A "Coming Together for Racial Understanding" in-service training event was recently held at the Arkansas 4-H Center in Ferndale.
Seventeen participants from the University of Arkansas System Cooperative Extension Service and the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff learned ways to facilitate community dialogue about race.
Teki Hunt, director of the 4-H Youth Development Program for UAPB, is one of the members of the training team for the Arkansas program. She said the event served to train the second program cohort of the UA System. The program trains Extension professionals to help communities engage in civil dialogues on racial issues.
"Program curricula seek to break down institutional racism, individual biases and stereotypes," she said. "Participants learn strategies to plan dialogues for racial healing in our communities."
In addition to Hunt, the Arkansas training team includes Blanca Hernandez, Pulaski County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences; Julianne Dunn, instructor for economic development; and Emily Smith, program associate for community and economic development for the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the UA System Division of Agriculture.
During the training event, the team used the "Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation" curriculum from Everyday Democracy, a national organization that helps communities find ways for people of different backgrounds to think, talk and work together to solve problems. Participants were given an overview of the purpose and were led through six discussion sessions.
The exercises helped participants examine gaps among racial and ethnic groups and think of ways to create institutional and policy change.
They were able to share personal experiences and began to discuss community concerns and potential ways to solve problems. By the end of the training, they developed actionable steps to move forward and involve members of the community in the conversation.
Hunt and Hernandez were trained as part of a national cohort of Extension professionals from 40 states in 2018, and they helped train the first Arkansas cohort in 2019. They continue to meet monthly with the national Coming Together for Racial Understanding training groups and will be meeting quarterly with the two Arkansas cohorts.
"These meetings will allow us to continue our dialogues toward racial healing, give support and share resources," Hunt said. "We aim to foster community dialogues within the Extension community, our universities and among our stakeholders and clientele."
Hunt is also a member of the 4-H Access, Equity and Belonging for All committee, which is composed of champion groups that provide outreach to the nation's vulnerable youth populations. She is a co-chair of the champion group for incarcerated youths and is also a member of the champion group for African American youths.
"This committee has created fact sheets and is working on best practices for working with diverse populations throughout 4-H to help reach the goal of our National Strategic Plan of serving a population that is representative of our entire nation and serve 10 million youth by the year 2025," she said.
UAPB participants included Nina Lyon Bennett, associate dean for academics; Rachel Luckett, urban outreach director; and Yong Park, associate professor of entomology.
The committee's resources can be found online at https://access-equity-belonging.extension.org/.
Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.