A four-decade-long history of providing services for historically underrepresented students and professionals in agriculture has cemented the legacy of Minorites in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). But organization leaders say they’re just getting started.
Three MANRRS presidents — past and present — are taking stock of the organization’s progress, challenges that lie ahead and how to best overcome them moving forward. Based on its recent growth, MANRRS is poised to grow its services for minorities in agriculture despite those challenges. It’s a team effort involving past and present MANRRS leaders who embody collaboration in working toward a common goal.
Past presidents pave the way
Few know the importance of MANRRS as well as Olga Bolden-Tiller. The Dean of the College of Agriculture at Tuskegee University joined MANRRS as a student in 1994 and served as 2021-2022 MANRRS President. Bolden-Tiller recently vacated her role of Past President, a key position in any organization’s leadership given how past leaders can support current ones. She’s reflecting on the organization’s growth during her tenure.
“We saw massive membership increases and record participation. That enabled us to put talented people into the workforce and contribute our expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion,” Bolden-Tiller said.
Bolden-Tiller and immediate Past President of MANRRS, Kentucky State University Rural Sociology Professor Marcus Bernard, say that effort has gotten a much-needed boost from the group’s partners in agribusiness. Companies like Nationwide — where supporting ag education is a longstanding priority — aren’t just contributing money and resources. They’re actively participating.
“We have real partnerships that require time, intentionality and bringing more to the table than just a check,” said Bernard, who served as 2022-2023 MANRRS President. “It’s now a global effort, which is important because we recognize we have to be intentional about how we build sustainable systems to feed people and take care of the environment. We need good people. MANRRS helps make that happen.”
Dr. Marcus Bernard
New MANRRS president aspires to inspire
Bernard’s new formal role as MANRRS Past President now opens the door for Dr. Derris Burnett. He’s the Mississippi State University Muscle Biology and Meat Science Professor who’s serving as 2023-2024 MANRRS President. The Denver, Colorado, native considers himself a non-traditional entry into agriculture. Much like the practical value of diversity in the workplace, he anticipates bringing a new perspective to the students and professionals involved in MANRRS.
“I grew up wanting to be the next Crocodile Hunter. Mine was a non-traditional route to agriculture. I think it can inspire people to say, ‘I don’t need years of traditional farm experience to find my niche in this space,’” Burnett said. “I want to continue to show the value of diversity in bringing in new perspectives. That enables people to innovate and bring new, out-of-the-box thinking to agriculture and food companies.”
Dr. Derris Burnett
Burnett’s slogan for his time as MANRRS President is “aspire to inspire.” It’s a message that’s growing in importance as challenges around diversity, inclusion and equality continue to rear their heads.
“I want to make ours a synergistic effort in which we are all able to solve complex problems together. You have to skate where the puck is going and MANRRS is on the leading edge. That requires persistence and relentlessness, but also skillful articulation,” Burnett said. “Our aspirations translate to inspiration for those coming behind us. They say, ‘If they can do it, I can too, and I can do it even better!’ It creates a self-fulfilling cycle that can enable us all to succeed.”