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By Social Justice Learning Institute, 01/30/2020

SJLI Health Equity Manager Collaborates on Leadership Development Program

Nicole Steele is the Health Equity Programs Manager at the Social Justice Learning Institute. Here’s her experience collaborating on the Food Leaders Lab.


What is the Food Leaders Lab?

The Food Leaders Lab is a 10 week leadership development program that empowers participants to get involved in creating equity around food access and food justice.  They learn about the history of food movements, the current food environment, as well as how policy works and how policy is changed.  They then have group projects where they work on current policy issues and present their plan of action.  It’s really focused on building leadership around policy, advocacy and community engagement and organizing.


How did you get involved with the Food Leaders Lab?

The LA Food Policy Council piloted the program last year and as they developed it they invited various community organizations to be a part of helping develop curriculum and designing the program.  SJLI also selected 2 participants to be Food Leaders.   I was invited to participate and then asked to be a guest speaker as well.  I was happy and honored to be invited back this year.


What elements did you feel were most important to include in the curriculum?

The curriculum was already going to cover all the “big” stuff; history, food justice in it current state, institutionalized racism and classism, what you can do to help change these things, etc.  Personally, I wanted to make sure participants didn’t take on a sense of hopelessness because the system is so big and expansive.  My contribution, hopefully, helped them keep an urgency around taking care of themselves as they venture into systems change and organizing.  I want the Leaders to participate in self care, and care for each other because burnout is real.


What are you hoping participants take away from the program?

I hope they feel powerful.  I hope they feel equipped with knowledge of history and stories of successes, big and small, of other people and organizations.  I hope they leave feeling like they can, and will, make changes that matter.


Was there any new information that you learned about community health from hearing participants perspective?
I got a really great perspective about street vendors.  In my day to day work I don’t usually deal with that side of the food system, but learning about the restrictions that were put upon them and then the work they did to bring justice was really encouraging.


When do participants culminate from the program?

This year, graduation is on April 11, 2020.


How else are you personally working to ensure a healthy thriving community?

Well, my day to day work centers around educating community members about food justice, how to make healthy choices, and then bringing access to healthy food and opportunities to our people.  The nutrition education classes are free, held weekly throughout the community. I love being with the community and sharing space with them.  Food for Thought is every 3rd Friday at Morningside High and it’s a joy to serve people in that way.  The gardens continue to be a space for community building and beautiful growth, literally and figuratively.  And our physical activity classes like Zumba and the Walking Clubs are so much fun and an opportunity for people to meet their neighbors and participate in healthy habits.


The pilot Food Leaders Lab launched in January 2019 in partnership with Social Justice Learning Institute, Brotherhood Crusade, American Friends Services Committee – Roots For Peace Program, and the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust. To learn more visit The Los Angeles Food Policy Council

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