Ami McReynolds | Chief Equity Officer, Feeding America: It's not easy to share the most difficult parts of your journey with others, but there is a superpower that you develop when you share your story. On today's episode, we welcome Latisha Reid, Vanessa Pierre, and Adam LaRose, who will talk about their experience with the Client Leadership Council, a new initiative launched by the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, DC during the early days of the pandemic.
Welcome to Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger. I'm Amy McReynolds, your host and chief equity officer at Feeding America. Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger is a series of conversations with individuals who are disrupting the status quo and building more equitable futures to improve food security all across this country.
Latisha and Vanessa are cohort members of the Client Leadership Council, and Adam is director of advocacy and public policy with the food bank. Join us as we talk about the story of self and the power of using one's voice to advocate for strong and resilient communities.
So, Adam, maybe I'll start with you. First, I'd love for you just to share a little bit about yourself and maybe you can also talk about the work of the Capital Area Food Bank.
Adam LaRose | Director of Advocacy & Public Policy, Capital Area Food Bank: Well, Amy, thank you so much for having us and having me. I'll start with the food bank. So, we have existed as an organization since 1980. So we were founded on Martin Luther King day about 42 years ago. And we've been really working towards hunger alleviation ever since. What I tell folks is we are one of six food banks in the 200 Feeding America food bank network with three states in our service area. From an advocacy and operational programmatic standpoint, cover a really unique jurisdiction between the District of Columbia, the United States Congress, Maryland. And of course, the Commonwealth of Virginia. At the height of the pandemic, we served over 550,000 folks struggling to access their next meal. In FY22, we anticipate distributing about 45 million meals worth of food through a network of hundreds of regional nonprofit partners. And, like many food banks throughout the pandemic, we've had to really change our entire approach operationally. It's been the most labor and resource intensive crisis we have ever navigated. So quite an experience, and it's quite an organization, great kind of roots and history in the community.
And it really allows us to work with our range of partners in a number of different ways. And so when I tell folks, in terms of kind of where I start and my role in this is, just my own lived experience with food insecurity. I've had the privilege to work in a number of different environments, nonprofits, capital, government, et cetera, but what I carry with me is some of the most vivid memories in terms of waiting in line for SNAP and WIC with my mom, being ashamed to show folks where I lived in a kind of double wide trailer on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Florida. And I carry that with me every day, and I bring this to the work, and I bring this to the organization. And I find a lot of folks who work in these fields and at this organization have similar experiences and really understand it from real empathetic perspective of, to a certain extent, what it's like to really struggle to access when's the next meal.
Ami McReynolds: You know, I'm curious - Client Leadership Council. What was the genesis of the idea?
Adam LaRose: Well, you know, we have, as an organization, really always taken steps to listen to the voices of our clients, but really in the onset of COVID 19 really kind of seeing a lot of the inequities and disparities only worsen, really wanted to take a real formal step to codify what that looks like organizationally. And so, we kind of got together as a team, I think three or four months into the pandemic and realized that we really need to take a real step to lift up the voices of folks who are historically marginalized and included from a lot of the seats of the table, as we, as organization, you know, have a privilege to say that.
Ami McReynolds: Are there particular pillars of the program that the Council is centered around?
Adam LaRose: You know, we have really constructed the curriculum and the 10-month program really based on the Marshall Ganz model of story of self and public narrative and public leadership. Really just kind of the belief that Marshall Ganz being one of the first organizer alongside Caesar Chavez in the United Farm Workers Union that you really can't change people's hearts and minds, and particularly those with power and privilege, without putting your heart into it, as well as your mind and sharing that story. And so, you know, we really focus wholeheartedly on kind of building out that story of self and really further empowering members to really sit with a lot of, you know, the things that they've overcome and continue to overcome and not, you know, really be ashamed to share that in, positions of power.
Ami McReynolds: Latisha, Vanessa, hello, ladies, you are both members of the Client Leadership Council. I'm curious, how did you learn about the Client Leadership Council?
Vanessa Pierre | Capital Area Food Bank Client Leadership Council Member: So, I'm Vanessa, and I am part of the first class of the Client Leadership Council. I think it was a referral. I live in Montgomery County, Maryland. And, something came across my inbox because I had attended a previous advocacy institute. And I was just so excited about it because it almost was like this level two, to take the skills that I had learned previously with a great organization that covered the entire area, instead of just my, you know, small part of Montgomery County and really advanced my skills to make some change in my neighborhood. So, I applied, and it was an invaluable experience for sure.
Ami McReynolds: Latisha. What about yourself? How did you learn about the Council?
Latisha Reid | Capital Area Food Bank Client Leadership Council Member: The same as Vanessa. I was referred by someone, and it's funny because I tell, as I told Adam, initially someone sent it to me. Someone is very instrumental in the lives of my sons and myself, and I pushed the application aside for probably about two months. And as the deadline came inching closer and closer, I just on a whim, it peaked my interest, but on a whim, I said, let me just fill this out, had no idea that I would be selected. And it was literally within hours of submitting the application. And I'm so glad that I was selected because each month I found out more and more about this phenomenal group of men and women and all that this program entails. And it's great. It really has been so informative in helping with our advocacy and all that we believe in.
Ami McReynolds: And Latisha, you are in the program now, is that right?
Latisha Reid: Yes.
Ami McReynolds: So, Vanessa, you said there was some amazing things that you learned through your participation. Can you tell us a little bit about what some of those are?
Vanessa Pierre: I feel like I always go back to the same things that just speaks to the impact that it had on me. We had a one particular teacher, Sean, there we go. He came a couple of times to talk about the story of self, and I've always struggled with this piece and basically the story of self is being able to tell your story in such a way that it makes your advocacy efforts more impactful. Right? Lived experiences, as we learned through our advocacy training is, golden, it's something that separates the facts, you know, and really hits home with whomever it is that you're advocating to. So his lessons, he came back, I think two or three times during my class. I hope that the new class is benefiting from him. He's amazing. That was probably, to this day, I recall on the lessons that he taught, and the methods that he taught and the way that you are to break down your story in a way that is concise, but also draws emotion and has really helped me. I still use his formula today, whether I'm when giving testimony or just advocating to any small groups, large groups. It helps me craft my story in such a way that is impactful but also maintains the boundaries that I've set for people knowing about me.
Ami McReynolds: Yes.
Vanessa Pierre: By the end of that class, we were kind of like a little family. I remember the first day that we went, and we were in this big warehouse and it was cold. Adam. It was cold. Okay.
Adam LaRose: That was in the, that was in the middle of the pandemic.
Vanessa Pierre: Yes, it was in the middle of the pandemic, in a warehouse, with desks all apart. And I remember driving there and was like, oh no, I'm not from this area. So I was like, where are these people taking me? What is this? And we pull up to this warehouse, but that first date of like hearing everyone's story, but not just the people who were part of the group, hearing that the people that we would be learning from, and being supported by, had stories too. I remember the first time that I heard Adam's story, and I was, first of all, we're from, we're both from Florida. So, you know.
Adam LaRose: Amazing.
Vanessa Pierre: Hearing that he had gone through something. It just makes you respect the people who are, who are talking to you. It makes you just allow yourself to be vulnerable because they've walked a lot of the same paths that you have and hearing all the stories and connecting with people in that way, between telling the story and hearing the stories had the biggest influence on me and expanded my own advocacy realm. Cause a lot of it, because Capital Area Food Bank is about food, but advocating for domestic violence victims and, you know, mental health and all of these different things, they all play back into food insecurity. So it helped me connect the dots in my advocacy efforts, if that makes sense.
Ami McReynolds: Yes. Latisha, you were starting to talk about the people that you are meeting on this journey as part of the Council. Tell me a little bit about what's been impactful for you.
Latisha Reid: Meeting such a huge cross-section of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds and different lived experiences. But most of them all have the same common threads at some point in their lives, and that you can take some or most of them, you can take something from them and still learn from those experiences, learn or relate to those experiences that they've had. And it, I think, all makes us a tighter core group and that has made it all worthwhile. And, it's kind of bittersweet that we're like getting to home plate.
Ami McReynolds: Ah, it's coming to a close.
Latisha Reid: Yes. And it's moved along so fast.
Ami McReynolds: Yes.
Latisha Reid: Yeah. But the time that we spent is chalk full of information and bonding and advocacy. We learned so much during those times. But so supportive as well, very supportive.
Ami McReynolds: So, I'm curious, Latisha, what are some of the other skills that you are developing.
Latisha Reid: Effective communication, team building, advocacy, and one of the best, getting out of my own way.
Ami McReynolds: That one's really, what does that mean? Say more.
Latisha Reid: Sometimes I tend to overthink things when I just I'm on the right path, but I just, I overthink, so I need to just jump in, get it done and move on to the next thing. Because I have the ideas, I have it in place, and I just need not to procrastinate, just get it done and move on to the next thing on my agenda, the next, you know, so yeah.
Ami McReynolds: All very important skills. And I heard you just talk about a little bit of something. Maybe you knew that about yourself already, but it sounds like you've developed some skills and some ways to manage that. Vanessa what about you? What are some things that you learned about yourself through involvement with the cohort?
Vanessa Pierre: That's a good question. What did I learn about myself? Well, I learned that I don't know a lot.
Ami McReynolds: The more, you know, the more you don't know, right?
Vanessa Pierre: Yeah. I learned that I had a lot to learn, and I kind of knew that going in because like I said, I had just recently moved here. And so my experience living and growing up in south Florida, everywhere you go, what I was fighting for looked different. I had kind of learned that before I got to CLC, but it really helped me to see other people's perspectives and change the way that I talk to different groups. It helped me, like I said, connect the dots. What I learned about myself is that I had a lot more work to do. I had a lot more work to do. And I bring that back to that first cold day in the warehouse.
Ami McReynolds: Very impactful day. Yes.
Vanessa Pierre: I sat up front, girl. I was ready. I was, like, I'm going to be the star student in this class. Okay. And I think I might have been like one of the first people to get up and tell your story. I didn't have a baseline for what to say. And I was so in my head that I might have left all the feeling out of it. So, and that's me. Right. And I sat there, the rest of the class beating myself up about what I could have said and didn't say, and I was like, everybody else's story here is just so great. And I learned that I had imposter syndrome.
Ami McReynolds: Ah, yes. Tell me what that means. We hear that term a lot.
Vanessa Pierre: I still struggle with that. But, that first couple of lessons, I had heard stories from people who I felt like, I've always had issues identifying with my own story. I think as a means of survival, you almost separate yourself from your story. And I felt like everyone else there deserved to be there because they had been through so much because I had disconnected from what I had been through. And I was like, you know, I haven't struggled as much as these people have. I have no place to be here. So that imposter syndrome is that inner voice telling you that you're not qualified. You haven't heard enough. You haven't been through enough to be qualified enough to help people. Another thing was, I thought that, because my story wasn't over, you almost feel like you shouldn't tell your story because you're not up out of it yet.
Ami McReynolds: Yes. Right. It's still ongoing.
Vanessa Pierre: Yep. So my inner critic was just telling me all the things, the more stories I listened to, this was before that first lesson, because that was, that was addressed in that teaching with Sean, but in that listening to everyone's stories, I was just like, I shouldn't be here. I maybe need to struggle a little more to be here, but that was quickly resolved. And I felt comfortable, but I did learn that about myself. And that was like my first introduction to imposter syndrome. And I was able to work through that, through the program.
Ami McReynolds: Experiencing that. Yes. Latisha, what about you. What have you been learning about yourself?
Latisha Reid: How to, again, how to not doubt myself as much, again, how not to doubt myself so much? Not to be, because it took me a long time to share my story.
Ami McReynolds: Yes.
Latisha Reid: Or different parts, or certain parts of my story, because I felt like I failed on so many levels. I failed in my marriage. I failed my children. I failed my career. I failed in my business. So it took me a long time to share my story. And I just I stuffed so much for so long. And it was only through therapy. Coming to the realization that you can only carry so much by yourself. And, at some point, you have to let it out and ask for help. And in doing so at some point, if you don't seek help and don't forgive yourself and move forward, then you'll remain stuck. And that's something that I had to forgive myself for and move forward because in not allowing myself to do that, I would not be able to be a better person or be a better mother to my sons, and be the best person I needed to be in the moment.
