Using Stories And Art To Challenge Commonly Held Narratives About Food Security In Greater Kansas City

In Greater Kansas City, community organizers are engaging neighborhood residents to gather stories and policy priorities to shape the regional discourse around food access and food security while artists are creating works that challenge pervasive racialized narratives about government food programs.

With funding from the Convergence Partnership, the Health Forward Foundation (HFF) engaged community residents of bi-state Kansas City neighborhoods (in Kansas and Missouri) in two timely policy discussions to shape the regional discourse on food access and food security through an equity lens: the 2018 Farm Bill and the Public Charge Rule.* HFF worked with local partner agencies—Center for Neighborhoods at University of Missouri Kansas City, Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, Historic Northeast Midtown Association, and KC Healthy Kids—to form the KC Voices team and facilitate discussions with community residents of low income, racially diverse neighborhoods about how these policies impact them, their families and their neighborhoods. The geographic area of focus included Wyandotte County Kansas, a majority-minority county with a high number of new immigrants, and Kansas City Missouri, which is also home to a diverse population, including many immigrants for whom English is a second language. Convergence funding allowed three of the local partner agencies to hire a dedicated team of community organizers who were already working on equity issues through their volunteerism.

HFF and their local partner agencies leveraged the Convergence funding opportunity in 2018 and 2019 to amplify community voices and their specific priorities—particularly community voices of color—that are too often excluded from policy discussions and decision-making tables. The initial community conversations around the Farm Bill revealed broad-ranging food security interests, including many residents in urban core communities who viewed the Farm Bill’s conservation title as more important to food security than government nutrition programs because of its impact on water quality. In late 2018, Community organizers pivoted from the Farm Bill to the Public Charge Rule, finding that the proposed immigration rule change posed even more tangible impacts in the Greater Kansas City region and therefore resulted in the greater overall community interest, energy, and advocacy. Overall, community engagement efforts resulted in over 100 community statements and stories related to food access and food security policy priorities that were shared and amplified directly with decision-makers and their staff. HFF also commissioned three local artists of color to create original works of art that synthesized the stories and voices of resident stakeholders to generate ongoing conversations about food security policies. The art was shared through a traveling public display where elected officials and other decision-makers would see them daily and were designed to challenge the racialized “personal responsibility” narrative that shapes the public perceptions of government nutrition programs.

*A recent change to the Public Charge Rule means that many immigrants may now be blocked from entering or gaining permanent residency in the US if they have previously relied on one or more public benefits for which they qualified, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).