183 posts categorized "Human/Civil Rights"

Texas Border Families Fuel a Network to Build Power and Equity

October 11, 2019

Rio-grande-valleyIf you're familiar with the Rio Grande Valley and listen to the rhetoric out of Washington, D.C., you know it has nothing to do with the reality lived by most families in the region.

Even as the national spotlight continues to cast its glare on the border, a collective yearning for human dignity, civil rights, and community progress is building in the valley, which is home to more than 1.3 million people. Sadly, the aspirations of the people who live there — and the region's vibrancy — are easy to overlook.

What you won't learn from listening to the president and his supporters is that the region is home to a grassroots movement driven largely by Latinx families comprised of both U.S. citizens and immigrants that for years has been advocating for solutions to problems created by decades of structural poverty and a lack of equitable access to financial resources.

Families in the region know better than anyone how public policies create progress and economic opportunity — or fail to. Poverty and intolerance, they will tell you, are blocking human potential — and creating costs for all of us. At the same time, dignity and compassion continue to be core values of the region's residents as they organize for social change and better lives.

"This is a moment where people can see beyond themselves," says Martha Sanchez, organizing coordinator for farmworker and civil rights organization La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). "Hate is not healthy for anybody. We need to look more deeply."

A Philanthropic Network Amplifies the Voices of Families

Central to this movement-building work, community and family leaders say, is the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a multi-issue coalition of Marguerite Casey Foundation grantees and allies. It is among fifteen regional networks the foundation and its grantees started. (The foundation, which has invested more than $7 million in the Equal Voice Network model, also supports the Native Voice Network and a youth-led network).

 

The network is an incubator of sorts where low-income families can meet, voice ideas, and focus collectively on bottom-up, community-led policy solutions.

Grassroots leaders in the region will also tell you that the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which has been investing in community organizations in the Rio Grande Valley since 2003, is one of the few philanthropic funders to issue sizable, multiyear general support grants to nonprofits in support of family-led movement building. Those dollars are used by grantees as they see fit in their efforts to alleviate poverty and promote equity in the valley. As we like to think, that support represents both philanthropic trust and movement building in action.

"We try to be a regular presence, to see how we can connect organizations with other ones. It's about being a bridge," says Christina Patiño Houle, the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network weaver, a role akin to a coordinator or facilitator. "What we provide is convening space. The network provides the focus of pulling people in so they're in conversation."

The network is comprised of eight foundation grantees in the valley and approximately twenty allied nonprofit organizations, many of them also based in the region.

Because network members are in regular contact with Rio Grande Valley residents and the focus is on grassroots movement building, local, state and U.S. government officials — including elected ones — make it a point to stay in frequent communication with the organizations and their leaders.

"It's a testament to the network's ability to mobilize people," says Patiño Houle.

Network members meet regularly to discuss the well-being of families in the region, which boasts more than forty-five cities and hundreds of unincorporated neighborhoods known as colonias.

While the issue of immigration touches all network members in some way, families say there is more to life in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties than what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border: families are fighting to secure healthy, stable, and safe communities, quality education for their children, and peace and prosperity. So when network members meet in working groups, they also focus on jobs, housing, civic engagement, education, and health.

Out of that collective focus comes passion-inspired efforts aimed at creating positive social change. Families are at the vanguard of these efforts.

The work often starts at one nonprofit organization, which then spreads the word to other network members. Or it can emanate from weeks or months of brainstorming after a group of network members have heard from families about the steps needed to go forward. The network also amplifies the work of its partner organizations.

Families Honor Asylum Seekers — by Dancing

The morning before Mother's Day is muggy and overcast near Edinburg, a Rio Grande Valley city about twenty-five miles from the border. At Sunflower Memorial Park, in the flatlands off state Route 107, the inviting rhythm of Mexican-Caribbean music blares from loudspeakers.

Under a metal shelter, about ninety people — nearly all women — are wearing workout clothing, shuffling left then right, hips twisting freely and arms waving to the beat of cumbia and reggaeton. It looks like a normal exercise class at a local gym, but nearby are Maria Campos, her daughters, and about fifteen cardboard boxes full of goods.

Before participants start dancing, they hand Campos and her children toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, pasta, canned food, blankets and clothing.

The donated items will go to asylum seekers and others who were recently released from federal immigration facilities and are now waiting at shelters to be united with relatives or sponsors. The event is organized by LUPE, the grassroots nonprofit started by activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in 1989. Campos and her daughters are LUPE members. They and the participants at the park are continuing the work of serving humanity.

"This is the closest that many community members will get to what's happening at the border," says John-Michael Torres, LUPE's communications coordinator, as the music continues in the background. "We want to lift up treating people the way we want to be treated."

Campos, who lives in a colonia near Edinburg, has visited shelters with other LUPE members — some of whom have read books to migrant children there — to offer support to asylum seekers released from U.S. detention facilities.

"I put my hand on their shoulder," she says in Spanish. "I tell them, 'You are not alone.'"

Families Lend a Hand to Asylum Seekers

Mother's Day, and the air is still thick and humid in Brownsville, which sits about sixty miles southeast of Edinburg. At the city's bus station — minutes from a U.S. Mexico-border crossing — Sergio Cordova has arrived with food and supplies for immigrants and asylum seekers following their release from U.S. detention.

He is a volunteer with Team Brownsville, a humanitarian organization that provides food and emergency supplies to asylum seekers and migrants on both sides of the border. The network supports Team Brownsville by amplifying its needs and supporting its communication efforts.

As asylum seekers have arrived at the border in recent months, nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU of Texas, have dispatched staff members to talk with them about the conditions there and their treatment by U.S. authorities. U.S. border guards are stationed at the midpoint of the bridge that crosses the river to Brownsville, and these days they turn away asylum seekers looking to be processed at the border and instruct them to wait in Mexico. Advocates say the old protocol of allowing asylum seekers to start the process after they had crossed onto U.S. soil was safer and more compassionate for families fleeing strife, turmoil, and violence.

Inside the Brownsville bus station, passengers are waiting to board buses to distant points. At first, it's hard to determine who might have been released from federal immigration detention or how long a person or family might have been at the bus station. Some newly-released migrants spend days there, patiently waiting to be reunited with relatives or sponsors in the U.S.

Cordova, a local school district employee who grew up in an immigrant family, scans the room looking for people without shoelaces and belts. Immigrants and asylum seekers who were just released from federal detention aren't likely to have either, as U.S. authorities, citing safety reasons, require that they be turned over.

Cordova gives food to an immigrant family who hasn't eaten in days, and then an older woman approaches, saying in Spanish that people nearby need help. A younger woman quickly follows, keeping an eye on Cordova.

The younger woman, who appears to be in her twenties, looks distraught. Her brown hair is frazzled, and a small towel is draped over her shoulder. When she moves again, it's clear she's not alone. An infant, a girl, is sleeping on a metal bench in the waiting area. Cordova rips open a pack of diapers and hands the mother a stack along with a toothbrush. Soon, a bowl of cereal is placed next to the girl, who is covered by a blanket.

The mother pauses and smiles slightly. She tells Cordova she is from Honduras and that it's taken a month for her and her daughter to make their way to the border. Asylum seekers often make the journey by walking. It is Mother's Day.

"Any baby who comes through, we make sure they have formula," Cordova says. "All we give them is all that they'll have."

The stories that Team Brownsville volunteers and city staff hear at the bus station are harrowing and almost always involve tales of the instability, turmoil, and violence that people are fleeing, especially if they are from a Central American country. But people arrive from other countries, too, including Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh, Kosovo, Cameroon, and Cuba.

Later in the day, Cordova and Team Brownsville volunteers walk across the U.S.-Mexico border with food and supplies for families and individuals waiting to apply for asylum. On the Mexican side of the border, as people eat the donated food, one man talks about the persecution he faced in Cuba because he is gay. He says he is looking forward to living in the United States.

Families Meet to Boost Education

Each week, members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network gather at a different community-based organization to chart a path to progress in other areas, including housing, jobs, and health.