Ami McReynolds: I just want to note, I mean, I'm hearing you both talk about very personal parts of your story, right? And what you learned about yourself and how you've cope with things. And there are folks who go their whole lives, right? Without making those realizations and making those connections. What has surprised you on this journey?
Latisha Reid: Really, I usually don't open up to people. It would surprise a lot of people and, like, even in my family about my journey, things that I've speak about and write about now, like, some that I'm very, very close to in my family would not know what I've been through because I have this, something that I say often, if a child is hungry, they tell everyone. If an adult is hungry, no one would know unless you told them, so whatever we are going through as adults, oftentimes we don't share.
Ami McReynolds: That's right.
Latisha Reid: We keep it to ourselves. And that's how I was. I stuffed so much and kept so much to myself. So right now in this moment as we're speaking or when this comes out, there's a lot of people like my siblings, my friends, coworkers, they're finding out for the very first time.
Ami McReynolds: Right. And how does that feel for you? Is it frightening? Is it empowering?
Latisha Reid: It's empowering. I'm almost 10 years past that. I'm rebuilding, and the same thing I said nearly 10 years ago, I'm saying now I don't take what I don't need. And I built myself up. I had great community support. But again, when I was able to, I went right back to work and continued to build myself back up. And I do not want to wallow in self-pity.
Ami McReynolds: I'm thinking about Erykah Badu song, Bag Lady. Right? Leave that bag behind. You don't need it.
Latisha Reid: But I'm not ever too proud to say I've fallen, and I need help.
Ami McReynolds: What about you, Vanessa? What, what has surprised you or others as you have gone through the CLC?
Vanessa Pierre: Surprised me. I would say just the support system of all of the organizations in this area surprised me. Where I come from, you don't really see that, you don't see the support of organizations who are really interested in uplifting something that you're passionate about. So I was surprised by just the overwhelming support of if I, you know, ask for something, it was, what do you need? If I had an idea, how can we help? That empowers you to do things with your boots on the ground, you know, in the community that you might not have been able to do by yourself. I don't have the bandwidth. I don't have the reach that Capital Area Food Bank has. I was so blessed to be able to, through them, visit the White House, and I took an experience that I would never have been able to get with on my own. Also, and to really expand the reach of the message, that was surprising to me that, and also my mom is still confused. She's like, how did you turn gardening into speaking? She still doesn't get the connection or people say like, what do you do? So, that is, but the thing that surprises everyone else is that I was able to turn, I have to jump on what Latisha said and say, I come from a culture like strong West Indian culture of do not...we suffer in silence, that is on the chest. Like, that is what you are learning. What happens in this house stays in this house. We suffer in silence, like a badge of honor to say that we never asked for help. And so I say this all the time, like with the shame with that still, I mean, people know it now because the more you practice saying it, the more you get comfortable saying it. And also the more feedback you get, what really gets me going now is like DMs from women who say, I love learning from somebody who looks like me. And thank you for saying things that, you know, I'm afraid to say and things like that. So that just, if me sharing my story helped someone else, I wasn't coming from such a place of shame that I was surprised that people were like, thank you. We've been waiting for somebody to say this. And so the...
Ami McReynolds: So that thanks was surprising to you. Yeah.
Vanessa Pierre: The more I get that, and I just stay true to my core and I'm just myself, that's the other thing, right? It's like being in corporate America, my whole adult life, and like being groomed for corporate America, my mother retired very high in, in that world is, like, it comes with a different, you're almost groomed not to say a lot of things. So finding my voice again, my voice was surprising for me. And that, that it would be accepted. Like if I'm raw, real and uncut, I almost felt like people wouldn't listen. And that's just not the case in the advocacy world. I was surprised by how many people wanted to hear, don't sugar coat it, tell us exactly how it is so we can learn from it. Especially when we're talking about, I primarily focus on issues in the Black community, you see allies and they say, no, we really want to know how we can improve. That was super surprising to me. Especially coming from the South.
Ami McReynolds: So, I feel like during this time of the pandemic, you hear so many people talking about authentic voice, right? Sharing your authentic voice and being vulnerable. And the two of you, you were doing that through your advocacy and your work. Tell me a little bit about some of the issues that are important to you, Latisha. What are you using your voice for? What issues are important to you?
