Transitioning From White Space Governance with Community Food Bank of Arizona's Rene Lopez and Michael McDonald

Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger

Episode 5: "Transitioning From White Space Governance with Community Food Bank of Arizona's Rene Lopez and Michael McDonald"

 

Ami McReynolds: Welcome to Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger. I'm Ami McReynolds, your host, and the chief equity and programs officer at Feeding America. Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger is a series of conversations with everyday leaders who are disrupting the systems of inequity that drive food insecurity across this country. 

In our last episode, we talked about building an inclusive democracy, and we learned about the importance of representation among policymakers in advancing change. This is true not only for our government institutions but also nonprofits. Even with the best intentions, nonprofits have played a major role in maintaining racist systems, and the makeup of their leadership is a big reason why.

On today's episode, we're focusing on racist charity structures and how to dismantle them starting at the top. To discuss, we've brought in two leaders from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. They are working on transitioning the food bank’s traditional white-space governance into one that represents, and is responsive to, the communities it serves.

Michael McDonald: Let’s roll

Ami McReynolds: All right. Great. So I want to welcome board member Rene Lopez and CEO Michael McDonald to the show today. Rene and Michael, thank you so much for joining us on Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger. Glad to have you here. 

Michael McDonald: Good to be with you. 

Rene Lopez: Great to be here. 

Ami McReynolds: You know what Rene, I think maybe I'll start with you. The term white-space governance might be familiar to some of the folks who are listeners, but maybe not to others. Can you break down what that means for us? What is it; how would you define that phrase?

Rene Lopez: Oh, how would I define that phrase? For me, it would be like a board of directors or people in charge mostly being white and not having no diversity, either on a board or like a board of trustees or anything like that in a company where the hierarchy is nothing but white. That's what for me would be traditional white-space governance because that's how me, being Native American, I see that a lot. So that’s how I would define that phrase.

Ami McReynolds: And Michael, as the CEO, what role do you play in breaking down this traditional white-space governance, these deeply rooted approaches in philanthropy and nonprofit?

Michael McDonald: Yeah. Having been in the nonprofit sector for quite a few decades, we do have white-space governing structures, governance structures and boards of directors. And so, if we're a human-service organization, like a food bank, we're so often disconnected; our lived experience in that boardroom is disconnected from the program participants or client communities that we serve and are wanting to be in deeper partnership and solidarity with. 

So, there's really a mission imperative if we're going to do it right and do it the way it needs to be done and come alongside communities of color that already have solutions. They have needs, but they already have solutions. We're going to have to really think about who's in that boardroom. So I think the voices of who's in the room and who knows they're empowered to speak their truth, their lived experience, their ideas for solving their needs -- it has to change the diversity of the boardroom. So I think about: is our board representative of our community?  Is it in a deeper relationship with our community? Does it feel accountable to community and is it authorized by community?

And so those are the themes that we're looking at. And I think in my work as a CEO...here I am a middle-aged white man, a do-gooder all these years, and what I want to do is do right and we've got to shift the power dynamics in our boardroom, where decisions are made often with not a lot of accountability, to the people most impacted by those decisions. They have to have a voice in those decisions. So, my work, quite frankly, I would say is to challenge the power dynamics that traditional white-space governance boards have. And that may feel...that challenge may provoke people. And so there's probably some uncomfortableness with that, some stress of people who look like me with my background is like: is there a place for a middle-aged white guy trying to do good and do right in the community? Yes. And it means you need to make space for others taking that space. You need to be supportive and you can bring your social networks and your political capital, social capital. You can bring that to the table, to the community. But it doesn't mean that you're front and center. You're not prioritized, you're not centered. And that can be terribly displacing for a lot of white-space governance structures, like our board of directors.

Ami McReynolds: Right. As I mentioned, they're very deeply rooted approaches. And Michael, you talk about being accountable to community and authorized by community to dig into the work that you're focused on. Where do you see yourselves on that journey as an organization today?

Michael McDonald: I think we are moving in the right direction when we've got people like Rene and others who are from community, have participated in our work and are deeply knowledgeable about what community is looking for -- what the possible Yaqui tribal community is looking for and needs and what they're wanting to do with their solutions. So, I think we're on that journey. I think we've got a long way to go. I do think that not all of our board members may want to make that transition, because they've just been part of a set of collective norms, unquestioned norms, for decades in the nonprofit sector about what does it mean to be a member of a board of directors? And that's great. You have good intentions. You want to do good, but you've got to really do it in partnership with the people most impacted by the service, the mission.

