Five Questions with Casey: Sophie Dagenais on the Baltimore Unrest and the Way Forward

October 27, 2015, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation As director of the Baltimore Civic Site team, Sophie Dagenais oversees Casey’s community-based investment strategies and grant-making activities in Baltimore. She also advises the Foundation on investing in the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative, a major community and economic development project aimed at transforming an 88-acre East Baltimore neighborhood. Prior to joining Casey, Dagenais served as chief of staff for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. A member of the New York and Maryland Bar Associations, she previously worked as a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP and as general counsel and chief administrative officer at a real estate investment-banking firm in New York City. Dagenais graduated from McGill University Faculty of Law in 1988. In this Five Questions edition, Dagenais discusses the importance of bringing all Baltimoreans to the table — particularly those with limited access to opportunity — to achieve lasting, positive change. Q1. What role can foundations play after civic unrest or during times of community stress? Foundations can help provide support and a safe space to bring people together for healing. We should also look at ourselves, and philanthropy more broadly, to see how our own processes and procedures may undermine fairness, access and opportunity. As long as children like Freddie Gray and their families are disconnected from decision-making processes, and as long as systems and communities are not aligned and informed by each other, it will not be possible to achieve large-scale social change. Q2. The Casey Foundation has invested in Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods for decades. How did the unrest change your team’s approach to its work in the city? Although Casey is a national foundation, Baltimore is our hometown. We have a long history of supporting pivotal civic organizations and an ambitious agenda to improve conditions for children and families in East Baltimore. In response to the events following Freddie Gray’s death, however, we are amplifying our work throughout Baltimore. For instance: We have accelerated planning efforts for a national project — set to launch in Baltimore — that will aid older youth and young adults from low-income families. This summer, we also bolstered enrichment opportunities and jobs for city children and youth and increased our support for community organizing and engagement, in addition to building young people’s capacity to advocate for themselves and their communities. Q3. What community needs are you hearing about now — five months after the events of the spring? The needs haven’t changed, but the way we hear them and seek to better understand them may well be changing. We know that we can’t address the root causes of injustice by leaving any part of the community out. Yet structural racism and a persistent disconnect between systems and the people they serve have undermined the community for decades — if not for our city’s entire history. Most recently, we’ve expanded our conversations with youth, residents and civic leaders. At the same time, we’ve been working internally and with our partners to ensure these vital community voices are informing our decisions and policy agendas. Q4. What is the Foundation’s strategy for responding to the unrest earlier this year? As a Foundation, we have been working to address inequality and promote inclusion through such efforts as Race Matters and Race for Results. And we know that bringing successful approaches to scale requires evidence and a relentless pursuit of equality. The unrest in Baltimore and similar events around the nation tell us that it’s critical to focus even more intently on this work. Q5. If the unrest presented an opportunity moment for Baltimore, what should be different five years from now to show that real change occurred? Here’s where we are now: Recent data suggest that 34% of Baltimore City’s kids live in poverty, and this poverty rate jumps to nearly 50% for kids in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood. We also know that the unemployment rate is high — 35% — for black youth ages 16–24. For their white and Hispanic peers, this rate is much lower — 11% and 12%, respectively. Here’s a potential path forward: We must support policies and strategies that connect families and youth to economic opportunities, which can help substantially reduce these disparities in the next five years. Another must-have is persistent engagement so that, five years from now, people feel that their voices have been heard and that they are a part of the solution. That’s the call to action. Read this blog on The Annie E. Casey Foundation's website.  
February 26, 2021

Honoring Black histories & futures: NFG's February Newsletter

To honor Black histories and futures, Neighborhood Funders Group is excited to share with you a new report from Funders for a Just Economy and the Amplify Fund on the critical Black women-led organizing redefining Nashville, Tennessee. The first report for our multi-city Building Power in Place project, Nashville: Reshaping the City Towards an Economy for All, tells a small part of a big story. The report features the work of Stand Up Nashville (SUN), The Equity Alliance (TEA), and the Central Labor Council of Nashville & Middle Tennessee (CLC) — each helmed by Black women who have built a powerful collaborative infrastructure with few resources but tremendous political and economic results for low-income residents of color. Quite relevant for the early 100 days of a new presidential administration, their work addresses the importance of elections and goes far beyond these moments for a much broader vision of shared governance.

