119 posts categorized "Latinos/Hispanics"

5 Questions for...Rajasvini Bhansali, Executive Director, Solidaire Network

August 14, 2020

Launched in 2013, Solidaire Network is a collective of donors and foundations committed to ending the legacy of racism and anti-Blackness. Through programs such as Movement R&D, Rapid Response, and the newly launched Black Liberation Pooled Fund, network members have moved nearly $18 million since 2013 in support of the Movement for Black Lives and the Black-led organizing ecosystem.

Rajasvini Bhansali, the network's leader since 2018, previously served as executive director of Thousand Currents, where she helped launch a climate justice fund and an impact investment fund and led that collaborative's efforts to expand partnerships with grassroots groups and movements led by women, youth, and Indigenous peoples in the Global South. At Solidaire, she has overseen an evaluation process that resulted in the development of a three-pronged strategy — donor activism, resource mobilization, and driving a paradigm shift — aimed at moving $1 billion over ten years to social change movements.

PND spoke with Bhansali about Solidaire's activist-centered model, the meaning and implications of the reenergized movement for racial justice, and the organization's latest fund.

Headshot_Rajasvini Bhansali_solidaire_networkPhilanthropy News Digest: What kind of donors and foundations decide to become members of Solidaire? And has your membership grown in the wake of the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd?

Rajasvini Bhansali: We have over a hundred and eighty members in the Solidaire community, ranging from individuals and families with generational or new wealth to those who have established their own family or private foundation. And what's unique about our donors is that they act as "donor organizers" — working quickly to mobilize others to move critical resources to people and organizations on the front lines — and, in the process, transforming their relationship to power and wealth. Our network isn't about charity or paternalism. The only people we wish to "save" are ourselves, by doing our part to make amends for the generations of oppression and theft upon which current systems have been built.

Supporting Black-led movements and Black liberation has always been at the core of our values and grantmaking strategy. And from the start of the recent protests, our goal wasn't to grow our membership; it was to double down on those efforts. Since June, Solidaire members have committed more than $10 million to the Black-led organizing ecosystem, including the Movement for Black Lives, the Southern Power Fund, and Reparations Summer.

PND: Your Aligned Giving Strategy, which was launched in response to calls for philanthropy to fund the Movement for Black Lives, requires no reports or applications and is based instead on trust and relationships between your members and the frontline groups organizing Black communities. What does that trust-building process look like?

RB: Our goal always is to trust in the wisdom and leadership of grassroots organizers. These leaders know what their communities need and have been telling funders what they need for years, but we haven't been listening. At Solidaire, we don't want movement leaders to have to prove something to us; instead, our job is to get them the resources they need to win now and over the long term. Traditional philanthropy often takes a top-down approach that can replicate unjust power structures. We don't want our process to be another barrier. Our approach is to listen directly to the people most impacted by injustice, understand their lived experience and how current systems have failed them, and share our power and resources to help change those systems.

Our staff are critical to the process. They have a deep understanding of this space, have movement backgrounds, and bring with them relationships and a sense of curiosity about how we can do better to support movements and communities. Our donor members also have a deep interest in organizing their own families and networks to respond to movement funding needs and bring time-sensitive funding opportunities to their peers within the network.

PND: AGS gives donors a choice of four focus areas to invest in: providing direct general support to 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) groups; investing in activist-led efforts to build shared movement infrastructure; helping organizations diversify their revenue streams and achieve financial sustainability; and supporting the efforts of movement groups to translate their cultural influence into policy change and actual legislation. Are you seeing donors gravitate to one area more than others, and if so, why might that be?

RB: We try to show our donors that these issue areas are all interrelated and therefore equally deserving of their attention. What we have seen with COVID-19 is that it has laid bare longstanding inequities caused by systems and policies robbing our communities of the resources they needed to be healthy and resilient — even during less challenging times than these. While some philanthropists and foundations have increased their giving to meet the needs of the moment, many of those initiatives do not address the root causes of how we got here in the first place.

We are heartened to see how deeply our members are committed to working together to eliminate racist attitudes, practices, and policies that harm working people and communities of color. We are also moved to see our donor members working internally and externally — and with humility and courage — with communities on the front lines of social change to provide the long-term, sustained support those communities need to liberate themselves — and all of us.

PND: Launched with the goal of raising $5 million by the end of August to strengthen the Black Lives Matter ecosystem, the Black Liberation Pooled Fund just received a $20 million commitment from the Packard Foundation. How does that commitment affect your plans for the fund, if at all, and what has been the response to date from other funders?

RB: Solidaire has been committed since its inception to supporting Black liberation work by cultivating authentic, just, and right relationships with Black-led organizations and community leaders. Packard's $20 million commitment to the Black Liberation Pooled Fund over the next five years is part of the foundation's five-year, $100 million commitment to improve its grantmaking in support of justice and equity. Solidaire will pool that money with other resources to support the ecosystem of Black-led social change organizations nationally, including groups working to strengthen multiracial alliances, innovate grassroots climate justice solutions, advance the decarceration and decriminalization of Black bodies, build regenerative economic models and community wealth strategies, nurture the leadership and capacity needs of movement organizations, and imagine and create a more democratic, pluralistic, feminist future.

The response to the fund clearly has exceeded our initial goal, but movement leaders are not slowing down, and neither are we. Much more remains to be done, and seven years in, our work is only just beginning. We will continue to push forward while remaining grounded in both the immediate and longer-term infrastructure-building needs of the movement.

PND: Solidaire believes that Black-led social change is not just about justice for Black communities but about broad and deep societal transformation for all. Can you elaborate on that idea?

RB: We have to remember that the exploitation of Black and Indigenous labor, lives, and wealth has gone on in this country for five hundred years. We are way overdue for an end to the fundamental inequities on which all institutions and systems in the United States are based. We also must remember that today's movement activists and leaders are just the newest link in a long chain of freedom lovers, liberation fighters, movement builders, and believers in humanity and a shared future. We are incredibly proud to be building on the work of all those who came before us. Supporting Black- and Indigenous-led social change advances racial and social justice for all people. The Black freedom struggle in the twentieth century resulted in advances for women, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ folks, immigrants, and workers of all colors. Today, the work of visionary Black organizers and advocates is making broad systemic change — from defunding the police, to police-free schools, to the call for reparations and reinvestment in community well-being — not only possible but also imminent.

Fourteen years ago, I had the opportunity to serve as a management advisor for a network of polytechnics, acting as a capacity builder with a network of youth-training institutions in rural Kenya. I witnessed first-hand the institutional barriers faced by farmers, teachers, and youth workers, all of whom exhibited tremendous moral leadership, as well as the condescension and harmful top-down interventions of well-intentioned philanthropists who inserted unequal power dynamics into local community processes. I saw how the wisdom, brilliance, stick-with-it-ness, and sustainable strategies of ordinary people working to transform local conditions were rarely acknowledged, let alone honored. And as a result of that experience, I resolved to use my position of privilege to exert greater influence on philanthropic behaviors and attitudes and to truly work in service of the communities that are organizing to change their circumstances. All of that continues to inform my work today with Solidaire.

— Kyoko Uchida

[Review] The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America

August 06, 2020

The merit myth_coverDespite the frequently repeated claim that higher education in the United States is a meritocractic system, college is not the great equalizer it’s touted to be. Indeed, long-standing inequities in the United States are often reflected in and perpetuated by our institutions of higher education. Drawing on insights from sociology, education, economics, and history, The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America explores the roots of these practices and policies and shows how they continue to play out today.

The book’s three authors have all spent decades researching and writing about education policy. Anthony Carnevale is the director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, a nonprofit research and policy institute focused on the relationship between education, career qualifications, and current workforce demands. Jeff Strohl is the center’s director of research and spends much of his time examining how education impacts career opportunities. And Peter Schmidt, an award-winning journalist and author of Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action, serves as a deputy editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education and previously covered education policy and access at Education Week.

To understand higher education in the United States, they write, we must first look at the factors that contribute to the success of certain individuals and groups as they navigate the education system and then enter the workforce — as well as the lack of success experienced by others. When we do, it becomes obvious that characterizations of higher education in the U.S. as a meritocracy makes it easy for too many to blame individuals for their lack of success while ignoring the fact that the system as designed creates inequality at every level.

In support of that argument, the authors spend the first few chapters offering an analysis of the interlocking mechanisms — social, political, cultural, economic — that perpetuate disparities in access to higher education. Along the way, they pose several key questions: What is the role of higher education in American life? How do, and should, we define success? And who is deserving of the limited resources available to the system? Such questions are meant, among other things, to prod the reader to think about familiar admissions practices — a reliance on standardized tests, in-person interviews, an emphasis on extracurricular activities — that historically were rooted in an unabashed elitism and have been shown to have little value in predicting student success.

The authors further note that the increase in higher education enrollment has been driven to a large degree by the growth of public universities, which today enroll roughly three-quarters of college students in the U.S. White students from wealthy backgrounds, on the other hand, are the majority at many of the most selective colleges and universities in the country, and those colleges and universities receive a far greater share of the private dollars and resources dedicated to higher education, enabling them to invest far more than less-well-resourced schools in the success of the students they enroll — and reinforce the all-too-familiar "separate and unequal" dynamic that has characterized American education over the last hundred and fifty years.

Because the most selective private colleges and universities typically have the largest endowments, they also are able to compete vigorously for applicants with the best grades or test scores and most interesting extracurricular accomplishments, leading to a largely class-based stratification of schools into tiers — most selective, selective, and so on — that has become more pronounced in recent decades and increasingly difficult to overcome. For Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl, the solution to the problem is obvious: if we want to raise graduation and retention rates and start to narrow inequality in America, we need to devote more of our limited resources to middle-tier schools.

Unfortunately, the immense pressures from competing interests that higher education must deal with makes that unlikely to happen any time soon. Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl argue compellingly that all these factors— from inequitable admission practices, to universities operating like for-profit businesses and/or subsidizing education for the wealthy, to first-generation and underresourced students being deterred by the increasingly complicated admissions process — have created a system that is anything but a meritocracy and is teetering on the verge of collapse.

But there's hope. The last chapter of The Merit Myth offers a number of proposals for how the system can be improved and made more equitable. They include calls for building a leadership pipeline in higher education that more closely reflects the diversity of the U.S. population, ending reliance on standardized tests scores and legacy admissions, redirecting resources to schools where those resources would have the greatest impact, and making fourteen years of education the new "normal." While many of these reforms require changes at the university and legislative levels, they also require that we think carefully and redefine our collective goals for higher education in America.

In providing a historical context for current debates about higher education and in considering all the many factors involved in making education policy, the authors provide a well-rounded picture of our current system. If the prose gets a bit dense at times, it is merely testament to just how complicated the challenge and potential solutions are. Ultimately, Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl have provided a great service by reframing how we should think about the challenge and giving readers hope that real change is possible.

Amelia Becker, an intern with the Communications department at Candid, currently is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and economics.

Uplifting the LGBTQ+ community in the nonprofit sector

June 30, 2020

Pexels-photo-4658052The LGBTQ+ community has had a lot to celebrate during Pride Month. On June 15, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nearly one in five nonprofit employees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or "queer" report that their sexual orientation has had at least a "slightly negative" impact on their career. Thanks to the court's ruling, however, the future looks brighter.

Pride Month is a celebration of LGBTQ+ equality and achievement, but this year, especially, we are reminded that social progress is driven by the passion, commitment, and hard work of thousands upon thousands of ordinary people over time. As our month-long celebration comes to a close, let's remember the actions and courage of the activists who laid the groundwork for the recent Supreme Court decision — and for those who even now are peacefully demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) — and show our support for LGBTQ+ equality, racial and gender justice, and an America where all people, regardless of skin color or sexual orientation, can realize their full potential.

Not sure how to start? Here a few ideas:

Strive to incorporate the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into your nonprofit's operations, and commit to adopting diverse and equitable hiring practices. Obviously, this will be more of a challenge if you aren't a member of the leadership team at your organization or working in a human resources (HR) capacity, but you can and should raise the issue of DEI with your nonprofit's HR department if you feel the organization isn't paying sufficient attention to it. Because LGBTQ+ people have long faced barriers to advancement in the nonprofit sector (as well as other industries), investments in DEI also represent an investment in LGBTQ+ people. And while it's important that nonprofits invest in more equitable and inclusive hiring practices, they should also mandate unconscious bias training for all employees, current and future. Such training helps people identify the implicit biases they may have and act on in their own lives and better position them to address those biases. For example, hiring managers should be encouraged to look for potential candidates outside of their usual networks and can use diversity job boards to do so. For additional DEI tips and advice, Candid's GrantSpace portal is a great place to start and is also an excellent source for LGBTQ+ specific resources.

Support nonprofits already working in the LGBTQ+ space. Even if you're not working at a nonprofit that directly supports the LGBTQ+ community, it doesn't mean you can't have an impact. The end of another Pride Month is the ideal time to step up and support organizations working to promote and uphold LGBTQ+ equality and rights. Know, too, that there isn't one, right way to stand with the LGBTQ+ community. Instead, feel free to participate in virtual Pride events, sign petitions, advocate for LGBTQ+ equality, and donate what you can to charities that champion LGBTQ+ causes. And while you're at it, do what you can to support one of the many nonprofits working to advance the Black Lives Matter movement.

Actively seek out and engage with your professional LGTBG+ peers. Reaching out to and engaging with your LGTBQ+ colleagues can be more helpful than you might imagine, and, besides, it's just a good inclusive practice. The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of trauma and feeling invisible, and as a result LGBTQ+ people (as well as other members of traditionally underrepresented communities) often lack the confidence to publicly express their opinions or feel excluded from important conversations. One way to ensure that all voices in your organization are heard is to actively seek out those voices and include them — and that's especially important if you're in a position of privilege or power. You can do this by individually connecting with different colleagues, and, if you often have the spotlight in meetings, by inviting colleagues who may be reluctant to have their voices heard to contribute their thoughts.

Actively use preferred pronouns in the workplace. Using pronouns (i.e., "she/her/hers," "he/him/his," and "they/them/theirs") that people have chosen for themselves is a sign of respect and an important acknowledgement that you see them for who they are. You and your organization can also encourage their use by including them in email signatures, bios, and name tags. If your organization doesn't already do this, raise the practice with your HR department. It may also be helpful for HR to conduct a training for staff before rolling out a new pronoun policy so that staff understands the rationale for the policy and how pronouns should be used.

Create special interest groups that make it easier for LGBTQ+ people in your organization to connect with one another. At Candid, we have various virtual spaces where staff members belonging to different communities can connect. I personally love the fact that there are different outlets where I and others can express our true, authentic selves. It can be difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community (and other marginalized groups) to feel comfortable enough to bring their authentic selves into their place of work, so employers should do what they can to make it easier for them to do so and create safe spaces for different communities within their organizations.

