Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Dr. Joe Leonard (right) and an auditorium full of U.S. Department of Agriculture employees laughed, listened and learned of the Reverend Al Sharpton’s insights about the topic of “Civil Rights in the Age of Obama,” on Monday, February 28, 2011 in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.
Throughout the month of August, we are reflecting on changes we’ve made over the past eight years to create a culture of inclusivity among USDA employees and the diverse communities we serve. For a broader look at our progress, check out our Results project here:
As a kid during the first years of desegregation in Austin, Texas’ public schools, many of my early experiences were shaped by race, and I quickly became familiar with the life-changing impacts discrimination can have on individuals both young and old. While a lot for any kid to experience, these circumstances taught me the power of inclusion, and from them, I became aware of the ways diversity and fairness can help repair troubled histories and heal the wounds of the past. These lessons have shaped my life’s work.
When Secretary Vilsack and I arrived nearly eight years ago, we were aware of USDA’s imperfect history marked by denial of equal service – too often based on race. It was admittedly a terrible situation by any accord. We had our work cut out for us, and got started quickly by examining our history deeply and thoroughly, bringing to light the most challenging aspects of the Department’s past. Read more »
Dr. Joe Leonard speaks to the students. NRCS photo.
Tucked in the middle of a mixed commercial and residential area of New Orleans still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, is Carter G. Woodson Middle School − a state of the art public charter school known as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Central City Academy.
As I wandered through the garden taking pictures and preparing for guests to arrive for the Greenhouse Garden Club ribbon cutting ceremony, I was intrigued by the markers made by students identifying the plants in the beds and statements about working hard and respecting the garden.
“Hello miss! Our teacher sent us out here to keep you company,” said seventh-grader Keyira Powell. She was accompanied by another student, Clifton Desilva who mostly stood in silence while Keyira − clearly a school ambassador – eagerly began telling me about the gardening club. Read more »
Miller Grove students inspecting the plants as they go into the soil. NRCS photo.
As teams of agriculturalists across America celebrated National Agricultural Day on March 18, a group of volunteers and professionals arrived at Miller Grove Middle School in Lithonia, Georgia. They were there to give a hands-on outdoor lesson on how to build, plant and maintain a school garden to a group of Atlanta metro-area students who have likely never experienced what it’s like to grow their own food.
On this made-to-order, cool and clear morning, just two days before the official start to spring, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Dr. Joe Leonard was the first to share remarks. He began by thanking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for his commitment to providing community gardens to underserved communities. “Miller Grove School is a perfect example of how partnerships between the federal government (USDA’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and Natural Resource Conservation Service), non-profit organizations (The Stewart Foundation and Two Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Council) and the DeKalb County School District can work together on behalf of children.” Read more »
As a school kid during the first years of desegregation in the public schools of Austin, Texas, much of my experience of the world around me was shaped by color. I saw and experienced firsthand how discrimination and inequality can stunt and hold back too many Americans–not only through violence, but the more subtle, life-altering trauma of discrimination.
I’ve also seen how inclusion and understanding have the power to lift up individuals and communities and help them heal. Read more »
Lissa Biehn (left) with FSA and Ramona Mitchell, Rural Development, discuss USDA’s dedication to civil rights in employment and program delivery at the Northwest Pride Festival in Portland, OR, on June 14.
June marks the 2014 celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. USDA is taking this opportunity to recognize the immeasurable positive contributions made by the LGBT community — including our coworkers, partners and clients — to help rural America innovate and thrive, protect our natural resources and promote sustainable agricultural production to help feed the world. In addition, we are demonstrating our commitment to treating our LGBT customers and coworkers fairly and respectfully through educational events, outreach efforts and listening sessions across the country.
June is also National Homeownership Month, and the theme is “Own Your Future. Own Your Home.” With concurrent Pride and Homeownership Month observances, it’s a great time to raise awareness among LGBT communities about USDA home mortgage and home repair programs that can help rural residents own their future. Read more »
Pictured (Left to Right) Dr. Mohamed El-Sanousi, Director of Communications and Community Outreach of the Islamic Society of North America, Dr. Abed Ayoub, President of Islamic Relief USA, Michael Scuse, then-acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area
As Hunger Action Month comes to a close, I am reminded of an employee event we held last month in honor of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. For many followers of the Islamic faith, the month of Ramadan – known as a time of fasting and sacrifice – is also a time of reflection. As we deal with hunger and thirst from sunrise to sunset, we are reminded of those who deal with hunger – and poverty – every day. As we reflect on our spiritual responsibilities, we must also recall our obligation to help others in times of need. For Muslim employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this holds especially true.
USDA touches the lives of every American. Our nutrition and food safety programs ensure that all America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, balanced meals, while our rural development programs promote prosperous, self-sustaining communities. Our conservation programs protect our national forests and private working lands, while our agricultural support programs promote American agriculture and biotechnology while increasing food security around the world. Read more »