Melissa Raybon is a teacher, artist and mentor who served as an Americorps Leader in Empower Place. She currently serves on the Anti-Racism Task Force at MFB&CC. As a woman who identifies as half Black and half Xicana, she authored this piece to bring awareness not only to Black History Month and the experiences of the past, but to foster education around the daily lives of BIPOC folks as it relates to the crucial moments we find ourselves in today, and as we strive to create a better future.

For a person of color, a place like Montana can feel daunting and uninviting. However, the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center strives to be a haven for equity and the much needed change that entails…

Why is Black History important?

Black History is important because often within our own communities, communities across this country and beyond, the voices of people of color are set aside or forgotten. It is important to educate youth and families in our community on how to make this world a safer and more inclusive space for all. By sharing information on historical black figures like Bessie Coleman, Langston Huges, and Zora Neale Hurston (to name very few) through unique and engaging activities for youth and families in EmPower Place; we remind ourselves that there is an endless amount of culture and history that makes the United States of America such a rich place to live. We are reminded that early settlers and many in our own communities today did not take into account the importance of treating all people with dignity. And, we are especially reminded that it is our job to work towards the healing of the historical trauma towards our BIPOC community in Missoula, and worldwide.

Every day, as various individuals from all walks of life enter the food bank, we are reminded that we have an opportunity to address the ways that the system we are currently under is failing. Failing to feed those who are most vulnerable and failing to address the diverse history and at times, grotesque trauma that this nation was founded on. We are reminded that the voices and stories of people of color are so very important, now and always, as we move toward the language and ACTION of equity.

Why is the food bank committed to anti-racism work?

As a team of individuals, we have chosen to be a leader within our local community and beyond. Beginning the month of February (formally acknowledged in celebration of Black History), we began the intense, and at times, extremely uncomfortable emotional labor to make our space more inclusive. This work involves being honest and vulnerable in order to uncover the ways that white or white adjacent (white-passing)  people, consciously or subconsciously, re-traumatize or perpetuate systems of inequity and violence in their day-to-day interactions with BIPOC. Often in these spaces, we find that racism does not typically present itself in the outrageous hate crimes we see constantly in our various media outlets, it happens when white people fail to acknowledge that they benefit from a system of deeply ingrained false beliefs surrounding their superiority as a people. In today’s society, if you are a white person that has not committed to this type of deep self-reflection, then you remain complicit in the actions of the most extreme white supremacist groups.

How can we learn to extend love to all of our neighbors, regardless of race, class, gender, etc?

We can commit our lives to anti-racism work. We can read and experience the work of prominent black activists and writers, such as Layla F.Saad and her interactive reading journal Me and White Supremacy that prompts those with the most privilege to encounter how a system of oppression and white supremacy continues to haunt and re-traumatize people of color every day. Especially here in Montana, where the BIPOC population only contributes a staggering amount, how can we offer more than just *optical allyship? The conversation on racism must not stop as we continue  asking ourselves the toughest questions, such as,  how have we remained silent when someone in our presence made a racist remark? It is in these very subtle ways that racism persists.

How can we be an example of change and forethought?

We can do the work and not look to BIPOC for acknowledgement and congratulation when we decide to truly live in accordance with our values for an equitable society, by doing what isn’t always easy and rewarding, but what is necessary.


*Optical Allyship is a term coined by Latham Thomas, founder of Mama Glow and author of Own Your Glow. In an Instagram post from May 1, Thomas defines optical allyship as “allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally,’ it makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress.” Essentially, it is performative allyship. Instead of standing up, building trust, and doing the groundwork to disassemble white supremacy, optical allyship does the bare minimum

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