Learn, and keep learning. Educate yourself about different aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, including the history of Pride Month and milestones in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests, I also urge you to learn about what's happening with the Black LGBTQ+ community. As one activist highlighted in a recent USA Today article that looked at how members of the LGBTQ+ community in Kentucky have stepped up as leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement says: "Pride isn't canceled. It's evolved." It's a statement that rings true for me for two reasons. First, the feel of this year's Pride Month has been different because of COVID-19, with many in-person events cancelled or transitioned to an online format. And two, the focus of many Pride events has shifted to the struggle for racial justice and equity. It's been a huge epiphany for the LGBTQ+ community and Pride, as some of us learn for the first time (and others remember) just how important the civil rights movement and Black activists have been to the struggles of LGBTQ+ community. Pride Month would never have come about without Black LGBTQ+ activists such as Bayard Rustin, Stormé DeLarverie, Audre Lorde, and Marsha P. Johnson. Now it's your turn: here are a few ways you can be an active ally to the Black LGBTQ+ community in the months and years to come.

I do believe our sector has made commendable strides in advancing DEI, but there's still progress to be made with respect to the LGBTQ+ community (and other underrepresented groups). Before I sign off, I want to highlight two groups doing great work in this space. Recent research by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) makes a strong case that foundations need to increase their funding for marginalized communities, as well as social, racial, and economic justice work. And in terms of the LGBTQ+ community specifically, Funders for LGBTQ Issues works to increase the scope and impact of philanthropic resources benefiting the LGBTQ+ community. I encourage LGBTQ+ nonprofit professionals to check out the group's website, which includes a lot of LGBTQ+ focused research, jobs, and funding opportunities.

As we bring down the curtain on another Pride Month, remember: No one is really and truly free until everyone is free, and the impact of Pride shouldn't be restricted to just one month. You should strive to uplift the voices of the LGBTQ+ community, and of other marginalized groups, throughout the year.

VVoPham HeadshotViet "Vee" VoPham (he/him/his) is the marketing specialist for the Networks division at Candid. You can follow him on Twitter at @VVoPham.

The Nonprofit Sector and the 'Shake Shack Effect'

April 27, 2020

Diversity-inclusion-292x300These days, we're hearing a lot about how federal legislation passed in response to the coronavirus public health emergency is bailing out big businesses at the expense of small restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and immigrant-owned stores. When big chains like Shake Shack and universities with large endowments such as Harvard receive millions of dollars in federal loans, we shouldn't be surprised that the news is greeted by demands the funds be returned.

Inequities in the administration of such programs aren't just a public-relations concern for well-endowed institutions and big businesses, however. At a time when they are desperately needed, historically-underresourced organizations in the nonprofit sector led by people of color and working closely with communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic are concerned about their own survival. Indeed, the pandemic has revealed many of the long-standing structural disparities that exist in the United States. If, as a society, we are serious about addressing such disparities, then funders and donors who support nonprofits must step up to ensure the long-term survival of groups advocating for the needs of vulnerable communities.

As the COVID-19 emergency unfolds, smaller community-based and people-of-color-led organizations are serving as a lifeline for black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian communities, undocumented immigrants, and queer and trans communities. Domestic violence agencies are supporting survivors, organizations serving Indigenous and African-American communities are ensuring their access to water and health care, neighborhood-based providers are helping people with limited-English proficiency complete government forms, and immigrant-serving groups are ensuring that undocumented people are able to secure legal advice and protections. Beyond these frontline providers, people-of-color led organizations are taking the lead in building power and making demands for structural change, ranging from universal basic income to decarceration to migrant justice.

Even before the pandemic, many of these nonprofits were facing challenges. According to a survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund conducted in 2018, 65 percent of nonprofits who serve low-income communities were worried they couldn't meet demands for their services, while 67 percent said that federal policies were making life harder for their clients. Our own surveys on race and leadership consistently reveal that nonprofit executives of color face more funding challenges than white executive directors and CEOs, while our 2019 survey found that more than a third of leaders of color (compared to less than a quarter of their white counterparts) reported that they never or rarely get "funding that is comparable to peer organizations doing similar work."

For these and other reasons, community-based nonprofits working closely with those disproportionately affected by the virus should be prioritized in future federal stimulus packages, state supplemental funds, and philanthropic initiatives. Federal and state recovery packages should create carveouts for underresourced organizations working in vulnerable communities so that they do not have to compete with larger, historically-well-funded groups for a limited pool of funds. Given that many small organizations do not have relationships with banks due to historic barriers in accessing loans and because lenders tend to prioritize bigger-budget organizations, the process of accessing loans also should be opened and made more accessible. While efforts are under way in the nonprofit sector to secure expanded access to the Paycheck Protection Program for larger groups and pass a universal charitable deduction, a true racial equity framework requires us to center the needs of organizations working in and closely with the most vulnerable communities. In addition, nonprofit organizations with large reserves that don't need an immediate loan could follow the lead of the #ShareMyCheck effort and opt not to compete with smaller nonprofits and underresourced groups with manifestly greater needs.

For their part, foundations can do more to address the racial disparities laid bare by the pandemic by scaling organizations that are most proximate to needs in vulnerable communities while increasing their support for organizing and power-building strategies. It's also important that foundations review their grantmaking through a racial equity lens to determine whether dollars are actually going to organizations serving the communities most affected by the virus. Foundations such as the Boston Foundation, the Emergent Fund, and the Groundswell Fund have all launched initiatives focused on supporting organizations led by people from and working with communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

It's true that most nonprofits find themselves overwhelmed by the scale and scope of the crisis. But not all nonprofits are created equal or have equal access to the resources they need. As a sector, we cannot ignore people-of-color-led community-based groups working to meet urgent needs during this crisis. To close the nonprofit racial equity gap, we must do everything we can to ensure that these groups not only make it through this national emergency but are positioned to thrive. In doing so, we will be sustaining the communities that depend on them and helping to ensure that they, too, come out of the crisis stronger.

