November 6, 2017

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Jenny Arwade, Interviewed by Manuela Arciniegas

Next up in our discussion series with FFJs Field Advisors, Manuela Arciniegas (Associate Program Officer at the Andrus Family Fund) interviews Jenny Arwade (FFJ Field Advisor and Co-Executive Director of Communities United). Read the interview below to learn more on how Communities United changing the narrative of reinvestment, leading the charge on invest/divest strategies and campaigns, and developing sustainable leadership at the helm of the social justice movement.

What are some of the ways Communities United is providing national leadership in social justice movements?

We’re best known for our work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, but Communities United (CU) is leading the way on a number of fronts. All of our efforts bend toward holistic racial justice—we recognize that nobody is faced with a single-issue struggle.

CU convenes Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) through which youth of color worked for and won the nation’s most comprehensive statewide school discipline reform, SB100. This new law ends zero tolerance at all publicly-funded schools in Illinois, places stronger standards on the use of exclusionary discipline, and paves the way for restorative practices to take hold. Young people are currently organizing to ensure effective implementation in Black and Brown communities across the state. We’ve also secured ground-breaking policy change to prevent the displacement of renters from foreclosed buildings and preserve those buildings as long-term affordable housing. On healthcare, we’re working to expand access to care for the uninsured and underinsured in Cook County, including young adults, undocumented people, LGBTQ individuals, and the formerly incarcerated.

Several years ago we launched a statewide effort, Reimagine Justice Illinois, through which young people, survivors, and formerly incarcerated individuals have been organizing to advance community-led justice reinvestment efforts. We think it’s deep community investment that leads to transformation.

Can you talk about the recent report you co-authored and how the narrative of reinvestment is taking hold in the social justice movement?

We got a lot of traction with this national report I co-authored with Jim Freeman from the Grassroots Action Support Team, and allies from Padres Y Jovenes Unidos and Make the Road New York. It’s titled “The $3.4 Trillion Mistake: The Cost of Mass Incarceration and Criminalization and How Justice Reinvestment Can Bring a Better Future for All.” It’s been a powerful and motivating tool in communities with policymakers, allies, and all sorts of stakeholders.

Over the past 30 years there was $3.4 trillion in surplus justice spending across police, corrections, judicial/legal, and immigration enforcement. We wrote about what could be done with just one year of surplus justice spending, or $206 billion.

For example, it could have created over 1 million new living-wage jobs; provided 1 million new social workers, psychologists, conflict mediators, mental health drug counselors, and drug treatment counselors to address public health and safety issues; and created a universal pre- school system for all 3- and 4-year olds in the country that would be free for low-income families and affordable for middle class families.

Whether we’ve been talking with young people, faith leaders, or formerly incarcerated individuals, the idea of invest/divest has brought people to tears. The dominant narrative has focused on how communities have suffered chronic disinvestment which is devastating enough. Then to hear how many trillions of dollars have been invested in these same communities to incarcerate, deport, and tear apart families -- it’s even more devastating in a way. But it’s also a game-changer in that it allows people to fight the age-old adage that there isn’t enough money to rejuvenate our communities. People can tangibly feel that the resources are there to fund all the things they want to see in their communities. It adds new energy and resolve to their movements to unlock and reinvest those resources.

The report has also allowed organizers to step back from their work and to hold a broader vision for transformative change, and to see new opportunities for movements to intersect to create the type of power that is needed to effect deep and lasting change.

To build on the release of the report, we have formed the Grassroots Alliance on Justice Reinvestment with our co-authors and with additional groups in Florida including Dream Defenders, Power U Center for Social Change and Community Justice Project. By convening and sharing strategies and narratives across states, we believe we will be able to move the needle on community-led justice reinvestment efforts.

Can you talk about how Communities United’s work on the invest/divest strategy and the recent campaign wins and lessons learned?

Our invest/divest strategies range from pushing for re-allocation of funds from school police into student supports to addressing gun violence in Chicago through a reinvestment lens. One example of recent success is that just a few months ago, young people from Communities United and our VOYCE alliance (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education) came just one vote shy of passing through the Illinois legislature what would have been a nationally groundbreaking policy change. The policy promoted divestment from school police and investment in restorative justice programs and other trauma-informed supports for young people, especially in schools and communities most heavily impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. This would have been done through the creation of state-level financial incentives and a matching grant program to support schools in making this transition—for example, if schools decided to shift funds away from one school-based police officer, they would get double the funding that was devoted to that position to go toward school psychologists, counselors, or other trauma-informed programming. This would not only stem the school-to-prison pipeline, but would give schools and districts the resources to more effectively address student misbehavior and create positive school climates.

Right as young people were in the middle of bringing this back to Springfield and organizing to win, and the same day that their bill passed through the Illinois House Education Committee, the Parkland tragedy hit. As with other mass school shootings, we knew the collateral consequences could be devastating for communities of color which have been hit with more school police, as well as recent proposals to arm teachers… all in the name of “school safety.” Rather than addressing the root causes of violence, these approaches added rocket fuel to the school-to-prison pipeline.

But tragedies sometimes spark movements, and youth of color are refusing to allow the Parkland tragedy to have the same outcomes. Young people in our communities have been uniting and building movement with young people from Parkland and across the country. They are determined to continue forward movement on shifting resources from approaches that criminalize into approaches that restore and support young people.

Recently CU youth interacted with Parkland youth. Can you talk about what supports and knowledge CU youth were able to provide that you find is integral to changing the national conversation on youth and gun violence?

After the Parkland tragedy, young people from Communities United had the opportunity to travel to Parkland and meet with survivors from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and share their common yet unique struggles with gun violence. They felt an instant connection because of the tragedies they have faced with gun violence and the loved ones lost.

In the words of youth leader Alex King, "When I saw what happened, it automatically hurt me as well as it hurt the Parkland students, because no one should be lost, especially in a place, an environment where you think that you should be the safest—in school."

In the midst of the launch of March 4 Our Lives, CU youth joined with youth from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to launch the Good Kids Mad City movement to demand investments in youth employment, mental health resources, and trauma-informed schools to address root causes of gun violence and a youth vision for school safety in solidarity with the demands for gun control emerging from Parkland. These demands were not new, building off years of past organizing by young people around these issues, but the current moment provided a critical opportunity to elevate this platform and bring more people into the movement.

One of our youth leaders, Alex King, went on to be one of the speakers at the March 4 Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., speaking to over a million people present about the need to come together as family as the movement continues. "Our pain makes us family. Us hurting together brings us closer together to fight for something better." Sharing his experience losing his nephew to gun violence, and the trauma young people of color face on a daily basis in cities like Chicago, he shared the need to act with urgency to address gun violence as it impacts youth of color in cities across the country.

At the Chicago rally, CU leader Amina Henderson-Redwan was the closing speaker of the day, sharing her experience organizing fellow students to bring about reinvestment and resources to end gun violence. She shared the story of losing her father when she was nine years old, and again losing a loved one in February of this year. She reminded the crowd of over 80,000 people that youth in Chicago’s neighborhoods “have lost so many people that we can’t even count them anymore.” With 22 young people having been shot per month between September 2011 to April 2018, she demanded that solutions to gun violence in Chicago must go beyond gun control, but be rooted in strategies that invest in people rather than continuing the cycle of incarceration that has failed to create safer communities.

Recently, Alex King authored an op-ed featured in Teen Vogue, in response to the calls to “harden” schools. In his Op-ed, Alex brings to light how zero-tolerance policies have not resulted in safer schools or communities, and emphasizes the need for investment in education, employment, mental health as solutions to violence.

Can you share your insights on what it takes to develop sustainable, powerful leadership at the helm of the social justice movement? Are there any reflections that are particular to your leadership development among youth of color? Among women? Around your own leadership? How can funders support?

Providing long-term general operating support is by far the most powerful way to develop sustainable powerful leadership at the helm of social justice movements, and this is true especially when we are talking about women, youth of color, and I’ve seen the impact in my own development. When foundations have given large grants over long periods of time with minimal reporting requirements it is a game changer. It allows us to really focus on building the types of movement and power that are necessary to change conditions in our communities. It allows us to take a leap of faith to organize toward a vision that we are often told is unachievable.

The times that I felt most supported as a woman of color in this work have been when I’ve gotten calls out of the blue by funders I am in partnership with who have believed in our work and organizing so much that they have made deep investments that we didn’t even ask for. When a funder is in such true partnership with us that they so intimately understand our vision and what we are fighting for, and what the resources are that are needed to get there—that is powerful. That is transformational.

As women of color, our commitment is to collective leadership. It’s about having vision, but it’s about getting the job done—whether it’s in our day-to-day lives, as mothers, or in the movement. Allies in philanthropy play a critical role in supporting our leadership in the field, but also in being a part of that collective of people that at the end of the day helps to magnify and be a part of the demand for change to the point that we see real changes in conditions in our lives, in our schools, and in our communities.

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

There’s no better way to support social movements and lasting change than to make sure resources get directly to the ground to those most directly impacted who are leading change in their communities. Grassroots-led efforts are critical to not only creating the initial demand for change, but building the power necessary to ensure long-term sustainable shifts in resources from systems that cause harm to systems that restore and support our communities. A great example of current movements under way is the work of the Grassroots Alliance for Justice Reinvestment and Good Kids Mad City. Through these intergenerational efforts, youth of color, formerly incarcerated individuals, and survivors of violence have been coming together to win tangible concrete reinvestment in schools and communities that moves the needle forward and paves the way for longer-term change.


Jenny Arwade is Co-Executive Director of Chicago-based Communities United (CU), a racial justice organization which brings together young people and adult allies to advance social change and systems transformation. CU’s approach is centered on the creation of intentional healing and justice spaces, transformative civic engagement and leadership development approaches, and the development of broad-based alliances. Jenny has 17 years of organizing experience during which time she has supported young people and adult allies in creating the nation’s most comprehensive statewide school discipline reform, advancing strategies through an invest/divest framework to shift resources from police in schools and incarceration into school and community supports, and more. Jenny is a graduate of Princeton University, serves as Vice Chair of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, and is a field representative on the Board of Advisors for the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing

Manuela Arciniegas is the Associate Program Officer for the Andrus Family Fund, where she manages the capacity building initiative and a national community organizing portfolio serving youth impacted by juvenile justice, foster care, immigration detention, and other disruptive systems.

Manuela brings over 15 years of experience in social justice, community organizing, youth development, and cultural arts education. She is actively engaged in moving philanthropic resources with an eye towards improving leadership pipelines, civic engagement, systems’ wide reforms led by directly impacted youth through her membership on a number of funder advisory tables including the New York City Youth Funders, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy NYC Steering Committee, Funder’s Collaborative on Youth Organizing and the Youth Engagement Fund.  She is currently conducting dissertation research for her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center focusing on how Afro-Caribbean religious music creates power and cultural change. When not working at AFF Manuela directs The Legacy Women, a drum ensemble for women ages 23-55 that teaches and performs folk Afro-Caribbean music of resistance.

Manuela graduated cum laude with a Bachelors in Government from Harvard University.



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. 

January 22, 2020

NFG Member Spotlight: The Libra Foundation

Logo of The Libra FoundationThe Libra Foundation staff: Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

(L-R): Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

NFG's network is composed of 120+ members that work in every part of the nation, in both urban and rural settings, and includes private and public foundations, community foundations, family foundations, corporate foundations, faith-based funders, and other grantmaking institutions. 

We recently connected with Crystal Hayling and The Libra Foundation team about their growth and vision for 2020, which organizations are giving them inspiration in this moment, and why they continue to invest in NFG with their renewed and increased membership.

We love to connect with our members! Share your experiences as part of the NFG network by getting in touch with Lindsay Ryder, Senior Membership Manager, at lindsay@nfg.org.


 
  1. How do notions of people, power, and place fit in with Libra’s grantmaking approach?

The organizations Libra supports are building a world where low-income communities of color have the power to determine their own freedom, define safety, and thrive in healthy environments. Families that are separated by mass incarceration, communities whose voting rights are suppressed, and neighborhoods suffering from contamination are among the many ways people, power, and place are at the foundation of structural oppression, and, therefore, the heart of Libra’s grantmaking approach. We are centering organizations building power through grassroots community organizing, deep network and coalition building, and progressive advocacy for lasting solutions that work for all.
 

  1. Libra has gone through a bit of a transformation over the past few years, including a new ED and larger staff, a larger public profile, and a refined grantmaking strategy. How has being a part of NFG’s network informed or served Libra along the way?

Transformation is a daily practice - a collection of intentions and ideals - with no clear point of arrival. I knew when I joined Libra as Executive Director I wanted to help guide a team of passionate, heart-driven individuals who are committed to doing philanthropy differently and moving resources to frontline communities. We are so grateful to the NFG network for guiding and supporting the changes we continue to undergo. NFG’s community of funders and activists have a rigorous and thorough analysis that not only informs our community’s understanding and actions, but pushes us all to do better. The network brings together social movement leaders and funders that drive our field to be accountable and unified in our vision for justice.
 

  1. Libra recently renewed its membership with NFG, opting to increase its membership level for 2020. As we enter NFG’s 40th Anniversary year, what are your hopes and plans for engaging with the NFG network?

We are intentionally investing more in NFG because of our shared belief in organizing institutional funders to mobilize more resources for grassroots power building. Too often in philanthropy we are siloed by issue areas. Meanwhile, the same folks who are most impacted by criminal justice are disproportionately affected by gender and environmental justice as well. Although it’s vital to develop and focus on expertise in each of these areas, it’s critical that we as funders take an intersectional approach that recognizes these truths. NFG is leading in this regard, especially in its prioritization of people of color, and Libra aims to do the same.

Our team is planning to engage more in Funders for Justice this year. Lorraine Ramirez helped orient us to all the avenues for collaboration, and we’re excited to learn more from the field advisors and members. And we are really looking forward to this summer’s national convening! A lot has happened since the NFG community got together last in 2018 and we’re hoping that the entire Libra staff will be in attendance.
 

  1. Of NFG’s 125 member organizations, are there any funders you would like to give a shout out to for inspiring or partnering with Libra?

What an inspiring group! We are motivated and encouraged by so many of our peer members at NFG. We are fortunate to be in community with lots of NFG members and look forward to deepening relationships. 

To name a few that are a part of the Libra grantee community, Groundswell Fund is doing incredible work in the reproductive justice field protecting women, nonbinary, and trans folks of color across the country. Proteus Fund houses essential donor collaborative funds (like Rise Together Fund) and fiscally sponsors many of Libra’s grantees. And of course Common Counsel, which among many other philanthropic services houses Native Voices Rising, a fund that supports Native-led community driven projects across Turtle Island.

When we began refining our strategies here at Libra, we leaned on many of our friends in the NFG network. Specifically in environmental and climate justice, we are learning from close colleagues like Mertz Gilmore Foundation and Surdna Foundation that have shifted their strategies to uplift frontline leadership and people centered solutions to the climate crisis. And we continue to be inspired by colleagues that have led the charge to do philanthropy differently, like Marguerite Casey Foundation and Chorus Foundation (among many others!).

  1. And most importantly, are there any community leaders or organizations that you’ve been connected to through NFG’s network that Libra is supporting or that you are inspired by?

Specifically in 2019, members of our program team attended the Funders for a Just Economy Racial Capitalism convening. We were blown away by presentations from Trans United, which supports visionary trans leadership, and ACRE Institute, which organizes campaigns working at the intersection of racial justice and Wall Street accountability. Following that convening and based on recommendations from partners in the field, Libra funded both in our latest docket.

 

January 15, 2020

Racial Capitalism, Power & Resistance: Keynote Videos & Highlights for 2020

In October 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) held a breakthrough Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, an unprecedented conversation with more than 70 funder participants on the racial and gendered inequality defining US and global capitalism — and the role of philanthropy within these structures. FJE is moving this conversation into action in 2020. Towards that goal, we are recapping the convening and providing video from the seminal keynote talks by Dr. Ananya Roy and Dr. Barbara Ransby that grounded our meeting.  

Nine speakers who were at the convening.

Top (L-R): Dr. Barbara Ransby, Mónica Ramírez, Dr. Ananya Roy
Middle (L-R): Cindy Weisner, Alicia Garza, Aaron Tanaka
Bottom (L-R): Dimple Abichandani, Farhad Ebrahimi, Pamela Shifman

FJE’s Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening was about asking hard questions and opening a conversation about the underlying history of the US economy and the origins of philanthropy as a way to ground us in how to support powerful resistance movements. Through this piece, we wanted to bring you some of the critical questions that stuck with us — and ways to move forward the themes and ideas generously offered by our activist-academic, movement, and philanthropic speakers and participants.

Who are we in alliance with? And how does that shape the real choices funders make?

Dr. Ananya Roy started off our conversation with a powerful question: Can we decolonize philanthropy in a real way? She also offered a proposition: We can’t do so without facing the way foundations are based in “twice-stolen wealth” — profit extracted via exploitative racialized capitalist means and through evading public taxation. [1]

Dr. Roy offered the example of her work with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA, working to “turn the university inside out” through co-creation of knowledge alongside movement leaders; simplifying funding opportunities for community organizations; and paid, unfettered residency programs for activists. She pushed us to reflect on “what additional work we create for communities” through our grantmaking practices and the “difficult choices we must make on who we are in alliance with” — including standing up when foundations undermine community-led liberation movements.

You can hear Dr. Roy's keynote, Decolonizing Philanthropy? A View from The Public University, in the video below.

How do we define and confront the deep histories of racialized capitalism?

FJE presented a portion of the Action Center on Race & the Economy and Grassroots Collaborative’s popular education workshop on racial capitalism. The material examined how core institutions of US capitalism — like banking — built wealth directly off the slave economy and indigenous genocide. Grappling with the inextricable connection between racism, patriarchy, and capitalism raised the fact that Black women and other people of color also face these traumas every day in philanthropy. How can funders collectively support healing among philanthropic staff as they find ways to fund movements genuinely addressing the genocidal histories of greed?

“What happens when we put life [and sustaining it] at the center of our work?” — Cindy Wiesner

To bring us into how contemporary movements are confronting racial and gendered capitalism, Alicia Garza of the Black Futures Lab led a conversation with Mónica Ramírez of Justice for Migrant Women, Aaron Tanaka of the Center for Economic Democracy and Cindy Wiesner of Grassroots Global Justice. These leaders shared that grassroots, collaborative, feminist, and anti-capitalist social justice movements serve as “kryptonite” (in Cindy Wiesner’s words) to racial capitalism and neo-fascism. These movements range from organizing for a Green New Deal to local democratic investment structures, to migrant women-led sexual harassment activism. Speakers challenged funders to work alongside communities to resource experimentation and “freedom dreaming” — and to understand the solutions won’t come quickly or easily. They also asked foundations to use their own power — as investors and public figures — to take on racial capitalism.

What power do we have in our institutions? And how do we shift power with communities?

Pamela Shifman, formerly of Novo Foundation; Dimple Abichandani of General Service Foundation; and Farhad Ebrahimi of Chorus Foundation shared how as Executive Directors and alumni of NFG's Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship, they recognized and acted on their power to shift their institutions and the sector. As Dimple Abichandani noted, “These rules and practices that we work in come out of racial capitalism and corporate compliance frameworks. We can decide to change those.”

The speakers raised the fact that while education programs are plenty, actively organizing foundations towards collective goals through leadership development — like Philanthropy Forward — is rarer but necessary. Foundation staff also rarely hold other funders publicly accountable – perhaps because feel that they cannot tell others what to do with their money. Yet recent campaigns to discourage the Gates Foundation in awarding the fascist, Hindu-nationalist aligned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggest insurgent philanthropy is percolating.

What are the projects we fund to undo racial capitalism, and what logics are the projects based on?

On Day 2 of the Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, Dr. Barbara Ransby offered three key elements to understand racial capitalism today: First, the irreconcilable relationship between capitalism's “infinite growth model on a finite planet;” second, financialization and the global “ponzi scheme;” and third, automation’s influence on worker's lives and consumption. She urged us to hold these contemporary capitalist crises with their roots in slavery and empire.

Dr. Ransby offered that dealing with this past and present means actively confronting white supremacy and nationalism; “building as we undo” through solidarity economies and other alternatives; and thoughtfully advancing abolition and reparations. Such ongoing processes require reckoning with anti-Blackness and asking: “How do you relinquish some of the power [that you have over organizations] and see yourself with a greater sense of humility?”

You can watch Dr. Ransby's keynote, Racial Capitalism, Power and Black Radical Tradition, in the video below.

“How do we show up, use our collective assets, and stand behind our grantees?” — Marjona Jones

Marjona Jones of the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, José García of the Ford Foundation, Emma Oppenhiem of Open Society Foundations, and Shona Chakravartty of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, in conversation with Anna Quinn of NoVo Foundation, brought the meeting home with a dialogue on how we could take tangible action, including through the Funders for a Just Economy.

Participants then honed in on key work areas to follow-up on after the event including: building accountability mechanisms in philanthropy; transforming partnerships with our grantees; healing and strategizing together as co-conspirators; remaking tax structures and philanthropic asset management.

Stay tuned for more from FJE as we work together to provide the space and tools for philanthropy to take these ideas into action into 2020 — and into a more just tomorrow.

 

[1] Roy was quoting Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2009). “In the Shadow of the Shadow State” in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. Boston: South End Press, 2009). http://sfonline.barnard.edu/navigating-neoliberalism-in-the-academy-nonp...