And that's just a different way of being in relationship with the community. So, when I say to our board members, some of whom are retirees and have done great work in the community, when I say I feel more accountable to our board for the financial success of our organization, but I don't feel really accountable to our board for the mission-impact success. I feel accountable to Rene. I feel accountable to people I meet in communities, who we are serving alongside of in community, to do what they need to do to have economic security and food security and political opportunities and power. I feel accountable to community for the mission impact. I don't want to be saying that five years from now. And I think we've got five years of hard work ahead of us to make that a reality.

Ami McReynolds: Yes, I appreciate that level set around the journey and the time of the journey and the intentionality with which that has to be part of it. 

Michael, you talk about being in relationship with the community and Rene, you are a member of one of the communities that the food bank serves. I'd love for you to just share a little bit more about your community and tell us about your story. How did you even get connected to the food bank?

Rene Lopez: I got connected with the food bank through the TANF program on the reservation. Some things happened with my children and I had to really step up and be a father. I didn't really didn't want to work construction no more; I didn't want to do backbreaking work. And Ms. Mendoza said, “Hey, we have an internship with the food bank, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. Is that something that you would like to try?” And I said, yes, that's something I would like to try. So at first I thought it was just going to be, you know, let me see. But then I started really paying attention and started reading the work that I get to help people make sure they have something to eat and that I could do a whole lot more than just help with a box.

Ami McReynolds: Yes. And, Rene, how do you go from the internship to now being on the board of the food bank, being the representative voice of community -- a representative voice of community, not the only one at this particular food bank -- but what does that journey look like for you? And I'm curious, you know, did you have any fears or concerns about making that shift and joining the board? 

Rene Lopez: I did at first, you know, because I come from...I did a lot of bad stuff when I was younger and I've had a pretty hard life, but I've never blamed nobody for it because I made the choices myself. But it's just something that spoke to me when I saw somebody hurting for food -- like I used to, when I was younger. I remember waiting in line for a food box and not knowing when we were going to eat. And the fact that I was able, when I was an intern over there, I was able to help people get that food. And it's been hard because, like I said, when I first walked in the food bank and saw the board of directors that were before me and, or other ones I'm sure, but like I said before, it was just a long bunch of pictures of white, silvered guys, white guys. 

Ami McReynolds: All along the wall right? 

Rene Lopez: Yeah, all along the wall, and literally, I was like: how is this dude going to know what I've gone through when I know for a fact he has never struggled for a box teao eat, to eat anything. I was like, there was nobody of color on there, nobody. And I'm like, how can we say we have community when there's nobody like me or someone like me, a Black person on there, or give me an Asian or Hispanic. When they asked me, I asked Michael and some other ones, are you sure it’s me that you want on there? ‘Cause I can be outspoken sometimes. And I don't have a college degree, like some, like most that are on our board and all that.

But I do, I know one thing I do have is life experience and that's one of the things that I know I bring to the table. And I know I have the heartbeat of, not only my community, but I go to like two communities: my tribal community and the one out here in Tucson -- the Tucson community where I live. So, the Community Food Bank serves both of them. You know, I was able to get a little food bank on the reservation with the help of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. It took me a year to mend this bridge and once I did, it's been like, so great. They're still out there and now we have another one out here in Old Pascua, which used to be the headquarters for my nation. But we got it out here and I'm literally like two blocks away from that. So, it was intimidating at first, but I know that I can adapt. And I'm pretty smart when it comes to reading. So I read a lot.

Ami McReynolds: Well, Rene, just in talking with you, I mean, you said you're pretty outspoken, and it sounds like Michael might have been looking for somebody who brought that lens and those words right around the table to represent your story. To bring your life experience, your expertise to the table in ways that others around that table are unable to do. 

Michael McDonald: And Rene was already speaking truth to power way before we asked, invited him, to join our board of directors. We were at political rallies together; remember Rene, when we had that [big] session? So Rene was just speaking truth to elected officials, to corporate execs. And it's like, oh my gosh, this guy, we’ve got to have him in our boardroom because not only is he deeply committed to community and already making things happen in partnership with a food bank, he's willing to really go after the social injustices, the inequities, the disparities that exist in our community and across the U.S. and really tackle the public policy reform that we need. And let folks know that certain things are unacceptable, and we can change them. It's a choice.

Ami McReynolds: So there was so much, sounds like Michael, that you already saw in what Rene was bringing to the community that made him a great fit for the board. 

Michael McDonald: A true community leader. And that's what we need deeply embedded in community, representative of and accountable to.

Ami McReynolds: So, Michael, when you think about Rene being a true community leader and having that expertise and that voice on your board, what are some of the other sort of significant barriers to changing this white-space governance structure that is just so deeply embedded in our space, in the nonprofit space and the charitable food space? 

Michael McDonald: Yeah. And I think, again, it's probably part of the nonprofit sector's ethos. We get stuck; we as do-gooders, we get stuck in sort of a paternalistic mode. Like we have the answers, we're going to swoop in, we're going to put together a bunch of boxes of food. Here's some money.

If you've got other root-cause programming like, oh, let's provide economic opportunities through job training or micro-loans. So when we have that swoop-in mentality that is very paternalistic and doesn't respect the communities in which we live and are accountable to, I think it's hard to break through that. I think when people are really self-reflective individually and collectively in our board space -- and this has happened recently in our board space -- and Rene can speak to it as well -- when we start to challenge that ethos and well, you know, that's rather paternalistic, like, let's hear from Dora who's a community organizer in her community. What do you think needs to be done? And what are the solutions already happening rather than someone who is from outside of that community saying, well, here's the financial literacy program that you need. Well, maybe we need aspects of it, but it needs to be our program. It needs to be at least co-created.

So I think it's terribly threatening and displacing for white-space governing boards to be self-reflective first of all, and say, yeah, we do want to do good, but we want to do it the right way, in partnership. We do have things to offer, but we don't need to be in charge and in control; we don't need to have the answers. We need to hold the space for community to come up with the answers. And we're going to be allies and advocates and champions of the answers that are emerging from that co-creation. Rene, you could talk about it. We've had board conversations that have been pretty heated, because of different life experiences and so Rene, if you want to lean into that, go for it. 

Rene Lopez: We have some board members and we've had some talks where somebody's sense of justice is way different from most of the way we see justice, but at the same time, it's just like, to me, it just doesn't seem like, ah, how do I put this? Like changing of the guard, that's what's happening now. We want to change it. And the people that have the power right now don't want to let go of it. But that's how I feel. That's how I feel like, honestly they do know, but they just don't want to give it, I see the power of the guard doesn't want to change.

Ami McReynolds: So that’s interesting. I mean, for both of you, I feel like we're living in very interesting times. I mean, even as we tape this episode today, this week has been a week that has brought forward the Tulsa massacre -- the massacre of over 300 people in Greenwood, Oklahoma in the Greenwood community. And this idea of systemic racism seems like it is at a heightened sense of awareness in our country and it continues to be in play. There is a movement toward greater justice. There's public pressure to engage in this type of work. So there's a lot of momentum right now. And I'm curious, Rene, given your experience of what you're seeing, maybe in the boardroom and other spaces that you're in, and Michael, how do you feel that the current environment has influenced your work? I heard you say Rene, you feel like some people don't want to let go. So how has it either helped or hindered your work?

Rene Lopez: Um, I think it's helped in talking about it, like people are a little bit more open to it. But it, in my opinion, I think it hindered it because some people ain't gonna listen. I think, you know, sometimes you can get along or you can get run over -- that’s my philosophy. It’s been a lot for me. It's been long enough. Like you said, everybody is paying attention. Everybody is into it. But the thing is, we got to grab this momentum and run with it and make something of it. You know, time for talk for me is over. I want to get to the nitty gritty. Let's start making these policies that start putting them down to words and statements and let's go, and let's not lose this momentum because you know, those who don't see history are doomed to repeat it. And I don't want that.

Ami McReynolds: Right, because this is not the first time, right? This is another movement in our country's history. Michael, is there anything you wanted to add to that?

Michael McDonald: I think the moment is now, and I think this is catalyzing and clarifying around commitments. And who do we stand with, who do we stand for? And with our mission, we know who we need to stand with and stand for. It is just a very different way of doing business. You know, a lot of nonprofit boards have great, I've always had great trustees involved, but quite frankly, in my experience, they often check their risk tolerance at the door. They just don't want to take financial risks. But more importantly, they don't want to take mission-impact risks. Because we've been pretty much co-opted by other sectors' way of thinking in many respects.

So for instance, we're, we're fighting for $15 here and in our community and our main headquarters in Tucson and the food bank is the biggest, well is the funder of that effort and we've got board members who are like, well, you know, should we be doing this? We might create enemies. We might lose donors. We might have politicians pissed off at us. And it's like, but we're not the chamber of commerce. They will never take that risk. We are here as a human service nonprofit in solidarity with community when we know that during a pandemic, economic security drives everything related to food security, we have to take that mission-impact risk. If not us, who? 

