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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May 4, 2021

Introducing Philanthropy Foward: Cohort 3

 

We are excited to announce the launch of Philanthropy Forward's Cohort 3 in partnership with The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions!

Philanthropy Forward is a CEO fellowship community for visionary leaders who center racial and gender justice and community power building to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy. This fellowship brings together CEOs of foundations who are supporting racial & gender justice and community power building to make deeper change at the individual, organizational, and philanthropic field levels.

  • ALEYAMMA MATHEW, she/her — Collective Future Fund
  • AMORETTA MORRIS, she/her — Borealis Philanthropy
  • ANA CONNER, they/she — Third Wave Fund
  • CARLA FREDERICKS, she/her — The Christensen Fund
  • CRAIG DRINKARD, he/him — Victoria Foundation
  • JENNIFER CHING, she/her — North Star Fund
  • JOHN BROTHERS, he/him — T. Rowe Price Foundation
  • KIYOMI FUJIKAWA, she/her — Third Wave Fund
  • LISA OWENS, she/her — Hyams Foundation
  • MOLLY SCHULTZ HAFID, she/her — Butler Family Fund
  • NICK DONOHUE, he/him — Nellie Mae Education Foundation
  • NICOLE PITTMAN, she/her — Just Beginnings Collaborative
  • PHILIP LI, he/him — Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
  • RAJASVINI BHANSALI, she/they — Solidaire Network & Solidaire Action Fund
  • RINI BANERJEE, she/her — Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation
  • TANUJA DEHNE, she/her — Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
  • YANIQUE REDWOOD, she/her — Consumer Health Foundation

learn more about each Fellow!

With a framework focused on liberated gatekeeping, accountability practices, and strategic risk taking, Philanthropy Forward is a dedicated space for leaders to organize together and boldly advance the transformed future of the sector. This growing fellowship of visionary CEOs from progressive philanthropic institutions is aligning to to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy.

Philanthropy Forward is a joint initiative started in 2018 by Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. Learn more about the fellowship here.

March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.