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.
Find More By:

News type: 
April 21, 2022

(Re)Sharing NFG's National Convening update + more events: NFG's April 2022 Newsletter

Neighborhood Funders Group is re-sharing the announcement about our National Convening that we made earlier this month.  

We are shifting the timing of our National Convening in Wilmington, North Carolina from June 2022 to Spring 2023.

Convening is NFG’s ‘superpower,’ and the most frequently named reason for why we are many funders’ political home in philanthropy. Many of us are feeling more open to in-person connection with funder colleagues and grantee partners; excitement about the post-session hallway scheming that happens at NFG convenings; and ready for the impromptu fun that comes from in-person time together, including late night (Covid-safe!) karaoke sessions with both new and long-time friends and colleagues. And, we're continuing to be mindful that we have not been at a moment like this ever before in our lifetimes.

The decision to shift our convening to 2023 was informed by ongoing, thoughtful conversations with NFG’s staff & board of directors, our convening co-chairs who are grantmakers in the region, our Amplify Fund grantee partners that are building power in Eastern North Carolina, and our event planners (Girl Friday Events) about Covid considerations and how & when we want to intentionally regather in-person.

How we regather and build community as safely and accessibly as possible during an ongoing pandemic — where there are no known/clear solutions — requires all of us to think as adaptive leaders. How we come back together as a community requires more conversations, time, and co-created paths forward.

Over the next months, we will continue our convening program planning. When we come back together for this National Convening in 2023, we’re committed to creating a convening space that is rooted in joy, camaraderie, care, and fun; showcases how groups in Eastern North Carolina are building power locally; and moves money to BIPOC communities. Our first convening back together in-person after more than two years will be nothing short of a spectacular reunion. 

Stay tuned for more convening announcements to come! And keep reading for our robust list of upcoming events hosted by NFG and our partners, including:

In community,
The NFG Team

read the newsletter

 

Find More By:

News type: 
March 24, 2022

Sharing NFG's refreshed theory of change: NFG's March 2022 Newsletter

Neighborhood Funders Group has shared snippets of our new theory of change in each of our newsletters so far this year. 

In January, we unveiled our long-term outcome: Philanthropic assets are liberated so that BIPOC communities and low-income communities have power to self-determine. In February, we applied this outcome to NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy program — which organizes funders committed to supporting economic justice and worker power to rebuild an economy and democracy that works for all, ensures good quality jobs, and promotes prosperity and health. 

Now, we’re excited to share our full theory of change! This process started in 2021 when we revisited our initial strategic framework that was developed three years prior. A board and staff committee came together for this work. We spoke to co-chairs of NFG programs. And we worked with the phenomenal Luminare Group who also partnered with us in 2018 on our initial strategic framework.

We began by affirming what we still held as true and core in our strategic framework while also naming our curiosities. What we found (and still find) unique and powerful in the process of developing our theory of change are the conversations and connections, the clarity named, and the commitments made. Over the course of 2021, we affirmed and refined these elements of our theory of change: the problem we seek to address, our guiding principles and values, assumptions, context, strategies and our outcomes. We also identified the evidence (empirical and experiential) that informs us. We did this so that we can be clear on our commitments, push ourselves and our work, learn from what we try on, and be accountable to you and each other.

As I shared in my January message: We know that this is a critical time for philanthropy. More people are amassing wealth, leading to more billionaires entering philanthropy and the creation of more DAFs and private foundations. There continues to be wealth hoarding among individual and foundation donors. Many foundations persist in adhering to a minimum 5% payout while endowments continue to grow. And we are seeing some positive shifts with foundations spending down the assets they’ve been holding and shifting their investment practices. Many more funders are centering trust, community power building, and decentralized decision-making in their grantmaking.

Given this context, we named key assumptions to inform our work going forward:

  • Philanthropy is at a choice point. The sector has an opportunity to shift and transform, and some grantmakers are making that choice. Others continue to pull back and maintain the status quo. 

  • Different practices are possible in philanthropy when guided by an analysis that centers root causes and intersectional analysis.

  • It will take examples and stories of how to increase spend out, transform investments, and change philanthropic practices to show the way.

  • Progress toward our theory of change outcomes will take a broad base of funders: those interested in racial, gender, economic, disability, and climate justice beginning their journey and those leading the way who are funder organizers and leaders.

  • All of us in philanthropy — Black, Indigenous, people of color, and white people — can transform our understanding to be greater leaders for justice. Even though all of us are implicated, who leads matters! Who is leading will shape how and what we fund.  

Our refreshed theory of change document is a commitment, an aspiration, and a blueprint for how NFG wants to be in our work and in our relationships with our community.

This theory of change will move us toward the following outcomes:

  • Philanthropy is led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders who have experience in building community power 

  • Philanthropic practices shift power to BIPOC communities and are grounded in trust 

  • Racial, gender, economic, disability, and climate justice is funded with all philanthropic assets 

And it will guide how we partner, plan programming, and co-conspire with our community of grantmakers to liberate philanthropic assets so that BIPOC and low-income communities have power to self-determine.

We look forward to being in community with you to make this transformation together. 
 

Onwards,
Adriana

read the newsletter

 

Find More By:

News type: