Centering Social, Racial, and Economic Justice

To live out and fulfill the values and principles of our co-operative movement, we need to center social, racial, and economic justice in our co-ops.  By understanding the diverse history of co-operative organizing-both nationally and globally-we will be more effective in our work to create a more just and inclusive economy and society.

The food co-ops of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) are working together to manifest our shared vision of a thriving regional economy, rooted in a healthy, just and sustainable food system, and a vibrant community of co-operative enterprise.  Central to this work  is addressing systemic racism and classism in all of their many forms.

Detail from mural at Federation of Southern Cooperatives Training Center, Epes, AL. Photo, Erbin Crowell

Co-operatives have long been used as a tool to establish deep roots in communities and give everyone the opportunity to meaningfully participate in their society and economy.  Throughout history, communities across the world have used co-operatives as a strategy for shared economic advancement, reclaiming community power, and restoring self-determination in the face of incredible odds.

Across our region, food co-ops are engaging their members in addressing systemic injustices.  Working with their Neighboring Food Co-ops to share resources and ideas, our co-ops are building relationships with community organizations focused on racial justice and voting rights, collaborating with partners and local farmers on climate and food justice and access, and supporting mutual aid efforts to meet unmet community needs.  We partner in times of crisis to ensure comprehensive solutions that include all community members.

Here are some resources to help your Co-op and member-owners learn more stories of co-operatives centering social, racial, and economic justice.


Articles & Features



Collective Courage chronicles African American cooperative business ownership and its place in the movements for Black civil rights and economic equality. Not since W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1907 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans has there been a full-length, nationwide study of African American cooperatives. Collective Courage extends that story into the twenty-first century. Many of the players are well known in the history of the African American experience: Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph and the Ladies’ Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Jo Baker, George Schuyler and the Young Negroes’ Co-operative League, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. Adding the cooperative movement to Black history results in a retelling of the African American experience, with an increased understanding of African American collective economic agency and grassroots economic organizing. To tell the story, Gordon Nembhard uses a variety of newspapers, period magazines, and journals; co-ops’ articles of incorporation, minutes from annual meetings, newsletters, budgets, and income statements; and scholarly books, memoirs, and biographies. These sources reveal the achievements and challenges of Black co-ops, collective economic action, and social entrepreneurship. Gordon Nembhard finds that African Americans, as well as other people of color and low-income people, have benefitted greatly from cooperative ownership and democratic economic participation throughout the nation’s history.


As co-operators, we need to lift up stories of the history of co-operative enterprise in African American, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx communities, explore the contribution of the co-operative movement to multiracial struggle for Civil Rights and economic democracy, and continue to challenge ourselves to live up to our values and principles.

On the national level, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA) is joining co-operators nationwide in celebrating the essential contributions of Black co-operators to our movement and amplifying the voices of today’s change makers, including recorded sessions from the 2020 Cooperative IMPACT Conference.


Cooperative Economics and Civil Rights, Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard

Featured on Laura Flanders Show: What role did economic cooperation play in the civil rights movement? As it turns out, a huge one. This forgotten history is the focus of Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s recent book Collective Courage: A History of African-American Economic Thought and Practice.

The Challenge of Achieving Racial Equity

At NCBA CLUSA’s 2020 Co-op Impact Conference, professor and historian Jessica Gordon-Nembhard dispels the notion that “co-ops can’t be racist,” noting that the movement’s fundamental grounding in open membership and democratic member control are not enough to offset the cumulative effects of structural and institutional racism—particularly in the U.S.

Indigenous Rights and Inclusion in Co-operatives Webinar with Dr. Priscilla Settee & Dr. Isobel Findlay, Part 1

The International Centre for Co-operative Management hosted this webinar.  Saint Mary’s University is located in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional, unceded and never surrendered territory of Mi’kmaq people. As people-centred organizations and businesses, co-operatives are called to action to reflect on what inclusion really is. How does it show up in our governance and management practices? What policies, procedures, conversations, and practices should we be considering when trying to build more inclusive co-ops? The webinar is the first in a two-part series.

Dr. Priscilla Settee is a member of Cumberland House Swampy Cree First Nations and a Professor of Indigenous Studies where she teaches courses on Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Social Economies, University of Saskatchewan. She has won recognition nationally and internationally for her work on Indigenous knowledge systems that spans several continents. She was awarded a Global Citizen’s award by Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation, was twice nominated for a teaching excellence award by her students, and has also been awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee award for contributions to Canada. Settee serves on the Seed Change Canada and Culture Conservancy(US) boards and is a David Suzuki Fellow.

Indigenous Rights and Inclusion in Co-operatives: The Practice of Inclusion (Part II)

The International Centre for Co-operative Management hosted a webinar, and Saint Mary’s University is located in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional, unceded and never surrendered territory of Mi’kmaq people. As people-centred organizations and businesses, co-operatives are called to action to be inclusive. What policies, procedures, conversations, and practices should we be considering when trying to build more inclusive co-ops? This webinar is the second in a two-part series to help participants be more familiar and fluent in issues of indigenous rights and inclusion, as as well as to give tangible examples as to how we can build more inclusive organizations. Representatives from Vancity Credit Union, the Saskatoon Community Clinic and Arctic Co-operatives are featured.

Interview with Cornelius Blanding, Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund

As part of this celebration, we are also sharing this interview with Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund. Conducted by NFCA Executive Director Erbin Crowell as part of the International Centre for Co-operative Management recent training on Member-centric Governance & Management, the interview explores the work of the Federation and its intersection with the movement from Civil Rights in the South, and the potential for co-operative associations to work together for greater justice.

Co-operatives Can Advance DEI: Lessons, Issues & Ways Forward

In this session from NCBA CLUSA’s 2020 Co-op Impact Conference, Moderated by National Cooperative Bank’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs John Holdsclaw IV, leaders from across the co-operative landscape discuss the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in the U.S. and the co-op movement, with a focus on how sectors are raising awareness, stimulating conversations and taking concrete steps to advance DEI work.