Ami McReynolds: Absolutely. Rene, I hear you agreeing with Michael. Especially when he said risk tolerance. That seemed to hit a nerve for you. As you are on this board, what do you still need that maybe you're not getting right now? What's something maybe you could even ask for on this podcast that you haven't yet asked for in the boardroom?

Rene Lopez: I haven't asked, and I want more training, more training with board members, community members and staff -- all three of those. Cause we haven't gotten none of that because we all walk in different walks of life, but if we were to actually get like us, either through zoom or even, you know, there are a lot of things are starting to open up, even like, you know, but start small like two board members, two community or clients that are with us. And the next day two workers from the food bank to get this ball rolling and actually show them that we're serious, that we're not playing because a lot of people, like Michael says, everybody’s so worried about risk. And they don't like the word risk, or “I don't know if we should be doing this risk” or should be using that word. Well, what is it then? You know, if you guys ain't going to do it, then that's what we're here for; we say we're for the community, we stand with them, but when are we going to really stand with them? And yes, will we piss people off? I'm sure we will. But a change doesn't come without sacrifice, baby. I'm just saying.

Ami McReynolds: Yes, yes. And Rene, when you say more training - on what? Part of me is wondering like, oh, we know that board governance has been traditional white space. So I'm like, I don't want you to get traditional board training.

Rene Lopez: No I mean more like relational, because I think the board of directors don't hear enough from the community members that are clients that they serve. Like you said, they're making policies and... like just training that has a lot more DIE work.

Ami McReynolds: Like diversity, equity and inclusion, 

Rene Lopez: No, diversity, inclusion and equity, because like Michael said, sometimes things have to die so they can be more.

Ami McReynolds: Right. That's right. You have talked about DIE work that's right.

Rene Lopez: Yeah. You know, and I think that we don't get enough of that on any front. And you know, I don't know the whole board members. I've been on there almost over a year and a half and there's very few that I know. I know by name, but I don't know about them. I want to know about what Tony is talking about. I wanna know what Erica was talking about. I wanna know why Nathan thinks this way so I can get, you know, I want to see the full aspect. I wanna see everything. So I think in that aspect, that kind of training where we get that DIE work really in between all of us. And like me, the community sees the stuff like that and they actually, you know, they start opening up. They really do. They really start going okay, we have a platform, we have somebody that's going to stand with us and not leave us when the time of need comes. 

Michael McDonald: And Ami, we started our diversity equity inclusion journey officially organizationally about two years ago. So right before Rene joined the board, we had our DEI or DIE consultants working with the board and we kind of got stalled. We started a board equity team, and the board started to just have some fractures in their relationships. So we're bringing back -- as Rene is saying, we know -- so this summer and well into next fiscal year, we're going to have a lot of good companions or consultants joining us to try to reconnect the board. Because I think while we sort of tongue-in-cheek say DIE, that something might have to die for something to be born, we do know that people want to belong. 

And so belonging, you tie that to the end of DIE and say that people have this deep desire to connect and make a difference and belong to something that's bigger than themselves. And I think that's something that food banks do offer that opportunity to people, but it's a different way of belonging. We can't die. We can't have some dominating. There's got to be true partnership in that. And that's the struggle. And I think we're going to get there, but there is some trust building and repair to do, and then there's still, so there's support to provide, but there's still challenge and self-reflective feedback both individually and collectively that we've just got to say: where are we? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? And there's not an easy playbook for this stuff. You know, it's not like we can just turn to one set of consultants and one organization. We're learning. This is a learning journey. And it's a co-created journey with our board, our staff, our community members who are clients, and supporters of the work and agency partners in that journey. So it's terribly messy, it's uncomfortable, it's anxiety producing and it's wonderful.

And Rene said it, you know, great change comes only with great sacrifice. And so as a transitional leader in this organization -- and I say that very deliberatively, I've been here for about seven and a half years, and maybe have a couple other years. My goal as a transitional leader is to reform our white-space governance. Is to reform our hierarchical structure, distribute power, and share leadership broadly across the organization -- both the governance function and the management function, the staff and across our partner network and do that in partnership, closer partnership with community members. And so our ecosystem of governance isn't just about which 20 members are sitting in a governing board meeting. It's about advisory groups from community. It's about listening with community members. It's about, how do we have a process and a structure for accountability to and in partnership with community? And that's a reform that, uh, we've gotta be. I think we're on the journey, and we're a long way from getting there, but I think people are starting to see it and starting to want it, even board members who might feel a little bit like, do I have a place here anymore? Yes, you do. If you could be part of that.