Deepa_iyer_frances_kunreuther_for_PhilanTopicDeepa Iyer is senior advisor at the Building Movement Project, director of SolidarityIs, and the author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Communities Shape Our Multiracial Future.

Frances Kunreuther co-directs the Building Movement Project and is co-author of two books, From the Ground Up: Grassroots Organizations Making Social Change and Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership.

A Moment of Truth for Underserved Communities — and Us

April 07, 2020

Ahrcmrc CloudOver the coming weeks and months, COVID-19 is likely to affect everybody, everywhere, in some way or another. Some of those people will have access to well-resourced health systems and advanced health care. Most won't.

Around the world — and here in the United States — there are people in underserved communities who are feeling scared and alone — people who do not have access to quality education, health care, and, in many cases, even food. In this time of crisis, it's imperative we provide these communities and people with relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information about the coronavirus. They need the kind of information that so many of us have already gotten and take for granted: What are the symptoms of COVID-19? What should one do if s/he has symptoms? Who is at highest risk of infection? And how can you prevent the virus from spreading?

Quality, culturally sensitive education is critical if we hope to prevent the virus from spreading out of control, reduce the burden on our healthcare systems, and show our solidarity with those in need.

But we need to act now.

For the last several weeks, Curamericas Global and our volunteers have been on the phones alongside staff of the Guatemalan consulate in Raleigh, North Carolina, reaching out to the fifteen thousand families across the Carolinas in need of extra support during this difficult time. Many of these families do not speak English. Our volunteers are providing evidence-based information about the virus and serving as an ally and friend to those who may not know what to do if they get sick. It's something we learned firsthand through our work in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola outbreak there: prevention is the most important line of defense in keeping a bad situation from getting worse.

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Funding in the Time of COVID-19: Questions to Deepen Racial Equity

April 02, 2020

RacehandWe are witnessing a proliferation of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from the philanthropic sector, as private foundations, other grantmaking institutions, and philanthropy-serving organizations design and launch a variety of efforts.

For those funders that have articulated a commitment to racial equity in their work, the call to prioritize equity is all the more imperative during times of crisis. We know from experience that when institutions act fast, they are more likely to act on biases that reinforce, generate, and/or exacerbate inequities that negatively impact people of color, disabled people, and queer people.

In order to curtail the harmful impacts that acting fast often has on communities of color, in particular, I offer a list of questions that funders prioritizing racial equity should be asking. These speak to common racial biases often observed among grantmaking organizations — biases the sector should be more aware of and skilled at addressing as it designs, implements, and evaluates its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is your response race-silent or race-explicit? Experience tells us that race-silent analyses and strategies often reinforce and exacerbate racial inequities. Race-silent language in philanthropic work also tends to reinforce racial biases among staff, grantees, donors, and organizational partners. A better strategy is to name race and racism in your diagnosis of the problem and the design of your response to it. Are you clear about the root causes of racial inequities at play? Do you understand how the problem is negatively impacting Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, and Arab/Middle Eastern people? Do your strategies address the specificities and nuances of the increased threats communities of color are facing?

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Neighborhoods with 'Medical Deserts' Have Emergency Needs During COVID Pandemic

March 27, 2020

5c800d7f262898478f1016f7A zip code has become a life or death matter. Families that live more than an hour from a hospital face a death sentence based on their address. A long ambulance ride increases the risk of death. Patients with respiratory emergencies, like the ones caused by coronavirus, are particularly vulnerable.

According to an annual survey by the American Hospital Association, more than a thousand hospitals in the United States have closed since 1975. As a result, residents in communities from coast to coast must drive more than sixty minutes to reach an acute care hospital. These places are called "medical deserts," and you can find them in every state.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we desperately need new investment in our healthcare safety net and infrastructure. Indeed, a recent study by the COVID-19 Response Team at Imperial College London suggests that the "capacity limits of the UK and U.S. health system[s] [could be] exceeded many times over" during this crisis and warns that "even if all patients are able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in Great Britain and 1.1 million to 1.2 million deaths in the U.S."

As an emergency medicine physician and chair of the health committee of Black Women for Positive Change, I call on Congress and the administration to immediately implement the following recommendations in order to save lives, before it's too late.

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Coronavirus Highlights the Gaping Holes in Our Healthcare and Labor System

March 05, 2020

FastFoodWorkersMaps and daily counts of the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world have become a staple of television, the Internet, and print media. Not unreasonably, Americans fearful of contracting the virus have emptied their local supermarkets and drugstores of masks, soap, and hand sanitizers in hopes that simple measures will protect them. Meanwhile, concerned officials are telling people they should speak to their employers about their work-from-home options and, if they begin to exhibit flu-like symptoms, to stay home.

