Feature: Freedom Inc.’s Creative Response to the Criminalization of Black Communities in Madison, Wisconsin

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice has been supporting Freedom Inc. (FI) for 4 years. FI was founded in 2003, is based in Madison, WI and has used particularly creative and inspiring strategies to respond to oppression, racism and violence. FI works to end violence within and against low and no income communities of color. They work at the intersection of prison abolition, LGBT rights, education rights, and reproductive justice. FI aims to challenge the fundamental root causes of violence through leadership development and community organizing in Black and Southeast Asian, particularly Hmong communities in Madison. Their programs also aim to change cultural norms into which young people are socialized and build capacity for youth as leaders in their communities to organize for institutional change and accountability. In 2001, FI was recognized by Obama as a “champion of change” for their work against gender based violence.

On March 6th of this year, Tony Robinson a 19 year-old, “was shot five times and killed by Officer Matt Kenny in a stairwell at a friend’s apartment. Tony’s friend called the police seeking help for his friend, who was allegedly jumping in and out of traffic. However, instead of helping him, Officer Kenny broke into the apartment and fatally shot him five times.” As part of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, FI has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the issue of police brutality in light of Robinson’s murder. Rather than a federal investigation, the coalition has called for the UN Human Rights Commission and Organization of American States investigation to examine the murder.

Since Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson, FI youth have been building solidarity with Ferguson activists and sharing their Human Rights framework. According to their online petition, “the greater Madison, Wisconsin area, including all of Dane County, is home to some of the greatest racial disparities in the United States. The Black unemployment rate is 5 times higher than that of Whites, and 54% of Blacks live in poverty compared to 8.7% of Whites. Black people make up just 4.8% of Dane County's general population, but 44% of the new jail inmate population, the highest racial arrest disparity in the United States.” FI is also demanding that Dane County officials reject the proposed jail expansion, release the 350 Black inmates incarcerated as part of structural racism, end the practices that got them in jail in the first place and invest the $8 million that is not spent on incarcerating Black communities on Black led initiatives in Madison.

Along with FI, Astraea’s other grantee partners are carrying out “Know Your Rights” trainings and producing police training manuals for the fair treatment of LGBTQ people; using transformative justice approaches to hate violence; mobilizing against policies that criminalize LGBTQ migrants; getting police departments to adopt LGBT protocols and working to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex. In the past two years, Streetwise and Safe and Audre Lorde Project worked with Communities United for Police Reform, a cross-movement coalition, to pass the Community Safety Act in NYC. Community United Against Violence pushed to pass historic legislation limiting ICE's controversial fingerprint-sharing "Secure Communities" (S-Comm) program in California and preventing the criminalization of queer and trans migrants. Providence Youth Student Movement moved forward the Rhode Island Racial Profiling Prevention Act and is working to pass the City of Providence Community Safety Act, Audre Lorde Project helped pass the Medicaid and Welfare Justice Campaign that provides trans* inclusive health care in New York, and Power Inside worked to pass the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act in Maryland.

The LGBTQ organizations we support are led by the people most affected by systems of oppression: people of color, youth, trans women of color, people in the sex trades, homeless or unstably housed people, migrants and people with experience of incarceration. Their work is intersectional at its core, bringing together issues of race, gender identity and expression, sexuality, class and immigration status, among others. Astraea’s focus on anti-criminalization reflects a priority identified by the movement. A report published by FIERCE in 2014 Moving Up, Fighting Back: Creating a Path to LGBTQ Youth Liberation, revealed that the most critical issues impacting LGBTQ youth today are criminalization; policing; lack of housing; immigration restrictions; and concerns of safety and violence, including bias violence, school-based violence, and intimate partner/ sexual violence. Astraea understands criminalization and policing not as isolated cases of discrimination but as symptoms of systemic and structural oppression.

