To Live and Thrive in LA: My Community Nutrition Journey

To Live and Thrive in LA: My Community Nutrition Journey - Food & Nutrition Magazine - Stone Soup
Photo courtesy of Toncé Jackson

Hey there — Toncé here! Some people have asked me, “Has anything good come out of South Central Los Angeles?” Of course, my answer is, “Yes!” Allow me to share my story and experience as a community-centered registered dietitian nutritionist.To Live and Thrive in LA: My Community Nutrition Journey -

I have 14 years of community nutrition experience at the Women Infants and Children program. Starting at the WIC program as a clerk during undergraduate schooling positioned me to be promoted to a WIC nutritionist once I graduated.

I will share four nuggets of wisdom on how I live and thrive as a community RDN:

My first nugget of wisdom for students: Volunteer, apply for an entry-level position and increase your network while still in school so once you graduate you have the experience and connection for your promotion. Working for the WIC program afforded me opportunities to complete my dietetic internship, work in the Nutrition Education Department, to receive my Certified Lactation Educator, or CLE, certificate and to co-create a motherhood and breastfeeding brand, CinnaMoms, for Black/African American WIC families.

Nugget of wisdom number two:  “If it does not exist, create it.” As co-creator of CinnaMoms, I was able to identify a gap in breastfeeding support for our Black/African American families, which led to the formation of this amazing brand. Established in 2015, CinnaMoms was recently awarded the 2021 United States Department of Agriculture WIC Special Innovation grant. The benefits of being a RDN is that there are so many ways for us to make an impact!

Not only did I co-create CinnaMoms, but I also established our WIC health and racial equity portfolio. Remember tip number two? Yes, after completing my master’s program and hearing the stories of our CinnaMoms, I discovered a gap in WIC’s role in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2019, I became my WIC local agency’s first Health Equity Manager. It has been so rewarding supporting our approximately 600 staff members on their health and racial equity journeys.

As Health Equity Manager, I have been afforded the opportunity to represent WIC at the local, state and national levels. In this role, I have worked with departments, organizations and workgroups in advancing health equity such as the Public Health Foundation Enterprises, or PHFE WIC Council on Racial Equity, or C.O.R.E, Heluna Health Workplace Inclusion Initiative, Los Angeles County, California WIC Association, California Department of Public Health and the National WIC Association.

Nugget of wisdom number three:  Get involved.  I am an introverted extrovert but my mentors encouraged me to get involved early in my career and it has paid off. In 2021 I received one of the highest honors of my RDN career, the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Excellence in Community Dietetics award!

That leads me to nugget number 4: Share your journey! Do not be afraid to share your lived and learned experiences because you never know who you will inspire or encourage. In 2007, when I changed my major to nutrition, I did not think fourteen years later I would be where I am, let alone have accomplished the things I have accomplished.

Allow me to close with one of my greatest accomplishments, earning my doctorate degree and becoming Dr. Jackson, a first-generation college graduate. Yes, the graduate from Los Angeles Unified School District who was raised in the 16-block radius of South Central LA, became Dr. Jackson. The sky is not the limit rather the starting line. I look forward to continuing my journey, breaking generational barriers, reimagining community nutrition and defying the odds.

Whew, that’s a lot! Yes, I’ve done a lot and I’ve been through a lot. So as you read this, I will be practicing self- care. In the words of Audre Lorde, “Self-care is not self-indulgence rather a revolutionary act.”

The team behind Food & Nutrition Magazine® aims to amplify the voices of people of color and other underrepresented individuals in nutrition and dietetics and highlight the experiences of RDNs, NDTRs, dietetic interns and nutrition and dietetics students. Our goal is not only to stand in solidarity, but also help inform our readers and increase awareness about the importance of diversity in the field of nutrition and dietetics. We know it’s not enough, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction that will support meaningful conversations and a positive change in the profession.

Toncé Jackson on Twitter
Toncé Jackson
Toncé Jackson, Ed.D, MPH, RDN, CLE, is a millennial from South Central Los Angeles who is committed to elevating her lived experience to serve others. She is passionate about innovative, community and place-based solutions to eradicate disparities and improve health outcomes for women, infants, children and families. Toncé is interested in health and racial equity in the field of dietetics and public health. As a first-generation doctoral graduate, she plans to use her advanced degree to further research in anti-racist maternal and infant health and breastfeeding solutions. Toncé is fueled by her faith, her ministry, family, community, her CinnaMoms and WIC family and, of course, okra!