About Me

Whitney Gherman is an experienced intergroup dialogue facilitator, emergent strategist, pleasure activist, and critical race theorist trained at the University of Michigan. In her current appointment at Ohio State University Extension, she works in Marion County where her primary area of focus is community engagement, grassroots leadership, collective impact, and health equity. Grants have supported her work on bottom-up organizing and shared group leadership. In addition, she has received funding from the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program (SNAP-Ed) to increase healthy food access through policies, systems, and environmental change. To request a lecture or workshop, contact Gherman.12@osu.edu

Theory of Social Change from Bottom Up Organizing

Marion is a vibrant community with rich diversity and a strong history yet too often government agencies, nonprofits, and other human service providers make decisions in isolation and pass information from professional to community resident. In this mechanical model the community is often viewed as dependent on our institutions for their well-being and at worst, an object of service.

Civic participation – the active engagement of people in the decision-making processes that shape their communities and their lives – is critical to a healthy society. In fact, we only realize the full promise of democracy when people participate; when all segments of a community have fair and equal access to institutions and meaningful opportunities to voice their opinions about important issues driving the public policy or the social sector’s agenda. Research suggests that individuals who feel a sense of security, belonging, and trust in their community have better health. People who don’t feel connected are less inclined to act in healthy ways or work with others to promote well-being for all.

Whitney and her alliance suggests a paradigm shift by recruiting ordinary people, particularly those from disinvested communities, to lead decisions for their own quality of life and liberation. Through various activities Whitney identifies, connects, and supports local people and their assets to advance community vitality and make positive change at the grassroots level.

“Whitney is presenting possible solutions and best practices. She is actively listening to our ideas, giving us a chance to ask questions, and providing opportunities to express concerns in our community.” Another wrote, “Whitney’s program has benefited my community. Her passion for social justice has provided healing spaces in Marion.”

Applied Food System Research

Some of our most cherished farming practices have roots in African wisdom, yet, discrimination against African-American farmers has led to their decline from 14 percent of all growers in 1920 to less than 2 percent today (Penniman, 2018). Further, Black communities suffer disproportionately from illnesses related to lack of access to healthy food (Walker, 2010).

Marion County possesses no special immunity in this regard. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 96% of farm producers in Marion County are White, residential segregation is still prominent (51 index), 71% of Black children experience poverty, and West side residents live more than 1 mile from a supermarket. Exacerbating the problem is most public decision-making is made by a small group of people, even though research tells us civic participation is critical to a healthy society. In fact, we only realize the full promise of democracy when people participate and when there is an abundance of opportunities for residents to voice their opinions about important issues driving the public policy or social sector’s agenda.

In local response, Whitney developed partnerships to organize and link resources of a historically African American congregation to community nutrition, agriculture, and leadership classes.Key activities implemented in this project included (1) advocating to use land bank property to transform vacant plots into urban farms, (2) convening resources to provide new farmers with soil tests, starter plants, garden tools, and small equipment, and (3) sponsoring a Community Planting Day, taste-tastings, educational workshops, and a farm tour.  While activating land vacancies, FCS also facilitated a 15-week participatory leadership course. The curriculum was divided into 4 units (Building a Community Vision, Communicating Our Vision, Working Our Vision – Step by Step, and Implementing Our Community Action Plan). In our community, 12 participants graduated from the class and the program has been successfully implemented in two states.