April 2, 2019

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Zachary Norris

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Zachary Norris, FFJ Field Advisor and Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, tells us about his vision for change and the need to invest in building the foundation for marginalized communities to thrive.

What’s happening for Ella Baker Center in this moment?

It's a very exciting time for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights as we move to a new, permanent home in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood: a community advocacy and training center called Restore Oakland.

At Restore Oakland, community members will have access to a wide range of resources - training to get good jobs in the restaurant industry, conflict resolution through restorative justice approaches, housing and tenant rights advocacy, and a hub to organize around criminal justice reform and other issues impacting the community. Plus, Restore Oakland will house a vibrant restaurant serving delicious, healthy, affordable food.

At the same time, the Ella Baker Center continues to move programs focused on shifting resources away from prisons and punishment and toward investment in opportunities that make our communities safe, healthy, and strong. We are currently organizing with Oakland community members to call for accountability and transparency of the Alameda County Sheriff, standing up to win change and community-led solutions for unsheltered Oaklanders who are being displaced and criminalized, and supporting legislation that takes important steps toward criminal justice reform in California.

How does your work connect to a vision for change in the communities that you work in?

Through our longstanding community organizing efforts, we have heard from residents that there is a need for a space where community members can come together to build their power and transform Oakland.

Coming together to organize and transform our communities is crucial when so many Oakland residents have been shut out of job and economic opportunities due to prior involvement with the criminal justice system, and decades of unjust economic and criminal justice policies. Our vision is rooted in restorative economics—the idea that all Oakland residents, including people who have been incarcerated, working people, immigrants and people of color, must shape and benefit from economic development in order for our communities to truly prosper.

At Restore Oakland, residents will build community and economic power, while restoring healing, opportunity, and justice. Our model is unique is because we lead with organizing and advocacy to build self-determination for our communities while also providing hands-on job training, business incubation, restorative justice mediation, and housing rights services — all in one space.

How do you understand the political moment that we’re in? What do you think we need to do differently right now?

The country feels more divided than it has ever been.  One thing that has been under-examined in terms of how we got here is the criminal court system. The criminal court system is all about two sides. A two-sided court and prison system magnifies divides between rich and poor, between people of color and white folks. Authoritarians take the “Us vs. Them” mentality of the justice system and turn it into national policy.  We need an entirely new vision of community safety not based on two sides or us vs. them, but based on one whole.

Restorative Justice embodies this approach and is the process through which people are held accountable and yet still held in community. This approach isn’t possible in every case but this should be our go-to response, and incarceration should be the last resort.

It’s a win-win-win. That’s three wins: 1) people who have caused harm are much less likely to get in trouble again when they go through restorative justice; 2) an overwhelming majority of victims report being satisfied with it - that’s because people can see and benefit from the accountability that has happened; 3) restorative justice is about one circle involving lots of people in the question of how we get to safety.

People coming together is necessary if we are to be able to hold large institutions and powerful individuals accountable.  This is the democracy we need: a democracy where no one is immune from accountability and we are all within the circle of human family. By transforming our justice system we might just rescue our democracy.

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

As rent and housing segregation continues to rise in the Bay Area and cities across the country, both community members and the organizations that serve them are being priced out and displaced. In this moment it’s crucial to invest in forward-thinking, long-lasting change that will build the foundations that allow low-income and marginalized communities to thrive. Through Restore Oakland and together with the community, we are creating a better model for transformation and self-determination that can be replicated in other cities and communities.

July 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards,
The NFG team

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June 24, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Un abrazote!
Adriana Rocha
President

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