Podcast featuring Dr. Heather Hackman

PCC, Sustain Me! A Higher Education Sustainability & Environmental Justice Podcast of Portland Community College.

Episode #11 featuring Dr. Heather Hackman

From Podcast Producer, Joe Culhane:

I first experienced Heather Hackman and her incredibly accessible presentation style at AASHE 2017 in San Antonio. Her ability to help people see how intrinsically connected social justice and environmental sustainability work is and how important it is to approach sustainability using an equity lens was amazing. She talked about privilege, dominant culture, and the dynamics that are negatively impacting much of the current sustainability movement. I was entranced. Her conference session was easily the highlight for me last year and her closing keynote of the conference was a thing of beauty. It’s not every day that there is one particular person who is a catalyst for a shift in ones own trajectory though I say with certainty that Heather happened to be one of those for me. It could be strongly argued that had I not attended that conference and her sessions, this podcast would not exist and I would be eyeballs deep in mathematics and chemistry right now trying to make my way into the renewable energy engineering world. My what a difference a year can make.

Our paths crossed a second time in June of last year when I attended the 2018 NCORE conference in New Orleans. NCORE is the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education. There, while attending Heathers session I saw a similar display of awesome wisdom being presented this time from a framework of tying social justice work into environmental sustainability and justice work and I was in awe. And so, seeing Heather once again at AASHE 2018 was really special and it was even more special when she agreed to an interview with me.

Heather Hackman is part of Hackman Consulting Group and if you are reading this or after you get done listening and are thinking, “We need this consulting at my work, school, fill in the blank, then please do reach and set something up. The work they are doing at HCG is perhaps some of the most valuable consulting work that can be done at this point in our collective climate and journey. Racial Justice and using an equity lens in the sustainability movement is crucial right now. Heather Hackman knows this and is doing the important work that needs to be done right now. I am grateful.


2018 Equity in the Center Closing Keynote on Facing Whiteness

Keynote Speech

Speaker: Dr. Heather Hackman, Founder, Hackman Consulting Group

Description: Even in spaces where racism is named, there is often a lack of willingness to call attention to whiteness as the core driving dynamic of racial oppression in the US. Hackman will explore white privilege and supremacy as the continual catalyst for structural racism, and highlight the role of white leaders in dismantling a system designed to preference them and oppress Native people and people of color.

2018 Equity in the Center Summit Videos

What Would an Equity Consultant Do? Strategic, Management & Operational Insights from Expert Practitioners Part 1,

Part 2

Part 3

Description: Race equity leaders with national consulting practices share learnings gleaned from decades supporting nonprofit and philanthropic organizations in shifting culture, operations and practice toward race equity.

Speakers: Lupita Gonzalez, CEO, The Thrive Advisory; Dr. Heather Hackman, Founder, Hackman Consulting Group; Inca Mohamed, Principal, IAM Associates; Julie Nelson, Senior Vice President of Programs, Race Forward/Co-Director, Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE); Elissa Sloan Perry, Co-Director, Management Assistance Group; Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Director, Building Movement Project (Moderator)

Embracing Complexity. A Book Review of Michael W. Twitty’s “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South”

Reviewed by Sonia Keiner, Chesapeake Foodshed Network, HCG Associate

I had the great opportunity to listen to culinary historian and chef, Michael W. Twitty’s keynote speech at the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture conference this past January in College Park, Maryland. His words, energy, emotions, and passion had me rapt and I immediately ordered his book, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South,” (he sold all the copies he brought and signed before I could get my hands on one.) I highly recommend this comprehensive book (416 pages with notes, an extensive bibliography, peppered with recipes) for anyone interested in the intersections of African, indigenous, and southern culinary history, slavery, liberation, genetic exploration, and the complexity of identity.

