Building the Road to Belonging: Three Ways Philanthropy Can Help End Mass Criminalization

By Connie Cagampang Heller and Alexander Saingchin

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Fall 2015

Police Shooting Kills Sleeping 7-Year-Old Girl During Drug Raid.
Police Kill 12-Year-Old Boy Playing with Plastic Gun.
Young Man, 14 Years Old, Tried as an Adult.
Woman Who Acted in Self-Defense Now Serving Life Sentence

Have you found yourself thinking something urgently needs to change after seeing headlines about the latest abuses perpetrated by the criminal justice system? How did criminalization become a defining characteristic of American society? What can we in philanthropy do about it? In this article, we will look at some of the reasons why, as a society, we have taken a punitive approach to criminal justice, give some examples of how people who are directly impacted are creating change, and finally offer three philanthropic strategies to support authentic partnerships with movements challenging mass incarceration.

Sadly, it may not surprise you to learn that the victims in each of the previous stories were people of color. But perhaps it might surprise you that a recent study published by Stanford University shows that white people are more likely to support harsh criminal justice policies even when they know those policies disproportionately apply to people of color. When shown a video of mug shots, white San Franciscans were more likely to support reform if the video included a higher percentage of white people than if it included a higher percentage of African Americans. In other words, rather than being moved to action by the injustice of dramatic racial disparity, the participants continued to support a punitive, rather than rehabilitative, approach when confronted with a racially-biased criminal justice system. Indeed, racial prejudice can be subconscious and deeply rooted.

Mass criminalization is an expression of underlying racism and implicit bias that has been present, both structurally and culturally, in our society for decades. Policies at the local, state and federal levels have been designed to exclude certain groups, notably Black and Native people – fortifying a labyrinth of barriers to full political participation with the cumulative effects of social oppression, reduced economic choice and multigenerational trauma. The Making of Ferguson by Richard Rothstein highlights how past and present housing, banking and education funding policies continue to segregate and discriminate against communities of color in cities across the country.

Mass criminalization is an egregious area of racism and segregation in our country. Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” has caused the U.S. to spend billions of dollars on arrests and prison sentencing that disproportionately target communities of color and dehumanize Black people in particular, with catastrophic outcomes for these communities and the erosion of Civil Rights Era gains. The California Endowment’s Do the Math: Schools vs. Prisons campaign revealed that Californians “spend $62,300 a year to keep one inmate in prison, and just $9,100 per year per student in our public schools.” But, in the past 35 years, California has built 22 new prisons, but only one campus for the University of California. These spending choices come at a huge societal cost for everyone and lay bare the extent to which we have reinstated cultural and legal criminalization and ultimately social separation of people of color.

Given this cultural and political backdrop, addressing mass criminalization requires structural solutions to dismantle unjust policies and their effects. We need to build a movement that proffers an expansive vision of who belongs and a policy platform that holds membership and inclusion for all communities as its central principle – and establishes political power for communities with less of it.

To do this, funders will need to learn to partner authentically with those most impacted by the reaches of the criminal justice system to advance short- and long-term solutions that shift how society views formerly incarcerated people (disproportionately people of color) and their families. Grassroots, community-led groups that organize those directly affected by an issue are best positioned to understand the needs of these communities – and have the appropriate solutions to solve them. These groups work to be accountable to their community, activating community members to participate in political action that addresses the root causes of structural racism and the policies that embody it. By coming together with allies and the resources needed to succeed, these groups are building movements that challenge the stories we tell about ourselves and each other and ensure that we have a healthy democracy by and for the people.

Take, for example, the growing movement to end hiring discrimination against formerly incarcerated people (FIPs). In 2003, community organizers who had been formerly incarcerated convened in Oakland and New Orleans to discuss the challenges their communities faced, including the lack of voting and employment rights, as well as other issues that affect people in prison and after their release. They agreed to organize both locally and nationally under the banner All of Us or None (AOUON), and to prioritize a campaign to “Ban the Box,” or remove the check box for convicted felons on applications for public employment.

What followed was simply inspirational. By organizing FIPs and their families, investing in their leadership and building long-term alliances with other grassroots groups, AOUON won numerous victories across the country. San Francisco was the first municipality to Ban the Box on public employment applications; other cities in California followed. In 2011, AOUON helped found the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM), a bottom-up alliance of groups organizing FIPs that gave an added boost to the national Ban the Box campaign. Now, more than 100 cities or counties and 18 states have removed questions about conviction history from their public employment applications, and President Obama is considering an executive order to do so for all federal contractors. The campaign continues with its expansive vision to Ban the Box everywhere, including on housing, business and professional licensure applications. It seeks to end all forms of discrimination against people with criminal records, and truly offer people a fair chance.

These victories required the development of political power for those with little of it and applying a racial justice lens. AOUON is committed to bringing the people most impacted by mass criminalization into the movement to share their struggles and appeal to elected officials. To overcome long-held racial stereotypes and advance policy change, we must show the humanity of people with past convictions. It is easy to mistreat an anonymous “criminal” other; it is quite different to relentlessly punish someone you know and care about. Indeed, AOUON’s victories have come from telling real stories about real people’s lives – and empowering those same people to make visionary demands of our democracy.

This is just one example; the movement to end mass criminalization provides many more. The imperative for funders is to support these efforts without getting in the way (a historical challenge). This requires authentic partnership with movement. Here’s how:

  1. Support grassroots, community-led groups that organize those who stand most to win or lose from an issue, and codesign funding priorities with them. AOUON developed the Ban the Box campaign by advancing a vision created by impacted communities, cultivating leadership within those communities and building a broad political base ready to demand action to address structural racism and the policies that embody it.
  2. Support regional and national convenings of groups organizing FIPs, their families and families with incarcerated children to facilitate movement-building. Funding for grassroots organizing has been far too limited, inhibiting community-led groups from engaging in the critical relationship-building and strategy alignment needed to build a stronger criminal justice reform movement. Funders need to provide sufficient resources to groups to design these convenings (including planning time, travel funds and support for facilitation) so those involved can create their own agendas and work toward desired outcomes.
  3. Approach the issue with root causes in mind – and where they intersect with other issues – with the long-term aim to dismantle structural racism and build a new paradigm of inclusiveness and belonging. Several community-led and movement groups have already developed analysis on the intersection between criminal justice, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights and/or corporate accountability. For example, it is no coincidence that the private prison industry has lobbied aggressively for regressive policies around prison construction, immigration detention and expanded policing. Groups such as Enlace, BreakOUT!, Black Alliance for Just ImmigrationPUENTE Human Rights Movement and FIERCE are making these connections, helping build a stronger movement. They are supported by funder collaboratives, like the Sunrise Fund, that recognize the power of policy-change campaigns led by the people most impacted.

Yes, something does have to urgently change if we want to stop the inhumane treatment and senseless killings of low-income Black, Brown and Native people. Philanthropy can and must play a role. The road to belonging starts by acknowledging that conscious and unconscious racial animosity has been a driving force in shaping the policies that led us to this era of mass criminalization. If we are to not only undo the harm that it has already caused, but also to advance an inclusive and just vision for society, philanthropy must walk in authentic partnership with the movement toward racial justice that has sprung up all around us. Is philanthropy up to the task?

Connie Cagampang Heller of the Linked Fate Fund for Justice at Common Counsel Foundation has been actively engaged in grantmaking and donor organizing for more than a decade. The Linked Fate Fund supports grassroots organizing and intermediaries dedicated to dismantling systemic racial inequity and building inclusive democracy. '

Alexander W. Saingchin, program officer at Common Counsel Foundation, oversees a set of family foundation and donor-advised fund portfolios with a strong focus on racial justice. Common Counsel Foundation also hosts the Social and Economic Justice Fund, a pooled fund for movement building that has recently focused on criminal justice reform.

 

Read the original post on NCRP.org.

 

December 10, 2018

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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