The day after Mother's Day, the network's education working group is meeting at ARISE Support Center, located in a yellow two-story house in the city of Alamo. The house, which serves as the nonprofit's headquarters, is now a place for community organizing. Rooms are filled with chatter in English and Spanish.

It's fitting the meeting is at ARISE. The organization works with many nearby colonia residents, especially mothers. After getting tired of the conditions in their colonias — bumpy, potholed roads, a lack of streetlights — they became grassroots community leaders with the goal of creating positive change for their families and neighbors.

In minutes, the seats around the table in ARISE's lime green meeting room have been filled. Parents and community leaders are there to discuss ways to improve communication between families and school district officials.

School district board meetings, network members say, are held only in English — but parents in this heavily Latinx region mostly speak Spanish. Many say an English-to-Spanish translation policy at school board meetings would help support all families in their pursuit of a quality education for their children.

Also on the working group's agenda for the day: a discussion of how Mexican-American studies can be introduced into the school curriculum. Butcher paper goes up on the walls. Participants write down and discuss ideas.

"It's democracy because we are not working only for the best of one person," says Ramona Casas, a community organizer who helped start ARISE in 1987. "We're looking out for the best of community members."

A $190 Million Policy Win to Address Flooding in Colonias

Rain has just swept through the Indian Hills colonia, near the city of Mercedes, leaving the unincorporated area moist and muggy.

Near the intersection of Apache Drive and Campacuas Drive stands a sprawling tree. When neighborhood families need to discuss community issues and concerns — say, better roads or water drainage or their kids' safety — this is where they gather.

Lourdes Salinas, a community organizer with Proyecto Azteca, which works on affordable housing in the region's colonias, is standing under the tree with a few mothers. She lives in this colonia.

The women are talking about a major victory scored by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network in November 2018: a $190 million bond measure to fund nearly forty drainage projects in Hidalgo County colonias.

The county has hundreds of colonias — some community leaders put the number at between eight hundred and a thousand. Tens of thousands of families live in those colonias because they're affordable. But colonias are located on former agricultural land that was developed with an eye to retaining water for crops, says Ann Williams Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca.

When it rains here, homes and streets flood. Families talk of water rising as high as their waists. The water not only damages houses, including bedrooms and appliances such as washing machines, but can block streets leading into and out of colonias. Families are unable to leave their homes to buy groceries. Mothers talk of holding young children in their arms to keep them out of the water. Sometimes they slip and fall. Kids tell their parents that even the sound of rain frightens them. Sanitation systems fail during the flooding, contaminating neighborhoods.

In June 2018, the flooding reached worse-than-normal levels. Some have dubbed the event the "Great June Flood."

After that, families affiliated with the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network pressed their calls for better drainage. They went door-to-door and talked with neighbors, documented cases of flooding, attended government meetings, and studied flood maps and data. They then succeeded in putting a November 2018 bond measure on the ballot and spoke with Rio Grande Valley residents, explaining that the slightly higher taxes would benefit everyone.

Responsibility for the bond measure passing is shared by many families and community organizations, including ARISE, LUPE, and Proyecto Azteca, which all work in various colonias — places where their own families members live.

Sarai Montelongo, a mother in the Indian Hills colonia who started an influential Facebook page, used her platform to call attention to bumpy roads and the safety of neighborhood children and raise awareness about the drainage bond.

"We used to be a colonia that people forgot," she says in Spanish, standing under the large sprawling tree and near streets that have been the site of community meetings with elected officials.

While $190 million will not solve all the drainage issues in Hidalgo County, community leaders say it is a policy step in the right direction and that they will continue to work for more improvements.

"It will be a big change," says Salinas.

Rio Grande Valley, USA

Motorists looking to head north from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio take State Route 281. The drive takes about four hours and can be monotonous, save for the scrubby flatland greenery and what looks like a large gas station in the middle of the highway.

It's actually a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. Many people have questioned the need for these checkpoints so far from the border. According to the ACLU, however, the federal government can operate the checkpoints if they're within a hundred miles of the United States' "external boundary."

The ACLU also notes that U.S. border authorities are only permitted "a brief and limited inquiry into [the] residency status" of people who travel through the checkpoints. Cass of Proyecto Azteca says the federal checkpoints exist in every direction heading out of the Rio Grande Valley and are also found at airports.

A few days after Mother's Day, two U.S. Border Patrol agents dressed in olive green uniforms stand at a checkpoint lane and wait for motorists. One holds the leash of a K-9 dog.

As two visitors — a white American male and an Asian American male — pull up in an automobile, an agent wearing reflective sunglasses waves the vehicle through. No need to stop and answer a few questions; no need to show identification.

Beyond the checkpoint, however, a man with dark hair is standing in the grass just off the highway. In a matter of minutes, a U.S. Border Patrol van with flashing emergency lights arrives. Soon, two more government vans show up.

Weeks later, news breaks of crowded, unsanitary conditions at federal detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, of asylum seekers and migrants confined behind chain-link fencing, of migrant children remaining separated from their parents.

Sanchez, the LUPE organizing coordinator, says these types of stories and experiences underscore how important it is for communities to work together for human rights, equity, justice, and the alleviation of poverty.

"All of this reminds us of our humanity," she says. "We bring things in our heart to keep us human. For people here, it's not an option to give up."

Brad Wong is communications manager for the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This post was originally published on the Casey Foundation website.

5 Questions for...Chera Reid, Director of Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation, Kresge Foundation

September 16, 2019

As director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation for the Kresge Foundation, Chera Reid leads Kresge's efforts to use data to inform its grantmaking and social investing strategies, partner with grantees to ensure that the foundation's evaluation efforts support organizational and community needs, and shape how the foundation advances the fields in which it works. Previously an officer in Kresge's Education program, Reid has long focused professionally on issues of access and equity in institutions and systems and in her current role is leading the foundation's efforts to apply an equity lens to its evaluation activities, place-based practice, and collaborations across different fields and sectors.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English and African American Studies at the University of Virginia and a master's from the University of Michigan, Reid served in leadership positions at the New York branch of America Needs You and the Phillips Academy Andover Institute for Recruitment of Teachers while earning a PhD in higher education from New York University.

PND spoke to Reid about Kresge's transition from a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on using a variety of tools to help grantees build stronger communities, the challenges of equity work, and how she stays upbeat and positive in challenging times.

Headshot_chera_reidPhilanthropy News Digest: You were named Kresge's first director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation in 2015, when Kresge was just a few years into its transition from being a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on helping grantees build stronger communities. What role did the Strategic Learning Research, and Evaluation program play in that transition?

Chera Reid: When the foundation was primarily a capital challenge grantmaker, and we'd ask whether a project had been completed, a grantee would send in a photo of the completed physical structure. The other piece of it was financial. Kresge only released capital challenge grant funds when campaigns were nearing their finish line, which went a long way to ensuring the success of the grant.

The work I've been doing since I've been in my current role is about creating an intentional, learning organization. By virtue of that charge, the work I'm engaged in is about organizational culture change and about learning not just for the sake of feeling good about ourselves and to say we're doing it — it's about action and informing our decision making going forward. And accountability now is more about holding ourselves accountable to people in the communities in which we work and holding one another accountable to our mission.

What has changed at the foundation as we moved to a more strategic approach over the last decade or so is that we have expanded our view of our role. Kresge as a capital challenge grantmaker was an excellent thing. We were brilliant at doing one thing: helping to build libraries, hospitals, and educational institutions. But today we're using a more complete toolkit of philanthropic resources. And that means we are table-setting, we're bringing actors together from disparate fields, from the edges of practice and at the neighborhood level, and saying, "How about it? What do you think you can create together?"

We're also bringing different forms of capital to the table and saying, "How can we remove some of the risk associated with this work? Can we blend different forms of capital to get to the root of what people and communities are saying are their most pressing challenges? And how can we put learning, evaluation, and research to better use?" They’re all tools in our toolkit. By being intentional about using learning and evaluation to inform a more strategic approach to philanthropy, we are committing to doing all the things that philanthropy can and should be doing to drive change.

