July 12, 2018

Choosing to be a Liberated Gatekeeper

In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Amoretta Morris, — Director of National Community Strategies at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, NFG Conference Co-Chair, and NFG Board Member — reflects on the theme of her opening plenary address.  


 

people-amorris-headshot_(1).jpgRecently, a trusted social justice leader called me a philanthropic gatekeeper. And hearing those words stung — a lot.

But once I got over my initial defensiveness, I realized it was true.

Gatekeepers, after all, control the flow of power, funds, information and resources, and they’re often in a position to speak for and translate for people without access to those things.

Sounds pretty similar to grantmaking at times, doesn’t it? 

As good progressives, we’re used to examining privilege and how that shapes the experiences of marginalized communities. But what about our own privilege as philanthropists? How often do we turn the mirror around?

If we did, we’d see that we are all gatekeepers. Whether I am a program officer deciding what to advance to my director and board, or a trustee approving an investment strategy — we are controlling the flow of resources that folks need, often with only their limited say.

Merely wanting this to be untrue because of our commitment to justice doesn’t change it. We have to acknowledge the inequity of philanthropy and our role in it in order to change the way these systems work.

Another blind spot, especially for people of color in philanthropy (regardless of our current income level), is our own unexamined history and feelings about money and wealth. Left unchecked, these things can stand in the way of us effectively moving money to our people.Screen_Shot_2018-07-11_at_1.53.17_PM.png

Access to information is yet another gate we’re keeping. As grantmakers, we often see that full inbox and stack of reports as a burden. Just another thing we must read and squeeze into our day. The reality is, a lot of folks on the ground would love to have those materials and the nuggets contained within them. We must be more intentional about sharing that information; otherwise, we’re unintentionally keeping that gate locked. And that’s not helpful or why we got into these roles in the first place.

It’s certainly not why I did.

Being back in St. Louis for the Neighborhood Funders Group conference felt great — and it’s what inspired me to reflect on my journey. Though I started organizing during high school in Houston, going to college in St. Louis during the late 90s is where I got politicized as an adult.

And what was true then is still true now. Not enough philanthropic resources are going to low-income communities or communities of color to build power and advance justice.

In addition to many structural factors, this continues because grantmakers experience internal and external barriers to moving resources aligned with their values. I feel them, too.

Here’s the good news, though: No matter what we have or haven’t done up until now, we can do more.

It starts by asking ourselves these questions: How can I stretch? And what skills and support do I need to do it?

I’m here to tell you that your fellow NFG members can help.

Before I was a funder, I was an organizer. Following that, I worked in local government. Though I’d served on the board of a small national feminist foundation, Third Wave Foundation (now the Third Wave Fund), I was new to grantmaking when I joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The learning curve was steep.

Screen_Shot_2018-07-11_at_1.53.02_PM.pngMy colleague introduced me to NFG’s place-based working group and I breathed a sigh of relief. NFG has been my political home in philanthropy since then. And, by taking advantage of NFG’s network calls, learning tours and the annual conference, I’m becoming what we want more of: a liberated gatekeeper.

When we deny the power we hold as grantmakers, we allow ourselves to be unaccountable to communities for that power. Rather than deny our positional privilege, let’s consciously use it to disrupt power and shift it to the people we’re aiming to serve. Let’s open the gates, keep them open and work daily to break these explicit and implicit gates down. Let’s strive to be liberated gatekeepers who are accountable to our communities.

There are three C’s that can get us there: Connect, Celebrate and Commit.

Connect and build your community within NFG. Get to a know a new person who you can call when in doubt or when you need to talk through a strategy.

Celebrate victories and the incredible work that is happening on the ground and inside our institutions, then help others replicate it. In NFG, we focus as much on how we do the work, as what work we should be doing. We want you to know that no matter what type of institution you are in, or where it falls on the political spectrum, there are tangible steps you can take to align your grantmaking with your values and advance justice.

Finally, we want you to commit to moving a specific amount of resources by this time next year. Set an intention for yourself about how you will get more money and resources to our people to advance justice.

No one program officer, director or board member can do it all. But collectively, we can shift more resources toward communities and give those on the frontlines more resources to win. We can create a world that works for all of us.


Connect with Amoretta on Twitter at @rettaworld.

Follow The Annie E. Casey Foundation at @AECFNews.

Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on the NFG blog.

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

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 on the foundation's website.

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 AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.