This year has developed into a year none of us would have ever expected or planned for and presented challenges that have pushed human beings to the edge of our patience, our capacity and, in some cases, our very definition of existence.
Not only have we been personally exploring how to navigate our lives through the year, but as an organization Feeding Tampa Bay carries the weight of helping hundreds of thousands of people in our community navigate their lives through it – whether in the case of those we serve (our community), those we serve with (our partners), and those we serve alongside hand-in-hand (our team, board and committee members). All three constituencies are of constant consideration in all that we do here.
The pandemic certainly was and continues to be a struggle enough on its own. To then insert what in my lifetime has been the most challenging racial divide – where do we as humans go from here?
Like many organizations, the summer months caused us to take a look at ourselves and try to understand more deeply how we consider the issues of our black communities. How would we play a role in the real challenges and concerns our colleagues and communities of color experience? We are in the business of equity, providing food and services that realize the potential of all human beings. We knew this, but it didn’t feel like our next steps were clear enough to us, internally or externally.
We watched the flurry of pronouncements, announcements and commitments made by many – most sincere and heartfelt, some predatory and exploitive. We ultimately decided to stay silent publicly as an organization. A silence that allowed us to reflect first on ourselves and open up conversation internally. We’ve been building Feeding Tampa Bay from the inside out – meaning setting our common values, building a team that embodies those values and moving those values outward into the community in the form of love and service. Reflecting on this journey, I’d probably say that we’ve done okay here but recognize the tremendous work still to be done. Our commitment remains to all three of our constituencies – to serve in a manner reflective of our values, and we feel that we’re a community asset, working towards the betterment of all.
To provide a window into our world – the world of self-reflection and building from the inside – of course we needed to start with our team or, as referred to previously, those we serve alongside. For several years we have embarked on initiatives that, in our minds, were purposeful steps towards being an organization that was equitable and just. Team surveys, employee-led committees that boost connection and engagement, and focus groups that address particular topics led us to create a Chief Culture Officer, a senior leadership position in our organization who’s charged with our common welfare. At the same time, we engaged a phenomenal company – livingHR – to build out a whole new approach to our common culture. All of this done to ensure a priority was placed on our team and organization’s health and well-being. This year, though, we found much more profound purpose in building a strategy that would take us to a new level.
We believe that everyone belongs, everyone matters here and that everyone can be who they are in our space. In fact, we often share that we have folks on our team with PhD’s and folks with records. And both are accepted openly and equally in our eyes. However, to be sure that the we are actually living into this belief, we turned to some close friends to help us reflect. LivingHR helped us set a framework for consideration using our Grow Code (our set of common values). We also sought guidance from and partnership with Community Tampa Bay, a leading DEI organization, to help us better identify and learn the issues at depth. We realize we’re not the experts and matters like this demand appropriate care and consideration.
Over the course of several weeks we held listening sessions with all of our teammates to hear first-hand their experiences and concerns. Many of us read, watched and listened to local and national experts – all in an effort to be more informed. All of this was tremendously helpful. And by helpful, I don’t mean it was easy or rosy. We learned – a lot. I sat in meetings with my colleagues who shared personal stories that both horrified me and broke my heart. In the abstract, information can be processed, in the moment, with someone you care about, it’s horrible to digest. I, and many on our team, had a lot of sleepless nights, veering between sorrow and anger. What became clear to us was the only path forward was to stand up, lean forward and build a process that moved us deeper into our commitment to equity and justice.
As we finished our listening sessions a pathway began to emerge. A pathway of learning – the place where all equity begins. We offered collective training and education that would help our colleagues be informed and develop deeper insight around topics of social justice. And to take this learning even further, we have made a commitment to ongoing education and training for all team members within our organization with the creation of a position that keeps us focused on our continued growth as human beings and as professionals.
What lies ahead is the representation of all perspectives, the want and need of diverse voices at the table. Through the creation of an internal DEI council we will continue to explore the processes and policies of this organization and continue to evolve into an inclusive, strong team.
A final, and arguably most critical, effort that we were able to fully realize this year even after several years of steps in the right direction is to be an organization that supports and deploys an equitable pay to all employees. After extensive research and data collection, we confidently brought our entire team into appropriate salaries for the positions they hold. It was a huge commitment – from our leadership team and our Board of Directors – but it was the right, equitable thing to do. We are proud to say that everyone at Feeding Tampa Bay is paid commensurate with their job title and responsibilities and no one here earns less than $15 per hour.
What our reflection really showed us, or reminded us of was about change starting from within. We’ve spent the last 6 months making sure our house was in order. And while we’ve taken the steps I just mentioned, there are more to be taken, to be sure. But, the commitment we made through the changes we’ve implemented gives us a place to stand firm and be sure we’re practicing what we’re preaching. You’ll hear and see more from us as we forge ahead. The journey of a thousand miles….
Thomas Mantz, President/CEO