I Did What I Was Paid to Do': Race Control and America

by Troy Jackson, Director, The AMOS Project & Co-author of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

Law enforcement, prosecutors, and clergy in this country are simply doing what we are paid to do.

Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, in an interview with George Stephanopoulis, shared his belief that in the altercation with and subsequent killing of Michael Brown, "I did what I was paid to do."

While there are many disputed facts around what happened between Brown and Wilson in the last few moments of Brown's life, Wilson is unquestionably telling the truth when he says he was simply doing what he was paid to do. Although one would be hard pressed to find it on a job description for a police officer, controlling African Americans has been a fundamental part of American law enforcement since our nation's inception.

During the days of slavery, law enforcement officers in the North and South were paid to protect the peculiar institution of American slavery. They checked papers of blacks, controlled the activities and actions of free African Americans, and enforced fugitive slave laws.

But it isn't just law enforcement. Most pastoral job descriptions say precious little about race and racism. Prior to the Civil War, clergy either supported slavery, or kept their opinions to themselves. That is what they were paid to do.

Jim Crow segregation depended on law enforcement officials insuring that blacks abided by racist laws. Police were too often complicit with terrorism against and the lynching of African Americans.

And most white clergy in the South, and throughout the country, kept "politics" out of the pulpit, by embodying a code of silence on racial justice, while they pastored racially segregated congregations. They were all simply doing what they were paid to do.

The explosions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of cities across the nation in the 1960s were, in part, a response by disaffected African Americans to law enforcement tactics, including police brutality with impunity, in black communities. They were a response to law enforcement doing what they were paid to do.

The same could be said for officers in my hometown of Cincinnati who, over the course of several years, killed several African Americans under questionable circumstances. This period culminated in the shooting death of Timothy Thomas in April 2001. Uprisings followed. The police were simply doing what they were paid to do. And, as a pastor in Cincinnati in 2001, I said little and did even less. I did what I was paid to do.

The vast majority of law enforcement officials in the nation today put their lives on the line for the safety and wellbeing of our communities. They sacrifice and take great risks. And clergy, by and large, work hard to encourage, challenge, bless, and comfort their congregations.

And like most in our nation, police learn through media and experience and trainings that young people of color are a little bit more dangerous, often pose a threat, and therefore need to be controlled. To keep the community safe, they are paid to control black people. Darren Wilson was doing what he was paid to do.

And clergy know far too well that we are paid to stay in our lane and not engage too deeply in the trauma of the world. So we silently support a society set up to control black people.

But the protests over the past few days are about more than how policing happens in this country. The protests, uprisings, marches, and civil disobedience are also in response to people in our judicial system doing exactly as they are paid to do.

Special prosecutors in cases like the deaths of Michael Brown and John Crawford III (shot and killed by police in a Walmart in Ohio) are doing what they are paid to do: protect law enforcement and a radicalized criminal justice system that has led to some of the largest incarceration rates in human history. These special prosecutors are paid by taxpayers to make sure officers are not indicted for shooting and killing unarmed people of color, while people of color fill jails and prisons throughout the nation.

As a pastor for two decades, I have to confess that, when it comes to race control, we clergy are paid to be quiet. We are paid to keep our prophetic impulses in check. We are paid to go along with slavery and Jim Crow and to uniformly condemn protestors and all acts of violence. We are paid to support law and order, which means we are paid to be chaplains to the status quo and keepers of the "peace."

We are all doing what we are paid to do, and for century after century, people of color have been the ones paying the price.

What is needed most at this moment is not the condemnation of any one individual or community.

What is needed is to stop cashing the checks, stop taking the payoffs, and stop participating in Pharaoh's Egypt, where no matter how many changes are made, some people continue to advance only by degrees of oppression.

It is time for An Exodus: It is time to pursue a Promised Land, where no person is paid to control and manage the oppression and dehumanization of another.

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March 21, 2019

Welcoming Two New FJE Coordinating Committee Members

The Funders for a Just Economy welcomes Andre Oliver and Marissa Guananja to its Coordinating Committee, the leadership body of the program.

Andre OliverAndre Oliver was appointed senior program officer at the James Irvine Foundation in 2014. He played an instrumental role in developing –and now manages –the Foundation’s Fair Work initiative, which aims to expand the voice and influence of low-wage workers on the issues that affect their lives and livelihoods. Andre also led the Foundation’s Leadership Awards program from 2014 to 2018.

He brings more than two decades of experience in the public policy and advocacy arenas, holding senior positions within philanthropy, political consulting, and government. Prior to joining Irvine, Andre was a senior strategist for one of the nation’s leading political consulting firms, with a deep involvement in California’s ballot initiatives, statewide, and local elections. Previously, he was Director of Communications for the Rockefeller Foundation, and served in various roles within the Clinton Administration, including Special Assistant to the President in the Office of Public Liaison, and Director of Communications and Strategic Planning at the U.S. Peace Corps.

Marissa GuananjaMarissa Guananja is a program officer for Family Economic Security at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. In this role, Marissa is responsible for identifying and nurturing opportunities for affecting positive systemic change within communities aimed at creating conditions in which children can develop, learn and grow.  She works closely with staff to ensure integration and coordination of efforts.

Prior to joining the foundation in 2015, Marissa served as the director of CONNECT (operated by The Neighborhood Developers) in Chelsea, Massachusetts. In this position, she managed staff and committees to carry out CONNECT’s mission of moving families in poverty to economic stability. Marissa has also held various positions with Neighborhood Developers, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and served as a board member with Massachusetts Community and Banking Council.

We are honored that they have joined FJE in this capacity alongside Alejandra Ibañez (Woods Fund Chicago, FJE Co-Chair), Marjona Jones (UU Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, FJE Co-Chair), Shona Chakravartty (Hill Snowdon Foundation), José García (Ford Foundation), Emma Oppenheim (Open Society Foundations), Anna Quinn (NoVo Foundation), Adriana Rocha (NFG), and Bob Shull (Public Welfare Foundation).

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March 21, 2019

The Amplify Fund is Expanding Support for Power Building and Equitable Development in 2019

When Neighborhood Funders Group launched the Amplify Fund in 2018, it was with a singular core purpose: to bring together funders to learn, collaborate and mobilize resources toward power building and organizing for equitable development.

The Fund aims to strengthen the ability of communities of color and low-income communities to guide decisions about just and equitable development and to shape the places they live. This ambitious goal is grounded in the belief that, as a society, we need a sustainable political and governing infrastructure that prioritizes the needs of people above corporations. Communities that are underrepresented in our civic culture also need to be authentic stakeholders in the decisions that affect their daily lives.

One of our first questions in the Fund’s design was where this multi-site, place-based grantmaking fund would operate. From the outset, we knew we wanted to be in places where work at the intersection of power building and equitable development was being driven by impacted communities. This is typified by grassroots groups across Puerto Rico that are building power with hurricane-impacted communities to alter the course of disaster capitalism, ensure dignified housing, exert community influence over the application of federal disaster relief funds, and bring about a new energy future for the island.

We were clear we wanted to work in communities of color and with low-income people in places that were politically alive in the national arena and where the local politics speak to who we are as a nation, but are frequently overlooked by national philanthropy—like Missouri. Specifically, in the St Louis region, the 2014 murder of Michael Brown Jr. resulted in a new awareness of the ways in which the deep racial segregation and disinvestment of Black communities has had negative outcomes for the region as a whole. Yet, Missouri often is not included in national philanthropic funding strategies.

And, we could see we needed to work in places where we would have strong funding partners who could help us build momentum for long-term sustainable funding. This is the case among the funders that have formed the Fund for an Inclusive California, which is working across the state to build power with communities of color affected by the housing crisis.

In our vision, when people of color and low-income communities have the power to transform the places where they live, the results can shift historical inequities and result in a more just future. To that end, we continue to grow the Fund and are working now with a set of local leaders in North Carolina to determine our funding strategy there. And, this month, we culminated a process of further learning and analysis gained from talking with local leaders – funders and field leaders – and national leaders from across the country to determine additional places to support local work. Beginning in late 2019, Amplify Fund will be dedicating resources to four new places - Pittsburgh, Nashville, South Carolina and Nevada.

Everywhere Amplify works, we strive to increase organizing capacity in communities of color and low-income communities and to rely on their wisdom in developing solutions for long-standing inequities by supporting locally driven collaborations, movement building, and risk-taking. The way we work in each place is different, and tailored to the local context: 

  • Nevada and South Carolina will join North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Missouri, as places where we are co-creating grantmaking strategies with guidance from local advisors, including organizers, funders, and those impacted by the issues firsthand. That process will help us to determine where in each state we will specifically focus and what our grantmaking focus will attempt to help shift in the local landscape.
  • In Pittsburgh and Nashville we will work in a slightly different way, using targeted opportunity grants to support groups, coalitions, and campaigns and lean into timely opportunities to accelerate ongoing work with additional resources. 
  • In California, we are proud to continue partnering with Fund for an Inclusive California to engage a table of local CA-based funders and community leaders to help build the funding strategy in the state. 

Through our grantmaking and funder organizing in all eight Amplify places over the next three years, we will move resources to efforts led by people of color and low-income communities working to build power to advance their vision of equitable development. We will provide general operating support to local groups, coalitions, and tables that center racial justice and community power. And, to be effective in responding to local circumstances, we will continue to listen to and work hand in hand with local leaders to understand regional context and needs.

We are incredibly excited to work in partnership with local leaders in this expanded set of geographies to put power in the hands of people whose wisdom is best suited to influence the decisions that shape the places where they live. Amplify members currently include the Ford Foundation, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Moriah Fund, Open Society Foundations, Surdna Foundation, and The California Endowment. The fund is looking to raise at least $17 million to support grantmaking and programming for its eight places over a four-year period. To date, the member funders have pooled a good portion of this budget goal, but we’re not all the way there yet. We invite other funders in the NFG network and beyond to join Amplify’s current funding partners to increase support for communities working at the intersection of power-building and equitable development. 

For more information about how to join the Amplify Fund, please contact amplify@nfg.org.