Sharing a Cultural Recipe for Resilience

A Project Advisor at Movement Strategy Center Presents a Recipe and a Family History for Southern Black Lives

The holiday season is among us — a time to celebrate, reflect, reset, and gather in community. It’s also time to prepare festive meals and share favorite dishes — many from recipes that have bounced around families for generations. The concept of sharing foods and sharing traditions has always been an integral part of movement work, as well. When we share recipes that connect us to our roots, we invite our community to recognize our whole selves. 

The staff here at Movement Strategy Center (MSC) clock in across several states, cities, and time zones. Thus, our mostly remote culture demands creative ways of convening, connecting, and developing connections and we must be intentional in our cultivation of Beloved Community. At the end of the day, our issues and their solutions are interconnected — whether they’re at work or in life. 

It was in this spirit of community and reflection, that our Movement Infrastructure Innovation Center (MIIC) team was asked to share a recipe that best represents their culture. Most team members shared actual recipes — tamales, a honey glazed ham, and lasagna — family favorites shared year after year at holiday gatherings. But, Karmella Green, who joined the MIIC team as a Project Advisor in the Summer of 2022, offered her team something different: a powerful video presentation detailing a cultural recipe rooted in compassion, shared history, and Black liberation. 

Through an oral history, beginning in the 17th century, Green — a Black woman and a Texan — challenged her teammates to interrogate perceived benefits of White proximity, a driving force that prompts people of color to adopt anti-Black views. Karmella articulated the resilience of her culture, noting, “Slavery is White history. How we survived it is Black history.” Her narrative is buried in poems and pain; it details familial accomplishments and societal failings and is bookended with quotes from the Black luminaries lining her family’s bookshelves. She details her family members, including her great great grandmother — a well known member of their community. Throughout these stories, Green poignantly reminds us that “if intergenerational trauma can be passed down through DNA, so can healing.” 

Her incredible piece is a recipe — not for a casserole but for healing, for growth, and for overcoming systemic racism. It echoes her contemporary efforts to disavow the inherent systemic racism within the philanthropic community, and it is a lesson for transforming communities. 

Thank you, Karmella, for sharing your cultural recipe and reminding us, this holiday season, that when we share histories, we can shape possibilities for our collective future, rooted in love. With her permission, we invite you to watch her piece, as presented to her teammates, in the video below. 

Trigger Warning: the video includes photos of violence, themes of racism, oppression, death, and abuse.

If you are feeling nourished, like and share this blog, and let us know in the comments below what dishes — or histories — are staples on your holiday table. No matter the dish you bring to the table, MSC wishes you and your beloveds a spirited holiday season.


Judith LeBlanc: A Movement Icon Goes to Harvard

One of Movement Strategy Center’s Board Members Brings Native Organizing to Cambridge

Judith LeBlanc isn’t just one of Movement Strategy Center’s board members — she’s a movement icon. LeBlanc, an enrolled member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, probably wouldn’t admit to her icon status. You’d more likely hear her refer to herself as a proud grandmother, a proud citizen of the Caddo Nation, or just a fan of ice cream and fry bread.

Illustration by James Bradford

But she’s an absolute force. Just look at her resume: LeBlanc serves as the Executive Director of the Native Organizers Alliance; a field director for Peace Action; a National CoChair for United for Peace and Justice; a board member for IllumiNative; and the chair of the board of NDN Collective. Judith was a 2019 Roddenberry Fellow and, before her board position at MSC, she worked for four years as a member of MSC’s Transitions Lab community. 

This fall she also made time to serve as a Resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School alongside a former governor of Wyoming, a former Secretary of State for West Virginia, and a former Prime Minister of Sweden — in addition to other luminaries of politics, business, and academia. She is leading a study group of lucky Harvard students that will focus on exploring Indigenous rights and Native and Indigenous organizing across the country.

At a September forum at the university, LeBlanc was a breath of fresh air among the far right doom and gloom. She called Election Day “a snapshot of the balance of politics.” She continued: “Everything that happens between elections — on issues at the grassroots level — is what shapes the outcome of elections.” She is thrilled by “a historic high number of Natives” running for office and the “vibrancy at the tribal and grassroots level … Native people are highly aware of the threats to sovereignty and the impact of systemic racism and they understand that elections matter.”