Unfortunately, this latest global pandemic throws into stark relief the status of our broken healthcare and labor systems. Low-wage workers who care for our children, staff our hospitals, and work the kitchens and cash registers in our fast food restaurants cannot work at home. Nor, in the event they get sick without adequate insurance, can they afford to get tested for COVID-19 or obtain medical care. For them, and many others, missing a day's pay almost always results in dire financial consequences. Many have no paid sick days or family care days; they live in constant fear of losing their wages or, worse, their jobs. And if schools are closed, who will care for their own children when they report to work?

The all-but-inevitable spread of the virus in the United States is about to bring us face-to-face with a simple fact: masks (as the surgeon-general reminded us in a tweet!) and hand sanitizers will not make us safe; only fair wages, a strong social safety net, and universal paid family and medical leave will protect Americans from the worst consequences of the virus. In a quote that has circulated widely across social media, journalist and author Anand Giridharadas observed, "Coronavirus makes clear what has been true all along. Your health is as safe as that of the worst-insured, worst-cared-for person in your society. It will be decided by the height of the floor, not the ceiling."

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Five Strategies for Advancing Your Mission in 2020

March 04, 2020

Social_media_icons_for_PhilanTopicThe months leading up to the presidential election in November are a critical period for philanthropic and nonprofit leaders interested in shaping public discourse around a range of issues. It promises to be a period when Americans weigh everything from plans to make health care and college more affordable to new ideas for addressing the opioid crisis, climate change, national security, and economic growth. It's also likely to be a period when philanthropy is called on to highlight important issues, contribute to and inform the national dialogue, and advocate for the public interest.

In the coming weeks, leaders at private and corporate foundations, NGOs, and nonprofits will have an opportunity to leverage the presidential election cycle to raise awareness of — and drive engagement with — their issues. From the debates and primaries still to come to the party conventions and the election itself, the moment is ripe for action.

For social-sector leaders inclined to act, there are five key elements to effective issues advocacy:

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5 Questions for...Justin Steele, Director, Google.org Americas

February 24, 2020

Growing up, Justin Steele was "a sensitive, brainy kid" who spent a lot of time thinking about what he could do to improve people's lives. After earning an engineering degree from the University of Virginia, he received a master's in urban social policy and nonprofit management at Harvard and went to work in the nonprofit sector full-time. Since 2014, he has held senior positions with Google.org, where he's taken a lead role in the organization's work on inclusion, education, and economic opportunity.

PND recently spoke with Steele about Google.org, its efforts to develop AI tools for nonprofits, and what it is doing to address homelessness in the Bay Area.

JustinSteelePhilanthropy News Digest: What is Google.org, and how much does it award annually to nonprofits here in the United States and globally?

Justin Steele: Google.org is Google's philanthropic and charitable arm. We support nonprofits that are working to address challenging problems and try to apply scalable data-driven innovations in support of those efforts. What's unique about Google.org is that we were established when the company went public with a commitment of 1 percent of its equity and an ongoing commitment of 1 percent of its net profit for charity. Google.org is the biggest beneficiary of that 1 percent ongoing net-profit commitment, and we currently award more than $300 million in cash grants to nonprofits globally each year, roughly split 50/50 between the U.S. and internationally.

PND: Can any nonprofit apply for a grant?

JS: We are predominantly invite-only in our philanthropy, but we do have a model called the Impact Challenge where we invite nonprofits to participate by sending us their ideas. Sometimes the challenge is topic-based, sometimes it's based on geography.

In the U.S., we are currently running Impact Challenges in a number of geographies. We have a $10 million Impact Challenge open in the Bay Area and $1 million challenges open in Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio. A panel of local experts who have influence in the states where the challenge is occurring help us narrow down the candidates. The panel chooses the finalists who receive funding, but we also open it up to a public vote. The People's Choice winners get extra funding at the end.

The state-level Impact Challenges change from year to year, although this is the third time we've run a challenge in the Bay Area, which is where we’re headquartered. Last year, we ran challenges in Illinois, Nevada, and Colorado, and we expect to launch new challenges in other states in 2020.

We also opened up the AI Impact Challenge globally in 2018 and 2019 for organizations that are working on interesting applications of artificial intelligence for social good.

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Frequently Asked Questions on Census 2020: Census Identities Still Confound

February 18, 2020

2020-census-logo-sliderEveryone in the United States plays a race or ethnic card at some point, or at least everyone who responds to the decennial census. Despite the scientific consensus that race is an artificial social construct, unmoored from biological reality, is there a box that best describes you?

Whether you plan to respond to the census online, in writing, or by telephone, one question you'll be asked to answer is how, racially speaking, you self-identify. What follows are answers to some frequently asked questions to help guide you through the process.

Q: What are the race and ethnic categories on the census form?

A: Your racial choices are: (1) White; (2) Black or African American; (3) American Indian or Alaskan Native; (4) Asian — with numerous boxes as subsets; and (5) Some other race. The questionnaire also asks separately if the respondent is "of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin," but instructs that "for this census, Hispanic origins are not races."

Q: What if I'm not White or Black? I'm Egyptian and my neighbor is from Iran. What are our options and who determines the categories?

A: You and your neighbor fall into what is called the MENA classification: Middle Eastern and North African. There was a proposal to add MENA to the 2020 form, but the Office of Management and Budget, which makes the assigned identity group determinations about the census, decided to keep the same basic categories that were on the 2010 census form.

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Five Things Your Agency Can Do to Deliver Results for Families

January 17, 2020

Sykes_foundation_whole_familyIndividuals are whole people made up of a rich mix of physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual parts. Individuals exist within families, and families are the heart of our communities. In many ways, working families earning low wages are the backbone of our country, working the jobs that keep America running.

But many American families are struggling. Despite an uptick in the economy, more than 8.5 million children currently live in poverty, and they are often concentrated in neighborhoods where at least a third of all families live in poverty. Others are just a paycheck away from falling into poverty. For these families, a simple change in circumstance for a family member — a reduction in working hours, an illness, even the need for a car repair — affects the entire family's long-term well-being.

At Ascend at the Aspen Institute and the Pascale Sykes Foundation, we collaborate with families, nonprofits, government agencies, advocacy groups, and others to advance family well-being through a whole family or two-generation (2Gen) approach. Such an approach addresses challenges through the lens of whole people living in intact families, equipping children and the adults in their lives with the tools to collectively set and achieve goals, strengthen relationships with each other, and establish the stability of the family unit so that every member is able to reach his or her full potential.

In our work every day, we see the many meaningful ways in which a whole family approach benefits families and creates opportunities for service organizations to reach vulnerable populations, scale their work, and fulfill their missions. Here are five things your agency can do to shape its work in ways that will benefit families and support family members as they define, create, and realize the futures of which they dream.

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Garifuna and the 2020 Census

December 02, 2019

Garifuna300Gilberto Amaya's career in international development has taken him to more than thirty countries, where he has implemented renewable energy systems, agribusiness projects, and poverty alleviation initiatives. Along the way, he witnessed the post-independence struggles of sovereign states whose names are rarely heard on nightly newscasts in the U.S. — Burkina Faso, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe. A native of Honduras, he has memories of blending into and being welcomed by communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Central and South America.

Yet, near his home in Fairfax, Virginia, a bureaucracy momentarily stripped him of his identity — and incident that sparked Amaya's quest to have "Garifuna" fully recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"After conducting some public business at a government agency in Virginia," Amaya recalled, "I was leaving the counter, and the Latina clerk heard me speaking Spanish to my wife and called me back."

For ethnicity, Amaya had checked the box next to "black."

"You checked the wrong box," the clerk said. "You can't check black. You speak Spanish. You have to check Hispanic.' "

Today, Amaya is a member of the Census Bureau's National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations (NAC), which solicits recommendations on ways to improve the accuracy of the decennial count in determining ethnic minorities, and is allied with other Garifuna organizations, scholars, and Afro-Latino advocates working to document the heritage and raise the visibility of the Garifuna people.

The Garifuna are descendants of Africans of mixed tribal ancestry who were captured and shipped from Africa to the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Garifuna historians recount on-board insurrections that ran ships aground. The captives escaped inland and intermarried with indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians, who were also subject to forced-labor bondage. Sometimes referred to as the Black Caribs, the Garifuna led and participated in the unsuccessful Carib Wars aimed at overthrowing British dominion, sometimes with assistance of France, England's imperial rival.
 
 

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This Is America

October 15, 2019

America and MomAmerica, my youngest cousin, started college in August. She is the daughter of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with hopes of building a new life, a life better than the one offered by their home country, Mexico. America was born in the U.S. and is a dedicated student. She has committed herself to studying hard because she wants to fulfill her dreams and her parents' dreams — dreams for which they have sacrificed much. By graduating from high school, America is one step closer to her dream. This is her story, but it's also the story of hundreds of thousands of low-income first-generation students of color who dream of success and fight against odds and unfamiliar systems to keep their dream (and their families' dreams) alive.

For many students like America, the path to a college degree is difficult. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, state funding for higher education has declined as a share of the budget over the past four decades while tuition has tripled at both the UC and CSU systems over the past twenty years. A 2018 study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento found that a large majority of community college students fail to obtain a degree or transfer to a four-year institution. The same study found large disparities between minority and Caucasian students, with only 26 percent of African-American students and 22 percent of Latino students earning a degree or certification or successfully transferring to a four-year university within six years. That's compared to 37 percent of Caucasian students. In 2018, the CSU system reported that only 25 percent of first-time freshmen finished in four years, while only 38 percent of transfer students attained their degree in two years. Although California spends more on financial aid per Pell Grant recipient than any other state, it's clear that more needs to be done to assist the 48 percent of students who identify as students of color and the 41 percent who are first-generation college-goers. Simply put, they face more barriers to college completion than other students. Indeed, according to CSU's 2018 Basic Needs Study, students who identified as black/African-American and as the first in their families to attend college experienced the highest rates of food insecurity (65.9 percent) and homelessness (18 percent) of any group. All these students, like America, deserve a level playing field and a fair shot at success.