Ami McReynolds: What I appreciate and what I'm hearing both of you talk about, really, this isn't a checklist kind of work, right. There is deep relational work, self-examination, growth and learning that is required to be in community, to be in partnership, to co-create with one another. And I appreciate you all talking about just sort of the messiness of all of that and the necessity of all of that work too. Rene, I'm hopeful that people who are listening to this podcast are folks who might be in a similar position as you, somebody from the community. As we look to transform white-space governance all across the sector, what advice might you have for folks who are at other nonprofits who are truly looking to engage authentically, engage community members in the decision-making and governance process? What advice do you have for those folks?

Rene Lopez: Be genuine, show up and engage. Really ask questions, the tough questions, too. Or if you don't know, just say, I don't know, I don't understand, explain it to me -- you know, actually be relational. Like, I didn't know a lot of things when I got there, when I got here with the food bank. But if you're gonna say you're there for the community, show it. Don't take years to show, don't be there five years and not know the community, that church that you say you're helping. You know, they, you know, the community knows. They know who's for real, and who's not. Don't tokenize those communities that you say that you're helping. Really show them and be genuine and stand up for them when they need you to stand up for them.

It's hard sometimes, you know, because we have to be careful. A lot of people say, oh, be careful saying this or who you're going to stand up with in this day and age... But to me, if you're genuine and it's from your heart and you believe in that cause that me, Michael, Dora and everybody else who wants this to happen, the community will get behind you. They really will. They will get behind you. And if you guys, if you stumbled along the way, at least the community sees that the nonprofit that says they're with them is with them, and that's like two peas in a pod right there. So in your minds have good, just be genuine and open up a little bit. 

These are relational things that we need to know when you work with the community. You just can't go off statistics and numbers, man. You can't, because we're not going to listen. We're going to be like, okay, I'm just a number to you guys. Okay. What'd you know about Rene? What you know about Erica? What you know about Michael? What you know about Ami? Tell me something and just be genuine about what you're trying to really do for that community. That's, that's the advice I give. And be engaged, just be engaged, show them because when I first got there, Ami, I didn't think that the Community Food Bank will do what it was saying. I really didn't. And then I started looking into it and I started to see the shift. I can see Michael shift and I'm not exaggerating. I could see the, I saw the winds of change coming. I was like, Ooh, [inaudible]! I've been around a block once or twice, and when you see little things, just start picking up speed. I'm like, wow, people aren't going like this, but you know what?

Ami McReynolds: That's the genuine authenticity, right? When you feel and see those winds of change. Genuine authenticity, and then taking action in the direction that you say you want to and not being afraid to stumble. You may stumble, but that's okay. I'm hearing you say that. Okay, but continue to build that relationship. That's human.

Rene Lopez: Yes, exactly. And that's the best, just being engaged because even like my friend Vince, he's like, because I told him I'm going to be with you guys, with Michael and well I won’t be with Native Americans. He's like, community and nonprofits just need to work with each other. And this is coming from a guy who doesn't volunteer very much. But you know, after me talking to him for like the last six months, he was like, man, they're doing a really good thing. It's like changes needed in this time. And he was like, so we can all work together. And that's coming from somebody that I barely know. But you know, he still has the same views.

Like we almost agree on something when it comes to those things. So he’s like, good luck in your podcast, and he was like, they need to hear these things. We do need to hear this, you know, whether it's good or bad. And like I said, I don't have all the answers. God knows. And I wish I had all the answers for what I think should happen, but I'm willing to go toe to toe with anybody with as long as I got people like you Ami, Michael McDonald, Robert, everybody at the food bank, people who know that we have to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves.

Ami McReynolds: Yes, yes. And we build the playbook together. 

Rene Lopez: Yes, exactly! And we don't have, like Michael said, we know we can't just pull out a page and be like, okay, this is how it's going to be. We're putting this playbook together as we go so, you know, we're going to stop or we're going to have some not so good times, but you know, we're building up for something great. And I know I feel it. I know it. And you know, like I said, I had a heart attack and I know I came back for a reason; this is the reason, to make a difference, you know? And I just build it and like I said, I hope they just really be engaged with the people that they say they want to help because we need it. The community needs it. Whether people want to believe it or not. We really do. Yeah.

Ami McReynolds: So to that end, I guess, as we come to a close, I can't believe we're coming to a close already, but as we wrap this up, I'd love to hear from both of you, both Michael and Rene. It’s 2031 and we are seeing change. We have seen change take place in nonprofit governance. We've seen traditional white-space governance come to a close. What has been achieved as a result of this shift, of this transformation that has happened all across the sector?

Michael McDonald: I think the journey would certainly be that our governing board of directors in any of our advisory groups, that demographically, we are aligned with the demographics of our five-county service area, because who's in the room and the voices that are heard matters about what gets done and how one measures success. To Rene's point, if it's just a bunch of numbers and statistics, it's like, yes, we can do quantitative assessment, but it's really about the quality of life and the opportunities that people are afforded by institutions and in partnership with institutions like the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. So I think part of that's significant and that would be a big change and, if we could do it, not only within our own institution, but within our agency partner network, that we could support that. Cause then, that is a whole sea of change happening in very racially diverse, ethnically diverse, culturally rich and economically struggling southern Arizona, if that could happen, that would be huge.

So I think that that needs to be declared as something that we really work on. It's an outcome that we need for equity. I think the other thing too that I would offer is that hierarchy, while we'll never get rid of hierarchy, it needs to be more life-giving and healthy rather than the toxicity that we see in so many organizations in all sectors of the economy and society. And so if we could have more shared power and distributed, shared leadership and distributed power -- not concentrated -- better decisions get made, less blind spots, less biases, less opportunity to mess up and more opportunity to get it right and really be accountable and authorized by community and accountable to community. So I think looking at even leadership structures or management structures, I think there's a case to be made and some organizations are doing it.

Usually they're younger, startup nonprofits, scale-up justice nonprofits that are looking at co-executive director models as an expression of diversity, equity, inclusion values and principles --  that we do this in belonging together as a community. And so why not look at a co-leadership however that gets expressed. It could be in my role as co-executive directors, it could be throughout the organization, you know, co-leaders of board committees, co-leaders of boards. So co-leadership however that's expressed, I think is an important outcome as well. So I would say those two things, and then everything starts to change and that we have a very robust social-change policy agenda. So, if there's the next fight for the next living wage, or unemployment compensation in our state, which is dreadful, it needs to be overhauled. If there's tax-lien reform, ‘cause we've got Latinx households, very low-income households being foreclosed on because a lot of them have a tax lien they didn't even know about.

So, is that a fight for a food bank? I think so, because it's a fight for what's right for community members. Yeah. So I think our social policy agenda needs to grow dramatically across the Feeding America network and that's a justice and human rights agenda, and that will require a lot of change in how we see our work. And people's risk, their desire to take the right mission impact risk, and not think about risk management or think about risk management. What are the risks we must take that no one else will take? That's what we're managing versus what we won't do.

Ami McReynolds: Let's get to 2031, Michael! Rene, what are your thoughts? Rene, anything you'd want to add to that vision?

Rene Lopez: You know what, I'm just going to piggyback on that. But I would also like to just add that we get more work done, but with not just my nation, but the Tohono O'odham and Chiricahu, which is on our side. But not only that, if we get to 2031 and we're good, like we got all the indigenous, all the native tribes in Arizona, like we all know one another that we can actually like go outside of Arizona and be like: hey, you know, they're having a fight up in South Dakota, let's go join them. Or, I would really like more talk with other nations. That's one of the main things I would like, because I think that needs to grow as everything else grows, because most Native Americans don't feel included. I know this firsthand. So I think if they do feel like they're included and they're like wow, they're including us. They want us there. You would be surprised how many nations would just come up and be like, okay, you know, possibly Yaqui, Chiricahu, Navajo. All these nations are coming together, Colorado... and we're like: hey, they got a nation down there in Southern Arizona. I'm like, hey, that's what I would love to see myself personally.

Ami McReynolds: Yes. And, coming at the end of the conversation, but definitely not an endnote to the conversation, it's so important being seen, especially for people who have been erased from history. So, I want to thank Michael, I want to thank you, Rene, for your time, for your thoughts, for sharing your story today. And I want to thank all of our listeners so much for joining us once again, on another episode of Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger.

If you enjoyed our conversation today and you want to get involved in the work Feeding America is doing to address equity and food insecurity, visit feedingamerica.org/act. Don't forget to share this show with others, be sure to subscribe so you can get new episodes as soon as they are available. Thank you, again, to Michael and Rene. I'm Ami McReynolds, and I look forward to continuing our equity journey together in the next episode.

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