June 20, 2018

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Stephanie Guilloud

Our discussion series with FFJ’s Field Advisors continues with Stephanie Guilloud, Co-Director of Project South. Read our interview below to learn more about how the Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial can be “a tool and weapon of truth in our long-term struggle to defeat white supremacy and win freedom and justice for us all.”

If you could stop a lynching today, would you? 

“Thank you for taking our case,” Anna Deavere Smith told the 2,000 person crowd at the Grand Opening of the Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama on April 26, 2018. Bryan Stevenson, the visionary lawyer and leader of Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), had just told a heart-wrenching story about a phone call from an intellectually disabled client who had found out he would be executed that day. The man told Bryan, who had taken the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, “Thank you for trying to save my life. Thank you for taking my case.”

Anna Deavere Smith, the incredible artist and playwright, referenced the story Bryan told to reflect the power and intimacy of what was happening. Bryan Stevenson and EJI’s intervention in a corrupted and manipulative history is an act to save our lives. They built a museum and memorial that is not trapped in a faded chronicle of past events but is alive with the injustices and racial terror that Black people face every day in prisons, jails, and in public life. The sites assert that none of us can move forward without reckoning with the truth.

We all need to be part of it. Because we already are a part of this reality, this U.S. history, this present-time racist violence. In our streets, at our borders, in the courts, and in our daily lives. We are a part of it, and if we can strengthen our collective body by truly understanding the past terrors and current horrors of white supremacy, we may be able to save ourselves.

What is it? 

On the foundation of a slave warehouse in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, Equal Justice Initiative created a legacy museum that tracks the trans-Atlantic slave trade to today’s incarceration epidemic. In a harrowing parallel, digital holograms of enslaved people speak and sing from behind bars in one part of the center and in other parts, digital holograms of incarcerated people speak from behind glass. You lift the receiver to hear them speak as if you were visiting them in prison. The space is a beautiful and devastating design. The memorial is an outside space where you feel the anguish of enslavement, read the names of people lynched, and experience something heavy and freeing at the same time. These are not static museums dedicated to exposing past injustices, these are dynamic spaces dedicated to engaging truth.

The Lynching Memorial and Legacy Museum are proving the argument without any apology or justification that slavery did not end in 1865.

How did they do it? 

Slow, steady, methodical research. They coordinated multiple projects of painfully vivid histories of over 4,000 lynchings from 1877-1950. They released reports, they produced documentaries and videos, and they built these spaces. All while they continued to practice law and take on clients facing the death penalty and extreme punishment in Alabama and other parts of the South.

They got big investments. Google partnered to make this thing happen and to make it stunning.  An interactive touchscreen map is an innovation in design, data, and emotional delivery. You can stand in one place and see the exact number of known lynchings in any given county in the U.S. with their names listed on the side of the screen. It is an incredible demonstration of the breadth and depth of the decades of terror. It cannot be dismissed and does not need to be justified.

What does it mean? 

One thing it means is that Montgomery will be changed forever. The Montgomery Advertiser, the only newspaper in town, printed an editorial the week of the opening that states in one simple opening line, “We were wrong.” This long-time white institution, my grandfather’s newspaper, claimed responsibility for the press’s complicity in racist violence. For a Southern capital’s newspaper to claim institutional culpability in how violence and racism led to brutal deaths is significant in today’s hostile political climate.

These spaces assert “we will not be erased” – not from history and not from today – without making any inch of the truth more palatable. Montgomery is the perfect site to hold this transformative process. I hope that this will be a site of pilgrimage, not to understand the Civil Rights Movement as a moment in the past but as a way to become more human and more dedicated to our collective fight for freedom.

James Baldwin was quoted throughout the opening week’s events, “History is not the past. It is the present.”

I traveled to my mother’s hometown with eight folks from Project South, some who were born after I graduated from high school and one who had lived through both the racist violence in 1960s Atlanta and had been incarcerated for a year and a half for writing a bad check. We experienced a Montgomery that is growing, that is still a heady mix of poor and rich, that is still pointing people to the tours of the Jefferson Davis’ White House, the former seat of the Confederacy. We also experienced the power of a movement moment when hundreds of local volunteers, Black and white, signed up to support this historic opening. Montgomery natives pointed us to good local restaurants and kept a massive event from feeling like a conference and more like a shared experience, rooted in the same city that launched the Bus Boycott and received the marchers from Selma. We were all proud to be part of a new historical moment in this city.