Black History Month is as much about honoring the past as it is about recognizing the way Black communities continue to define a future that is radically more equitable, sustainable, and democratic for all. This report traces the ways in which Nashville organizers have built on local histories of abolitionist and civil rights activism, while developing expansive new models confronting issues like predatory gentrification following climate disasters. How have SUN, TEA, and CLC achieved such milestones as record registration of voters of color, landmark transparency and accountability laws, growth in worker voice, and more? How do they face obstacles like repressive state preemption policy and corporations like Amazon with deep pockets? Learn more here.

NFG’s commitment to place-based organizing is informed by an approach to Black history and futures stemming from Black feminist movements and scholars. They recognize no one formula, story, or sequence for transformative movements which are in fact rooted in local realities, multi-faceted struggles, and, as Angela Davis explains, constant efforts to “enlarge and expand and complicate and deepen our theories and practices of freedom.” The responsibility of NFG as a network of funders starts, then, right at the local — in trusting grassroots expertise, recognizing intersectional realities (including our own implication in racial capitalism), and moving maximal resources to support Black-led movements’ expansive vision.

The recommendations in our Nashville report stem from conversation with local organizers and funders and through Amplify’s long-term work, and offer key principles that can apply nationally. But as Fannie Lou Hamer noted, “There is one thing you have got to learn about our movement. Three people are better than no people." It’s going to take much more than recognizing these movements; it will take organizing our colleagues in and across our institutions to join in fully funding Black-led movements like those in Nashville, especially the ones that may not even have the resources to get on national radar. So make sure to share the report with colleagues, invite another funder to our next events (more information in this month's newsletter), and keep bringing new folks to the conversation!

Thank you to the SUN, TEA, and CLC organizers and local funders who shared their time, stories, and strategies with us. Going forward, NFG will continue to strengthen the ways we move from intention into action to honor Black histories and support Black futures from the local and up.

Thank you,
Rob, Manisha, and Neda — Funders for a Just Economy
 

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January 27, 2021

Be vigilant and move the money: NFG's January 2021 Newsletter

In NFG’s final Strike Watch blog of 2020, Manisha Vaze — Director of our Funders for a Just Economy Program — issued this call to action:

“The organizer in me is asking you to stay vigilant and move resources to where movements are directing us: to organizing, power building, and movements calling to defund the police as a pathway to community and worker justice. We have an enormous opportunity in philanthropy to truly support, through solidarity and resources, the visionary movements that are building power for systemic change.”

As we wrap up this first month of 2021 and continue to celebrate — and fund! — the Black women, women of color, Indigenous activists, and queer and trans organizers who made possible the many progressive electoral wins across the country, we at NFG are asking our community of grantmakers to heed this call to stay vigilant and resource the movements that are building power for systemic change.

The moment that we are now facing is part of the trajectory toward justice set by Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities who have been working to dismantle deliberately oppressive systems that have existed for generations. BIPOC leaders and communities have fueled long-term, power building movements and created the critical organizing infrastructure to win elections up and down ballots, defund the police, and change the predominant narratives and policies of racial capitalism — all too often at significant risk of violence, with little media attention or notice, and inadequate funding.

Philanthropy has the power and resources to fund the boldest movements for liberation, justice, and systemic change. Grantmakers can shed onerous funding practices and trust grassroots leaders to use grant funds as they see fit for the health of their organizers and movements. Funders must be more than reactive and fully lean into a vision of what is possible now that uprisings for racial justice and electoral victories led by Black organizers have opened up more opportunities for change than ever.

And NFG is here to support grantmakers with joy, creativity, and community as you remain vigilant and do this necessary work to move resources and shift power. Below are highlights from our programs for how you can keep co-conspiring with NFG this year to propel racial, economic, gender, and climate justice.

Onwards,
The NFG team


 

PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021

 
Amplify Fund

Amplify Fund is a funder collaborative that supports Black, Indigenous, people of color and low-income communities to build power and to influence decisions about the places they live and work.

“As a Senior Program Officer, I really spend a lot of time speaking with powerful leaders across the country who are working on issues related to development and building power in their communities. They are truth tellers, all working in their respective places to challenge harmful policies and politics and fighting with their communities and their bases for just and equitable development,” says Amplify's Melody Baker.

In 2021, Amplify will continue to focus on 2 key outcomes from our Theory of Change, while reconsidering the current time limitations and distribution of decision-making power.

Video thumbnail with silhouettes of protestors and text that says, "95% of Amplify grantees are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) led. Many of the leaders are women or gender non-binary.

Keep up with Amplify through our quarterly newsletter, photos and videos on social media, and "live" events with Amplify staff, steering committee members, local funder partners and grantees.

To learn more about some of our 54 grantees, watch (and share) our newly released 7 minute video. And follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
 

Democratizing Development Program (DDP)

Across the country, millions of Americans are facing eviction or on the cliff to potential homelessness. The call for short-term eviction moratoriums is not enough to heal and repair our communities and to stop homelessness. We need a housing overhaul.

In 2021, DDP will continue to bring together community voices and philanthropic leaders moving forward BIPOC organizing and policy solutions for land, housing, community ownership and power. We will further showcase intersectional frameworks and tools of the future of community development, philanthropy, and issues of gentrification, policing, evictions, and future solutions like #LandBack, community land trusts, and others.

We are starting off the year by partnering with philanthropic, health, and housing justice leaders linking the current health and housing crises to racial justice and power building. We will highlight leaders that are moving forward with land, power, and reparations strategies to advance a future of philanthropy leveraging more its assets to support Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. Join us to:

  • Strategize around intersectional approaches that protect tenants, preserve communities, and produce affordable housing solutions that build community power and community needs
  • Engage a broader range of funders at the intersections of housing, community safety and justice, education, health, jobs, climate, gender, and racial justice to center the needs of how housing is inextricably linked to a broad range of needs
  • Advance conversations on community development and ownership models that allow residents to influence local decisions and create longer-term benefits for themselves
  • Deepen philanthropic partnerships and alignment with the broader housing justice movement
     

Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG)

IRSG holds a core assertion that multiracial rural organizing is a cornerstone to a multiracial democracy, and that philanthropy has a critical role to play in building a strong participatory democracy that engages all communities.

In 2021, IRSG will offer a variety of ways for funders to connect, learn, and mobilize resources to support rural equity work — particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color led multiracial rural organizing infrastructure — in an urgent effort to strengthen our democracy. We welcome you to co-conspire with IRSG as we:

  • Launch a committee of Movement Advisors to deepen our accountability to rural community-led work
  • Offer a curated set of resources, calls to action, and timely updates from rural organizers and funders supporting rural equity in a regular newsletter
  • Share out actionable research in the form of rural infrastructure scans and funder recommendations, including a report and accompanying toolkits based on rural New York infrastructure, with actionable resources for funders across the country
  • Provide programming featuring multiracial rural organizing work on issues ranging from rural infrastructure (broadband, electric cooperatives) to agroecology (opportunities to organize and build power in rural communities based on their role in food systems), and how to sustain and build power coming out of the census and election work
     

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE)

FJE has been on a learning journey to increase consciousness around how movements and communities and workers build power, focused particularly on movements led by people of color toward racial, gender, and economic justice. FJE has begun to align our network around a common agenda, understanding new ways to liberate philanthropy’s accumulated wealth, diving deep into supporting worker and community power, and deepening our understanding of racial capitalism.

Last year, at the onset of the crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, FJE broadened its work to discuss how we can redefine safety through an exploration of the police power, police unions, and defunding the police, developing a fuller picture of workplace violence and health, and learning from experts about how proto-fascist, white nationalist, and white power groups are building towards their vision of authoritarianism and white supremacy that undergirds conservative ideology.

FJE continues the drumbeat to fund and sustain a longer-term path to power, so Black, Indigenous, and people of color, low-income communities and workers, rural communities, LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming people, women, and immigrants can realize and attain justice and build power toward a true democracy.

Coming up, FJE will be hosting our annual Policy Briefing in March to discuss how movement partners are continuing to build a powerful movement for inclusive worker power, considering both rising fascism and the new federal administration, and to share how funders can support multi-racial, multi-gender movements toward policy wins that build community and worker power, combat austerity policies, and support transformational and longer-term strategies toward racial, gender, climate and economic justice. Stay tuned for a save the date and an invitation to the 2021 FJE kick-off call for NFG members.
 

Philanthropy Forward

Fellows from Philanthropy Forward's two cohorts have been continuing to organize together as a community of visionary leaders who center racial and gender justice and community power building to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy. Check out highlights from Philanthropy Forward's fellows here.
 

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