When Sebastian S. Kresge started the Kresge Foundation in 1924, his directive as to what it should do was really broad: promote human progress. Today, it is about expanding opportunity for low-income people in cities and doing it with an equity lens. And in 2024, the year of our centennial, we'll be asking ourselves, "How did we do? What can we point to that shows the distance we have traveled as an organization in expanding opportunity for low-income people in America's cities? Have we really done it with an equity lens? What is the path we want to chart institutionally as we look beyond 2024." Learning and evaluation are a really important part of that conversation, in that they help us hear the story, give us space to be more reflective, and enable us to look across different bodies of work and imagine the future we are trying to shape and contribute to.

PND: From an evaluation and learning perspective, what are the primary challenges of the foundation's equity work?

CR: Positing that we need to do that work through an equity lens has not been the issue, though that most certainly is not the case across the philanthropic sector. But for Kresge, bringing an equity lens to our practice has been a bridge. It resonates with other grantmakers and helps us come together and say, "Okay, what is it that we really need to learn?"

We try to incorporate the principles of equitable evaluation in whatever we’re working on. Evaluation in service of equity is about asking questions that get to root causes. It's about participant orientation and ownership, and also about ensuring that the work is multiculturally valid.

We do not have it all figured out. It's a challenge. As a sector, philanthropy has been able to work in ways that are not about evaluation in service of a bigger goal; we've been allowed to make evaluation about ourselves. But that is changing. And one thing adopting an equity frame means is that the many consultants we work with as evaluators have a long way to go to meet our goals and aspirations. What do I mean by that? We need more people who bring an equity lens to evaluative thinking, work, and consulting. In some ways, we've created that challenge for ourselves because in the past we did not ask for that kind of skill set. But we need more examples, and we need more of our peers to come forward and say, "This is what we’re trying to do and model." There is definitely a sense of urgency around the challenge within the foundation.

PND: How does Kresge apply an equity lens to its environmental and climate resilience work?

CR: Lois DeBacker, the managing director of our Environment program and a person who has spent much of her career working in philanthropy on climate issues, often says that the climate question is everybody's question. Not so long ago, the foundation's Environment program employed an adaptation and mitigation frame, but when the foundation rolled out its urban opportunity framework, the program had to re-situate itself within that frame. So, today, our work in this area is about resilience, although there is still space for adaptation and mitigation.

For example, in the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative, which is about centering people in their communities, one of the cities is Miami, where some neighborhoods are affected by flooding even on sunny days when so-called king tides are an issue. We're working with Catalyst Miami, a human services organization that has seen the effects of climate change on a regular basis, to bring together people who are most affected by the problem and have them help solve it along with government and business and community-based groups. That work is also pushing us into areas like public health and to say that climate change is a legitimate public health concern.

PND: You were a program officer in the foundation's Education program and, before that, ran an education nonprofit in New York City. What changes have you seen in the education field with regard to equity over the past decade? Are we making progress, and will we be able to sustain it?

CR: For me, the question about equity and education is largely about the narrative about who education — especially higher education — is for. I refer to it as education for liberation, by which I mean the freedom to think, to imagine, to dream, to wonder, to be curious, to hear oneself in the next person. I think that's the biggest gift education can give us.

Fewer than 60 percent of Americans — and this includes folks in states that are doing pretty well — have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential. And I think the narrative around who higher education is for and what is supposed to happen when you get to college or university has shifted. Part of that shift is thanks to philanthropy, and a big part of the credit belongs to the Obama administration, particularly Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign. Today, many colleges and universities are making student success their number-one priority. So, are we making progress? Yes, definitely, but we still have a long way to go.

What keeps me up at night is the continued segmentation in higher education that we see. By that I mean we have made it okay for people in this country who do not come from wealth or affluence — first-generation Americans, members of low-income households — to attend institutions that institutions that have the least resources and are asked to do the most for their students. And their social and economic mobility later in life often looks very different than it does for students from affluent families who attend elite institutions.

PND: These are challenging times for people working to advance a progressive social or environ­mental agenda. Do you ever find yourself getting dis­couraged? And what do you tell the people, both inside the foundation and your grantees, to keep them from getting discouraged?

CR: Last year, I was able to attend a fiftieth commemoration of Martin Luther King's assassination. I was grateful and moved to be sitting outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and to hear from folks like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and faith leaders from different religions and faith traditions. And part of what stood out for me was how young so many of those civil rights warriors in the 1960s were at the time. As a person who comes from a faith tradition, it reminded me of why I do what I do.

I think about my grandmother, who had an eighth-grade education. She lived well into her nineties, and she used to say that the race is not won by the swiftest or the strongest but by the one who holds on.

It's discouraging to see that our urban public schools are more racially segregated today than they were in the years after Brown v. Board of Education became law. It's a reminder for me that our work is both about today and about the past. The freedom struggle we are in is much bigger than the current moment. It is a movement that has unfolded over decades and continues to unfold, and we need to do our best to contribute to it what we can. The struggle is much bigger than we are.

In my role at the foundation, I recognize the importance of cultivating a radical social imagination. We have to attend to that sense of possibility, we have to let ourselves be curious, we have to be free to dream. I think john a. powell, who leads the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, is brilliant at cultivating and expressing a radical social imagination. Not only in the way that he describes othering and belonging for the many of us yearning to truly see ourselves, but in the way he brings his team together with truly inspiring people every two years for the Othering and Belonging Conference. The conference is a great example, for me, of what I mean when I say, "What does radical social imagination look like? Who are the best and brightest thinkers out there who can give us an answer and show us how to dream and imagine? What are the lessons we need to learn and share with others?"

There are times when I think rage and anger are important. Sometimes we have to call upon those feelings and take that energy to the streets. Sometimes we have to pick up pen and paper and write. Other times, it's a combination. But we owe it to ourselves to breathe through the work, to integrate those lessons into our own work, and to take to heart the charge that previous generations of leaders and activists put out there for us. As Martin Luther King said, "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

— Matt Sinclair

5 Questions for...Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pillars Fund

August 27, 2019

Kashif Shaikh is co-founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, leaders, and storytellers in order to advance equity and inclusion. Established in 2010 as a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust with investments of $25,000 each from five Muslim-American philanthropists, the fund became an independent organization in 2016 with seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded $4 million in grants to small and midsize nonprofits to help ensure that American Muslims are able to thrive and live with dignity — and continue to have opportunities to contribute to civil society and public discourse.

PND asked Shaikh about the role of Muslim philanthropy in American society, the importance of supporting "culture work," and the fund’s current priorities.

Kashif_Shaikh_pillars_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: Your website states that the fund’s grantmaking "is inspired by Muslim tradition, which includes respect, conviction, sacrifice, action, and generosity." Why don't Muslim philanthropies and charities have a higher profile in the United States?

Kashif Shaikh: Giving of one's wealth, time, or effort is deeply embedded in the Muslim tradition. And in the United States, the earliest recorded example of Muslim giving was by enslaved Muslims, who in the nineteenth century distributed saraka in the form of small cakes to children on plantations off the coast of Georgia, continuing a tradition from West Africa. The word saraka is closely related to the word sadaqah, the Arabic word for "charity." This is important to acknowledge as we try to build on what generations of Muslims have already done in this land.

Three-quarters of Muslims in the United States today are immigrants or children of immigrants, and half of all U.S. Muslims arrived after 1970. Over the last fifty years Muslim communities put a lot of resources into building mosques and other communal spaces as they put down new roots here. A significant portion of this giving happened through informal networks rather than through established foundations and funds.

More recently, Muslim giving has been gaining greater visibility for a number of reasons. Many of our philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are relatively new to the scene. Among our grant applicants, 20 percent of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian-led organizations were founded before September 11 and 80 percent were established on or after September 12, 2001. This tells us that many charitable efforts in our communities have been launched in response to the crises we faced. And, we've seen another burst of need  — as well as innovation — since the 2016 general election, which signaled another moment of crisis and "profiling" of our communities.

