Hall is the nonprofit’s first director of equity and inclusion. It’s a job that, like Janus, the two-faced god of Roman antiquity, looks in two directions at once: inside the organization and outside. Is the staff of the 38-year-old charity as diverse as it can be, with recruitment, hiring, training, mentorship and promotion open to everyone on an equal basis? And are all the guests that Miriam’s Kitchen serves treated equitably, regardless of their race?
Only when the answer to both those questions is yes, said Hall, will the way Miriam’s “engages with Black and Brown guests come across as real and authentic and intentional.”
Many Americans don’t like having conversations about race and racism. Such conversations are uncomfortable. They’re hard.
“It is hard,” Hall said. “It is really, really hard. It's hard work, which is why I don't take it lightly.”
Hall is an Air Force veteran who has had similar jobs at other nonprofits. She said 2020 was a benchmark year for addressing issues of justice and equity. Black Lives Matter protests opened many eyes to deep-seated problems in the ways America treats its citizens.
“The interesting thing is, 2020 prompted so many organizations and corporations to really start to take a look at how they were functioning internally,” Hall said.
Social justice nonprofits were particularly open to self-examination.
“We've all seen it, where organizations are doing good work but it comes across as very savior-like,” Hall said.
This is especially true at nonprofits founded by White people and led mainly by White people that serve mainly communities of color, a category into which Miriam’s Kitchen falls.
If people are being saved, does it matter who the savior is? Yes, said Hall.
“Because of Miriam’s Kitchen’s mission and because of the community we serve, trust is paramount,” Hall said.
Trust means that workers trust in their own organization. And trust means that clients trust those workers.
Said Hall: “And that means guests will be more inclined to take our services.”
That, of course, is the aim, said Miriam’s Kitchen’s CEO Scott Schenkelberg. “That’s how you get people in housing and keep them there,” he said. “If you don’t have a case manager who can relate to their life, they’re not going to develop trust and go through this process.”
There’s a deeper conversation going on at Miriam’s Kitchen. It’s the embrace of a goal beyond providing meals and finding homes for individual people experiencing hunger and homelessness.
“You have to create a stronger social safety net,” Schenkelberg said. “Unfortunately, we have a safety net that really relies on individuals and families to be the first stop.”
Your ability to be that first stop depends largely on your family’s wealth. And that is related to the demographics in this country.
“Any survey you do will show that people of color in this country by and large do not have the same economic advantages and household wealth as White Americans,” Schenkelberg said.
Addressing that problem is the bedrock of equity and inclusion.
Said Hall: “Yes, we need money. Yes, we need resources to help these people. But the reality of it is, a lot of these issues are rooted in systemic racism, in racist policies around affordable housing, in not paying people a living wage. … So many systems have unfortunately for decades been rigged against minorities.”
Unrigging those systems is what Hall is all about.
These are big issues. And hard ones. But they’re worth tackling with our energies and our skills. That’s what got us to the moon, isn’t it?
Miriam’s Kitchen is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual reader fundraising drive. You can donate online by visiting posthelpinghand.com.
To give by check, write Miriam’s Kitchen, Attn: Development, 2401 Virginia Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20037.
Read more from John Kelly.