August 27, 2019 News & Features » Cover Story

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Racial Equity Dinner 

Community advocate Duron Chavis, director of Happily Natural Day

click to enlarge feat35_duron2.jpg


Duron Chavis is known for his tireless community advocacy, particularly in urban agriculture and local food systems. The former Style Weekly Top 40 under 40 winner is also the founder of Happily Natural Day, a grass-roots festival dedicated to cultural awareness, holistic health and social change, which is having its 17th annual event this weekend (see calendar pick).

And there’s something with a twist this year.

During last year’s festival, a cooking demo from Elijah “Chef Zu” Lee of Kings Apron in Atlanta allowed Chavis to learn about a racial equity dinner held in that city earlier this year. Chavis had just finished Richmond Memorial Health Foundation’s Health and Equity Fellowship, a yearlong process built around attaching a racial equity lens to the work that foundations and nonprofits do in the community.

Chavis thought the equity dinner sounded good for Richmond.

“The whole idea is it’s easier for us to have discussions about difficult topics if we’re in dialogue in an intimate space around food,” Chavis says. “But the vision was to actually make the dinner an equity practice.”

That means the ticketing system for the Living Color Racial Equity Dialogue Dinner: RVA Edition on Sunday, Sept. 1, at Studio Two Three, is based on a sliding scale dependent on average income by race, according to research statistics.

“It’s designed to have attendees understand income inequities in our [food] system based on race and gender,” Chavis says. “White men, Asian men get paid the most, white and Asian women are next, black people and Latinos get paid third, and farm workers are paid the absolute last.”

Elijah Lee is preparing the five-course vegan meal with local produce. There will also be prompts set on the table during the meal to promote dialogue in between dishes. Chavis says that tickets already sold out, and they sold out “for white women first, then black women, then black men, and white men came in last.”

During the dinner there will be a presentation by panelists Chelsea Higgs Wise, another Top 40 winner, and Ram Bhagat, and afterward tool kits will be given out on how to apply an equity lens in the attendees’ future work.

“When we talk about equity there are different needs based on different communities, especially in terms of accessibility,” Chavis says. “This is a phenomenon that exists already. We leveled it up by being explicit about race, and having folks that participate wrestle with that. I look forward to doing more of these to spark conversations and understand there are ways we can create equitable systems.” — Brent Baldwin

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