There are a number of aspects that make Rural & Migrant Ministry one of the most unique organizations in the United States.
A discussion about our uniqueness begins with our name. Our founders back in the 1970’s looked at the landscape of New York and realized that rural areas were suffering in the midst of many injustices and isolation. And those seemingly suffering the greatest disenfranchisement within these rural communities were migrant farmworkers. It struck our founders that there was little focus, let alone awareness, of the conditions in these communities; nor were there many organizations addressing the systemic causes of the disenfranchisement of these communities. RMM became one of the few organizations in rural New York committed to nurturing leaders for systemic change and justice. Our priority has always been rural food system workers and their families, especially farmworking families: as they developed the skills and resources to improve working and living conditions.
And then there is the last part of our name: Ministry. For some this word inspires and clarifies, for others it confuses and repels. Frankly it is for us a name that is ever evolving in its meaning. “The Ministry” began a rare ecumenical gathering – a multitude of denominations entering into a covenant, committed to hope, justice and empowerment. The reality of this happening is exceptional in of itself. First that denominations would get together, and stay together is rare. Second that they would commit to justice and empowerment (as opposed to social service and charity) was unusual. And finally, they took the unusual step of forming a covenant: a public commitment that bound them together. The Ministry became a public incarnation, enabling people to live into a vital part of their faith: hope, justice and empowerment.
As the decades emerged, this understanding of ministry broadened into an organization that remains very much a vehicle of faith for many, and has indeed welcomed not only other denominations into the Covenant, but also partnered with other faiths as well.
And yet, the Ministry is also non-sectarian organization. In the tradition of the Latin and middle English roots ministry means service. There are many who have been a part of RMM who do not come from a faith background, in fact, they are really nervous about organized religion. Nonetheless, they see RMM as one of the only organizations that enables them to serve in farmworker advocacy, youth empowerment, rural women’s empowerment and so much more.
So what are we saying about our name? Well we could get all technical and refer you to the dictionary, but its variety of definitions would echo an essence of what we have just said – there are a lot of different definitions – from church to administering (we will refrain from the definitions that refer to government offices – but there are moments when we would like to be in charge of certain government offices!) In a wonderful mystifying way, our name reflects our uniqueness as an organization that welcomes an amazing diversity of people, who honor each other’s diversity and are committed to hope, justice and empowerment in rural New York; just as this diversity of people gathered together during the Civil Rights and Cesar Chavez eras. We know it is unusual, but we find it refreshing and inspiring.
But it is not just our name and inclusive history that makes us unique, it’s also our approach, an approach that is directed by our mission statement’s call to nurture leaders in a quest to change unjust systems and structures in rural New York. You can read more about how we do this in the program areas of this web-site. But there are a couple of core threads that run through all, and two overall approaches – that add to our uniqueness.
While it may appear at initial glance that there is a hodgepodge of programs at RMM, in fact there are three overall binding approaches that come from our Vision statement.
- We are committed to a comprehensive approach that brings us into relationship with people of all ages. We could work with just adults, but we have seen the energy and courage that young people bring to the movement, to the organization, and to others. And we have been around long enough that we are now blessed to see many of the children of our programs are now adult leaders.
- For us, it’s all about systemic change. Frankly we all get tired dealing with the effects of systemic oppression, we want to be with people who are committed to working for change. This requires persistence and patience, and funders who understand this commitment! Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer organizations able to focus on systemic change.
- Finally, our approach includes building bridges among a diversity of communities, especially between allies and grass-root communities. We are committed to inviting allies to stand with us as we work for change. Therefore you will find us not only in isolated rural areas, but also in the midst of our cities. As one of our allies said: "We, here in New York City, are already in relationship with the farmworkers, because we eat the food they harvested. Now we need to honor that relationship by standing with them as they seek justice" RMM is a remarkable network of people across the State: folks from faith, labor and student communities – in relationship with immigrant students, farmworkers, poultry factory workers and many more. We bring people together that you wouldn’t expect to be together and facilitate unique conversations that lead to thoughtful analyses and actions.
In the midst of these approaches there are a number of threads that perhaps also differentiate us from many. They include:
- Our focus on Leadership Development. All of our program first and foremost are about nurturing leaders for rural justice, whether they be grass-root leaders or ally leaders. As Lila Watson, and Aboriginal educator/artist said: If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then stay and we can work together. Our commitment, our leadership is for long term impact.
- The Leadership Development thread goes hand in hand with a second thread of Experiential Education (also called Participatory Education). We believe that the best way to develop our leadership is to go out and engage in the world, and then to step back and reflect and analyze, and then go back out and engage. This is an important aspect for our faith members, as one of our Christian members said: “We are interested in living into the Gospel, not preaching it”.
Each of the above may not seem that unique on their own. There are many remarkable organizations living into these different areas/approaches. But when you combine them, and when you see an organization that has lived into them for decades, and is still vibrant and committed, we believe you have come upon a rather unique group of people! Join us in this wonderful partnership!