Building a United Front With W.K. Kellogg Foundation Grantees

May 22, 2013

Five key strategies for building a coalition, inspired by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Community Grantees Partners Meeting.

by Guillermo Gomez

Last week, I attended the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Community Grantees Partners Meeting, an inspiring coalition of people working in the realms of food justice, the environment, community development and racial equity. I shared the work of Parents United for Healthy Schools and our strategy for parent involvement and developing leadership, our successes and potential to be a national model for school districts and communities around the country. I was honored to have the opportunity to exchange ideas with other leaders around the country and work toward a brighter future, and I thank the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for this gracious invitation.

One of my duties at the grantees meeting was to facilitate a small group discussion around food and community. Much of our conversation centered on racial equity and justice, and how we could bring across equity in our food system, in our communities and in our schools, what that meant and how that would come about.

In sharing our work, we discussed the idea of forming a national agenda, of reinforcing the notion that we are all in this together, and how we would build that united front.

I think that a united front is really important. Everyone has his or her own lens in looking at these important issues, but in the end, they all converge. There needs to be equity and justice across the board, for jobs, for education, for food, and we need to work together in all these areas. These are not individual issues. They impact the whole community. Take improving school food, for instance. School food is an issue that impacts farming and agriculture, it impacts education, it impacts child health, it impacts communities and bigger issues like food insecurity. The key is to bring all these stakeholders together and find the right message.

Throughout my years as an organizer, I have met many parents who have told me they wanted to be a part of the movement but felt isolated. Some parents may not feel like they can be leaders or mobilize their communities on these issues, but it is possible if you work to find common ground!

Here are five key strategies for building a coalition:

1. Start With the Individual. Building bridges is important, but sometimes the first bridge has to be small. It starts with presenting a message to interested parties one-on-one. Find common ground and look for the ways your issue and things other members in the community care about connect, ways we can come together to create change.

2. Empower with Knowledge. You cannot have a coalition unless you give people the knowledge, tools and resources to make changes in their communities. When we began working on fighting childhood obesity, not many people were familiar with the issue or understood how it affected them. We had to identify tools and resources to engage and share knowledge, to explain to parents why this was an important issue. Before we knew it, the message had taken off because we had educated a passionate base.

3. Make Connections. Once you give people knowledge, they will spread it. As more people express a desire to get involved in the coalition, make connections to the issues or ideas that brought them in. The more input and connections we are able to make, the more clear of a message we can have. For us, childhood obesity was our core issue, and we saw schools as a great vehicle for discussing and driving change in many areas, from childhood obesity to other health disparities to community wellness and the achievement gap. This notion has resonated with parents all over Chicago and our movement has grown exponentially since that first rally in 2005. We started with two schools; now we’re in more than 80. Wow!

4. Identify the Champions. Look for people who can take the strategies and tools you give them and become leaders on these issues in their own communities and empower them to do so. The more organized leadership there is in more places, the more we can do together. 

5. Be an Advocate. Pass on the message to community members, leaders, decision-makers, local government, state government, national government, whoever you believe can make an impact. Write letters, hold demonstrations, hold workshops, volunteer, whatever strategies work best for you and your mission. Connect with other like-minded groups and individuals to continue to build on your coalition. Strength in numbers!

Thanks again to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its generous support of Parents United for Healthy Schools!