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 »
A beginning farmer, Janine Ndagijimana (left), leases land from Vermont farmer Gene Button (center), and works with NRCS Soil Conservationist Danny Peet (far right) to improve soil health and protect water quality through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Photo: Amy Overstreet
Rwanda native Janine Ndagijimana, her husband Faustine and their children moved to Burlington, Vermont in 2007 after living in a refugee camp in Tanzania for 13 years. Now a U.S. citizen, she works closely with Ben Waterman, the New American Farmer Program coordinator at the University of Vermont Extension Service (UVM) Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He manages the Land Access and Assessment Program that helps Vermont’s resettled refugee and immigrant farmers obtain access to the resources they need to pursue their goals as farmers and to link common threads between their new home in America the culture of their homelands.
Janine was one of several farmers who recently attended a meeting of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont to learn about USDA programs and services. Farmers from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo learned about land acquisition, insurance programs, loans to support farming, and technical and financial assistance for implementing conservation farming practices. Read more »
A group of 30 university students, announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, will get a head start to a career in agriculture as winners of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program. Twenty university juniors and seniors were chosen based their essays on “Agriculture as a Career.” Additionally, 10 graduate students were chosen in response to “The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture over the Next Five Years.” Read more »
Today marks the end of February, and National African American History Month, which has given us an opportunity to reflect on the value of the contributions made to our great nation by African Americans, and in particular, African American farmers and ranchers. To celebrate here in Washington, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted an event on February 22 celebrating the life and work of African Americans who have made great contributions to the farming community, including the famous scientist, botanist, educator and inventor, George Washington Carver. Today, to round out National African American History Month, the Reverend Al Sharpton spoke to employees about “Civil Rights in the Age of Obama.” Read more »
Five months ago, I was offered one of the greatest opportunities of my budding career with USDA, an invitation to join the Office of Advocacy and Outreach as the Interim Lead for the USDA/1890 Program. I eagerly and enthusiastically accepted the challenge, and what an AMAZING experience it has been! Why so much excitement one may ask? The answer is quite simple, serving as the Interim Lead of the 1890 Program has given me the opportunity to do what every public servant is called to do….“give back.” Read more »