 “Everything that happens between elections — on issues at the grassroots level — is what shapes the outcome of elections.”

With Harvard Kennedy School students
With Harvard Kennedy School students

After a recent Institute of Politics event, LeBlanc took to Facebook: “truth telling, good food, and great conversation with Mark Trahant, Phil Deloria, and Libero Della Piana. So proud of our people at Harvard who are preparing for sovereignty and self determination!”

Her enthusiasm was still palpable a few weeks later. In a conversation with LeBlanc, she noted that not only were the first Native women elected to the Congress in 2018, but that now, for the first time in over 230 years, there is Native Alaskan representation in the House of Representatives.

And all this in the same month that the Department of the Interior announced nearly 650 geographic locations with names containing an offensive slur for Indigenous women would be renamed — with input from Native communities. Though it didn’t come a moment too soon, it’s still impressive that this historic mass renaming is occurring less than a year after Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary — formally declared the word a derogatory term and began this process.

Last year, LeBlanc was involved in the Red Road to D.C. project — a two week national trek that saw a 25-foot, 5,000-pound totem pole created by a group of Lummi Nation artists journey from Washington state to Washington D.C. The House of Tears Carvers — the Lummi traditional carvers behind the monumental artwork — consider totem poles to be much more than art. LeBlanc agrees: “they tell our stories, they gather prayers, and give us guidance for how we walk.”

And that was exactly the intention of the tour — as co-sponsored by the Native Organizers Alliance and chaperoned by LeBlanc herself. At her speech on the National Mall, she drove the project’s mission home: calling on the Biden Administration to both “recognize the traditional, legal, and inherent rights of Native nations and Indigenous peoples to protect sacred places” across the country and recognize their own ancestral responsibilities to protect sacred places for future generations. LeBlanc was joined by Secretary Haaland and multiple speakers that day, each representing different tribes and speaking to the needs of their ancestral lands.

 “What’s the medicine we need? That medicine is to heal the land. But first, we must bring people together to heal themselves, to understand their relationship to land and place and history.”

She also spoke of her hope to “bring people together to recognize what it is that will make us stronger.” She asked: “what’s the medicine we need? That medicine is to heal the land. But first, we must bring people together to heal themselves, to understand their relationship to land and place and history.” She continued, “the future is Indigenous … And I say that to mean that the future is when we will recognize our relationality — that we’re related — when we recognize that we have common struggles in order to make sure that our descendants live a good life.”

These sentiments aren’t new. From her work on behalf of the Wounded Knee Defense/Offense Committee on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the early 1970s, to Standing Rock pipeline protests beginning in 2016, LeBlanc has espoused the value of cultural strategy and how “walking in ancestral knowledge” can “[define] the present” and shape the future. She also believes in establishing your role in the community or communities you hold yourself accountable to — in order “to be a good relative” in community.

At the end of the day, LeBlanc’s packed schedule, list of achievements, and everyday ethos all comes down to her respect for the role of the traditional practices of her people and all Indigenous people.

A big congratulations on your stint at Harvard, Judith — and in all your achievements and their throughline in peace, interdependence, community, and self-determination. Like and share this blog in honor of Judith and Native American History Month.


Sandbranch, Texas, and the Intersectionality of American Water

Movement Strategy Center Considers Water Equity, the Clean Water Act, and the Repercussions of Sackett v. EPA

Water seems fairly innocuous — you open your tap and water comes out. You assume it’s safe, it’s clean, it’s drinkable. Maybe you prefer Poland Spring or Lacroix, or you use a Brita, but you assume you can drink your water. You certainly feel comfortable bathing in it, washing your dishes with it, using it to prepare meals, or sloshing it into the dog bowl.

But water is a hot topic right now. Take the recent crises in Mississippi’s capital, the years of inaction and litigation in Flint, Michigan, and our country’s generally poor water infrastructure in many majority BIPOC cities and towns. At Movement Strategy Center (MSC), we are crowdfunding in support of the residents of Sandbranch — a Texas Freedman’s Settlement that still lacks clean, running water, despite its location just outside Dallas, one of the most prosperous cities in our country.

