Lessons for Ferguson from 4,000 Miles Away

November 25, 2014   by Allison Brown, Program Officer, Open Society Foundations Read the original post on the blog of the Open Society Foundations  
We proceeded on a country road His mother’s eyes red and swole Her child was never comin’ home Said a prayer for his soul As the coffin had closed, committed to the earth below First seed she had sown, would be a tree never grown Shade that was never known Who controls the Terrordome, the men with hearts made of stone Who love only what they own —Mos Def, “Tree Never Grown,” Hip Hop for Respect (2000), in response to the killing of Amadou Diallo
Emotions are still smoldering in Ferguson, Missouri. A community rose up in hurt and anger after the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury had declined to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, for fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last summer. Peaceful protesters and those who stoked the embers of outrage struggled to convey their disillusionment with a system that seems indifferent to the deep-rooted tensions between law enforcement and the black community—tensions that all too often result in a young man dead at the point of a policeman’s gun. Officials rushed to condemn the actions of a small group of protesters who veered off the nonviolent path that most took in hopes of having their voices heard. Their pain is real, and it is being felt across the country, as evidenced by the sympathetic protests that sprang up in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York. All the focus on Officer Wilson’s fate misses a larger point—and an opportunity for public debate about the root causes of the frustration that boiled over in Ferguson yesterday. After all, Michael Brown’s death is part of a tragic pattern borne of structural racism. In the three months since the college-bound 18-year-old was killed, at least eight black and brown people have lost their lives at the hands of police in the United States. In just the past week, Akai Gurley, 28, an unarmed black man and the father of a two-year-old, was killed by a rookie officer in the stairwell of his Brooklyn apartment complex. A few days ago, a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland was shot in the stomach by police and died the following day. An indictment against Officer Wilson would not have prevented these tragic deaths. Could anything prevent yet another young black male in America from falling to a police bullet? Can a community, having suffered through this sort of tragedy, ever heal? There are lessons to be learned, and even a small measure of hope, in the story of the death of another young black man—this one in England. Mark Duggan was a 29-year-old father of six living in Tottenham, North London, when he came under police suspicion during an investigation in the predominantly African and Caribbean neighborhood. In 2011, Duggan was shot and killed. The police claim he was preparing to open fire on them, though no evidence ever surfaced to support that claim. As in the Michael Brown case, Duggan was said by witnesses to have had his hands up in surrender when he was shot. In both cases, peaceful protests and palpable expressions of grief and mourning resulted in a highly militarized police response and days of violence. Following the London uprising, 14 young people came together to film Riot from Wrong, a documentary that captures the moments immediately following Duggan’s killing and tries to shed light on the various individual and institutional factors that caused community members to act in ways that took a tremendous toll on their own homes, businesses, and neighborhood. The film represents a group of young people challenging the media conventions and law enforcement narrative about Mark Duggan. By holding a mirror up to the community, it helped it begin to rebuild. The Open Society Foundations are hosting screenings of Riot from Wrong in Ferguson, Washington, D.C., and New York City in early December. The screenings will provide an occasion to look closely at the connection between Ferguson and London—and help show that the race and class disparities and social dysfunction underlying both episodes are not just American problems, but truly global ones. Young black people in particular are using their voices to lead the charge to racial justice, in solidarity with whites, with the poor and working class, with Latinos and Arab and Asian Americans, and with the world. From Mexico to Hong Kong to France, protesters are using “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as their mantra, and quoting American hip-hop artists like KRS-One to decry unfair treatment, neglect, and often outright contempt by police and other governmental forces. We hope the screening will help start a similar and desperately needed dialogue about what happened in Ferguson and about racial justice nationwide and around the world. It is only when police and the people understand each other that we can lay the foundation needed to make sure nothing like what happened on the streets of St. Louis County ever happens again. Out of great tragedy can come greater understanding. We can look to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that arose 20 years ago in South Africa to investigate the effects of apartheid as one example—an example of sustained international reflection that showed how we the people can push and grow toward a more perfect world. Our steps, even our missteps, are building blocks and bring us closer to that world we crave.
Read the original post on the blog of the Open Society Foundations  
March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

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 by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

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 AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.

March 25, 2021

Philanthropy must be accountable: NFG's March 2021 Newsletter

We need each other and all of us in the fight for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. The latest incidents of hate against AAPI women, elders, and our communities have left us grieving, angry, tired, and steadfast in our commitment to make philanthropy more accountable to AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities. See our full statement calling on all of us to Stop Asian Hate.

As Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of General Service Foundation, said in Neighborhood Funders Group’s 40 Years Strong convening series, "We must create cultures of accountability. How are we meeting this moment? A lot of what we need to do could be called organizing, but I think of it as meaning making." It is our collective work to make meaning of systemic injustices and resource power-building led by AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive.

NFG is holding philanthropy accountable by urging funders to utilize all of their institution’s assets to pursue social justice, center worker justice movements and strategies, strengthen organizing infrastructure built by Black women to shift political and economic power, support reparations and drive wealth back to Black and Indigenous communities, and reimagine public safety and community care to ensure everyone has a place to call home.

In the next few weeks, we'll be announcing more opportunities to connect with the NFG community, sharing Funders for a Just Economy's next Building Power in Place report featuring organizers in Texas, and releasing a new report on rural organizing in New York state commissioned by Engage New York and NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group.


In solidarity,
The NFG team

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