MANRRS: Changing the narrative for minority youth in agriculture
Thirty years ago, Dr. Marcus Bernard was selected to be an intern by then-U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) Administrator Pearlie Reed, himself a trailblazer in agriculture. So began Bernard’s journey with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS).
“From that point on, MANRRS showed me a new world,” said Bernard, a student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University at the time. “It introduced me to opportunities and careers in agriculture beyond the farm gate.”
As MANRRS President today, the Kentucky State University Ph.D. and rural sociology professor is forging paths for minorities with ambitions in agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences. MANRRS did the same for Nationwide Agronomy Claims Specialist Keith King.
“When I think of MANRRS, I think of mentoring, leadership, support, networking, and expectations,” said King, who earned his Ph.D. from Iowa State University and became involved in MANRRS as an undergraduate student at Langston University. “MANRRS is critical to developing the next generation of leaders in agriculture.”
It’s a calling close to former Nationwide Farm Manager and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa CEO Bridget Cravens-Neely's heart.
“Nationwide started as a company that met a need. Farmers needed insurance and someone to protect their assets,” said Cravens-Neely, current co-chair of the MANRRS Alumni Committee. “We now see a need in minority farm communities that Nationwide can help meet by working with MANRRS to support the next generation of agriculture leaders.”
What MANRRS does for students and young professionals
Students as young as middle school through adult members of the food and agricultural workforce are eligible to be MANRRS members. Membership opportunities include:
- Leadership training
- Job opportunities
“Being part of MANRRS provides young people with access to unique opportunities and connections,” Cravens-Neely said. “MANRRS members are advocates for the awareness of the need to change agriculture through diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”
MANRRS members are leaders
Being part of MANRRS is about more than careers. “In MANRRS, you’re expected not to just participate, but be a leader,” King said. “You are encouraged to pursue leadership positions.”
The inclusive MANRRS process involves demonstrating the rich — yet sometimes misrepresented — history people of color in the U.S. have in agriculture.
“Discrimination is a significant part of the story but it’s not the whole story,” Bernard said. “African-American farm families and professionals working in food and agriculture are leaders in their communities. But we don’t tell the whole story.”
The future of MANRRS
Showcasing that story and growing opportunities for minority students in agriculture are just a couple of Bernard’s goals as MANRRS president.
“I want to make sure that members know in MANRRS, they are going to have opportunities to grow and develop,” Bernard said. “We all have a vested interest in ensuring our next generation of agricultural leaders.”
Find out how you can get involved in MANRRS at manrrs.org or contact Bernard to learn more.