Unfortunately, many philanthropic efforts led by people of color have been historically overlooked and undervalued in this country. "Our issues" have not been seen as relevant to American society overall. More recently, however, attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims in the U.S. have signaled a broader erosion of rights across communities. It has become increasingly clear to us that Muslim communities are going to have to coordinate our efforts to defend ourselves against these threats and work more closely with other impacted communities to protect ourselves.

At Pillars, we've recognized the need to target our resources, which includes funding those who are at the forefront of some of these challenges. As Muslims have entered more civic spaces and joined more networks and coalitions — and have been recognized for our work in doing so — our profile has been rising. We are intentional about raising our visibility because it is important for everyone to understand the role Muslims have played, and continue to play, in bettering society, whether through our philanthropic, cultural, or civic contributions.

PND: The fund works to achieve its goals through three program areas — grantmaking in support of "rights, wellness, and understanding"; empowering American Muslims to tell their own stories and ensure more accurate and authentic representations of Muslims in the media and culture; and providing thought leadership to foundations, think tanks, media, and civic leaders. Why is culture-focused work — for example, the multiyear public arts and oral history project you funded at Brooklyn Historical Society — so central to your efforts?

KS: Culture plays a tremendous role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. still hold a low opinion of Muslims, and much of that is rooted in the damaging narratives we’ve all been exposed to through popular culture, especially film and television, over many decades. If we want to shift how people perceive Muslims, we can't afford to ignore culture. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project, led by historian Zaheer Ali, empowers the borough’s Muslim communities to narrate a piece of New York City history. By listening to their stories, told in their own words, anyone can learn how Muslims have helped shape one of the world's most influential metropolises.

There is so much power in crafting and sharing your own story, which is why we are inspired by the oral history project. There is also a vast untapped reservoir of Muslim storytellers that we want to help organize and nurture. Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith communities in the U.S., and only when we appreciate the many perspectives within our community will we begin to understand what it means to be a Muslim in America. For example, the perspective of a newly arrived Syrian refugee could not be more different from the perspective of a fourth-generation African-American Muslim. We want to help create space to honor and share all of these stories.

PND: Has the current political climate in America changed the fund's priorities or the way it approaches its work?

KS: My co-founders and I established Pillars Fund because we observed that American Muslim communities were underresourced while being disproportionately targeted by harmful policies and widespread stereotyping that was feeding and reinforcing  bigotry and enabling those very policies to take hold in America. Particularly in the years since September 11, our community has been in a constant state of emergency, reacting to and mobilizing against new hate crimes, discriminatory policies, irresponsible news reporting, and biased cultural programming on a daily basis.

All of this work  has been essential to the health of our communities, but we've always known we needed to think beyond to the next twenty to thirty years. How will our communities function then? Are we cultivating the next generation of leaders and cultural producers? This is our focus, and we’ve tried to maintain that focus in the decade since our inception.

That said, the current political climate has changed the reality we're facing. As a young, evolving organization, we've tried to maintain our ability to respond to shifting dynamics. Under the current administration, we've had to contend with family separation and other humanitarian crises caused by the Muslim ban. But we're also looking at ways to support the many Latinx immigrants being rounded up by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and separated from their children, and people whose families have been torn apart by other forms of mass incarceration. Family separation is a grotesque policy that we would stand against no matter who was being impacted, but it’s important to recognize that the U.S. Muslim population includes a vibrant and growing Latinx community. No person is defined by their faith alone, and it's important to recognize how the multiple identities each of us carries impacts our concerns and livelihoods.

PND: In 2018, the fund awarded  $800,000 in grants, most of which were less than $50,000. What's the theory of change behind your focus on awarding relatively modest grants to small and midsize nonprofits?

KS: There are hundreds of organizations working in or alongside Muslim communities in the U.S. Part of what makes Pillars Fund effective is our ability to assess the national landscape and identify where investments can accelerate progress toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. We want to give a boost to  organizations we see as doing pivotal work around the country, and this has required us to spread our resources over a relatively wide field.

Many of the nonprofits we work with are very small, and a grant of $50,000, $25,000, or even $10,000 is incredibly meaningful for organizations that are used to working with one full-time employee, an army of volunteers, or a budget of less than $100,000. A lot of our partner organizations are in the earliest stages of their development, and we can support them as they grow. In many cases, they are the people directly impacted by the issues they're working on. This isn't long-distance charity. In many cases we’re simply supporting them in doing the work they’d already be doing anyway.

In addition to awarding grant dollars, we’re always looking for ways to support our grantees' development through capacity building, which has included technical assistance with digital security, workshops and consultations on how to build their board and how to fundraise, communications support, and so on. This kind of wraparound support is something we’re committed to investing in even further in the years to come.

Pillars is building a community of Muslim grantee-partners, storytellers, and investors who share a broad vision, but each bring unique and important perspectives to our collective work. While I always see us contributing to a wide network of groups, I anticipate that the size of each grant will increase as our fund grows.

PND: Before helping to launch Pillars, you were a program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and were tasked with helping Chicago nonprofits scale their work at the intersection of racial justice, poverty, and education. As the executive director of an organization that partners with much larger national foundations — including the Ford, Kellogg, MacArthur, Nathan Cummings, and Open Society foundations — what is the most important lesson you have learned about collaboration?

KS: That's a great question. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is paramount. Everyone has their own interests and priorities, and it's important that you bring your individual mandates to the table when collaborating. This helps you avoid misunderstandings as the work progresses, and ensures that each organization is better positioned to accomplish its goals. Be transparent and communicate regularly to keep your collaboration on track.

I'll add this: the best advice I ever got about marriage is that it’s not really a 50/50 collaboration. Some days it's 90/10, and on others it's 40/60, and so on. Each organization brings its own value to a collaboration, and it doesn't always appear equal. What’s essential is to recognize what each of you brings, and to leverage and honor that contribution.

Kyoko Uchida

5 Questions for...Tanya Coke, Director, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation

June 05, 2019

Tanya Coke has been involved in issues of criminal justice, mass incarceration, and immigration for more than thirty years. First as a researcher at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, then as a trial attorney in the Legal Aid Society‘s Federal Defender Division, and now as director of Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice at the Ford Foundation, Coke has been actively engaged in public interest law and social justice issues and, at Ford, leads a team focused on harnessing the resources and commitment needed to combat inequality based on gender, race, class, disability, and ethnicity.

PND spoke with Coke about the foundation’s efforts to reduce the U.S. prison population, decouple the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems, and protect a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Headshot_tanya_cokePhilanthropy News Digest: Your work with the Legal Aid Society, the Open Society Institute, and the U.S. Human Rights Fund has given you the kind of frontline exposure to the criminal justice system that few people ever get. You've said you hope to use your platform at the Ford Foundation to help reduce the U.S. prison population by 20 percent by 2022. What makes you believe that goal is achievable? And what kinds of things can the foundation do over the next few years to make that goal a reality?

Tanya Coke: When I began researching criminal justice issues in the late 1980s, politicians from both parties were falling over themselves to out-tough the other on crime. It is widely believed that Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 election over a flubbed debate answer over whether he would consider the death penalty if his wife were raped. It would have been hard to imagine back then that presidential candidates in 2020 would be competing to see who has the most progressive criminal justice reform platform.

That gives me hope and makes me believe we can make significant progress in taming the beast that is mass incarceration in America. Bipartisan momentum for reform is happening because of a confluence of several factors: low crime rates, tight state budgets, and a much greater understanding of how mass incarceration has decimated families and communities and made us all less safe. It is not a window that will remain open forever, however, so while it is open we have to work harder and more effectively to change not just minds about what we're doing but also hearts. That requires narrative change. It requires smart policy advocacy. And it requires more organizing in communities that are most impacted by mass incarceration.

The other thing that makes me feel optimistic is that we have seen prison populations in states like California, New York, and New Jersey drop by more than 30 percent in recent years, and in the past two years we've seen incarceration rates drop by more than 10 percent in very conservative states like Louisiana and Oklahoma. That gives me confidence we can achieve significant reductions in the incarceration rate in other states as well.

But it's not enough to focus on state prison populations. We also have to look at what’s happening in local jails, where people typically serve sentences of less than a year. While state prison populations are coming down, jail populations in many places are rising. To address the situation, we've been focusing on bail reform. Bail needlessly leads to the incarceration of people who shouldn’t be in jail, particularly poor people who don't have the wherewithal to pay cash bail. We're seeing growing awareness of that fact and momentum building across the country to do something about it. Another example is our work to effect broader change in the usual narratives about crime and criminal justice. That work takes the form of support for journalism projects, partnerships with Hollywood, and efforts to leverage other kinds of storytelling platforms, with a focus on trying to re-humanize people who are in the system and imagining a different approach to public safety.

PND: Many people have come to see the criminal justice system in the U.S. as an institutional manifestation of white supremacy. Is that an accurate characterization? And where are we as a society in terms of identifying and dismantling structural barriers to real racial equity and justice?

TC: That is the real work. There is no question that mass incarceration is driven by structural racism. To some degree it was set off by rising crime rates in the 1980s, but more than anything it has been powered by racial fear and a deep-seated instinct toward racial control of surplus labor. In my opinion, mass incarceration would not have been possible during the era of slavery because black bodies were too valuable as property in the South to let them sit idle in jail. Mass incarceration also was not possible in the 1940s or 1950s, the heyday of American manufacturing, again because black labor was needed to keep the auto factories and steel mills humming. But mass incarceration does become possible in the 1980s, after many of those manufacturing jobs had been shipped overseas and, suddenly, lots of people in black communities were forced into the underground economy of drug selling, which in turn led to a heightened, racialized fear of crime. Mass incarceration was a response not only to the advances of the civil rights movement, but also to the hollowing out of industries that employed blacks, and the racial fears that both spawned. In general, police are not comfortable with idle black men on street corners, and that fact accelerated the instinct to warehouse them in prison.

You have only to look at the difference in per capita incarceration rates in heavily black states like Louisiana, where eight hundred people per hundred thousand are incarcerated, and a homogeneous, largely white state like Vermont, where the rate is three hundred people per hundred thousand. Vermont is a state heavily affected by the opioid abuse epidemic, and yet it has made the choice not to incarcerate drug users or sellers at anything like the rate that prevails in states with large black populations such as Louisiana or Mississippi. Vermont is more inclined to treat opiod abuse as a public health problem.

In general, I think our field has not thought enough about the relationship between criminal justice, the control of labor, and the many ways in which black people in the United States have, in effect, become surplus labor. This has implications for social control as well as the rise of corporate interests that are profiting from mass incarceration. It's an under-studied area, and one where we need more research and advocacy to ensure that vulnerable people are reintegrated in a meaningful way into the economy.

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A Conversation With Angelique Power, President, Field Foundation

May 20, 2019

A Chicago native, Angelique Power started her career in philanthropy in the public affairs department of Marshall Field's Department Stores, where she learned about corporate social responsibility and what effective civic engagement in the business world looks like. She went on to serve as program director at the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation and as director of community engagement and communications at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, before being named president of the Field Foundation of Illinois in the summer of 2016.

Since stepping into that role, Power has helped catalyze new ways of thinking about racial equity and social justice at a foundation that has engaged in that kind of work for decades. Under her leadership, the foundation has expanded its relationships with the community-based nonprofits it historically has supported as well as a range of philanthropic partners in Chicago.

Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Power about how the foundation is rethinking its approach to racial equity, its new partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and why she is optimistic about the future.

Heasdhot_angelique_powerPhilanthropy News Digest: The Field Foundation was established in 1940 by Marshall Field III, grandson of the man who founded the Marshall Field’s department store chain. Although the younger Marshall Field worked on Wall Street, he was also a committed New Dealer. What did Field think he could accomplish through the foundation, and what happened to the foundation after his death in 1956?

Angelique Power: As someone who in the day practiced what we refer to today as racial equity and social justice grantmaking, Marshall Field III was a leading financial supporter of Saul Alinsky, the godfather of community organizing. And the Field Foundation in the early '60s was a significant supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, especially around some of the voter registration campaigns that Dr. King led. It’s always interesting to me to reflect on Field's trajectory, a person who was born into great wealth but who saw the racial inequality in Chicago and nationally and decided to use his resources and his platform as a white man of privilege to effect change in the system.

Marshall Field V is on our board, and I often tell him, "You know, I never met your grandfather, but I have such a crush on him." Marshall Field III was a visionary in the way he thought about democracy and the institutions that hold power accountable in a democracy and how you can support individuals who are working to create change at a systems level. And I'm pretty sure he had all of that in mind when he set up the foundation.

After he passed away in 1956, the foundation was broken up. His widow moved to New York and created the Field Foundation of New York, and his son, Marshall Field IV, stayed in Chicago and created the Field Foundation of Illinois. The Field Foundation of New York spent itself down after twenty years, while the Field Foundation of Illinois is what we today refer to as the Field Foundation. In many ways, I feel like the path we've been on since I arrived three years ago — and going back beyond that to the tenures of the foundation's last few presidents — has been to try to put into action the ideals of Marshall Field III.

PND: You're the third consecutive African American to serve as head of the foundation, and individuals of color comprise a majority of your board. Whom do you credit for ensuring that the leadership of the foundation reflects the community it aims to serve?

AP: In the late 1980s, the Field Foundation made a couple of very interesting and unusual moves for the time. One was adding Milton Davis, an African-American man, to the board. The other was hiring Handy Lindsey, Jr. as president. Handy, who recently retired as president of the Ruth Mott Foundation, is so well respected in the field, both locally and nationally, that for years there was a lecture series named in his honor.

There are a couple of other things about the Field Foundation that make it unique. One, we are not a family foundation, although we do have some family members on our ten-person board, including Marshall Field V, who is a director for life, and two other family members; everyone else is a person of color. And the board has a keen interest in having the foundation operate as a private independent foundation, rather than as a family foundation. Family foundations are great and allocate capital in really interesting ways. But there was a decision early on here at the Field Foundation to put the resources and influence of the foundation in the hands of civic leaders, as opposed to solely family members.

Marshall Field V was instrumental in that decision, and he has never served as board chair. He is also very careful about how he participates in board meetings. I'm talking about a brilliant human being who serves on many boards, who has raised a tremendous amount of money for conservation and arts organizations and other causes, and who understands that his voice carries a lot of weight. He is very intentional in the context of his Field Foundation duties about sharing power, and always has been.

The decision to diversify the center of power at the foundation began in the 1980s, and that's also something I attribute to Marshall Field V. It's because of Marshall that our last two board chairs — including Lyle Logan, who recently stepped down as chair after serving more than ten years in that role — have been persons of color.

According to the D5 coalition, nationally, 14 percent of foundation board members are people of color, while the population of Chicago is 60 percent people of color. Our new board chair, Gloria Castillo, who also serves as CEO of Chicago United, a robust organization of CEOs of color that is working to create a more inclusive business ecosystem in Chicago, is very thoughtful about how leadership should look and operate, and she is absolutely committed to making sure that our organizational culture reflects equity in every sense of the word.

I would also mention Marshall's daughter, Stephanie Field-Harris, who chaired the search committee that selected me and was fiercely committed to speaking to candidates for the job who could come into a situation and not do what most people expected them to do but would be willing to lead an inclusive process that tried to radically re-imagine philanthropy. I credit all those folks, and each of our board and staff members, for making the Field Foundation the special institution it is today.

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Philanthropy Has Changed How It Talks — But Not Its Grantmaking — in the Decade Since NCRP's 'Criteria' Was Released

May 10, 2019

Ncrp-image-1-234x300It's been ten years since NCRP released Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best. As I reflect on the animated response to the report, I'm struck by how far the sector has come since 2009 — and, paradoxically, by how little has changed.

Our decision to publish Criteria was, shall we say, controversial. That NCRP had the temerity to assert that any set of criteria be applied to the field of philanthropy, let alone criteria grounded in our belief that grantmakers needed to prioritize marginalized communities and support grassroots-led problem solving to address the systemic inequities and injustices confronting communities in America every day, had more than a few people aghast.

Here's a sampling of the some of the pushback:

"[NCRP's] hierarchy of ends is breathtakingly arrogant." — Paul Brest, former president, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in the Huffington Post, 2009

"We reject the use of a single template to promote effective philanthropy." — Steve Gunderson, former president, Council on Foundations, 2009

"In the NCRP worldview, philanthropic freedom is not only at risk, it's an oxymoron." — Heather Higgins, former VP, Philanthropy Roundtable, in Forbes, 2009

Criteria earned NCRP new fans and more than a few critics. But when I consider the many books published in the last few years that have been critical of the field, I'm pretty sure that if we released the report today, few would bat an eyelash.

What's changed?

Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: At A Glance

Criteria offered the following aspirational goals for grantmakers looking to maximize their impact in the world:

Criterion I: Values

...contributes to a strong, participatory democracy that engages all communities.

a) Provides at least 50% of its grant dollars to benefit lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined.

b) Provides at least 25% of its grant dollars for advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement to promote equity, opportunity, and justice in our society.

Criterion II: Effectiveness

...invests in the health, growth, and effectiveness of its nonprofit partners.

a) Provides at least 50% of its grant dollars for general operating support.

b) Provides at least 50% of its grant dollars as multiyear grants.

c) Ensures that the time to apply for and report on the grant is commensurate with grant size.

Criterion III: Ethics

...demonstrates accountability and transparency to the public, its grantees, and constituents.

a) Maintains an engaged board of at least five people who include among them a diversity of perspectives — including those of the communities it serves — and who serve without compensation.

b) Maintains policies and practices that support ethical behavior.

c) Discloses information freely.

Criterion IV: Commitment

...engages a substantial portion of its financial assets in pursuit of its mission.

a) Pays out at least 6% of its assets annually in grants.

b) Invests at least 25% of its assets in ways that support its mission.

 

Philanthropic sector discourse has come a long way in the last decade

It has become commonplace for foundation staff to talk publicly about trusting grantees with long-term general support, investing in marginalized communities, and funding structural change.

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7 Things One Family Foundation Is Doing to End Poverty

March 29, 2019

End_povertyThe Skees Family Foundation (SFF) is just one of the more than 86,000 private foundations in the United States, and with a corpus of just over $2 million, we're consistently the smallest foundation in the room at any peer gathering. Undeterred by the magnitude of the challenge, however, we've invested $1.7 million over fifteen years in efforts to end poverty. Along the way, we've learned a few things about how to leverage our funding:

1. Philanthropy of the hands. We named SFF after the grandparents (my parents) who struggled to feed their seven children but always added a dollar to the church basket and could find an hour when needed for community volunteering. Hugh and Jasmine believed in giving whatever they had: Hugh donated blood to the American Red Cross and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and the Dayton International Peace Museum, while Jasmine sang in the church choir, crocheted prayer shawls, and visited with surgery and hospice patients. They taught us that so many of things we take for granted — abundant food, clean water, shelter, good health, security — were not ours because we deserved them but because of a combination of luck (being born in a stable, prosperous country) and hard work. They also taught us that all humans are created equal, deserve equal access to respect and opportunities, and are part of one big family. Their legacy — of humility, gratitude, and belonging — may seem idealistic in today's polarized world, but it's the core value on which all of our own families and careers, as well as our philanthropic collaborations, are based.

2. Diversity of viewpoints. SFF unites more than forty family members ranging in age from nine to ninety-one. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Socialists, occupy different places along the gender spectrum, are of many different ethnicities and nationalities, and work at a range of occupations, from nurse and nanny to soldier, salesman, accountant, Web developer, and writer. Each family member is invited to collaborate on an annual grant to an organization that reflects his or her passion for a cause — whether it's self-esteem training for at-risk young girls in California, tutoring and job skills development for young men in Chicago looking to make a new start after time spent in a gang or jail, or business skills training for a beekeeping women’s co-op in Haiti. As well, members of each of our three generations convene biannually to select grant partners with expertise in a specific area — whether it's mental health, veterans' issues, or survivors of trafficking — that are near and dear to their heart. When it comes to our major multiyear grants, we encourage loving debate by members of our all-family volunteer board, with a focus on programs that have the potential to reach the greatest number of people and to create a holistic ecosystem of respect and care.

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5 Questions for...James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice, Arnold Ventures

March 27, 2019

Arnold Ventures (formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation) has been a leading supporter of criminal justice reform since 2011. Under the leadership of James Cadogan, vice president of criminal justice, the organization recently launched the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, a community of practice involving more than two dozen Arnold Ventures grantees working to eliminate unnecessary and unjust detention practices, with new investments totaling $39 million.

Cadogan joined the organization after serving as the inaugural director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and as a counselor to the attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped design comprehensive federal reentry reforms; served as a lead staffer on an initiative to reduce the use of solitary confinement at the Federal Bureau of Prisons; developed national community policing initiatives; and supported access to justice programs.

PND asked Cadogan about the initiative's goals, the emerging field of pretrial justice reform, and the role of pretrial justice reform in advancing racial equity.

James Cadogan_PhilanTopic_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: Your organization is on record as saying "money bail obscures legally required risk analyses, traps people in jail, and contributes to unconscionable racial and economic disparities in our justice system." How does the cash bail system exacerbate the mass incarceration of people of color? And how central to the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice is the goal of advancing racial and economic equity?

James Cadogan: A fundamental principle of our justice system is the presumption of innocence: the idea that, when accused of a crime, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But across the country — right now — there are hundreds of thousands of people sitting in jail who haven't been convicted of any crime, nearly half a million at any given moment. They haven't even been tried. That's because of our current system of money bail.

Generally, after an individual is arrested they go before a judge who reads the charges and sets bail — an amount of money that the arrestee must pay in order to be set free. If you can pay that money, you go free; if you can't afford it, you go to jail. In other words, the size of your bank account determines your freedom. Simply put: that is unjust.

To avoid jail, those who can't afford to pay the bail amount directly might turn to a bail bondsman who can post the amount with the court while charging the individual a fee, often 10 percent of the bail amount. But if bail is set at $2,000, many people are equally unable to afford the $200 fee a bondsman would charge as the $2,000 bail imposed by the court. The money bail system discriminates against the poor — and people of color are disproportionately poor. Research has also shown that people of color are treated more harshly within the money bail system: for example, African-American men on average receive 35 percent higher bail amounts than white men who are arrested for the exact same crime.

PND: Arnold Ventures, formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, has supported pretrial justice reform since 2011 — support that has included efforts to increase transparency around and the use of validated, evidence-based risk assessments in judges' decisions to release or detain defendants. Beyond strengthening implementation of the Public Safety Assessment— which was created from a database of more than 1.5 million cases in over three hundred jurisdictions — what is the partnership planning to do to reduce "unnecessary and unjust detention"?

JC: Pretrial detention rates are driven by a number of decisions and processes under the control of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court administrators, and other system actors and stakeholders. The National Partnership intentionally connects and elevates partners with different types of expertise — for example, research, policy development, or litigation — and supports them in taking on projects that span a range of pretrial justice challenges such as evaluating the impact of bail practices, working to expand the use of prosecutorial diversion that moves people out of the criminal just system, or undertaking advocacy related to the impossible caseloads many public defenders face.

Pretrial justice practices and operations vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so the breadth of the work we support to reduce unjust pretrial detention is important: National Partnership initiatives span four hundred counties across thirty-five states. At this pivotal time in the pretrial justice reform movement, it's important to understand that even though experts nationwide may have different approaches and don't agree on everything, they're all committed to the same end goal: reducing our unconscionable rates of pretrial detention. By supporting a diversity of efforts, we can help harness that momentum in a variety of places and spaces across the country and give ourselves the best chance of bringing about lasting policy change in pretrial justice. That's where see the biggest value of the partnership.

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Newsmaker: Cathy Cha, President, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

February 07, 2019

Cathy Cha, who officially stepped into the role of president of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in January, has long worked to advance new models for how foundations can collaborate with advocates, communities, and government to achieve greater impact. Cha joined the Haas, Jr. Fund in 2003 as a program officer. From 2009 to 2016, she managed its immigrant rights >portfolio, leading efforts to bring together funders and local leaders to strengthen the immigration movement in California. For the past two years, Cha served as vice president of programs at the Fund.

Cha co-created and led the California Civic Participation Funders, an innovative funder collaborative that is supporting grassroots efforts across California to increase civic participation and voting among immigrants, African Americans, and other underrepresented populations. She also worked with legal service providers and funder partners to launch the New Americans Campaign, which has helped more than 370,000 legal permanent residents in eighteen cities become U.S. citizens, and helped jumpstart efforts to create the African American Civic Engagement Project, an alliance of community leaders, funders, and local groups working to empower African-American communities.

PND asked Cha about new efforts at the fund, its priorities for 2019, and the evolving role of philanthropy in bringing about a more just and equal society.

Headshot_Cathy_ChaPhilanthropy News Digest: Your appointment to the top job at the fund was announced in January 2017, and you're stepping into the shoes of Ira S. Hirschfield, who led the fund for twenty-eight years. What did you do to prepare during the two-year transition period? And what was the most important thing you learned from Ira?

Cathy Cha: One of Ira's greatest contributions was the way he encouraged the fund's board, staff, and grantees to really dream about how to have more impact in the world. That dare-to-dream philosophy has allowed us and our partners to reach ambitious goals — from achieving marriage equality to making California the most immigrant-affirming state in the country.

Today, the fund remains committed to supporting people's best aspirations of what's possible for their communities. In 2018, we co-launched the California Campus Catalyst Fund with a group of undocumented student advocates and community experts. With investment from thirteen funders, we're now supporting thirty-two urban, suburban, and rural public college and university campuses across the state to significantly expand legal and other support services for undocumented students and their families at a time of incredible need. It's a great example of how philanthropy can work with community partners to catalyze and support solutions that make a real difference.

PND: Over the last two years, the fund managed an organizational transition that included the expansion of the board to include members of the next generation of the Haas family and the hiring of new staff at both the program and senior leadership levels. What was the overarching strategy behind those moves, and what kind of changes do you hope they lead to?

CC: During this transition, we were intentional about addressing a couple of key questions. How can we keep this organization relevant and responsive in a volatile and changing environment? And how can we set ourselves up to write a bold new chapter in the Haas, Jr. Fund's work? We want to be positioned for bigger impact to meet today's and tomorrow's challenges. We're building a leadership and staff team that represents and affirms the fund's enduring values. Our new board members are committed to building on their grandparents' legacy, and they bring new and valuable perspectives to the fund's work. We have staff members who have lived the immigrant experience, people who are LGBT, and individuals who are the first in their families to go to college. Whether I'm working with our board or the staff, I see a team with deep connections to the communities and the issues we care about, a profound belief in civil rights values and leveling the playing field, and an abiding commitment to excellence and progress. That gives me real hope and confidence for the future.

PND: In January you said you would "be launching a process in the weeks ahead to explore how the fund and our partners can strengthen our impact." What can you tell us about that process?

CC: These are extremely trying times for our country. Many communities we care about are feeling threatened and vulnerable. Given the challenges of this moment, as well as the opportunities that come with the changes we've experienced at the fund, it's an opportune time for us to think creatively about how we can have more impact.

Like any other foundation, we are always evaluating how we can do a better job. But in the coming months, we want to take some time to think in new ways about how to make sure we're doing everything we can to make a positive difference and up our game. That's going to mean reflecting on some of the lessons from our recent work, weighing where we've made mistakes and why, and understanding how we can maximize the huge potential of our staff and our nonprofit, government, and business partners to make the world a better, fairer place.

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The Persistence of False and Harmful Narratives About Boys and Men of Color

January 17, 2019

The following essay is adapted from His Story: Shifting Narratives for Boys of Men of Color: A Guide for Philanthropy (66 pages, PDF), which was developed by the Perception Institute for the Executives' Alliance for Boys and Men of Color. The guide is based on discussions and learnings from the 2015-2017 Narrative Change Collective Action Table hosted by the Executives' Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and was largely written by the Perception Institute's Alexis McGill Johnson and Rachel Godsil.

Toolkit_singlePages-pdf-v2-640x822The tragic, brutal, and untimely deaths of boys and men of color in the last few years reinforce an all-too-familiar feeling:  being a male of color in the United States is perilous. What boys and men of color are experiencing in the real world, we also know, does not veer too far from what's happening in the narratives that have come to shape the lived experience for many boys and men of color. Stories that "dehumanize" young men of color and question their value to society abound. And stories that "super-humanize" the physical characteristics of boys and men of color create fear and distrust. The common denominators in these stories are dominant narratives — stories about boys and men of color that are distorted, repeated, and amplified through media platforms, both traditional media and social media, which fuel negative and vilifying perceptions and bring them to scale. In our work, we've come to define these dominant narratives as the "dragon" we are trying to "slay."

In order to slay the dragon, we first need to understand what a narrative is, how it becomes dominant, and then how current narratives cause harm to our boys and men of color. A narrative is a spoken or written account of connected events. In other words, it is a story we tell to make meaning. Narratives become dominant through repetition, particularly when told about a minority culture through the lens of the ruling culture.

Dominant narratives inform how a majority of people in society perceive and interact with one another. They are comprised of stories and archetypes that portray people of different races and ethnicities — black, Latino, Asian, or Native American — as caricatures rather than as distinct and unique human beings. For boys and men of color, the stereotypes may differ depending upon the particular race or ethnicity and historical context, but for each group, these stereotypes are distorted and limiting. Think, for example, of Black and Latino men and how stereotypes depict them as dangerous, threatening, and poor. In contrast, the dominant narratives of white men portray them as hardworking, industrious, innovative, and successful.

Dominant narratives, while constantly evolving, are rooted in the racial history of the United States, specifically the parts of that history that we do not often discuss, such as slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and other times of racial bias. As we describe in more detail in the toolkit, the effects of being defined by a dominant narrative infuse every aspect of life for boys and men of color, from housing and education to health care and career opportunities, making them more vulnerable to violence and more likely to end up in jail.

Dominant narratives about boys and men of color can also trigger or be reinforced by internalized negative self-perceptions among community members. The stories we tell about each other influence the stories we see in ourselves, making our narrative challenges both interrelated and mutually reinforcing — the external reinforcing the internal and vice versa. But it is often the dominant narrative that does the most work in driving how others see boys and men of color and how they see themselves. While the toolkit focuses on boys and men of color, these same processes are also applicable to narratives about other populations, including women and girls of color.

The Impact of Dominant Narratives

Dominant narratives of boys and men of color constrain how we perceive their potential and limit our expectations of them. In a sense, narratives become reality as boys and young men of color have their opportunities for advancement truncated throughout their lives. As boys, they are irrationally perceived as threatening rather than innocent; as students, they are labeled as disruptive rather than recognized for their academic potential; as job applicants, they are disproportionately passed over, sometimes for less-qualified candidates.

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Building the Power of Immigrants and Youth of Color

January 02, 2019

BP+LCF+Siren+Rally059852Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN) - Bay Area has spent the last several years building the political power of immigrant and youth voters with the aim of shifting the political landscape in the region and across the state. In 2018, we doubled down on our commitment to building this political muscle by registering more than fifteen thousand new immigrant and youth voters, contacting a hundred and sixty thousand already-registered voters, and mobilizing more than two hundred volunteers. In the 2018 midterm elections, our efforts helped generate one of the highest turnouts in state history for a midterm and resulted in the passage of critical local and state ballot measures, as well as the defeat of House members opposed to immigrant rights. 

One of SIREN's youth leaders, Miguel, participated in phone banking and door-to-door canvassing of Spanish-speaking voters. Although Miguel and his family cannot vote because of their immigration status, the day after the election he told us: "The community was my voice at the polls yesterday. Immigrants and youth came out and demonstrated our power in Northern California and the Central Valley. Through our voting power, we are passing policies in our state and region that are impacting our families, and we will carry our momentum into 2019 to fight for immigrant rights and protections for immigrant youth."