East Los Angeles

America is a hopeful teenager who aspires to become a lawyer. She graduated from my alma mater, James A Garfield High School in East L.A. Think El Mercadito, Oscar de la Hoya, Whittier Boulevard. Think Stand and Deliver, the story of Jaime Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos in the movie). Yeah, that East L.A. and that Garfield High School. That's the environment in which America grew up.

East L.A. is an amazing community, but it faces many challenges, including a more than 22 percent poverty rate, nearly double the national average. It also struggles with low educational attainment, with only 8.3 percent of the population holding a bachelor's degree or higher. Forty-three percent of the population possess no degree at all. The neighborhood is also plagued by gangs and gang-related violence. My niece is living proof, however, that East L.A. is still a place where resilience and persistence can lead to success and the American dream.

America's Family and the Challenges of Financial Aid

After spending her childhood and teen years in East L.A., America was accepted at UC Merced. While not her first choice, the school offered the best financial aid package. Neither her mom nor dad received high school diplomas, and when America was applying to colleges they struggled to navigate a system they were not familiar with. Despite the challenges, all the necessary financial aid documents were completed and submitted.

America's financial aid package included $5,500 in loans. Of that, America and her parents decided to accept only $1,000, opting to figure out how to source the remaining $4,500 on their own. Although $5,500 might seem affordable, it's only a best-guess as to what is needed for the first year, and no one knows whether the amount will change in year two, three, or four. In addition, $5,000 of America's financial aid package was tied to work study. If she chose not to work, then the $4,500 already picked up by her family would balloon to $9,500. America's family's annual income is $30,000. And it gets more complicated when you consider that America's parents also pay $2,000 a year for her older sister to attend East Los Angeles College.

In her book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and The Betrayal of the American Dream, Sara Goldrick-Rab examines the conundrum faced by first-generation college students who apply for financial aid. In the book, Goldrick-Rab details a study conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab that asked 1,110 students how long it took them to complete financial aid paperwork. Almost a third (29 percent) said it took them one to two hours to complete, while 20 percent said it required more than two hours, with one in three of those students saying the person who helped them complete the paperwork had not attended college. Such was the case for America. "Si, un monton de papeleo, nunca en mi vida me habian pedido tanto papeleo," America's mom told me. ("Never in my life have I been asked for so many documents.")

Fulfillment of a Dream

In July, America excitedly told her parents that UC Merced had invited her to a new student orientation. Her parents were quick to ask why it cost $100 per person to attend. They asked me, her cousin, to go with them because, as America's dad said, "Pues es que no conocemos por alla," ("We're unfamiliar with stuff over there.") I gladly accepted and headed out with them on a Friday afternoon for the Saturday session. The trip came at an opportune time. As a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation, I work on issues of access, success, and affordability for underrepresented college students, with a focus on students struggling with basic needs

When we finally got to Merced, America and her parents were bright eyed, taking in a new landscape and imagining how America soon would be making it her home. They were excited for her and glad for the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the drive, knowing they would be coming up to bring their daughter home for the holidays and other occasions. America gently reminded them she only planned to come home twice a year. I didn't attend the orientation, as I figured it would be good for America and her parents to experience the day on their own.

When I picked them up, they were beaming with optimism and ready to share everything they had learned. Like any good recap at a gathering of Mexicans, they started by describing the food. But the question they were most interested in hearing an answer to was whether UC Merced took attendance and whether the school would notify parents if their daughter stopped attending classes. They knew America was bound to grow increasingly independent, but they also felt it would be good policy for UC Merced to communicate with parents in such situations. America laughed — not out of frustration but in appreciation of her parent's "old schoolness" and the love they were demonstrating by readily accepting things they didn't fully understand but knew would be good for her.

America started UC Merced last month and is beyond excited. She embraces her status as an underdog and relishes the challenge. More than anything, she does so because she's seen her parents beat the odds to give her the opportunity. If you drive through East L.A. today, you'll see eight-foot-high banners on lampposts lining major thoroughfares like Atlantic Boulevard. In 2016, Garfield H.S., in partnership with local businesses, educational organizations, and elected officials, obtained permits to display pictures of Garfield graduates holding the pennants and wearing the sweaters of the colleges they were leaving home to attend. At the top of each banner it reads "Garfield is college bound," while across the bottom it says "The pride of East L.A." America is on one of those banners, and her parents could not be prouder.

In the months and years to come, America and her family, like many other first-generation low-income students of color and their families, will navigate unfamiliar new systems together, tread new paths together, laugh at what they don't understand together, and most likely cry whenever they are not together. For now, they happily cling to their recent victory, America's high school graduation and the memory of their embrace after America walked across the stage to receive her diploma.

What's in a hug for America's parents at graduation? Sighs of relief after years of sacrifice. Memories of a border crossing filled with fear that led to an indescribable moment of joy. The fulfillment of a dream that first took shape in a small town in Mexico, thousands of miles away, and seemingly thousands of years ago. The satisfaction of knowing that waking up at 4:00 a.m. every day, day after day, to work a low-paying job was worth it. The satisfaction of knowing that in four years, despite the challenges, "primeramente Dios," ("God willing"), they'll be waking up at 4:00 a.m. to drive up the 99 freeway to see their daughter walk across another stage.

Miguel_leon_for_PhilanTopicMiguel León is a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation.

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.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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