June 16, 2020

A Multiracial Rural Equity Summit: Why Now

As part of Neighborhood Funders Group’s virtual convening series, NFG’s Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG) will host its first ever Multiracial Rural Equity Summit on July 1. 

As Americans across the country rise up in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, IRSG calls on philanthropy to: 

  1. Uplift the voices of rural communities demanding economic and environmental justice.

  2. Uplift the voices of Black, Indigenous and people of color in rural places.

  3. Uplift racial solidarity and shared prosperity.

IRSG’s Multiracial Rural Equity Summit will explore how systemic racism is harming rural communities and how grantmakers can support building rural resilience in the future. Funders will gather virtually to learn from rural organizations that have a racial justice analysis.

Paralleling rural & urban divestment

Since the 1980s, rural areas throughout the U.S. have been decimated by globalization, automation, the opioid epidemic, population decrease related to the financialization of our economy, and more. Rural communities have suffered from divestment in social safety net systems and lack of access to healthcare, education, and quality jobs. A robust rural economy once populated by family famers has been replaced with corporate factory farms, resulting in loss of land and livelihood for farmers across the country and an ironic reality in which some of the most food insecure counties in the country are rural.

During the same time frame, the rural prison and detention center economy grew exponentially; prisons and detention centers have become a bedrock of employment for many rural communities with 70 percent of U.S. prisons located in rural areas. The U.S. maintains the world’s largest immigration detention system, and more than half of immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are housed in remote rural prisons. 

Comparing farmer and prisoner populations, data shows that there are currently more prisoners than farmers in the U.S. Today, many states are now leasing out prisoners to support corporate agriculture and other industries based in rural areas, a practice tragically reminiscent of “convict leasing” adopted by former slaveholders during the Jim Crow era. In order to justify such a massive expansion, the prison industrial complex amplified a narrative that cast Black and Latinx people of color as “dangerous,” marketing it to predominantly white rural communities as an appeal to personal and economic security.

People of color in urban areas have experienced similar divestments that parallel those of rural communities. Decades of racialized divestment in housing, healthcare, and education have re-segregated cities, declined living standards, accelerated health disparities, and criminalized Black and brown communities across the country. In striking fashion, we can see that both rural and urban Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities are suffering from lack of access to healthy food, healthcare, education, quality jobs, and economies that are non-extractive of the local populations or the environment.

Climate change continues to be an existential threat to both rural and urban communities; it is devastating for farmers, and populations across the world are struggling to contain fires, droughts, storms, and the spread of diseases. The parallel experiences of disinvestment in rural and urban communities show that they have much to gain by standing together around a set of shared values. 

The path forward and philanthropy’s role

This all points to the fact that the fates of rural and urban America are intimately intertwined. As the country reckons with its racial history and calls for racial justice proliferate mainstream politics, rural communities will play a vital role in shaping outcomes on all of the issues we care most about. Rural communities are vital to creating the systems we need to survive climate change. Ninety-seven percent of America’s land mass is rural and as climate change forces massive relocation, the composition of rural communities will continue to change and the need for multi-racial community solidarity will be paramount. The existence of strong, stable rural communities is a critical part of moving the needle toward the future we would like to see. The path forward requires divesting from prisons and other extractive industries in order to invest more in resilient ecosystems, racial solidarity, and multiracial economic development.

As a group of funders across the U.S. interested in pursuing this path forward, IRSG is providing opportunities to learn together and understand the role of systemic racism, economic injustice, and climate change in harming rural communities — and the role of grantmakers in building their resilience in the future. Philanthropy’s role requires an understanding and sustained investment in the communities that are doing this work.

This is why IRSG is hosting a Multiracial Rural Equity Summit. The summit will feature funders and rural community leaders who will speak about the historical and systemic divestment in rural communities and the importance of investing in a multiracial approach to resilience and prosperity.

Join us to learn, connect, and explore a path forward together.

The summit is co-sponsored by 11th Hour ProjectCeres TrustCommon Counsel FoundationEngage New York, Meyer Memorial Trust, and NFG’s Democratizing Development Program.

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.

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

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