Our support to these organizations and movements aims to:

  • Increase police accountability, policies, protocols and measures to decrease police
    abuse against LGBTQ people.
  • Increase the resiliency and leadership capacity of populations most affected by criminalization.
  • Increase the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ people through transformative justice,
    healing justice, and other creative responses to violence.
  • Strengthen connectivity, communication, and synergy between LGBTQ organizations working against criminalization at a national level.

In the last four decades, Astraea’s U.S. Fund has strategically directed grants to people of color- led organizations and projects that advance LGBTQ racial and economic justice. In the past three years we have been listening and learning from our grantee partners and from the grassroots movements they lead, and we have deepened our commitment to support organizations and initiatives that stand against the criminalization of LGBTQI people of color and immigrant communities and that increase their safety. These organizations work against different forms of violence including interpersonal and institutional violence such as police violence and laws/policies that criminalize aspects of LGBTQ people’s lives, dignity and livelihoods.

We are inspired by the work of Freedom Inc. and our grantee partners who have been carving the rode for this current movement moment for over fifteen years.

July 12, 2019

Catalyzing a Movement for Health and Housing

By Lindsay Ryder, Neighborhood Funders Group; Alexandra Desautels, The California Endowment; Michael Brown, Seattle Foundations; and Chris Kabel, The Kresge Foundation.

Lindsay Ryder, Alexandra Desautels, Michael Brown, and Chris Kabel

In June 2019, Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) gathered nearly 90 funders at Grantmakers in Health’s national conference in Seattle for a panel discussion on how philanthropy can invest in community housing solutions. Despite the large number of concurrent sessions, funders filled the room to dig deep into the urgent issue of equitable housing — and what role health funders can play in addressing this critical health determinant.

The goals of the session, which was organized by NFG’s Democratizing Development Program, were to mobilize health funders to invest in housing solutions and to get more funders to support community readiness and community-centered strategies. The session featured three leaders pushing philanthropy to take action andto expand equity via healthy, affordable housing:

  • Alexandra Desautels, Program Manager, The California Endowment and partner in the Fund for an Inclusive California

  • Michael Brown, Civic Architect, Civic Commons, Seattle Foundation and recipient of the GIH 2018 Terrance Keenan Leadership Award

  • Chris Kabel, Senior Fellow, The Kresge Foundation and National Steering Committee member of NFG’s Amplify Fund

Two people riding green bikes in front of a large colorful mural on the side of a building.

Photo by Taylor Vick on Unsplash

Why Health and Housing?

The session kicked off with several funders in the room sharing why they, as health funders, care about housing. One table of grantmakers representing Indiana, Los Angeles, and Oregon acknowledged both the critical role housing plays in the health of individuals and communities, and how the complexity of addressing housing requires health funders to partner outside of their foundations to get it right and make an impact. Another table of funders from Ohio and Texas identified the intersection of safe housing and healthy birth outcomes as the driving force behind their interest in housing. One needs to look no further than the 2019 Annual Message released by the President of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled “Our Homes Are Key to Our Health,” to see how housing impacts health equity. Ultimately, as Alex Desautels of The California Endowment put it, “If you can’t get housing right, there’s not much else you can layer on to get communities healthy.”

Philanthropic models for supporting Health and Housing

Acknowledging the complexities surrounding health funders and housing, the session presenters shared their foundations’ approach to this issue. 

Michael Brown of the Seattle Foundation discussed the concentration of poverty, lack of services, increased isolation, and limited cultural/community centers that result from market-driven housing displacement. Using an approach of people, place, policy, and power, Seattle Foundation partnered with local government on a data-driven approach to identify communities in the greatest need of support. Working in South Seattle, the Foundation engaged with community members and advocates to create an investment strategy designed to build capacity for coalition work and community power, positioning these communities to engage at a policy- and systems change-level for sustained impact.