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The Migrant Crisis Isn’t Just About Migrants

December 14, 2018

181019-migrants-45As a descendant of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, I'm painfully aware of how fortunate I am to live in the United States. Thousands of my grandfather's peers were accused of being Nazi spies and denied asylum by the U.S. State Department and Franklin D. Roosevelt on the grounds they were a threat to national security. In one infamous incident, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, were turned away from the port of Miami in June 1939 and forced to return to Europe. More than a quarter of those passengers died in the Holocaust.

As absurd as it feels to write this, Americans seem to agree that separating infants from their parents and holding them in cages is a less-than-ideal border policy. Yet, after the initial outrage, followed by weeks of protest and political handwringing, we are no closer to agreeing on a humane policy response to those seeking a brighter future for themselves and their children in the United States.

What do we owe asylum seekers from Central America? For the current administration, the answer is "nothing." As far as it is concerned, "caravans" of "illegal aliens" are blatantly disregarding the rule of law and bringing poverty, violence, drugs, and terrorism across the border — or would, if they were allowed to enter. Tear-gassing migrants at the border and separating them from their children might look cruel, but for this administration it is a small price to pay when, it would have you believe, the safety and security of the American people is at stake.

Of course, a full, honest accounting of the situation would require acknowledging our collective responsibility for the violent, wretched conditions under which so many migrant families have suffered. After all, the United States repeatedly has fomented political chaos and instability in Central America, resulting in decades of authoritarian rule and civil strife in most countries in the region, while Americans’ insatiable appetite for cocaine and heroin continues to fund the brutally-violent cartels behind the Latin America drug trade.

To Donald Trump, Mexico and Central America are violent and poor not for reasons of politics or economics; they are violent and poor because Mexicans and Central Americans are less than human. And if one is unashamed to call migrants "animals" and "criminals" looking to "infest" our country, why would one spend even a minute wondering what is causing them to flee their homes?

This mind-set attributes suffering to the personal moral failings of an individual or group of people rather than seeing it as a natural outgrowth of deliberate policy choices. It also knowingly evades responsibility. Persistent poverty and violence in African-American communities are attributed to the cultural or psychological flaws of black people, rather than recognized as the devastating consequence of hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, police brutality, and racist housing legislation. Falling incomes are seen as the product of laziness rather than the result of anti-tax policies, the offshoring of millions of manufacturing jobs, and decades of legislation that have concentrated much of the country’s wealth in the hands of a tiny subset of the population.

The manufactured crisis on our southern border is merely the latest symptom of a collective inability to recognize the basic humanity of others and come to terms with the consequences of past actions. If we acknowledge that political decisions made by American elites are partly responsible for the violence, extortion, sexual abuse, and mental and physical trauma that migrants are subject to on their journey to the United States, our collective obligation to help them becomes a moral imperative. Migrants are the victims in this crisis, not its creators.

This shameful moment in American history requires a philanthropic sector that is actively willing to support the two pillars of social change: charity and justice.

There are urgent humanitarian needs being unmet. Food, shelter, basic supplies, and asylum application assistance are all in short supply at the border, while for direct-service providers like those that make up the California United Fund, dealing with a large volume of migrants in a rapidly deteriorating situation has strained their capacity to the breaking point. The situation also demands a robust legal response. Organizations such as the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center need support as they bring suit against the administration on behalf of nonprofits working to provide assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. My organization, PICO California — the largest faith-based community organizing network in the state — will be holding a series of vigils, protests, and meetings at congressional offices and federal buildings in the months ahead to demand that Congress assign more judges to the border to speed up migrant asylum applications, send humanitarian aid to all migrants, provide job creation and violence prevention assistance to Central American countries, and vote "no" on expanded budgets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

And yet, the focus on direct services, advocacy campaigns, legal challenges, and voter outreach is only a start. The polarization of our communities is so significant that nothing less than societal transformation is likely to bring about the changes we need. If we don't start to create pathways to reconciliation, progressive power will merely reproduce a different kind of hegemony.

At their core, the fights over immigration, housing policy, criminal justice reform, gun control, and tax policy are fights over who is seen and who matters. As a movement for racial and economic justice, we believe that everyone belongs, and we are committed to resisting the xenophobia and scapegoating that is corrupting our democracy. By investing in movement-building strategies that bridge differences, funders can help create a more inclusive society that is responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable. Only then will justice become a public form of love.

Headshot_jeremy_ziskind

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Jeremy Ziskind is grants manager for PICO California, the largest faith-based community organizing network in the state.

Liberty Hill Foundation Pushes for Higher Social Justice Standards

December 05, 2018

Liberty Hill Foundation's approach over the last forty years has been to ask grassroots community organizing leaders, "How can we help?"

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineStaff would do what communities asked of them, providing general operating support and multiyear funding, when possible, and stepping back so that community organizers could take the lead.

This is why Liberty Hill won an NCRP Impact Award in 2013; its grantee partners have won important policy and social victories, including passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

But, recently, the foundation has acknowledged the extent of its power and influence and made a conscious decision to leverage it more aggressively.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Liberty Hill staff observed that many of their allies were overwhelmed and feeling pressure to respond to the onslaught of policy and social threats to their communities. They knew that defending the gains made by progressive social movements was important, but they also knew that being in Los Angeles made it easier to secure gains that weren't possible in other parts of the country.

Liberty Hill staff engaged board members, donors, grantees, and other allies to discuss how, beyond, funding, it could strategically support the work of progressive nonprofits in Los Angeles.

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Hill-Snowdon Foundation's Courageous Philanthropy Defends Democracy

November 28, 2018

Since winning an NCRP Impact Award in 2014, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation has been unrelenting in calling out white supremacy and anti-black racism while taking risks to invest in black-led social change work.

2014-ncrp-impact-awards-winner-badgeThe D.C.-based foundation's grantmaking has long been bold, but the leadership it has modeled through its Defending the Dream Fund matches the urgency of the real threats to our democracy. The foundation's decision in 2017 to simplify its practices and collaborate with other funders in creating the fund has resulted in more than $1 million in rapid-response grants being moved to groups working to fight policies that threaten the most vulnerable populations in the United States.

Even in 2015, however, the foundation knew this moment in American history — one that has seen the emergence of movements calling for just and fair elections, human rights for LGBTQ people and people of color, and economic equity — would not last forever.

So the foundation launched its Making Black Lives Matter initiative (MBLM), pushing philanthropy to look beyond the immediate moment and invest in longer-term infrastructure for black-led social change work. Grantees, funding partners, and other nonprofit groups in the community have rated that work as the most impactful they have done in recent years.

How did the foundation do it?

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'The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America': Exhibit at Haverford College

November 21, 2018

"They're selling postcards of the hanging…"
— Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”

Hank Willis ThomasI've listened to "Desolation Row" hundreds of times since it was first released in 1965, but only recently did I learn that it tells the story of the 1920 lynching of three African-American men in Duluth, Minnesota, where Dylan was born. On an interactive map at a current exhibit about lynching at Haverford College, on the Main Line west of Philadelphia, I found that horrific event — and discovered in the exhibit a group of artists whose response to the history of lynching brings the issue into the present in forceful and creative ways.

The history of lynching is generally known to mainstream American society and is better known to the African-American community, the primary target of lynching, as well as other targeted communities, including foreigners, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos. But like so much of the history of slavery and Jim Crow, the details have often been lacking or relegated to the background. Now, thanks to new digital technologies that make it easier to access and cross-reference public records, oral histories, and other types of documentation, researchers are creating a more complete understanding of lynching in the post-bellum and Jim Crow eras. For instance, while it has long been known that the states of the Confederacy were the scene of most lynchings, we are learning that communities in the North and West like Duluth were also the scene of lynchings, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the message implicit in such atrocities was intended to be a national one.

The challenge for all of us is what to do with that knowledge.

The Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal assistance and advocacy organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, has documented more than four thousand lynchings in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950. The organization published a report on its findings (now in its third edition) and has established a National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a museum, a research center, and community-based partnerships focused on registering lynching sites.

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