“Race is an illusion. Food is real.” Hundreds of farmers and food system workers erupted in applause with Twitty’s statement. Twitty wove genetics, sociology, history, and personal story into his well-received keynote. My mother drew a genetic framework for my whiteness at an early age and that has always stood as a foundation for my academic exploration of race and identity in the United States. When there was absolutely no talk of race in my high school curriculum (a diverse school setting in the County next to Twitty’s home in suburban Maryland) my mother had already taught me that whiteness was an evolutionary genetic mutation and it wasn’t until grad school that I was able to explore these incredibly important intersections in a formal curriculum.

Twitty begins his thorough search into the past by first researching his own genetic constitution as an entry point to find his ancestors, no easy feat for peoples with a history of slavery in ancestral lines where families were torn apart and records aren’t always meticulous. “All I ever really wanted was a recipe of who I am and where I come from.” In this respect Twitty’s story can read a bit at times like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Similarly there is a magical realism that seeps through the pages from Twitty’s deep spirituality and connection to his ancestors, the land, and foods that sustained them.  “This is personal,” Twitty says, a self identified African American, Jewish, gay man, descended from African slaves, white slaveholders and “a trickle of others, including Southeastern indigenous nations.”  “I didn’t know who I was, where I came from, what our names were, why we’re here at all.  I have used food my whole life as the pathway into our collective and my distinct familial past.  We are here for a reason —-to make our way back and forge a path forward.”

This book (and Twitty’s meticulous preparation of ancestral foods) is a labor of love and pain, scholarly investigation, and redemption.  He is at the center of this story, starting as a child where he did everything he could to avoid “slave” food, to his painful coming out story in his family’s kitchen, “the kitchen no longer felt safe if I couldn’t use it to tell the truth,” through his vast travels to his ancestral lands across the ocean (both African and European) and onto the final pages of the book, “where food becomes a tool to repair the walls of black identities.” A man who picks cotton to feel what his ancestors experienced while listening to slave songs on his ipod is a man on a spiritual mission. “…the black journey in the Americas is founded on a human sense-the sense of taste.  Slavery began with food.” We must remember that cacao, coffee, rice, arrowroot, peanuts, corn, wheat, spices, and many other foods produced by slaves in the Americas and other locations in the Global South fed “the consumption of colonialism and white, western consumers.”

Twitty’s is a profound and poetic voice. He does not suffer fools (at all) but also presents an open heart that does not discriminate. His stories of disgraceful oppression are dovetailed with stories like that of a white student of his, seeking understanding and redemption for the history of slaveholding in his family. His frameworks are complex, as they should be.  We “Americans,” we of these lands of the United States are a heterogeneous tangle of genes, identities, conflict, oppression and love.  Our food is no different and we must pay homage to our African ancestors who essentially made southern food what it is.  They were agricultural experts (targeted for their know-how in Africa) when they were forced here on the middle passage and endured, survived, and in many ways thrive today DESPITE continued oppression.

“The kitchen was, perhaps more than any other space during slavery, the site of rape after rape, sexual violations that led to one of the more unique aspects of African American identity, our almost inextricable blood connection to white Southerners.” In fact, most African Americans average about 10-18% European admixture. I’m reminded of words I heard from the mouth of bell hooks once that stay with me, “we struggle within the spaces of our own contradictions.”  This is the sort of complex, nuanced, contradictory conversation we must continue to have to move forward. “Black folks have a gift for complicating the stories that Americans like to tell about themselves,” says scholar, John Edwin Mason. We see what happens in our culture when we simplify our story (and it is indeed OUR story); oppression continues, racism soars, walls are built.

The birth of southern cuisine could have only happened within the intersection of African, European, and Native American foodways. Beans and rice, rice pudding, okra and tomatoes, gumbo, greens, spicy stews, greens, black eyed pea caviar…all signs of the Africanizing presence in cuisine. Many English words for these foods are adapted from African words; Okra (okwuru from Igbo) and Gumbo (kingumbo) to name just a couple. “Who owns Southern food and who created Southern food is a question that has mostly been in the mouths of those whose perspective has been one of privilege by position, authority by default and a history written by the victors in the centering of white supremacy…The privilege of living now is that I can seat myself at the master’s table-the table of my white ancestor, a slaveholder-and interpret his world, and he has no say.”

Twitty ponders whether the White people who know they share DNA actually see him as family.  He asks some important questions. “Would we be better off if we embraced this complexity and deal with our pain and shame?  Would we finally be Americans or Southerners or both if we truly understood how impenetrably connected we actually are? Is it too late? Maybe I’ll just invite everybody to dinner one day and find out…It is not enough to be white at the table. It is not enough to be black at the table. It is not enough to be “just human” at the table. Complexity must come with us – in fact it will invite itself whether we like it or not. We can choose to acknowledge the presence of history, economics, class, cultural forces, and the idea of race in shaping our experience, or we can languish in circuitous arguments over what it all means and get nowhere. I present my journey to you as a means out of the whirlwind, an attempt to tell as much truth as time will allow.”

I have so much more to tell you that I learned from Twitty, about cottons’ role in creating a killer diet, and West Africa and Twitty’s great-great-great-grandmother, the 2nd Middle Passage and the Great Migration, persimmon wine and culinary justice, and barbeque. But perhaps it would be better for you to hear Twitty’s voice for yourself.

Photo by Sonia Keiner, Future Harvest Casa Conference, 1/18


NAPE Keynote

(c) Hackman Consulting Group, 2018

Produced by National Alliance for Partnership in Equity 2018

Key Considerations for Folks in the Climate Justice Movement

In this vlog, Dr. Heather Hackman unpacks three key considerations for folks working in the climate justice movement. 1.) The importance of developing critical race, gender and class lenses 2.) As a country and individuals, the need to make amends and take responsibility 3.) The importance of educating, marshaling resources and maintaining hope.

© Hackman Consulting Group 2016
Produced by Sonia Keiner

Living a Socially Just Life

Dr. Heather Hackman discusses the arc from doing social justice work to living a socially just life.

Filmed and Edited by Sonia Keiner ©2016

Resiliency In The Face of ‘Ruin’: As we rebuild Ellicott City, MD, what questions do we ask ourselves and what future do we envision?

We watch environmental disasters at home and abroad regularly. Our hearts went out to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and to the hundreds of thousands of people lost in extreme weather events in Asia. We ache for people dying in extreme heat in the Middle East and we watch in anguish as people are swept away in massive floods in the Midwest. We fret over California’s drought situation because we know the future of food is on shaky ground. We know these aren’t just regular weather events anymore. We learn new meteorological terms; derecho, micro burst, convective storm cells. Those of us who read the scientific literature know that humans are fueling the fire for environmental destruction; burning fossil fuels, deforesting, building more and more impermeable surfaces, destroying protective wet lands, supporting an extractive economy which unravels our natural defenses and resiliency in the face of weather disasters. We see record-breaking heat yearly now. We’ve known for decades that warming would produce more extreme weather.

Some of us joined the clean-up efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and studied the intersection of climate change, poor ecological and community design, destruction of wetlands, storm water management, over-development, racism and classism and believed surely a disaster of this magnitude would force our culture to take a fresh look at who we are and who we need to become. Did it?

After watching my favorite little town, Ellicott City (EC), ‘ruined’ by a flash flood Saturday, July 30, 2016, it hit too close to home.  The term 1000-year-storm used by the media can be misleading. What they should report is that in any given year, there is a 1/1000 or 0.1% probability that a weather event of such a magnitude will occur. I grew up about 15 minutes from downtown EC and always thought I would settle down there. As an aspiring photographer in high school, I (and everyone else) honed photography skills around picturesque downtown, along the train tracks and through the forests. You could have found me and my friends dancing upstairs at The Phoenix on any given Saturday night.

The devastation is heart breaking. Two lives lost, homes and businesses destroyed; climate change and over-development refugees picking up the pieces and moving forward however they can. Of course blessings can be found in the worst pain. Every-day heroes emerge, communities come together in incredible ways to support each other. Unbelievable acts of kindness and selflessness make the tough times a bit easier to swallow.

