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. 

June 2, 2020

Black Lives Matter: We Say Their Names

We at NFG say their names. George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY. Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA. Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL. Dion Johnson in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day. NFG stands in solidarity with Black communities as we again find ourselves anguished, angered, and compelled to action in response to the murders of George Floyd and Black people across the U.S. by police.

We urge our network to continue challenging white supremacy. We call on philanthropy to divest from criminalization and invest in communities. We encourage you to fund communities directly, support protestors and essential workers — like Breonna Taylor — who continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and donate to bail funds around the country. Read more about how grantmakers can take action to fund transformative justice in this blog post from NFG’s Funders for Justice.
 


 

NFG cares about you, and your communities. We are here to work beside you and support each other as we share, inspire, grieve, and act together. And we are committed to organizing philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities thrive.
 

RESOURCES & CALLS TO ACTION

OPPORTUNITIES TO CONNECT

  • We will be holding Member Connection Calls on June 9 and June 11. These calls are open spaces for you to drop in and be in community with new or familiar NFG friends and colleagues. We invite you to join us at any point throughout the hour to say hi, share anything that’s on your mind, take a breath, and strategize with the NFG community.
  • Drop us a line! NFG staff are ready to help connect you with others in our network, or provide some 1:1 listening and strategizing with you about whom to connect with or specific ways you can take action in your institution. We invite you to get in touch with anyone on our staff.
  • Join the NFG network for our 40 Years Strong virtual convening series, starting later this month with discussions with philanthropic and movement leaders on what is needed in this political moment and beyond, as well as how philanthropy must be accountable to communities of color and low-income communities. Registration is now open.
May 29, 2020

Say Their Names: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson

This piece was written by NFG's Funders for Justice program leadership.

We say their names: Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY, George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL, Dion Johnso in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day.

Fund Black lives, Black futures, Black organizing. 

We Stand in Solidarity: Funders for Justice stands in solidarity with protestors in Minneapolis, Louisville, Phoenix, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities across the country, fighting for the lives and freedom for all Black people. We know that communities are powerful, and will dream and fight for the transformative justice in which together we create the new world we all need. As funders, our mandate is to fund communities rising up against state violence, and to continue to fund as communities build the power and momentum for long-term change.

We Must Continue to Challenge White Supremacy: While police killed unarmed Black people over and over again, we witnessed no police response to armed white nationalist posted in front of state capital buildings and yelling in the faces of security guards, demanding an end to shelter in place because they wanted to get a haircut and go out in public without a mask.

Stand with Black Women Essential Workers: Breonna Taylor was a young Black woman who was an EMT — an essential worker already risking her life during a pandemic. Yet we repeatedly witness evidence that the state does not protect or respect the people, especially Black women, risking their lives to save others. Essential workers are already facing dangerous conditions, with extremely limited protection equipment, low pay, often dangerous commutes to work, and then in turn endangering their families. That Breonna was one of the latest casualties of state violence is profoundly painful.

How to Support Protestors: We encourage you to fund communities directly, including at times when groups are not able to fill out even a short proposal or form because they are leading protests in the streets. We encourage you to give now however your foundation is able — including getting creative in mobilizing resources — perhaps to use your foundation’s expense account to send money for needed supplies like water and food. And, we encourage everyone reading this blog to make a personal donation, because we all come to the work we do as the full people that we are: part of communities fighting in resistance, part of communities fighting for survival, part of communities taking action in solidarity. You can donate now to bail funds in many cities. 

Invest/Divest Now: While millions of local dollars are cut from city budgets — in youth programs, health services, and education, among others — due to shortfalls, the police unions/associations continue to push for more money and more police. Yet police are not saving people in this pandemic — they are policing, fining, and sending people to jail - mostly Black people. The federal administration has refused to send more supplies and funding to medical workers and other frontline workers, while increasing funding to police-related spending and private security guards.

We All Have A Mandate: Philanthropy’s mandate to support communities in living healthy and free lives means funding both the public infrastructure that keeps communities safe — like health care, housing, and education — and funding the people, organizations, and the movements rising up against police violence and building power to defund the police, prisons, ICE, and detention centers. Philanthropy must support divest/invest campaigns and other abolitionist strategies, because nothing the police do is meant to ever keep communities of color safe. Now is the time to divest from the police, when cities are cutting budgets and need the funding for community wellness more than any other time. (Check out FFJ’s divest/invest resource for funders and consider how you want to support community safety and justice.) 

Bail funds and legal support in cities around the country are linked in this google doc hosted by the Movement 4 Black Lives

Where to donate to support protestors and Black folks organizing for Black Lives in Minneapolis: