When I started my internship in early May, I considered myself a socially competent person. I decided to work with Michigan Urban Farming Initiative because I was passionate about social justice, and assumed that I was strong at networking with other races and ethnicities. However, two weeks into my internship, I was struggling to connect with Black and Brown folks in the area. Many of the neighbors surrounding the farm saw me as a “white savior” and weren’t interested in connecting with another parachute volunteer. My skin tone influenced how I was perceived by the community. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing some of the discomfort that comes along with being a minority. And my experience was nothing compared to my friends who have experienced being in the minority their entire lives.
I discussed the discomfort I’d been feeling with a mentor. She told me “You only have power over how you respond to community members. If you really show that you care, they’ll take notice”. Throughout the first month and a half of my internship, I dedicated lots of time to fostering positive relationships with community members. I put in extra effort to show them that I really cared and loved their community. Slowly yet surely, the community members began to except me and build relationships with me. Today, I have numerous friends within the community that I hangout with regularly. Community members will recognize my name from a conversation they had with a friend, or come by the farm to introduce themselves to me.
Although I experienced discomfort, I learned a lot. I learned that I may not be as socially competent as I first thought and that I need to be more conscious of my perspective and biases. I also learned the importance of being an ally and supporting friends who may be the only non-white person in a room. I have a newfound respect and admiration for my friends who experience being a minority day in and day out. I only felt a little of what they experience every day.