5 Tools for Activists: What We Learned at the Facing Race Conference

November 14, 2018

One of the only things we love as much as we love ice cream is learning new things. As a mostly white company based in a mostly white state, we know there’s a lot we don’t know when it comes to racial equity. So we keep learning. And that’s why we were so excited to attend the Facing Race Conference, November 8-10.

The conference is hosted by Race Forward, one of the organizations that’s been helping us understand how to build a more inclusive and equitable culture at Ben & Jerry’s. A cross-section of Ben & Jerry’s employees—members of our social mission, marketing, and franchising teams, and even our new CEO!—traveled to Detroit to learn about racial equity from activists and organizations leading the movement. It was awesome.

If, like us, you’re trying to figure out how to be part of the solution, here are five key things we learned at Facing Race about being an effective advocate for racial justice.

  1. Listen, Learn, Act

    “We’re all activists if you’re inspired to ACT. We need to recognize our power and get started,” says Bree Newsome, who you might remember for taking down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse in 2015. Take a look at your skills and see what you can bring to the movement. Everyone has something to contribute, and every contribution counts. But here’s one more thing to keep in mind: HOW you contribute is perhaps even more important than WHAT you contribute. It’s critical to enter into this space with humility. Be ready to listen and to learn.

    Photo credit: Cydni Elledge

  2. Change the Narrative

    “Far too often people see racism and sexism as unfortunate, like a car accident, rather than as unjust. When we leave people at ‘unfortunate,’ we don’t change the system,” says Rashad Robinson, executive director of our longtime partner Color Of Change. “We have to change the narrative.” The words we use and the stories we tell have profound power to change minds and motivate people to action. But to do that, to powerfully and effectively sustain the movement for equity, we need to lift up and listen to the voices of the people on the frontlines.

  3. Start With the Soul

    When you work day in and day out in the movement, it’s possible to lose sight of the lived experience of those you are trying to help. That may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but Vernice Miller-Travis, who works on water quality in West Virginia, described how she realized that people who had lived their entire lives in a polluted environment didn’t share her belief that they were entitled to clean water. To shift that perspective, she worked hard to help the community understand that they have a right to a clean environment.

    Photo credit: Brian Palmer

  4. Practice Self-Care

    Changing the world is hard, emotional work with dramatic lows and euphoric highs. Seasoned activists at the conference encouraged all of us to take care of ourselves, physically and emotionally, so that we can sustain our work. For anyone tied to the struggle, there will always be a war to wage against injustice, but the most important thing we can do is wage love on one another. Encourage your colleagues to rest and reflect, to laugh and celebrate. We must always hold each other up.

  5. Take the First Step, The Rest Will Follow

    Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone. Perhaps you never imagined yourself as a leader: maybe you thought that someone else would step up and lead the way. Or maybe you want to get involved but just don’t know how. A lot of us are worried that if we try, we’ll fail. But that’s OK. All of that’s OK. The key thing is to take that step. Let your passion and your convictions inspire you—and when others see you stepping up, they will rise to stand alongside you. You got this.

We’re all on this path to justice together. And we’re all here for each other—for the long haul. Building a movement is rooted in relationships and transformation, and that requires passion AND dedication. Not sure how to take that first step toward changing the world? Maybe we can help. Join our mailing list for the latest news on racial equity and movement building, as well as updates on our activism.