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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December 10, 2018

Welcome to the new NFG website!

Thank you for visiting Neighborhood Funders Group's new website! We've completely redesigned and improved how it works to make it easier than ever for our members to use as an online resource.

We're currently in soft launch mode before we publicly announce the new site in January 2019, so thanks for taking an initial sneak peek! Please excuse our digital dust as we finish testing all of the features of our new website. You can find a temporary archive of our old site at old.nfg.org.

What new features can you find on the site?

  • Search the entire website for news, events, and resources using the search bar at the top of every page
  • See where all of the members of our national network are based, right on our member map 
  • Discover more related content, tagged by topic and format, at the bottom of every page
  • Look up NFG member organizations in our member directory
  • Log in to view individual contacts in the member directory and register for events in the future

If your organization is an NFG member, first check to see if your account has already been created for you. Click "Forgot Password" on the log in page and try entering your work email address to activate your account and set your password.

Let us know at support@nfg.org if you come across any issues logging in, or anywhere else on the site. Stay tuned for our official launch announcement, and thanks for visiting!

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December 4, 2018

From Sector Newcomer to Board Member

Marjona Jones joined the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock four years ago after working in the field as an organizer for 14 years. She came to Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) through an existing relationship between Veatch and NFG: Molly Schultz Hafid, former assistant director at Veatch, also served as an NFG board member and co-chair for the Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) working group. “She was outgoing co-chair when I was hired at Veatch — the relationships she had built through that working group were important to me as well because I also worked around economic equity,” says Marjona. Initially, NFG was a space of learning for Marjona as a newcomer to the sector:

I joined [FJE’s] program committee, and then was invited to join the coordinating committee. It was an education! It was really about supporting the working group in order to create opportunities for funders to come together, hear about grantees, and think about how to create more space within philanthropy for this. That takes building relationships within philanthropy. That takes creating more breadth for funders to leverage what we have, and more, for our grantees. We’ve got to do that by educating one another within philanthropy.

NFG was also a space of affirmation and sustenance for Marjona, whose organizing background and perspective from the field anchors her work as a grantmaker and informs her relationships with grantees. At NFG, she found a commitment to racial and economic justice that matched her own. She has gone on to become centrally involved in NFG, joining Funders for Justice (FFJ), participating in Project Phoenix, and now serving on NFG’s board. 

An Intersectional Framework

NFG centers people in its work, helping funders understand the meaning of an intersectional analysis and apply it to their grantmaking. Marjona lifts up FJE’s Working at the Intersections program as an example:

Something I really want to share is a report that Working at the Intersections put out [titled Journey Towards Intersectional Grant-making] about best practices for how we want and need to support work at the intersections of identity. “Intersectional” is often just a buzzword, and so we thought it would be good to offer understanding around how that perspective plays out, and how it plays out within philanthropy too.

To me, it was a beautiful convening that we did [with Working at the Intersections]. It really opened up folks to talk about what it is we deal with as women of color within philanthropy. We need to be mindful about how that impacts the field of philanthropy, and how we move our work. There are layers that we have to be very intentional about if we really care about justice liberation and how all those things intersect. If we aren’t mindful of this, we can be really shortsighted then in funding program work because we are so siloed in philanthropy — ‘This week she will show up as a worker, next week she will show up as a woman, the following week as a person of color…’

Because of [Veatch’s’ general support grants], our funding isn’t requiring people to carve up their identities, which I think is a disservice. Requiring people to show up in this way sometimes impacts and distracts from the work.

In speaking about how NFG promotes an intersectional approach in the philanthropic sector, Marjona also highlights her participation in NFG’s Project Phoenix: Connecting Democracy, Economy, and Sustainability, a year-long cohort collective learning program for funders. For Project Phoenix, the term “new economy” means intersectional activities with an intention to support a democracy that works for all, an economy that provides good jobs and promotes local economic prosperity, the growth of ecologically sustainable and non-extractive sectors, and a re-prioritization of the role of capital in society to better serve these goals. Marjona shares how participating in Project Phoenix expanded her understanding about environmental grantmaking:

Project Phoenix really helped me understand my work a great deal, because it was focused on democracy and the environment. It was hard for me as a general support funder to see our role in moving that work because we have an environmental portfolio, but we didn’t have a way of supporting those intersections [of racial and economic justice].

