July 9, 2018

Facing and Recovering from Soul Trauma

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, Andrea Dobson, NFG Board Member and Chief Operating & Financial Officer of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, reflects on the realities of philanthropy's role in building community change.


 

“Soul trauma: when who you thought you were runs smack into the realities of your life.” I’ve experienced plenty of soul trauma as I’ve watched communities disintegrate and people polarize, as poverty has become less a symptom of limited wealth and more a criminal offense in people’s minds. How can that be? Why is the society I am a part of increasingly choosing violence over peace, oppression over inclusion, and greed over generosity. More importantly, what can I do about it?

I sit in a privileged place: a senior executive at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF), a highly respected philanthropic institution that has social justice in its DNA. In the opening plenary for Neighborhood Funders Group’s (NFG) biennial convening last month in St. Louis, Reverend Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, introduced me to “soul trauma” as something he had been facing. When the Ferguson crisis exploded onto the national scene, he experienced soul trauma. This weighed heavily on my mind during the the three days in St. Louis. Through engaging conversations, plenary sessions, learning tours, and side bar conversations, I grappled with a few disturbing realities – a soul trauma of my own, if you will.

My foundation is undergoing strategic planning, and we are about to direct all of our time and energy to advance equity in Arkansas. Sounds great, until I dig into the reality of what we are about to embark upon. Are we – the funding community and WRF in particular – actually putting our money where are mouths are? Are we funding social justice organizations like we expect them to win? Or am I more concerned with preserving corpus and not disrupting the power structure? Which one is my reality? There it is, my soul trauma.

As an accountant by trade and longtime philanthropic practitioner, I have industry standards that help ensure any money WRF sends to a nonprofit is wisely spent. Things like an audit, for example, and nonprofit status. But, if my aim is to increase equity, am I intentionally applying criteria that red-line small, community-led changemakers? Forcing small groups to get an audit is costly. Asking all grant recipients to be 501(c)3 organizations makes my due diligence simpler, but is it really serving the communities I say I’m interested in serving? Soul trauma.

At NFG’s conference, I was challenged to dig deeper into corpus, to rethink the capitalistic model, and to actually believe we can change the world. Artist, activist, and community-change strategist Jayeesha Dutta challenged me: “What if you believe there is enough? If you believe there is abundance, we can shift how it appears in our lives. We can and will build a new and different economy.” Can my foundation be a part of this shift? I hope so.

Aaron Tanaka, Director of the Center for Economic Democracy and Echoing Green Fellow, introduced economic democracy into the conversation. Our economic system has brought tremendous wealth to a few, but it hasn’t worked well for everyone and has left far too many Arkansans behind. It has also left our public servants beholden to small groups of wealthy donors instead of community members. Shifting to municipal participatory budgeting processes and community control over police departments would enhance accountability. Redefining the role of a politician as the implementer of community decisions produced by thorough resident engagement gives voice to those most impacted by policy change. Restorative justice in lieu of our current punitive system is a participatory way to bring safety to our communities and address the harms we inflict on residents. Cooperative ownership structures and worker co-op creation, community land trusts, and local finance organizing offer hope for our communities to become safer and more prosperous places.

All of this is food for thought – deep thought – as I sit in my office pondering how best to deploy an endowment to relentlessly pursue equity for all Arkansans.

I was sobered and inspired by stories from Santa Ana, California, a place where the local officials have taken steps to be inclusive and welcoming in the face of anti-immigrant politics at the state and county levels. They’ve worked thoughtfully and carefully to address the systemic intersections of law enforcement, immigrant rights, and poverty in ways that enhance their community. Organizers and advocates have supported each other to help the police department stop criminalizing poverty and end divisive rhetoric.

Asmaa Ahmed, Council on American-Islamic Relations policy manager, encouraged me to move away from fragmented thinking and to embrace holistic approaches to building communities. Immigrant-rights issues, she said, are related to criminalization issues and community violence: there is no vacuum. We are not alone. The “othering” is happening to every marginalized community. While sitting in this session, my friend Mary Sobecki, Needmor Fund executive director, was watching an immigration raid play out in her community. Fifty children were being separated from their families in Ohio while we discussed sanctuary in St. Louis. Soul trauma.

Reverend Starsky Wilson is not alone, and he’s also not a pessimist. He truly believes change can happen. He gave us a clarion call: “What if philanthropic advocacy actually turned political piety into people’s power. Do we actually believe it can happen?” I do. And I’ve figured out what I can do: I can recover from soul trauma and help others do the same. Just as recovery from physical trauma changes us, often for the better, I can feel my spirit growing stronger, and I won’t be alone. Our collective recovery from soul trauma will bring us closer together – our recovery is what will give us the strength to build stronger communities and finally unlock all communities’ full potential.