Rev. William Barber’s eloquent history lesson reminded us that lynchings happened in the U.S. South to reverse the gains of Reconstruction after the Civil War and to prevent Black political participation. In the U.S. South today, we are experiencing a significant attack that has all the markings of a legal lynching in the 21st century.

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow is facing capital murder charges in Dothan, Alabama based on an Alabama law that allows the state to charge anyone near a crime to be fully responsible for that crime. He is innocent. The states attorney is not even making a case that he killed the woman who lost her life in the incident that happened on March 26, 2018. (Read more about the case in an excellent article published in The Root)

Project South has worked with Pastor Glasgow and The Ordinary People Society (TOPS) for over 15 years. Pastor Glasgow is one of the many Alabama Black leaders who built the infrastructure and the momentum for the victory in the Special Elections for U.S. Senate in December by registering formerly and currently incarcerated people to vote. In 2017, Pastor Glasgow stood in a picture with the Governor of Alabama while the governor signed a piece of legislation that is more progressive than 47 states in the U.S., a piece of legislation that was the result of 15 years of organizing. The law expands access to the vote by over 200,000 people by allowing incarcerated people, with convictions that fall outside of certain felonies, in the state of Alabama to register and vote absentee (Maine and Vermont are the only other states that allow currently convicted and incarcerated people to vote). In 2018, not even four months from the victory that proved the power of Black political participation, Pastor Glasgow is facing charges that carry the death penalty or at best, a life sentence.

If we could stop a lynching today, would we? 

Movement leaders, his family, pastors all over the state, and local families who have been impacted by the work of TOPS have come together to protect and defend Pastor Glasgow. He is out on bond (which was a victory, as most capital charges do not get bonded out) and waiting for a Grand Jury trial which will indict, dismiss, or lessen the charges. If indicted, we go on to a trial jury. We’re in for a long haul.

And meanwhile the Alabama primaries happened on June 5. Pastor Glasgow does not rest. He worked with coordinators and captains inside the jail where they kept him for two weeks, and they have registered over 800 people. He is continuing the #Free2Vote work across the state, and organizers and pastors are making sure that everyone who can vote in Alabama is registered and ready.

What Project South and the Southern Movement Assembly knows is that an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us. We are proud of our movements that have not flinched in the face of this intimidation and attempt to isolate Pastor Glasgow. We are stronger together, and we will stop this legal lynching. We are bolstered by our ancestors’ courage and the work of the Equal Justice Initiative to build something so powerful and affirming.

I was proud to be with a delegation from Project South and the Georgia Citizens’ Coalition on Hunger to the EJI Lynching Memorial and National Museum for Peace & Justice. We were not passive observers but actors in the present moment. We did a public action to engage people about Pastor Glasgow’s case, and we will be bringing the youth members of Project South’s annual Septima Clark Community Power Institute back to Montgomery to continue engaging the Lynching Memorial and Legacy Museum as a tool and weapon of truth in our long-term struggle to defeat white supremacy and win freedom and justice for us all.


Stephanie Guilloud is the Co-Director at Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Stephanie Guilloud is originally from Houston, Texas with roots in Alabama. Stephanie is an organizer with 17 years of experience and leadership in global justice work and community organizing. At Project South, Stephanie works closely with Southeast regional organizing projects, the Southern Movement Assembly, and membership programs. Stephanie worked as the National Co-Chair of the Peoples Movement Assembly Working Group of the US Social Forum from 2008-2013. She served on the board of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), a multiracial queer organization, from 2005-2014. Stephanie is the editor of two anthologies: Through the Eyes of the Judged; Autobiographical Sketches from Incarcerated Young Men and Voices from the WTO; First-person Narratives from the People who Shut Down the World Trade Organization.


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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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.