For our final feature this Women’s History Month, we are excited to introduce Tekia Thompson, the Community Outreach and Sales Manager for Global Mamas. Tekia is also the founder of @black_and_fair on Instagram, a space for her to share and help create a fair world for people of color. She also hosts conversations about diversity for white people especially to participate in. Her voice is one of many who call out the lack of diversity and the representation of black people and black voices in the fair trade community. The Fair Trade Federation, of which we are members, has formed a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Committee, to adapt principles of social justice and inclusion in the way we all do business. This hard and necessary work needs to be at the forefront of our everyday actions and decisions. We all need to shift our thinking to work toward a more fair world.
1) How did you initially get involved in fair trade and how are you currently involved?
I have been a long-time fan of my local Ten Thousand Villages Store in Kansas. I used to work down the street from the store, and on my lunch break, I would venture down to find rest. As I learned more about the organization, I would spend more and more time in the store learning about the artisans, visiting with staff and volunteers, and of course, making many fair trade purchases. Years later, I started working there as a part-time Assistant Manager and loved our team so much. Then, I had the opportunity to interview some of my favorite fair trade leaders including Global Mamas. As fate would have it, I was offered the opportunity to join the Global Mamas family as their sales and community outreach manager. In my current role, I get to share the work of Global Mamas with the entire fair trade community and that just feels amazing. Though, I haven’t left my roots as I still volunteer once a month at the Ten Thousand Villages store in Overland Park, Kansas to stay connected.
2) What attracted you to the fair trade movement?
I’ve always sought ways to remind people that they matter. I think a lot of that has to do with me feeling like I didn’t at times. So I strive to remind folks of their amazing worth and their ability to contribute greatly to this world with their uniqueness. I fell in love with fair trade because it gave me an opportunity to not “save” but honor incredible people who, I feel, are often overlooked. We all love beautiful, handcrafted things whether it be apparel or home goods. I love that fair trade seeks to peel back the layers and hopefully uplift the people behind the wonderful things we hold so dear. They are just as precious as the items they create.
3) What are some of your favorite fair trade products and why?
To name a few, pretty much anything and everything from Global Mamas including my Eli Dress in Sisters Navy (a fan favorite), my color Block earrings that I wear daily, and the button baskets that keep me organized! I have a fantastic hemp crossbody bag from Ganesh Himal that I adore. I tend to over-pack and it can hold so much, though I really should scale back at some point so it doesn’t bust. I have a cute little black dress from Mata Traders that is so comfy cozy. I have a beautiful reminder to take care of special moments with my wall hanging created by Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts. And of course, there’s an endless supply of Equal Exchange coffee and teas mixed with Divine Chocolate. I’m just surrounded by fair trade joy!
4) Tell us about your work around diversity and fair trade. What is it like being a person of color in the fair trade space?
I still feel like the new kid on the block so I’ve been navigating this space very, very cautiously. I’ve been listening and observing. I’ve been working to engage folks in conversations when applicable, sometimes via social media but mostly in person. On a smaller scale, I partnered with my best friend to launch a limited series of chats called “Colorful Conversations.” We realized we could invite people, specifically white people, into a safe space to have an honest talk about race in the hopes of spurring more conversations regarding diversity and inclusion. We held 14, two-hour virtual chats over two months in 2021. Guests consisted of fair trade leaders, consumers, and friends. It opened the door to many more healthy conversations and encouraged participants to educate themselves more on the subject.
In terms of what it’s like being a person of color in the fair trade space, I can only speak from my experience. For me, there’s a certain pressure I feel to not offend and to be accommodating when having these conversations. Lots of walking on eggshells in some cases. This last year, I have been part of workgroup discussions on how to push diversity/inclusivity initiatives forward within fair trade. The majority of the time, I was the only person of color in these discussions. That was eye opening, to say the least. After a lot of hard work, we shared our thoughts/suggestions and unfortunately were met with great resistance. I myself in particular felt completely silenced. I questioned whether I was just a token member “at the table.” Was I asked to be part of these discussions to simply check a box? I know, it’s not the rainbows and butterflies answer one would hope, but that is what it has been like for me. However, I am seeing some light in these dark moments. I’ve met and bonded with new people who are speaking up when I feel I can’t. They are doubling their efforts to make space for more diversity in their communities and beyond. So all that to say, the work has been hard. The work has been challenging. But the work has been worth it.
