At Neighborhood Funders Group’s final board meeting of 2020, the toll of the year hit me — suddenly. While saying farewell to Mary Sobecki (Executive Director of the Needmor Fund) as she ended her term on NFG’s Board of Directors, I found myself crying like a baby. I have known Mary since NFG’s National Convening in Cleveland in 2007: the conference I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Kevin Ryan (my fellow New York Foundation colleague at the time), Frank Sanchez (then at Needmor Fund) and my adopted tio Victor Quintana (then at the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock). Mary has been a mentor, a long-time NFG leader and, most recently, our ‘Homecoming Queen’ for NFG’s 40th Anniversary and our 40 Years Strong virtual convening series (alongside our co-queen Shona Chakravartty of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation). Mary’s departure, combined with the year-end memo I wrote for the board, took an immediate effect on me and I began bawling.
To make up for it, I then proceeded to swear like a sailor proclaiming my pride in NFG’s work this year and admiration for our staff and members who faced the year with courage and grace. It was not my finest leadership moment of the year, but it was my realest.
I am thankful for having a team of board members with whom I felt safe enough to do this and would not see this display as a questionable move by NFG’s new President. After the meeting, I almost apologized to one of my board co-chairs, but quickly stopped myself when I realized that I am not sorry for displaying emotion. I am not sorry for allowing myself to feel and show the toll of this year. (I am sorry for swearing like a sailor though.)
Pcitured above: Strong selfie game with Mary Sobecki, Executive Director of the Needmor Fund and outgoing NFG Board Member.
This board meeting, coupled with time with NFG’s staff to pause and reflect, helped shape this letter to the NFG community. As we approach the end of 2020, I wanted to share what is clearer to me now (one of my favorite questions when checking in with staff):
This was always possible. COVID-19 showed us that foundations could always do away with stringent and onerous practices. Grantmakers let go of deadlines, shifted program support to general operating support, granted out more than the all-too-typical 5% payout, and asked about and funded organizers’ safety and security, staff wellness, and healing (including NFG’s Amplify Fund moving $150,000 in wellness grants to their grantees!). Philanthropy has a long way to go to ensure that these practices become the standard in this sector, but many funders pivoted this year to show us what is possible.
The toll & trauma of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and state violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of color bodies will be with us for years. Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrant, queer, transgender, rural and unhoused communities, and essential and unemployed workers continue to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, white nationalism and terror, a financial recession, and the intergenerational trauma of the United States’ deep racial inequities.
We must continue to tend to these traumas and their impact on us as individuals and communities. And philanthropy must show up for us and not disassociate from this work. Philanthropy has a stake in ensuring that people can continue to organize, build power, and transform their lives and communities — in this current moment where we continue to grapple with these twin pandemics and for the road ahead. We must hold philanthropy accountable by dismantling white supremacy and outdated, patriarchal norms in this sector and by taking the risks that are worthy of the courage of our people (appreciations to Mary Hooks, Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground, who issued this call to action to our sector at NFG’s People, Place and Power virtual plenary).
We need each other and all of us in this fight. It is our collective work to organize philanthropy, move our visions and agendas forward, demand our dignity, and resource power-building led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive. We need each other to fortify, show the way, and give & receive help.
I am proud of the way NFG pivoted like champions to deliver our work virtually. We maximized our existing use of technology as a remote organization, incorporated live captioning and music (shoutout to DJ Carmen Spindiego!), pre-recorded videos with our members and movement leaders, held virtual happy hours, initiated member connection calls, and continued our commitment and practice to center the expertise and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and people of color organizers throughout all of our programming.
I am proud that NFG continues to hold ourselves accountable to our ultimate aim to move money to racial, economic, gender, and climate justice. Examples include moving money to organizers in Nashville, including Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, as part of NFG’s Amplify Fund and Funders for a Just Economy virtual learning visit and the CAPACES Leadership Institute, Oregon Food Bank, Political Research Associates, Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, and the Hmong American Farmers Association following our Integrated Rural Strategies Group's Multiracial Rural Equity Summit — to name a few.
Organizational leaders can support staff as whole people. We can close our offices to support staff as they adjust to shelter in place orders, to become their children’s home teachers, as they take to the streets in support of uprisings for Black lives and liberation, as they take care of loved ones and neighbors, and face their own grief and loss. We can ask ‘how are you?’ and ‘what do you need?’ and then provide the space and resources to nourish our staff. Accordingly, NFG is closing our offices for three weeks between December and January so that staff can rest and rest and rest.
Pictured above: My husband, Ivan, and our son, Emiliano, celebrating in the streets of Brooklyn after the 2020 elections.
We can continue to move money and organize as individuals. Here is my year-end giving list — what is yours?
- Transgender Law Center (TLC)
- Southerners on New Ground (SONG)
- Firecracker Foundation
- The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)
- Sovereign Bodies Institute
- My son, Emiliano’s, public school in Brooklyn
As we approach the end of 2020, I wish for you the opportunity to rest, find some joy, cry, do virtual karaoke (not as satisfying as in person, but cathartic), watch the panda cam, and do what nourishes you. I look forward to continuing to be in community and solidarity with you in 2021.