Project Phoenix was helpful for me to understand all the different ways the work that we fund had a place [in the environmental landscape]. It was important for me to understand where we fit in the larger field of philanthropy. And it was also really helpful to understand our current socio-economic moment — capitalism, it extracts not just resources from the ground but it extracts resources from working-class, poor communities; it extracts people, it extracts lives, it extracts health. Prisoners are used as free labor to make goods and then those goods are sold back to us. It extracts our wealth — from the way the banking system works to the way it suppresses wages.  

So it helped me understand when you are talking about climate change and environmental protections, you need to be talking about worker protections, and housing, and health, and education. All of these things are connected. You can’t talk about these things in a vacuum. Those organizations that are focused on the environment without thinking about people need to be focused on people as well.

Amplifying Resources and Awareness in Critical Times 

Marjona shares an example of how NFG plays a powerful and responsive role in amplifying resources for racial justice through the network of funders with whom the organization has built a shared values framework and provided concrete, immediate avenues for funders to take action. With the organizers in 2014 who were taking a stand on the ground to protest the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Marjona understood the importance of supporting them with navigating the same criminal justice system that was being used to target and intimidate them. She worked closely with NFG’s Funders for Justice program staff to convene a conference call to mobilize resources and support the organizers’ legal costs: 

There were protests happening in St. Louis, and they needed emergency funds for bail support and organizers to work on legal aspects such as defending people, going with them to court, and helping them through the process. I felt that was critical because it is something that gets left out of grant proposals. People are going to put their freedom on the line — what happens to them once they are arrested, charged, and have to go to court? This is a concern especially in St. Louis, where folks are often new or first time offenders.

I remember emailing Lorraine [Ramirez, Senior Program Manager] at Funders for Justice, asking, ‘Can you send this out to the listserv?’ And she said, ‘Why don’t we do a call?’ I helped get folks on the phone, and they ended up getting support. It wasn’t a large call; it was just a handful of funders. But, I feel like if there had not been FFJ, I would have had to do that legwork myself, and to be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to call funders individually to get that support while I had the work of my docket. I could not have brought people to the table so quickly on the strength of my own relationships.  

Because NFG has been organizing within philanthropy over the years with convenings and webinars, they have built up integrity in the field. People know to go to NFG if they have questions about black organizing and police brutality. So when NFG puts a call out asking if we can move resources for something, people will join and pony up.

Supporting Members to Engage Actively 

The ways that NFG supports its members to go deeper and develop a broader understanding of their role and potential for impact is important to Marjona in her work:

I think folks [at NFG] understand that we need to organize. They understand that philanthropy has to be as organized as we expect our grantees to be. NFG’s convenings and information sharing help create conditions so that can happen. A lot of [the staff at NFG] are former organizers... I said it before, and I will say it again, I don’t know if I would still be in philanthropy if it had not been for NFG.

Veatch has always had a commitment to racial justice, but we have increased our giving to over a million dollars to racial justice organizing — and part of that was from our work with NFG. We said to ourselves, ‘Yes, we are doing this, but we can do more. So let’s figure out how to be creative, and how to support our colleagues in being creative as well.’

After what happened with the Ferguson uprising, there was so much handwringing on the left. Helping to break through that to take action was important — because this isn’t just about Missouri, and this goes beyond Michael Brown. This is about the nation. It helped people do something, get in the game, and be public about how they were going to support that work. Was it perfect? Hell no! Especially when you have got money and power in the mix. But it did move funders in the right direction, and that’s what we need. Because it’s really easy to sit in our offices and say, ‘I [only] have this much money, and I have to get this docket out the door.’ But we have a greater responsibility. NFG helps you understand that greater responsibility, as well as how you can take that responsibility, hone it, and bring it into the program work