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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February 28, 2020

NFG Newsletter - February 2020

February is Black History Month and, in this newsletter, NFG honors Black resistance. Given the persistence of structural racism and the legacies of segregation, NFG has mobilized philanthropy to support POC-led organizing for equitable development since our start 40 years ago. Through our member-led and local advisor-led programming, we are lifting up how Black communities are reclaiming land ownership and addressing the racial wealth gap through grassroots power building.

At the beginning of the month, NFG’s Amplify Fund staff and steering committee spent a day with local organizers, non-profit leaders, and organizations in Charleston and Edisto Island, South Carolina — one of Amplify’s eight sites. Both national and local grantmakers learned alongside some of Amplify’s grantees, including the Center for Heirs’ Property PreservationLow Country Alliance for Model CommunitiesCarolina Youth Action Project, and South Carolina Association for Community and Economic Development, which are bringing together Black, Latinx communities and youth in the region to fight for community power, land rights, and environmental justice in the face of corporate power, criminalization of communities of color due to gentrification, and land theft.

This week, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program (DDP) hosted a two-day Health, Housing, Race, Equity and Power Funders Convening in Oakland, California. Over 100 participants grappled with how anti-Blackness and xenophobia fuel the complex housing & health crisis and community trauma, and heard examples of concrete organizing wins led by Black women from Moms 4 Housing and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Organizers from around the country urged grantmakers to significantly invest in long-term general operating support, community ownership models, POC leadership, and 501(c)4 funding for Black, Indigenous, and POC communities engaging in policy and systems change around housing affordability and justice. 

From Amplify’s funder collaborative to the DDP convening’s planning committee, funders organizing other funders has been a key part of our work. Funder members: how are you stepping up as an organizer and moving more resources for power building in Black, Indigenous, and POC communities? We invite you to connect with NFG staffprograms, and upcoming events — including our National Convening — and be part of our community where we bring funders together to learn, connect, and mobilize resources with an intersectional and place-based focus. 

Onwards,
The NFG team

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January 23, 2020

NFG Newsletter - January 2020

Animated fireworks with the text "40 Years Strong"

This year marks NFG's 40th anniversary. During our early years, NFG was one of the few spaces in philanthropy specifically focused on people of color-led, grassroots organizing, and power building as the key to effective social change strategies. Today, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important: communities of color are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, growing wealth and income inequality, and climate change; white nationalist backlash is rising; and our democracy is profoundly threatened. NFG is a space to draw support, deepen relationships, and find co-conspirators as we propel philanthropy to shift power and money towards justice and equity.

In 2020, the NFG network is continuing to explore structural racism in health and housing, racial capitalism, migrant worker justice in rural areas, reimagining community safety and justice, and more. We will also return ‘home’ to NFG’s founding city — Washington, D.C. — for our 2020 National Convening.

As we celebrate 40 years, our dynamic community of grantmakers and grassroots leaders is what makes us strong. This newsletter spotlights The Libra Foundation, an NFG member that shares our commitment to organizing funders in moving more resources to frontline communities and movements.

Keep reading below for more opportunities to engage with NFG. Whether you are new to NFG or a long-time member, we look forward to collaborating with you to accelerate racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.
 
Onwards,
The NFG team

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