Latisha Reid: Three that are critically important to me is food insecurity, special needs, cause I have two children with special needs, but 15 years before even having my older son, my career has been working with children and adults and seniors with intellectual and developmental disability. So, inclusion, anything with that community, is vitally important to me.
Ami McReynolds: Yes.
Latisha Reid: And housing.
Ami McReynolds: Housing.
Latisha Reid: And to me, they're all are interconnected because to me, food insecurity is my version of NIMBYism. And that's just my personal belief. I equate food insecurity with NIMBYism in some communities. With food deserts and people having the thought of, oh, we don't need, too many grocery stores or we don't need this and we don't need that because we have cars. We can get to this place or we can get to that place. Well, not everyone has access to vehicles or they have access to go to to get to these grocery stores or things of that nature. So, if it's not accessible to everyone, then it's not accessible to anyone.
Ami McReynolds: Yes.
Latisha Reid: That's the way I feel.
Ami McReynolds: Great. Vanessa, what about you? What are the issues that you care about? How are you using your voice?
Vanessa Pierre: Primarily, and unapologetically, I am fighting for, and I am always advocating for, and trying to uplift Black communities who are, are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, by no fault of their own, primarily the social determinants of health and how that intersects in that way. And I do that through gardening education. I teach people how to grow food to, you know, minimize food insecurity and also put extra money in their pocket. That's the way that, that's how my story happened. But also using food as a segue or an introduction to talk about creating advocates in the community and especially in our community, food has always been a point of gathering and, you know, big things happen over food. Whether it be religious, family reunions. So I use food, and I use gardening and food production as a way to start the conversations necessary, difficult sometimes in candid conversations, to inspire people to advocate for their households first. That if you can advocate for the food in your fridge, that you are going to care about where your food comes from, that you're going to try and take back a little bit of control of that. Then I can turn you into an advocate for the block. And that's kind of been my recipe on how I activate.
Ami McReynolds: Did you say an advocate for the block? Is that what you said?
Vanessa Pierre: Yes.
Ami McReynolds: I love that.
Vanessa Pierre: Yeah. It's kind of the premise of if you're in such a position, usually by no fault of your own underemployment unemployment housing, you're probably working, you barely see your kids, you get home, you throw anything on or you feed your kids and you don't have enough to feed yourself. If I can fix that problem, that gives you the head space to, then I can talk to you about, do you see that none of the businesses in this new neighborhood are owned by us or people who live here? Do you see what the county council's trying to do here? I can't talk to you about that if your head is somewhere else, as it should be because family comes first, so we gotta solve the problems in the household. And I do that in a small way through gardening education, and then I can turn people into advocates and really get them to start showing up to meetings with the county council, start, you know, legislation reform and all of these different things that you really can't talk to people about if they're hungry.
Ami McReynolds: Yes. It sounds like through your advocacy, both of you Vanessa and Latisha, that you all are creating armies of advocates by sharing your story, you are encouraging others to do the same.
Vanessa Pierre: Absolutely. Only by the training that we received. For sure.
Ami McReynolds: Hey Adam, I'm curious. So you completed one cohort, and now you are about to soon, sorry, Latisha, complete the second cohort for the CLC. What are you thinking about in terms of the next cohort?
Adam LaRose: You know, I mean, it's just so awesome. Each class we found kind of has their own personality, right? But one of the things that we really tried to embed into, just as a fundamental tenant is, you know, obviously listening to the voices of our clients and that happens in so many different ways in our advocacy platform, in our, you know, kind of programmatic operational plans. But also we ask them, what do you think could be changed? You know, what could make this better, right? And we tell them, and we're just open and honest about it, right? When we first started, and Vanessa could speak to this better than anybody, when we first started, that's what we started with. We said, Hey, this is an inaugural program, we are starting from scratch, and you are inaugural class. You're setting the tone for what this looks like, you know, moving forward. And so I think, you know, from the first class of the second class, what we realized, one of the main takeaways we had was writing down a three to five minute story of self for one is not necessarily a natural process. You know, people don't take classes on this or anything like that. But it's also an incredibly emotional and triggering process, right? And, we embedded a lot more time in this second class for folks to kind of go through, you know, their own, really therapeutic journey in some ways. And we just had to hold a lot of space for what that was like in the day to day on Zoom calls. And so I think we'll keep that as a tenant, you know, in the third class.
But I think real takeaway from the second or third class is kind of the practicality of the on-hand real-time work. You know, the most powerful work happened when we were like, Hey, you know, there's this bill coming up and we think you'd be great to testify, you know, are you interested? And we would kind of work with the members one-on-one to tailor it to that, you know, testimony or meeting a council member or a state legislator or press appearance. And I think even though the program is 10-months long and in this second class, we've kind of structured it so that really the actions start to happen in the last third of the class. I think for the third class, you know, really have that practicality, that hands on stuff going all throughout, while the career is kind of going on.
Ami McReynolds: Yes. One of my teachers used to say, learn by doing. So Vanessa, Latisha. I'm curious, one of the questions I always like to ask as we come to a close in our conversation is 10 years from now. If you close your eyes and think about what's happening, what do you hope to see happening as a result of you using your unique voice? What do you see happening differently? Maybe we can start with you, Vanessa.
Vanessa Pierre: I would love to have a model set up where I'm focusing my efforts in a very small neighborhood on purpose, which is the community of White Oak I live in Silver Spring, Silver Spring is huge, but I'm focusing on this one neighborhood because I'd like to create a model that can be replicated in other places. So I am pouring it all into them. So in 10 years, I would love to see this model replicated, where we're seeing, right now I'm working with an afterschool program so that this afterschool is taken up by other Title One schools in the county. And, you know, more people start to care about food and we have more farmers markets opening and more people using food production as income and more people in my community, young people healing their relationship with the land. So that farming is no longer assimilated to slavery. And now, we're creating other trades where people just care, and our communities reflect the diversity within it. So, definitely, I see a happy little place with a model that I'd like to think that I helped create where communities that we used to have way back in the day, where we were kind of outcast from everyone else and forced to have these communities within ourselves, are brought up in a healthier way. We don't make it, and leave the community we stay and we fight for, and we have success within our communities, and we're all well fed. We're all well fed and healthy and invested. I think that's what I'd love to see that happen as a model that can be replaced over and over again throughout the county and the DMV generally.
Ami McReynolds: Yeah, it's beautiful. I love the dream. I love the dream. Latisha. What about you, if you close your eyes and think about what's happening differently 10 years from now, because of your voice.
Latisha Reid: Hoping that we can have someone that can pick up the torch and carry on, and we're not having these same conversations right here in this time and space, and we're not having food deserts, but we're not having to travel and get in cars, and we can walk within our communities and go to grocery stores and fresh markets and, what have you, farmer's markets and things of that nature. And shop for healthier options, or again, have, can grow fruits and vegetables and not rely so heavily on resources being trucked in and out of our communities or depend on, while food banks and other community-based organizations are great, and they're a wonderful resource, not be so reliant upon them to feed so many.
Ami McReynolds: Yes, yes. I am beyond confident that as you both use your voices, that these dreams will become reality. I know that you have the power to spark, to be catalysts. So thank you so much Latisha, Vanessa, thank you for sharing your voice with us today on the podcast. Adam, thank you so much. And thank you to the Capital Area Food Bank for deciding in the middle of a pandemic that this program was the program that needed to happen.
Adam LaRose: Of course.
Latisha Reid: Thank you for having us.
Vanessa Pierre: Yes. Thank you. This has been awesome. And thank you Adam, as well. I don't think I've ever got the chance to say thank you but thank you.
Adam LaRose: Thank you, Vanessa and Latisha, you guys are awesome.
Ami McReynolds: Thank you for joining us on this episode of Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger. To learn more about the Client Leadership Council and the Capital Area Food Bank, visit www.capitalareafoodbank.org/clc. To learn about the work that Feeding America is doing to address equity and food insecurity, visit feedingamerica.org/act. Thank you to our podcast producer Rivet 360, and don't forget, share the show with others and be sure to subscribe so that you can get new episodes as soon as they are available. I'm Amy McReynolds, and I look forward to continuing our equity journey together in our next episode.