Downtown Ellicott City is no stranger to flooding. An old mill town, it is situated over the Patapsco River at the bottom of a number of hills. It receives the entire areas storm water runoff. This was not a river flood, it was a flash flood, and as the lowest point in the area it received an unprecedented amount of water; 6 inches fell in just a few hours. Ellicott City is the fastest growing area in Maryland. There has been a 34% increase in population in the last 10 years. More houses, roads, parking, etc…all exacerbating storm water run-off problems in the face of extreme weather events that are becoming the new normal.

Ellicott City won’t be the same… and it can’t and shouldn’t be the same. Things must change and I hope Howard County government officials, community groups and citizens take the time to really think, collaborate and use thoughtful design processes as they rebuild. Tragedies like this force us to dig deep and grow, so, how do we improve ourselves and our communities to withstand future inevitable disasters. How do we rebuild? Do we rebuild in the same locations? How do we build resilience in the face of climate change and adaptation? How do we envision a different way and MAKE that vision come to fruition? We will need some serious cultural, technical and socio-political shifts to create resilient communities capable of shifting the paradigm. Here is one concerned idealist’s non-exhaustive list about what it might take to build sustainable, resilient communities.

Cultural Shifts:

  • We are happy with less stuff. We simplify our lives. We find true joy in few possessions. We value quality over quantity or size.
  • We are ultra conscious about energy, how we use it and where it comes from. Same goes for our food, food waste and WATER. We don’t buy products with petroleum in them. We’ve gone natural, we buy local. We eat more organic food and less meat. We start a kitchen garden and support local farmers using sustainable methods. We compost. We realize we don’t really need that SUV. Our lawns are more bio-diverse, attracting native pollinators, and we no longer worship chemically-treated grass.
  • We become much more thoughtful about community and ecological design. We apply permaculture concepts to everything we design. And we do it in a community-centered, collaborate process; design charrettes-galore with community input. We don’t leave the big decisions up to the developers and government officials making back room deals for money and power.
  • We seriously think about (AND DO) smart growth and storm water management. Developers stop chopping down forests and developing every damn green space there is. Governments stop letting them do this and at the very least make them integrate smart solutions into their design plans.
  • We weigh the externalized costs of destroyed ecosystems, low-wage labor, oppression and exploitation in our economic analysis and tune into our moral compass.
  • Neighbors lean on each other, they don’t hide in their homes in front of the boob tube. They barter stuff, time, energy, childcare, etc…
  • Our education system is updated to reflect the challenges and opportunities of this century. Students are taught to be critical thinking problem solvers in the real world rather than rote regurgitators of information for tests.

Technical Shifts:

  • We don’t just go with the cheapest option. We explore and implement more sustainable options, renewable energies and resources that will be more affordable in the end.
  • We make all kinds of great products out of recycled materials.
  • Permaculture design and bioswales are commonplace.
  • Rain gardens and rooftop gardens are ubiquitous.
  • We collect rain water and store it. We reuse greywater.
  • Wetland restoration and conservation efforts are fully funded.
  • Communities have terrific public transit systems and are bike-able.
  • There are less cars on the road and more people drive smaller hybrid and electric cars running on renewable energy.
  • Antiquated storm water management systems that release raw sewage into our waterways every time it rains hard are updated. Raw sewage flowing in our waterways becomes a silly thing of the past.
  • Communities become Transition Towns, towns dedicated to working together to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
  • Governments support the transition!

Socio-Political Shifts:

  • We understand we cannot rebuild and become resilient with the same oppressive frameworks that got us to this exploitive place. Racism, sexism, classism, etc… break down as we enter a new paradigm where we live more in concert with nature and each other.
  • As we rebuild communities and become more resilient, we are more conscious of the realities of gentrification and disaster capitalism and make sure low-income folks and people of color are always part of the process. We become aware of the voices that are and aren’t in the room and we work to make sure a diversity of voices are heard.
  • Governments no longer spend our hard-earned money on BS wars and stuff the American pubic does not support. Corporations pay their fair share. We are a true DEMOCRACY, not an oligarchy anymore; a government by the people for the people. The people are involved, writing letters, calling legislators, protesting, showing up at court, etc….
  • Governments invest in renewables, a green workforce, and the physical and mental health of constituents. They realize big ag. is destroying the land and our health and instead subsidize smaller sustainable farms feeding their communities.
  • Governments use our taxes thoughtfully to deal with our waste products. There is money to be made! They start municipal compost programs. They commit to rebuilding the eroding topsoil and do remediation.
  • With all this real work to do, there is no place to worry about legislating peoples private parts and where they choose to pee, who they have sex with or marry, what higher power they worship or don’t worship, etc… There is no room for oppression of any variety. Everyone is needed, valued and supported for who they are.

How is Hackman Consulting Group different?

In this excerpt, Dr. Heather Hackman describes how HCG training modules work at the level of the mind, the body and the “spirit.” If oppression works on all those levels, training must address them as well.

Filmed and Edited by Sonia Keiner ©2016


Bananas, A Slippery Slope

Food Justice Travel Log

March, 2016


“How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.”

So goes the Wendell Berry quote that often slaps me in the face when I travel internationally (rarely these days). I recently returned from a week on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The road from San José to the port of Limón is practically ground zero for the banana monopoly created by the United Fruit Company in the late 19th century, finally morphing into Chiquita Brands International Incorporated in 1989. The history of the cultivated banana and how it became the world’s fourth major staple after rice, wheat and milk reads like a veritable soap opera; murder, suicide, labor strikes, bribery, corruption, violent coup d’état’s and an all-out banana war between the US and the European Union in the late 1990’s, making for a seemingly unbelievable story. Sadly, the same telenovela seems to constantly replay itself in the interest of vast profits for government-bought corporations and death and destruction for the earth and its’ indigenous and exploited masses.

Travels in other banana republics including Guatemala and Panama had already opened my eyes to the grand scale environmental destruction and human rights abuses multinational companies like United Fruit have wrought (and continue to wreak) on the planet, local indigenous populations, and food economies. While living with a Guatemalan family and studying Spanish in the small town of Flores, I was shocked to be drinking Nescafé instant coffee (along with the babies) in a country with some of the best coffee in the world; alas it is unaffordable for the local population. In Puerto Rico a few years back I was eager for fresh fruit and vegetables after too much easily accessible fried foods. An innkeeper handed me an avocado imported from the Dominican Republic. More than 85% of what Puerto Ricans eat is imported, although they are currently working on their minimal agricultural sector to increase healthy food production. Puerto Ricans have staggering rates of diabetes at 1 in 10 of the population.

The road from San José to Limón (a four hour drive) is literally lined with banana plantations and shipping containers. Each bunch of bananas on each tree is covered in a blue plastic bag. My local hostess/friend, Molly, said these bags are full of chemicals to protect them from disease and pests. Once you get to the port of Limón, ships loaded with refrigerated bananas are constantly departing to their various destinations around the world. I contemplated this one morning as I sipped local coffee and ate a local banana (a rare occurrence as I live in temperate Maryland) purchased from an organic farmer at the farmer’s market in Puerto Viejo. This banana was small, bruised and insanely sweet and delicious (I have to admit bananas are not at the top of my list when it comes to fruit choice.) Similarly I despised carrots for much of my life until a farming friend presented one to me fresh from the earth; again, sweet deliciousness, like no carrot I’d ever eaten before.

The morning before this contemplation over a sweet and beat up banana, I had snorkeled out to the coral reef with this warning from Molly, “our reef is in recovery from the destruction from the banana plantations, so don’t think it sucks.” Indeed, it was some of the saddest looking reef I’ve ever seen; I didn’t see even one fish. Deforestation and chemical runoff from the plantations have caused great damage, but the country is putting restrictions in place to help restoration efforts. Fortunately Costa Rica does not seem to be experiencing murders of its’ environmental activists, like other countries in Central America, Brazil, Africa and beyond; most recently the murder in Honduras of award-winning indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who had been organizing against a hydroelectric dam construction supported by multinational corporations as well as the Honduran and US governments. “By no means is the problem getting better,” said Billy Kyte, senior campaigner at Global Witness, an organization that has been tracking deaths of activists, whom the nonprofit calls environmental defenders. He noted the issue seems to be a growing problem, particularly in America as indigenous lands are encroached upon. “The increase in demand of natural resources is fueling ever more violence.”

By contrast, since demilitarizing in 1948, Costa Rica has become one of the more “safe” and “stable” countries in Central America, attracting loads of US investment and ex-pats. I put the words “safe” and “stable” in quotes because I feel many privileged US-ers have skewed notions of comfort and safety and thus choose to visit the Global South from the perceived safety of a cruise or a resort rather than interact with local populations. I had always heard that Costa Rica was on the cutting edge of sustainability and from my travels in other less Americanized, less expensive Central American countries, I know there is a fine line between sustainability and poverty. Many folks are forced to be sustainable because they lack resources and fossil fuel based energy sources to be anything but. Close to a quarter of the population lives in poverty, almost double the poverty rate of the US. Costa Rica fairs well internationally in sustainability measures and plans to become the 1st carbon neutral nation by 2021.  It is the Global North that extracts Earth’s resources and exploits the Global South’s land and labor so that no market or desire is left unrealized. The low-income people of color of the Global South are the innocent bystanders of globalization and neo-liberal policies like NAFTA and US-backed “aid” who will continue to be disproportionately affected by climate change, food shortages, fluctuations in cost of food and energy commodities, and destruction of both the environment and indigenous sovereignty. Indeed there are many agricultural demonstration projects, education centers and non-profits doing their thing, but there is much more governments can do, not to mention entities like the World Trade Organization, to protect local land and people.

I witnessed a small slice of some great work being done in Costa Rica at Centro Ashé in Manzanillo on the south Caribbean. Director, Molly Meehan Brown, works with the local population to promote their work around ethnobotony, medicinal herbal education and application, healthy cooking, and eco-tourism that puts tourist dollars directly into the pockets of local and indigenous people. With centers in both Southern Maryland and Costa Rica, Centro Ashé is rooted in community and dedicated to keeping classes affordable & accessible in order to keep the knowledge of food, herbal medicine, seeds, and healing traditions alive and vital. Centro Ashé programs act as catalysts to build community, land-based and traditional knowledge. They celebrate the richness and diversity of folk herbalism across cultures while providing supportive and practical knowledge. Their teachers are all local herbalists, farmers, and plant people. I had the opportunity to sit in on a plant talk with a local Afro-Caribbean medicine woman and visiting Plant and Healers International, who connect people, plants and healers around the world (I’m excited to start their online botany class, a donation-based course within my price range in a time when so many courses I’d like to take are simply out of my price range.) It was cool to watch the group bouncing ideas off each other, learning different names for the same plants, critically analyzing western ideas about the safety of plant use, identifying an unfamiliar edible fruit tree in the middle of town (Screw Pine!) and building international and local place-based resilience. We have the skills, resources and creativity to make our shared lives truly amazing, diverse (both bio and beautifully human), just, healthy and delicious.

Upon our return we went to retrieve my car at the house it was parked at. On the kitchen counter was a bunch of bananas with a Chiquita sticker that read, “Costa Rica.” My partner and I looked dubiously at each other. As consumers we can choose to support equal exchange organic farmers, when it is available. We make sacrifices in our fixed income life so that we can feel good about what we put into our bodies. We don’t always get it right (near impossible to do so), but it feels right to try, for our health, the planet’s health, workers’ health, and because we know our choices aren’t just personal choices; they affect others. And what incredible collective power we DO have to shape the way the world is used by making the choices and changes we need to create a more just and environmentally friendly food system with a heavy local flavor! A delicious revolution indeed.

For more check out this article by Phyllis Robinson about the true cost of bananas.