5) We’re big fans of your Instagram account, @black_and_fair. Tell us about why you started it and what your goals are.
I’ve followed the fair trade movement for some time now, especially in the areas of fashion and sustainable living. I loved learning about all the wonderful people who are committed to putting people first. But I rarely saw myself as the consumer or leader. Rather, I should say, someone who looked like me, a woman of color. Every trendy photo, blog post, webinar, YouTube show, etc. showed a certain look. I’ll be honest, a very white look. So I thought, “is fair trade only for white consumers and leaders? Where do I fit in?” Once I started working for a fair trade store my eyes were further opened. I thought, “OK we are striving to put people first, but I don’t see MY people.” I don’t see MY people in the photos or MY people at the table leading, sharing ideas and thoughts on how to enact positive change within fair trade. Knowing I didn’t have all of the answers and that I was a very small piece of the pie, I took a leap of faith and launched Black and Fair. I wanted it to be a safe space for all of us to communicate openly. I wanted it to be a space where we can start to change the narrative of how people of color are viewed in the world of fair trade. I AM NOT an expert! But I am a black woman who has felt left out. My hope was to plant the seed that we, people of color, are a vital, active contributing part of the fair trade community! Not just marginalized artisans who need saving but makers, doers, dreamers, and yes, leaders!
6) We know that the fair trade world needs more diversity. What are some steps that fair trade organizations can take to promote this?
Educate. Listen. Invite. Though I absolutely love engaging in these conversations, I try to stress the importance of doing the research and educating oneself versus relying solely on me, the person of color, to always share. My experiences aren’t the same as everyone else and I cannot speak for everyone in the BIPOC community, nor should I. So getting out and doing the research to understand what has led to these hard moments is key. Then listen with intention to those in the marginalized community when they do speak. I often find that after I’ve shared my story, some are immediately on the defense and it makes it difficult to continue the conversation. It’s hard to be vulnerable when the person or group you are speaking with is not willing to create a safe space for you to do so. Finally, I say, “extend that table.” It’s been my go-to phrase for quite some time. Be willing to give up your seat, and invite others to your table, specifically those within the BIPOC community who are consultants and experts in this field. Allow them to help you truly see the breakdown in diversity/inclusion from the top down and then embrace the initiatives that will help you grow and flourish.
7) We love your commitment to being a change maker through fair trade. What advice would you give to women and girls who are interested in getting involved in causes they are passionate about?
I was a wallflower for far too long. I allowed this world to tell me my worth as a black woman and this world often shared that my worth wasn’t very much. That time is over. Now is not the time to be on the sidelines wishing you were in the middle of the game. Just jump in. When I first started this, I was quickly overwhelmed with thoughts of, “this person has more experience than you, or this person ranks higher in the fair trade community, or no one knows or even cares who you are, etc., etc.” But you can’t let that negative self-talk or anyone else’s negative talk deter you. One of my favorite quotes is “every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” So try. Yes, there will be doors and windows that close but that’s when you have to decide to squeeze through the cracks, dig your way under, or knock down a wall. You got this!
8) What woman has personally had the biggest impact on your life? It may be very cliché, but it’d definitely be my mom. She may not have her name in lights or written in history books but my momma has made history in my eyes. When I think Black Excellence I think of her! She raised my sister and me in an all-white community that was not always accepting of people of color (oh there is simply not enough space for all the stories regarding that). But she has never been swayed to follow the status quo. She’s one to always buck the system, and always speak out. I’m so proud to be her daughter. She is bold and her ability to approach life without a worrisome mind is starting to rub off on me. She’s small but mighty that’s for sure.