By Clarké Snell | December 12, 2017

When I was younger, I was a competitive figure skater. I trained, traveled, and competed; and I medaled and placed. Figure skating always had a special place in my heart, but it wasn’t always easy.

When I entered a new rink, I’d notice that people would stare at me a lot longer than they did the other (typically white) girls. Sometimes I’d have friends who could stay at the gorgeous official competition hotels during the qualifying rounds, but my family opted for the budget hotel and my sweet mother would eat Chef Boyardee so that the extra money could go to ice time.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have support from my peers, coaches, or community, but it is to say that when you feel like an outsider, when you can’t figure out how to level with everyone, when you have been or are currently on a path very different from others, it “slaps you around” emotionally and it ruffles the feathers of your confidence and morale. That’s because we all want to feel like we belong, like we’re welcome, like we’re understood, and like we matter just as much as the next person.

Now you’re probably thinking, what on earth does this have to do with increasing the diversity of our animal protection movement, but think of this.

Our movement too, is predominantly white, middle/upper class, and female. Newer people of color who try to join hands with white animal activists often feel out of place, like I sometimes did in the rink. They might be coming from a completely different background, with a unique set of experiences, hurdles, challenges, strengths, weaknesses, or mountains to climb.

And when we turn a blind eye to that, when we don’t acknowledge these differences could be alienating others our movement misses out.

There are students I’ve met while giving Humane Education presentations or adults I’ve talked to at events in Chicago, who say, “Yeahhhh, this vegan thing is great and all, but I can’t relate to “those people.” “They” don’t get that I don’t have the money, time, resources, or support to do this.” 

We have to change this. Of course, there are situations in which veganism is simply not accessible, but that’s not always the case. We know that a better tomorrow for animals, the planet, and our health means we all have to be apart of this change. Even more importantly, we all deserve it.

But if people feel alienated, misrepresented, or unrepresented, we’re not going to see the change our movement is tirelessly striving for.

And this is why I believe in Encompass. We can’t all live in someone else’s reality and feel their culture or perspectives, but we can honestly listen. We can hold space, provide opportunities, build one another up, seek out and acknowledge intersections that might bridge understanding. We need to make our movement accessible, relevant, and tangible for all.

Encompass strives to do just that. We want to “up our game” when it comes to accessibility and encouraging the best practices for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in strengthening our movement.

It’s cliché but true: we are stronger together. So, let’s do it–your support of Encompass this giving season means a ton me and people of color everywhere. Let’s achieve this visions together.

Clarke’ Snell is the Chicago Grassroots Director for the international animal protection non-profit organization, The Humane League, as well as their Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair.