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.

Find More By:

News type: 
October 24, 2019

Reflections from Philanthropy Forward's First Cohort

Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change is a CEO fellowship program created by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The program's first cohort started in October 2018 in furtherance of building and advancing a shared vision for the future of philanthropy.

Hear perspectives from members of the first cohort as they reflect in this video on their work together as strategic thought partners, addressing philanthropy's most challenging issues and aligning to build a financial engine for social change.

2018 - 2019 Philanthropy Forward Cohort

A grid with individual photos of each of the 20 members of Philanthropy Forward's 2018-2918 cohort..

Click here for participant bios

  • Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation
  • Sharon Alpert, Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, Solidago Foundation
  • Ned Calonge, The Colorado Trust
  • Irene Cooper-Basch, Victoria Foundation
  • Farhad A. Ebrahimi, The Chorus Foundation
  • Nicky Goren, Meyer Foundation
  • Justin Maxson, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
  • Joan Minieri, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock
  • Maria Mottola, New York Foundation
  • Mike Pratt, Scherman Foundation
  • Jocelyn Sargent, Hyams Foundation
  • Pamela Shifman, NoVo Foundation
  • Starsky D. Wilson, Deaconess Foundation
  • Steve Patrick, Aspen Institute Forum for Community solutions
  • Dennis Quirin, Raikes Foundation
September 10, 2019

For Love of Humankind: A Call to Action for Southern Philanthropy

Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, calls on fellow funding organizations based in the South to respond to the federal government's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies with three concrete actions. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Justin 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. The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which strives to help people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice, is a member of NFG.


 

Justin MaxsonWe are issuing a clarion call to Southern philanthropic organizations to respond to the manic drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric and cruelty coming from the White House. This month began with a mass shooting targeting the Latinx community. Days later, massive raids tore apart hundreds of families and destabilized Mississippi communities but levied no consequences for the corporate leadership that lures vulnerable people to work in grueling, dangerous conditions. It is astounding that since those events, with the resulting fear and trauma still reverberating through immigrant communities across America, the administration has: 

  • repeated its intention to end birthright citizenship, a 14th Amendment guarantee that babies born on American soil are citizens. 
  • attempted to terminate the Flores Agreement, which sets standards for the care of children in custody. This would allow the administration to detain migrant families indefinitely in facilities where children are dying of influenza, yet flu shots are not administrated, where children are sexually assaulted, where soap, toothbrushes, human contact and play are not standard, and where breastfeeding babies are taken from their mothers. Child separation is known to cause permanent psychological trauma and brain damage.
  • announced changes to the so-called “public charge rule” to make it harder for legal immigrants to secure citizenship if they use public assistance. As our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argue, this change would cause many to “forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.” Further, the decision “rests on the erroneous assumption that immigrants currently of modest means are harmful to our nation and our economy, devaluing their work and contributions and discounting the upward mobility immigrant families demonstrate.”

There was also a recent effort to effectively end asylum altogether at the southern border. And despite the Supreme Court ruling blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 census, advocates believe the debate will depress response rates. As we wrote earlier this month, this administration’s animus against immigrants and increasingly aggressive ICE actions are compounding the devastating effects on communities across the country. 

Why Southern philanthropy? 

An analysis of recent grantmaking by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found our region has deportation rates five times higher than the rest of the country, yet Southern pro-immigrant organizations receive paltry philanthropic funding. Barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest foundations benefits immigrants and refugees, and even that money doesn’t go to state and local groups that are accountable to grassroots and immigrant communities. Organizations in Southern states receive less than half of the state and local funding of California, New York and Illinois. 

Where to begin? 

Speak up. As Desmund Tutu taught us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Use your institutional voice to influence decisionmakers.

Examine your foundation’s policies. Find out if your endowment is invested in private detention centers. Consider how supporting organizing, power building and policy advocacy could advance your mission. NCRP has more recommendations in its report.

Give generously. Our partners at Hispanics in Philanthropy have curated a list of organizations helping the families affected by the raids across Mississippi. Our partners at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees have compiled a list of ways to help, from rapid response grants to long-term strategies. 

Many of the Babcock Foundation’s grantee partners are doing more and more immediate protection work, stretching themselves thin and often putting themselves at risk. They are keeping families intact in the short term while building power for the long term, so history will stop repeating: 

If you know of more resources, please share them. If you’d like to learn more about the organizations on the ground across the South – or think about ways we can do more together – contact us. We are always looking to learn and act in alignment with our fellow funders toward a shared vision of a strong, safe, welcoming and equitable region. 

Activist Jane Addams said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us.” Regardless of a foundation’s mission, abject cruelty surely undermines it. It also undermines the most basic tenet of philanthropy, which literally means “love for humankind.” We see no love in this administration. It’s up to all of us to spread it.