April 27, 2018

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Zachary Norris

In the spring of 2017, Funders for Justice (FFJ) launched its inaugural cohort of Advisors – nine field leaders recognized for their leadership in community power-building, racial and gender justice, police accountability campaigns, and anti-criminalization movements. We asked them to share their insights on the current political climate, how we can build a vision for the world we want, and what funders can do in this moment. This month, FFJ staff interviewed Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. (The Ella Baker Center is a leader in the Freedom Cities Movement. In case you missed last month’s funder briefing and webinar, then you can read our recap.)  

Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and FFJ Advisor. Photo courtesy of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

How do you understand the political moment that we’re in? What do you think we need to do differently right now? 

I think we need to shot for the moon. There is this game called hearts I think where you are losing so bad that you can invert things and shoot for the moon to win big. It is not that I think that we are losing that bad but clearly things are difficult and our communities are under attack.  What’s clear to me is that this is an unstable political moment and one that is ripe for change. It gives us an opportunity and also shows the necessity of pushing for transformation not just reform.

That level of change requires a deep re-examination of the country’s past and a fundamental reorientation in shaping the future.

Truth and Reinvestment is our vision to achieve this change—it is both a conversation, and a call to action. “Truth” means reckoning with the reality of racial injustice in our country. It means talking about how our country has continuously prioritized and profited from shackles, walls, and jails in communities of color – from slavery to Jim Crow to our current criminal justice system. “Reinvestment” means rejecting these priorities and advancing solutions that create opportunity for our families and neighborhoods, particularly those who have been harmed by lack of investment and prejudicial policies.

It’s a time of immense challenge, but also of rapid politicization of people and institutions, creating tremendous new opportunities and wins. Have you seen any unexpected wins recently? 

Despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rhetoric and his attempts to ramp up the so-called war on drugs, in CA Governor Brown just signed a bill that eliminates unfair and unnecessary mandatory drug sentence enhancements. The RISE Act’s passage is one of the most significant rollbacks of the so-called war on drugs in decades. It demonstrates what can happen when powerful grassroots organizations, allies, and progressive lawmakers work together.

In fact, the Governor signed a slate of positive reforms to the youth and adult justice systems. This is a local silver lining to a gloomy federal cloud because I am not sure the Governor would have wanted to stand out so much without the desire to be seen as being in opposition to Trump.

What are some of ways that EBC connects its local work with national movements? 

Recognizing the need for a visionary approach to the challenges facing all communities under attack by the new political regime, Enlace, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration, organizations with decades of experience organizing and advocating for women, Black and immigrant families, and poor and low-wage workers, have united to initiate Freedom Cities.

Freedom Cities is an emerging movement that seeks to make cities, towns, and communities safe for all oppressed people in the U.S. Freedom Cities was conceived by those directly affected by policies that incarcerate, displace, and marginalize communities of color.  We believe that communities will only be safe when everyone lives with dignity and has the opportunity to thrive without fear of physical violence, racial injustice, and economic oppression at the hands of greedy corporations, white supremacists,  or the government.

What is EBC building that is about a vision for the communities that you want to have? 

I’d like to lift up two examples: Night Out for Safety and Liberation and Restore Oakland.

Too often, conversations about public safety revolve around punishment and fear. Safety is about more than that—it’s about having a living wage job, healthy food, and being able to afford childcare, healthcare, and housing. That’s why we partner with allies across the country to host Night Out for Safety and Liberation, when people come together to redefine what #SafetyIs: dignity, opportunity, and power in our communities.

Restore Oakland is a joint initiative between the Ella Baker Center and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. It will be a community advocacy and training center that will empower Bay Area community members to transform our economic and justice systems and make a safe and secure future possible for themselves and for their families.

What should funders be doing in this moment to support social change and transformation work over the immediate moment and sustain it over the longer term? 

Don’t give up if you don’t see change right away. Good organizing takes time. The Ella Baker Center helped lead a campaign to close 5 of 8 CA youth prisons, without diminishing public safety. In fact, I think young people are better off as a result. The campaign took nearly a decade. Yet the investment was worth it. Longterm victories like these tend to have outsized impact because they shift the boundaries of the possible.

About the author
Zachary Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and a former director of the Books Not Bars campaign.
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June 12, 2019

NFG Announces Transition of President Dennis Quirin

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

OAKLAND, CA — On July 19, Dennis Quirin will step down as President of Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation in September. NFG’s Vice President of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and Vice President of Operations, Sarita Ahuja, will serve as Interim Co-Directors to shepherd the organization through the executive transition. A search for NFG’s next President will begin in late 2019.

“The courageous and bold leadership that Dennis exhibits is exactly what this moment requires. Today, NFG stands strong and in solidarity with the movements we are all in service of advancing. It has been an honor to work with someone who aligns their values with their actions as consistently as Dennis does. On behalf of the board, I am excited to welcome the next leader who will carry on NFG’s mission supporting grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive,” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

In his six-year tenure as President, Dennis has overseen tremendous expansion in NFG’s membership, operations, and programming. NFG's institutional membership has more than doubled, with now over 115 foundations around the country participating as members in programs focused on shifting power and money in philanthropy towards justice. NFG’s team has also grown to 15 staff members located in six states across the US. Dennis has launched the Amplify Fund, a multimillion-dollar collaborative fund for equitable development, and Philanthropy Forward, a foundation CEO fellowship. He has also fostered new directions in programming addressing issues such as gentrification and displacement, racial justice and police accountability, just transition to a new economy, rural organizing, and the changing landscape of workers’ rights.

“It has been a great privilege to lead this organization as it activates philanthropy to support social justice and power building,” said Dennis. “Nearing its 40th year, NFG is now in the strongest position it has ever been, and will no doubt continue to grow and build upon what we have accomplished together during my time here. I am excited to take what I’ve learned and apply these lessons in my new role at the Raikes Foundation.” 

“Dennis’s visionary leadership over the past six years has strengthened NFG as a community where funders gain relationships and tools to move more resources to organizing and powerbuilding,” said Sarita. “We are grateful to Dennis for building NFG into the thriving organization it is today,” added Adriana, “and look forward to welcoming a new leader in 2020.”

NFG’s executive search will be announced later in 2019 and will be open nationally to candidates. More immediate questions about the search can be sent to Shannon Lin, Communications Manager, at shannon@nfg.org

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Read more: "A New Chapter — for Me and for NFG"

 

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May 9, 2019

Building Power in the Sunshine State: Lessons from FJE’s Florida Learning Tour

In April 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Florida Philanthropic Network brought together funders from across the country and community organizing leaders in Florida to explore how diverse communities in the state are building power and political infrastructure for workers’ rights, migrant justice, women’s rights, and more.

Sienna BaskinSienna Baskin, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Fund at NEO Philanthropy, shares her experience from the learning tour. You can follow Sienna at @SiennaBaskin and NEO at@NEOPhilanthropy

Would you be able to come from the frozen Northeast to a resort in Ft. Myers without relishing the feeling of your toes in sandals or the warm bay breezes? I know these were my first impressions as I landed for the Funders for a Just Economy Florida Funder Tour. But as we left the sunshine to enter a darkened conference room, our eyes adjusted to read the first slide: “Racial Capitalism and Resistance in the Sunshine State.” As funders, many of us tourists and outsiders, we were invited in to learn the real story of Florida.

During this introduction to the tour, we learned that the inequities Floridians are suffering were sown in the earliest days of European colonization, and the roots of revolt stretch just as far back. By the 1800’s, Native Seminole communities were a haven for escaped slaves, and some of the largest anti-slavery uprisings were launched from these enclaves. Post-reconstruction, this blossoming of freedom was repressed with an especially brutal reign of the KKK – Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of any southern state. Florida also passed the first “Right to Work” law in the nation, disenfranchising African American communities to maintain the status quo, and built the tourism sector with leased convict labor. Considering these challenges, Cuban, Spanish and Italian workers built strong unions and mounted many strikes at cigar-rolling factories. In 1968 it was out of a failed sanitation strike in St. Petersburg that one of the fastest growing multiracial unions in the south — SEIU Florida Public Service Union – was born. And just this week, Florida passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in the country, banning sanctuary cities and requiring local government agencies to cooperate with ICE.

Learning tour participants sit at tables to listen to local community organizers in a colorful room surrounded by posters.

Photos by Arista Collective

This sense of a violent swing from liberation to repression and back again permeated our time in Florida. We met many of the brilliant leaders riding these waves. They had much to teach us. Like the country at large, Florida is almost perfectly balanced between progressive possibility and conservative ideology. Every election is won or lost by 1%, but a Republican stronghold has held onto power. This means organizers must find ways to engage conservatives around shared values, build an alternate narrative powerful enough to contest for governing power and move the apolitical (30% of voters are unaffiliated), or create new systems of accountability and power outside of government.

We heard examples of all of these strategies. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition recently won a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people with criminal records by connecting with returning citizens, their families, and the wider community around a sense of justice, not by arguing politics. Alliance for Safety and Justice organizes crime victims around criminal justice reform by talking about failures in public safety. The Statewide Alignment Group, an alliance of 7 organizations including Florida Immigration Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Faith in Florida, are building a new electorate through leadership development, community-based popular education, and ballot initiatives, with Medicaid expansion, automatic voter registration and $15 minimum wage in their sights. The Miami Workers Center organizes victims of domestic violence and domestic workers to fight the feminization of poverty with a shared agenda. All aspire to a new definition of civic engagement, where working people are authors of the laws that affect them, an audacious goal in a state that has long repressed workers. This requires not being “prisoners of the moment” as Alphonso Mayfield of the SEIU called it, but seeing where even failure leads to future change, if there is deep collaboration and engagement over years.

Nelly Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers speaks to learning tour participants sitting at a table with her.We also visited Immokalee, a town of migrant workers, small bodegas and vast tomato and citrus farms. Around bright oilcloth-covered tables we heard about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' famous human rights program, built to change the slavery-like conditions on industrial farms. By holding the brands at the top of the supply chain accountable for enforcing worker protections and threatening the loss of sales for farm owners if they did not sign up, workers were able to institute higher pay and standards than even the law requires. Surrounded by hand-painted signs from their marches against Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other corporate giants, we saw the potential of this program, born of necessity in one of the most oppressive regions and industries in the country for low-wage workers.

Unfortunately, philanthropy is not always walking with these activists. While Florida is perceived as a wealthy state, we learned that there are almost no social justice funders in Florida, especially for workers or immigrant rights. Many holders of wealth hail from outside of Florida, and think of the state as their vacation or retirement spot, not where they should be giving back. And national funders aren’t always investing in the most impactful ways. Money pours into Florida for disaster response or to swing the state during election years, focused on numbers, not depth or long-term engagement. These kinds of resources may lead to the problem of “burnt turf,” when voters don’t trust that organizers are really working in their best interest. For long term grassroots investment, Florida often falls through the cracks.

Two people on the learning tour sit in a bus looking out onto farm fields.

Photos by Arista Collective

The Contigo Fund showed us one example of how to do things differently. After the massacre of 49 LGBTQ Latinx young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a combined effort through crowdfunding and traditional philanthropy raised 30 million for the families and survivors, and 3 million more was raised for longer term efforts. The Contigo Fund carried out an assessment to learn how the community identified the conditions they were facing, the gaps in resources, and their hopes and dreams for change. The resulting grants promoted 37 new LGBTQ leaders of color into positions of power, launched new programs for LGBTQ communities in existing organizations, and helped found 11 new organizations led by LGBTQ people of color in central Florida.

Tarell McCraney, writer of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” called Miami “a beautiful nightmare.”  My sense, after soaking in Florida sunsets and hearing from these activists, is that this moniker could apply to the entire state. Florida has suffered many traumas: historical, environmental, collective and individual. It is top in the nation for poverty-wage jobs, has the highest rate of ICE arrests in the country, and was home to half of all US murders of trans people in 2018. But it also has enormous potential, potential Florida activists and organizers can feel. Some of the most brilliant organizing strategies in the country are emerging from this state, out of the urgency of the moment and the creativity of activists overcoming high barriers. These are the strategies we need to turn this whole country around. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center shared her belief that out of healing can come collective action, and without this action, healing is incomplete. Philanthropy has an opportunity to help move this, and all the other exciting ideas in Florida, to a place of flourishing.

More about the tour: Tour Agenda | Speaker Bios | Attendees List

We are so grateful to the organizations that worked with us on this tour: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alianza for Progress, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Community Justice ProjectContigo Fund, Dream Defenders, Faith in Florida, Fair Food Standards Council, Family Action Network Movement, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida New Majority, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Miami Workers Center, Organize Florida, QLatinx, SEIU Public Services Union of Florida, VIDA Legal Assistance, WeCount!