Connect with Andrea on LinkedIn and Twitter at @andreawithWRF.

Follow the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation at @wrfound.

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

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June 2, 2020

Black Lives Matter: We Say Their Names

We at NFG say their names. George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY. Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA. Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL. Dion Johnson in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day. NFG stands in solidarity with Black communities as we again find ourselves anguished, angered, and compelled to action in response to the murders of George Floyd and Black people across the U.S. by police.

We urge our network to continue challenging white supremacy. We call on philanthropy to divest from criminalization and invest in communities. We encourage you to fund communities directly, support protestors and essential workers — like Breonna Taylor — who continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and donate to bail funds around the country. Read more about how grantmakers can take action to fund transformative justice in this blog post from NFG’s Funders for Justice.
 


 

NFG cares about you, and your communities. We are here to work beside you and support each other as we share, inspire, grieve, and act together. And we are committed to organizing philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities thrive.
 

RESOURCES & CALLS TO ACTION

OPPORTUNITIES TO CONNECT

  • We will be holding Member Connection Calls on June 9 and June 11. These calls are open spaces for you to drop in and be in community with new or familiar NFG friends and colleagues. We invite you to join us at any point throughout the hour to say hi, share anything that’s on your mind, take a breath, and strategize with the NFG community.
  • Drop us a line! NFG staff are ready to help connect you with others in our network, or provide some 1:1 listening and strategizing with you about whom to connect with or specific ways you can take action in your institution. We invite you to get in touch with anyone on our staff.
  • Join the NFG network for our 40 Years Strong virtual convening series, starting later this month with discussions with philanthropic and movement leaders on what is needed in this political moment and beyond, as well as how philanthropy must be accountable to communities of color and low-income communities. Registration is now open.
May 29, 2020

Say Their Names: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson

This piece was written by NFG's Funders for Justice program leadership.

We say their names: Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY, George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL, Dion Johnso in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day.

Fund Black lives, Black futures, Black organizing. 

We Stand in Solidarity: Funders for Justice stands in solidarity with protestors in Minneapolis, Louisville, Phoenix, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities across the country, fighting for the lives and freedom for all Black people. We know that communities are powerful, and will dream and fight for the transformative justice in which together we create the new world we all need. As funders, our mandate is to fund communities rising up against state violence, and to continue to fund as communities build the power and momentum for long-term change.

We Must Continue to Challenge White Supremacy: While police killed unarmed Black people over and over again, we witnessed no police response to armed white nationalist posted in front of state capital buildings and yelling in the faces of security guards, demanding an end to shelter in place because they wanted to get a haircut and go out in public without a mask.

Stand with Black Women Essential Workers: Breonna Taylor was a young Black woman who was an EMT — an essential worker already risking her life during a pandemic. Yet we repeatedly witness evidence that the state does not protect or respect the people, especially Black women, risking their lives to save others. Essential workers are already facing dangerous conditions, with extremely limited protection equipment, low pay, often dangerous commutes to work, and then in turn endangering their families. That Breonna was one of the latest casualties of state violence is profoundly painful.

How to Support Protestors: We encourage you to fund communities directly, including at times when groups are not able to fill out even a short proposal or form because they are leading protests in the streets. We encourage you to give now however your foundation is able — including getting creative in mobilizing resources — perhaps to use your foundation’s expense account to send money for needed supplies like water and food. And, we encourage everyone reading this blog to make a personal donation, because we all come to the work we do as the full people that we are: part of communities fighting in resistance, part of communities fighting for survival, part of communities taking action in solidarity. You can donate now to bail funds in many cities. 

Invest/Divest Now: While millions of local dollars are cut from city budgets — in youth programs, health services, and education, among others — due to shortfalls, the police unions/associations continue to push for more money and more police. Yet police are not saving people in this pandemic — they are policing, fining, and sending people to jail - mostly Black people. The federal administration has refused to send more supplies and funding to medical workers and other frontline workers, while increasing funding to police-related spending and private security guards.

We All Have A Mandate: Philanthropy’s mandate to support communities in living healthy and free lives means funding both the public infrastructure that keeps communities safe — like health care, housing, and education — and funding the people, organizations, and the movements rising up against police violence and building power to defund the police, prisons, ICE, and detention centers. Philanthropy must support divest/invest campaigns and other abolitionist strategies, because nothing the police do is meant to ever keep communities of color safe. Now is the time to divest from the police, when cities are cutting budgets and need the funding for community wellness more than any other time. (Check out FFJ’s divest/invest resource for funders and consider how you want to support community safety and justice.) 

Bail funds and legal support in cities around the country are linked in this google doc hosted by the Movement 4 Black Lives

Where to donate to support protestors and Black folks organizing for Black Lives in Minneapolis: