As an organization that has historically had a mostly white staff and an event that has hosted mostly white participants in a field made up of primarily white folks, Firefly Gathering core organizers have for years been interested in building racial and socioeconomic equity in our work and in the greater primitive skills community. So much of what we gather to learn at Firefly is based on indigenous and ethnic knowledge, a community that our audience doesn’t represent. Earlier this year we met to explore how Firefly can more actively build racial and socioeconomic equity at our event and in our community. There we decided to bring on a new, year-round staff member whose primary focus would be to help educate Firefly staff and community about the intricate and complex work of building a racially equitable event that will be more welcoming, accessible, and enjoyable for people of color, immigrants, and those who live with socioeconomic barriers.
We are excited to announce that we have hired a staff member to fill the role of Community Equity Advocate: Isa Whitaker. I chatted with Isa recently and offer you some details of our conversation to introduce you to our new staff member and learn about the equity-focused work he will be helping all of us in the Firefly community get more involved with. Isa is a wonderful asset to the Firefly Gathering Staff — we’re excited for you to get to know him!
Isa is a father, husband, and poet, and comes to us through his work as Community Garden Network Coordinator with Bountiful Cities, a local, urban agriculture non-profit. Isa told me that he believes in “food and nature as medicine to heal the body.” He is passionate about bringing awareness to the ways our daily food choices affect our well-being and how integrating with the natural world can lead to a healthy lifestyle. And, friends, we have an artist in our midst. Isa is also a lyricist and hip-hop artist who aims to promote positivity in his message and honesty in his storytelling. SIYAH, as Isa is known in his performing arts endeavors, has been rapping for 10 years. You can check out his uplifting sounds on his website siyahmusic.com.
In our discussion I dug into some of the work Isa will be doing with Firefly. Isa sees his role as Community Equity Advocate as an opportunity to help make Firefly Gathering more accessible to people regardless of economic limitations and to bridge the gap so that the gathering is more welcoming to people of color. He wishes to help people not familiar with Firefly Gathering to learn about it and to feel more comfortable with it in order to take advantage of the learning available at the event. Isa says that he hopes to hear about experiences that people of color have so far had at the gathering – the good and bad – and do what he can to create more good and offset the bad.
To help make Firefly gathering more welcoming to diverse community members we all need to be involved in the effort. Isa encourages individuals in the Firefly community to participate in trainings and educational opportunities that will increase our awareness of issues that impact people of color, to understand the systematic policies of oppression that cause people of color to have economic and access barriers that may prevent them from being more involved with events like Firefly, and to understand that the overall barriers to racial equity are built into every system within our society. Isa and I have both participated in the the Racial Equity Institute (REI) Phase I workshop, which presents a historical, cultural, structural, and institutional analysis of racism in the U.S. We discussed how important such trainings are important for making change, and we agree in hoping that Firefly Gathering community members will consider this or similar trainings, such as Building Bridges, which has been offered locally in Asheville for 25 years. We will also be working within our curriculum to address this topic.
Firefly Gathering staff are grateful to have Isa as part of our team as we are deepening our commitment to creating a diverse and welcoming culture.