April 27, 2018

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Charlene Carruthers

Next up in our discussion series with FFJs Field Advisors, staff interviews Charlene Carruthers, Founding National Director of BYP100 (Black Youth Project 100). Read our interview below to learn more about their work on nationalizing the invest/divest demand, Black queer feminist (BQF) lens as an organizing framework, and the importance of leadership training and political education.

Don’t forget to also check out BYP100Agenda to Build Black Futures and Charlene’s forthcoming book “Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements” which will be published this Fall 2018 on Beacon Press.

BYP100’s Agenda to Build Black Futures is a powerful outline for critical policy change and structural transformation across work, health care, the criminal justice system, and financial systems. Can you tell us more about BYP100’s work to nationalize the invest/divest demand? How do you translate local chapter organizing to a national demand? 

BYP100 started its journey into invest/divest demands with direct action and local chapter organizing. In 2015, we joined local organizations in Chicago to disrupt the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference through a mass civil disobedience action. The IACP conference brought over 14,000 law enforcement agents from across the world to Chicago. We called it the “Stop the Cops | Fund Black Futures” action.  The idea to call it that came from one of our Chicago member-leaders. So much of what we based the action on came from the Ella Baker Center’s justice reinvestment work. That action led us to tighten up the framing of the Agenda to Build Black Futures, our second public policy platform, which advances our vision for transforming the material conditions of Black people and all oppressed people. That one action involved members from five different BYP100 chapters across the country. We used our resources effectively to weave a narrative to educate our members, the broader public, and the movement. We believe in the divestment from every system of punishment in this country and investment in reparations, quality public education and jobs, healthcare, and thriving communities. That’s what our work is about.

Intersectionality has become a buzzword in philanthropy, but most people don’t know that the concept was created by Kimberle Crenshaw to describe discrimination faced by Black women workers, and is part of a tradition of Black women’s thought leadership. Can you tell us what a Black queer feminist lens is? How does it inform your work? 

The Black queer feminist (BQF) lens is an organizing framework we’ve developed in BYP100 through deep study and action. It is deeply rooted in work of radical Black feminist and LGBTQ movements and people including Cathy Cohen, Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker, Marsha P. Johnson, and the Combahee River Collective. As I define it in my upcoming book, Unapologetic, the BQF lens is a political praxis (practice and theory) based in Black feminist and LGBTQ traditions and knowledge, through which people and groups seek to bring their full selves into the process of dismantling all systems of oppression. It’s about building alternatives for self-governance and self-determination, and by using it we can more effectively prioritize problems and methods that center historically marginalized people in our communities. This means that the issues we work on, the stories we tell and the visions we develop are about centering the most marginalized. By doing this, we are able to tell more complete stories and create more complete solutions. It means that we understand that none of us will be free if all of us are not free.

Young people of color are rising up all over the country to move tremendous social change at a scale not seen in decades – on state violence, immigration policies, and education funding. How do you see the importance of training & political education to develop all leaders? 

The measure of a good organizer is how many leaders the organizer has helped to develop – not simply how many campaigns the organizer has won. Leadership development isn’t a one-stop shop, it takes time, energy, and money. Like any other craft, it takes skill from experienced and practiced leaders to develop other leaders. Training and political education are cornerstones to helping people understand themselves, others, and the world we live in. Both give texture to shared experiences and tools to transform what doesn’t serve our liberation. Movements are not sustained by happenstance; they require deliberate and ongoing leadership development. Finally, I believe in Ella Baker’s teachings of group-centered leadership. No one person will get us free.

What should funders be doing in this moment to support social movements and lasting change? 

In this moment funders should continue to support organizations led by and for Black women, queer and trans folks who have both a critical analysis and an organizing practice that aims to transform – and not just reform – structural realities. That means that funders should focus on general operating support for grassroots organizing. Our organizations need resources and capacity programs that don’t require us to compromise our values for the sake of policy. It also means that we need to develop more flexible funding for 501c4 efforts and support to build individual donor and revenue-generating programs.


 

Charlene A. Carruthers is a Black, queer feminist community organizer and writer with over 10 years of experience in racial justice, feminist and youth leadership development movement work. She currently serves as the national director of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), an activist member-led organization of Black 18-35 year olds dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. First politicized as an 18 year old while studying abroad in South Africa, her passion for developing young leaders to build capacity within marginalized communities has led her to work on immigrant rights, economic justice and civil rights campaigns nationwide. With a focus on intersectional liberation, Charlene’s organizing capacities span across a broad range of topics and she currently serves as a board member of SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization that promotes solidarity among women of color. She is an Arcus Leadership Fellow and Front Line Leadership Academy graduate who has led grassroots and digital strategy campaigns for national organizations including the Center for Community Change, the Women’s Media Center, ColorOfChange.org and National People’s Action, as well as being a member of a historic delegation of young activists in Palestine in 2015 to build solidarity between Black and Palestinian liberation movements.

Awarded the “Movement Builder Award” by the United States Students Association, Charlene is deeply committed to working with young organizers seeking to create a more loving and just world. She has facilitated and developed political trainings for organizations including the NAACP, the Center for Progressive Leadership, Young People For and Wellstone Action. Charlene is the winner of the “New Organizing Institute 2015 Organizer of the Year Award” and has served as a featured speaker at various institutions including Wellesley College, Northwestern University and her alma mater Illinois Wesleyan University, where she earned a B.A. in History & International Studies. Charlene also received a Master of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Charlene was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago where she currently resides and continues to lead and partake in social justice movements. In her free time, she loves to cook and believes the best way to learn about people is through their food. Charlene’s inspirations include a range of Black women, including Ella Baker, Cathy Cohen, and Barbara Ransby. Her work has been featured on many national outlets including Ebony Magazine, Feministing.com, USA Today and the Washington Post. You can find Charlene on twitter at @CharleneCac.


 

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. 

July 20, 2021

Transformative change, rooted in place: NFG's July 2021 Newsletter

Can you imagine what New York would look like if private equity funds weren’t evicting low-income renters? What about, if in the Washington, DC area, historically Black neighborhoods were not being gentrified by wealthy white people and behemoth-tech corporations like Amazon? What if, in Southern California, essential workers had the power to set policies that limit the environmental and health & safety impacts of warehousing?

These aren’t just dreams — Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led movements in New York, the DC area, Southern California, and beyond have imbued these visions for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice in their work towards transformative change. And in each place, local grassroots organizers are leading the way to ensure that our communities can thrive — with homes that working families can afford, jobs with livable wages, neighborhoods with clean air and access to water, and genuinely democratic systems.

We at NFG know that in order to achieve transformative and lasting social change, philanthropy must mobilize resources to Black, Indigenous, people of color, and migrant-led movements that are rooted in place. And funders at the national, regional, and local levels all have a role to play. There are no federal, state, Southern, or Midwestern strategies without supporting local action.

Learn and strategize alongside NFG about how your grantmaking can help build power in place:

Keep reading for full descriptions of these events and more resources from your community of co-conspirators at NFG.

Onwards,
The NFG team

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June 24, 2021

Reflections after my first year as NFG President: NFG's June 2021 Newsletter

I didn't choose my first leadership role — it chose me. As a child who emigrated from Mexico to Detroit with my family, I became my family’s language broker. I learned English the fastest, un-learned my accent the quickest as a survival mechanism, and learned how to navigate the systems for my family. I took this role with pride, resentment, and ambivalence. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to understand and unpack this role, to see it as a leadership role that many immigrant children have.

As I’ve navigated my career, it has felt different to choose a leadership role consciously and with agency. In 2019, I chose (after some encouragement from my mentors) to apply for the position of NFG’s leader. I was ready to lead, not follow — the words from my long-time friend and mentor Denice Williams. After three years as NFG’s Vice President of Programs and nine months as interim co-director, May Day 2020 marked my first day as NFG’s President. I was ready to build upon the legacy of this team that had been led by Dennis Quirin for six years, and share my vision for NFG’s next iteration.

My first year as NFG’s leader was a rollercoaster: emotional, isolating, exhausting, a privilege, a gift, a chosen challenge. [For all my other BIPOC first-time Executive Directors and Presidents: I see you, I am with you. You got this. And when you feel like you don’t (or find yourself asking, ‘why did I want this?’), reach out to me. As one of my favorite leaders, Joanne Smith, from Girls for Gender Equity says: “we got us!”]

When I reflect on my first year in this role that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice uprisings, and navigating work & life in wholly new ways, the power of support and the power of space and spaciousness stand out as key lessons.

The power of support and asking for support:
 I have had what should be a nonprofit standard and unfortunately isn’t: a supportive Board of Directors and co-chairs who stayed present as they managed their own work and lives, and who didn’t scale down their involvement after the executive search and transition were completed. I had a board committee that worked with me during my first three months on my 90 day goals, professional development, and support needs. When I was managing a harder process that I felt needed more board support, I asked for it and got it. I also had my leadership coach and a peer coaching circle that kept me grounded and was witness to what I needed.

Launching NFG’s Senior Management Team with Sarita Ahuja, our Vice President of Operations, and Faron McLurkin, our Vice President of Programs, has provided me and NFG with the leadership team that best fits this organization. I have felt the support of NFG’s staff and our network of members by my side. These multiple layers of support got me through the hardest moments, steadied me when I felt out on a limb, encouraged me when I felt imposter syndrome creep in — and have filled what has been an ‘unconventional’ first year as NFG’s President with connection, camaraderie, and community.

The space to practice, think, be: As leaders, our time is in demand. Being a people-pleaser, and someone that was used to managing (and controlling) my own calendar, had me at times over the past year in 7-8 zoom meetings a day. I had little time to think, reflect, or follow up on the action items I named as next steps, let alone eat at regular times.

These pitfalls of being a new leader are all too common. When sharing this with my coach, she challenged me to reflect on what I would need to do to create radical spaciousness. Initially, this felt impossible. But with her challenge (I am an Aries, afterall), I felt an unlock: I hired a virtual assistant and she helped to protect my mornings and time to eat lunch; I found one day a month to have a meeting-free day for reflection and journaling; I began more fiercely resisting urgency and the white supremacist & capitalist notions that keeps us reacting & responding versus thinking & reflecting.

From the technical fixes to the larger adaptive challenges, I continue to commit myself and NFG to practice spaciousness. This spaciousness has helped think, write, and get clear on my priorities — and to become more rooted in the role of President. My body and my son urge me not to rush back to be on the road for 50 percent of my work/life, and to continue to lead with impact and spaciousness. This practice will inform a thoughtful approach for how and when to travel to reconnect with NFG’s staff and members at in-person meetings and convenings. And we at NFG have seen that we can be impactful, experimental, and creative virtually — all while moving money to movements.

The space to dream and reimagine: In our most recent Philanthropy Forward session, which brings together CEOs of foundations in a leadership cohort, we talked about what we would do if we were 10x bolder. I love this question and call as a leader to consider what the world and philanthropy would be like if we were more bold and our wildest dreams came true.

Last week, NFG received the gift of a $3 million unrestricted grant from MacKenzie Scott. This grant allows us to dream and reimagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable to move more money and shift power to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities and workers, rural communities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and immigrants. What a difference this makes to our work and the spaciousness; what a signal of support to our work and our staff, board, and member leadership.

As I embark on my second year as NFG’s leader, I carry my lessons on support and spaciousness — and I welcome your ideas for a 10x bolder NFG.

NFG is a place for philanthropy to strategize new and more ways to show up for our communities now and in the long-term; a place to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice; and a place that provides space to find your co-conspirators, draw strength, be nourished, reflect upon and celebrate the wins and work that has been accomplished so far.

What comes to mind when you imagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable? Send me a note, reach out to the NFG team, join a Member Connection Call (the next one is June 29 and then we’ll take a break until September), learn alongside us and share your ideas at our events.

I look forward to continuing to be in community and solidarity with you.

Un abrazote!
Adriana Rocha
President

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