About MOSAIC and
WOMEN'S COMMUNITY SCHOOL
We have moved forward on our community programs and our programs have
strengthened and solidified the core pantry. As pantry volunteers and
program leaders better understand varying cultures and leaders develop
stronger abilities to work together, their understanding affects all
people who come into the pantry.
At Hospitality Pantries we seek to be a place where people from different
backgrounds and heritages are transformed by being in relationship with
one another. We create a model of community that allows people to grow,
learn, and enjoy the best about one another--to overcome differences that
tend to separate us--a community based on compassion and justice for all
people. And in that spirit we are offering programs like the Women’s
Community School and the Mosaic Initiative.
Our three Knoxville pantries continue to be places where people come
not only to be fed in body but in spirit. Our pantries are not only
unlike other food pantries-they are unlike anywhere else in
Knoxville. The opportunity for diverse people to interact, to learn
from one another, to become friends, is unparalleled. Where else
could a young English woman from a privileged family, who is beginning
graduate school in religious leadership have the opportunity to work
with a Guatemalan woman of African, Cuban, and Mayan descent who
taught the children of incarcerated prisoners in the Northeast before
migrating South? Where else could native East Tennessee women share
stories with Eastern European immigrants like Laura who spent her
early school years behind the Iron Curtain in Romania? These
represent only a few of the women of mixed income, ethnic, and
geographic roots who participate in our Women's Community School and
learn from one another.
Mosaic, a multi-cultural leaders’ initiative which is taking place at
the Northwest Pantry, focuses on relational empowerment, building an
understanding among our Latino, African-American and Anglo leaders
(many of whom are low-income) that together we can better respond to
problems like hunger.
We have learned that community building does not end with getting people
together. We have found that the diversity of our participants—economic,
racial, denominational—can lead to frictions, misperceptions, and
misunderstandings. It takes time and work to build such a trust as
we want in our environment, but it is work worth doing. So we developed
Mosaic, a six month dialogue where we explore themes on the construct of
race and how that has been used for many years to oppress minorities, and
the connection between race and poverty. Participants (sixteen men and
women) receive day-to-day training in the pantry, increasing their own
skills and capacity for working together. They participate in monthly
meetings which include reflection on their common humanity and
communication around aspects of their own cultures. They are working
with other pantry leadership to design a seminar on undoing
racism/diversity appreciation for use with FISH participating
congregations and in trainings for new pantry volunteers. They will
participate in the implementation of the diversity training as well.
The Mosaic dialogue has demonstrated to us some ways to begin to
bridge the gulf between race and class in our community. We have
witnessed tremendous growth in our pantry volunteers as they have
developed openness to others through their trainings and “undoing racism”
workshops, built a collaborative spirit, and strengthened pantry leadership.
Participants in Mosaic, our multi-cultural Leaders' Initiative, are
better equipped to combat racism and prejudice with more strength and
unity. Overall, our volunteers are much more sensitized to the
struggles of the immigrant population. They also have a greater
understanding of the history of the construct of race and how that has
been used to oppress and marginalize, and to disenfranchise the poor
and minorities. Although racial tensions occasionally flare up and
challenge us, we use those incidents as motivation to go even deeper
as a community that tries to lift up the value of diversity.
WOMEN'S COMMUNITY SCHOOL
Our Community School is a six-month process in which a mix of people
explore concepts on the “whys” of hunger and poverty and participate
in training to learn how to work across lines to help transform their
community. Participants reflect on such themes as power and powerlessness
and how that underpins poverty in a community. They analyze “the world as it is,”
contrasting it with a vision of “the world as it could be,” and explore
strategies to move toward a more just, compassionate, and equitable community.
Although the community school agenda includes some training in aspects of
community organizing, its overall theme is “leadership development.”
Participants emerge with a stronger commitment to their community as well
as with an understanding of how to act together to make a positive impact on the community.
We launched the first Community School (Companions for the Journey toward
Equity and Justice) in 2008, with a dozen women from a mix of backgrounds:
Latina, African-American, Indian, and Anglo. During the Community School
process participants develop innate leadership abilities and discover their
own power to act in their communities and to explore opportunities available
to improving their lives. They also gain a stronger sense of their
neighborhoods and how they can join with their neighbors to improve them.
Finally, the process forges stronger relationships between diverse people
across our Knoxville community.
As a way of putting some of the concepts we’ve
been exploring around working in the community into practice, we’ve
developed a field work piece with an historic African American neighborhood.
This field work offers training for participants and residents and a venue
in which to work for real change. Through our community conversations
more people are becoming engaged and knowledgeable about hunger and
poverty issues in the neighborhood. And the inhabitants of the neighborhood
where we are doing our field piece have a stronger voice in what happens
in their own neighborhood, and are developing their leadership abilities
and their capability to act in the public arena and advocate for themselves.
Specifically, the women in this year's Women's Community School
continue to develop into leaders not only in the pantry but in the
world around them, and they see themselves this way. Discovering new
abilities within themselves and equipped with an understanding of the
world as it is and as it could be, they are excited to contribute to
change their communities.
COMMUNITY BUILDING AND EMPOWERMENT
Our projects are really about bridging the gulfs between race and class
that exist in our community. Although both of these initiatives have
leadership development component, the Community School is geared toward
training women to work in the community while Mosaic's focus in on
dispelling the misperceptions that make it difficult for people to work
together. We believe that our projects serve an important function that
is not really available elsewhere in the community. We believe the
learned experience transfers to the communities in which participants live.
Testimony by our participants supports this belief. One Mosaic and
Community School participant tells us how the sharing of stories through
Mosaic has helped her to bond with her sister and brother volunteers in a
new way. She adds that her developing leadership in the pantry and the
trainings she is receiving through Mosaic and the Women's Community School
have uncovered abilities in herself that she never knew she had.
Another pantry volunteer, a retired scientist, active in the Mosaic
Initiative and in one of our supporting church congregations, says
that he filters everything he reads and hears through his Mosaic experience,
demonstrating the profound understanding of the other that he has embraced.