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

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

[caption id=""attachment_70911"" align=""alignleft"" width=""260""] Left to Right: Jenny Arwade, Co-Executive Director at Communities United; Manuela Arciniegas, Associate Program Officer at the Andrus Family Fund.[/caption]

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 (#Goodkidsmadcity) 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. 

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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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