Meanwhile, The California Endowment found itself grappling with how to move capital to communities when it launched its Building Healthy Communities initiative in 2009 in the middle of the foreclosure crisis. Fast forward to the current day, and the Endowment is now also tackling compounding issues of supporting communities facing gentrification and displacement. Taking a similar power-building approach as the Seattle Foundation, the Endowment has focused is focusing on building capacity of community-based organizations via a place-based approach, recognizing that the history of segregation in this country has led to limited opportunities for people of color to live in communities where they can be healthy and that “place-based initiatives are designed to address that legacy,” as described by the Endowment’s Alex Desautels. 

Chris Kabel shared The Kresge Foundation’s complementary approach: funder collaboratives. Kresge’s mission is to expand opportunity for people with low incomes in America’s cities, a mission to which housing is fundamental. Kresge has been able to lean into housing by partnering with funder collaboratives such as Funders for Housing Opportunity, SPARCC, and NFG’s own Amplify Fund. Not only does this approach enable the foundation to pool and leverage other funders’ grants, it also allows them to fund place-based work in a way that’s fair and equitable — a common challenge for national foundations seeking to invest at the community level. In addition to participating in funder collaboratives, the Kresge Health program has made two rounds of grants to place-based practitioners through a national call for proposals titled Advancing Health Equity through Housing

What about the other 90 funders in the room?

There is no single model for health funders seeking to invest in housing. Nor are the approaches taken by Seattle Foundation, The California Endowment, or The Kresge Foundation — all of which are relatively large, well-resourced funding institutions — necessarily realistic for other funders. So, what other options are there? The individual contexts and experiences of the nearly 90 funders in the room was tapped to generate some collective wisdom:

  1. Whether through funder collaboratives or less formalized partnerships, team up with other funders, including individual donors in your region.

  2. Embrace the public sector as a key player. While philanthropy has historically shied away from housing with the underlying belief that it was “government’s responsibility,” private philanthropy has a critical role to play, regardless of what extent local/state/federal government is stepping up. Invest in the capacity of communities to build coalitions and yield power in decision-making that affects how and where they are able to live — and therefore how healthy they are able to be.

  3. Explore impact investing as a complement to grantmaking. Some of the most well-developed mission related investing work has been built around housing — whether it be investing directly to organizations to develop affordable housing units or by participating in larger funds managed by CDFIs that leverage additional public and private resources for housing. .

  4. Help shift the narrative around equitable housing. The dominant narrative of housing as a commodity has sidelined efforts around other models of affordable, safe, healthy housing that is not based on individual ownership. Similarly, the pejorative narrative around “trailer parks” has restricted an otherwise highly viable effort to utilize manufactured homes to get people into safe and healthy housing.

  5. Finally, don’t await crisis before acting! Funders should face the housing crisis head on as early as possible, bringing community representation to the table with public sector as well as private (market-based developers) at the earliest stage as possible to lay the groundwork for shared power and equitable solutions.

The role of Neighborhood Funders Group, and what next?

The work of NFG’s Democratizing Development Program is at the core of NFG’s nearly 40-year history of organizing philanthropy to support equitable, community-based change. Recognizing the history of segregation in this country, and centering communities of color and low-income communities, NFG works with funders at a national scale to develop and actualize effective funding strategies. As was acknowledged at several points throughout the session, no one foundation can do this alone. By helping funders come together to develop relationships, identify successful models, and actually move resources — NFG is moving philanthropy’s needle in finding solutions to equitable housing and community development. For example, over the past couple of years, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program was instrumental in the initial planning, staffing, and convening of funders in the development of the Amplify Fund and the Fund for Inclusive California

This 60-minute session at the GIH conference was only the tip of the iceberg for funders to further share, learn, and strategize with their peers on how to be effective grantmakers working on the intersections of health and housing. Building on this session discussion and other previous offerings, the Democratizing Development Program will continue to organize, partner, and host programming, and work towards convening funders to further the conversation around building a movement for health and housing. If you are interested in how your foundation can get involved, contact DDP’s Senior Program Manager, Nile Malloy, at nile@nfg.org

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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