility and steering clear of charity/savior mindsets. And we share this experience, hoping to inspire others as we approach the New Year. We hope we can do this next year and we hope there are many others doing the same with us!

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