Our water is a hot topic at the Supreme Court, too. Sackett v. EPA is an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that could broadly affect the Clean Water Act, which was ratified way back in 1972 and just celebrated its 50th anniversary. And it may wind up being the most significant attack on America’s clean water laws since the 1970s.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Sackett case, it involves a couple who hoped to build a home near a lake in Idaho. To do so, they began to fill the property — a federally protected wetland — with gravel. The EPA, citing the Clean Water Act and its broad protection of the “waters of the United States,” halted the work and required the gravel’s removal. That was back in 2007. Since then, the case has bounced around the court system and will now be heard before the Supreme Court.

The Sacketts’ lawyers will argue that the wetlands in question are not “waters of the United States,” and thus not subject to federal regulation.

We know what you’re thinking. It’s water; and it’s in the United States. What’s the question?

We turned to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a little clarity. Per Jon Devine, the director of NRDC’s federal water policy team: “Congress intended the phrase to be interpreted very broadly.” 

When lawmakers were drafting the Clean Water Act … They envisioned its protections as extending to all the various bodies of water that make up a watershed, many of which people use for recreation, fishing, and drinking-water supply. And while those lawmakers may not have been hydrologists, they nevertheless understood the fundamental interrelatedness of these different bodies of water. “So the very earliest regulations set forth by the EPA were inclusive … All the relevant parts of an aquatic ecosystem, including streams, wetlands, and small ponds — things that aren’t necessarily connected to the tributary system on the surface, but that still bear all kinds of ecological relationships to that system and to one another.

He noted that, over the years, various parties — often developers and polluters — have attempted to litigate the meaning of the term; and until the early 2000s, those parties usually lost.

The Clean Water Act was nonpartisan, and it was passed in reaction to massive fish die-offs and dangerous levels of mercury and raw sewage in our waterways.

In 2006, another case surrounding another wetland drainage project was brought before the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy stuck to the script — his opinion maintained that “waters of the United States” didn’t need to be visibly contiguous to warrant protection; and that if destroying or polluting one wetland or pond or creek could affect the health of a second body of water, then said waterway deserves protection. Both the Bush and Obama administrations subscribed to this viewpoint.

That said, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia saw things differently: his opinion centered on navigable waters. If it can’t accommodate a boat — well, protection shouldn’t be necessary.

That opinion, though ludicrous, was supported by the Trump administration and has opened the door to cases like Sackett v. EPA. And, crucially, it could make poking holes in the Clean Water Act a whole lot easier. And that’s a travesty: the Clean Water Act was nonpartisan, and it was passed in reaction to massive fish die-offs and dangerous levels of mercury and raw sewage in our waterways — not to mention the fact that Ohio’s Cuyahoga River literally caught fire and Lake Erie was projected to become biologically dead. 

And while our waters have improved immensely, many waterways are still unhealthy and face further degradation from “forever chemicals” and increases in urban and agricultural run-off as developers pave over natural spaces and farmers and property owners doubledown on fertilizer and pesticide use. That’s to say nothing of climate change: drought, water scarcity, and just how hard our wetlands work in storing carbon. 

We hope the Clean Water Act remains intact in the face of our overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court. And, like Kennedy’s subscription to the interconnectedness of American waters — from seasonal ponds and small swaths of wetland to our largest lakes and most powerful rivers; we must recognize the interconnectedness and intersectionality of the American water system. We can not forget our brothers and sisters in Sandbranch, and in other communities all over the country that lack clean water infrastructure.

The people of Sandbranch — property owners and taxpayers — are represented by the Sandbranch Planning Committee and are working tirelessly to not only bring water to their community, but increase access to fresh food, equitable healthcare, and basic infrastructure (streetlights, trash removal, signage) to their community. With help from MSC, the Chisholm Legacy Project, and the Until Justice Corporation, the Sandbranch Revitalization Fund is starting with the installation of Hydropanels — a solar-powered system that can supply households with safe, clean running water pulled directly from the atmosphere. 

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has joined the crusade. The organization is sponsoring Hydropanels for two homes in the community while working to raise additional funds and urge other large environmental organizations to make similar investments in Sandbranch and other frontline communities struggling to access clean drinking water.

“It is shameful that hundreds of years after its founding by emancipated men and women, this community does not have reliable access to clean and safe water,” said Dr. Adrienne Hollis, vice president of environmental justice, public health, and community revitalization at the NWF.

Members of NWF and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined Tonette Byrd, who leads the local Until Justice initiative and has led efforts to bring Hydropanels to Sandbranch, at a town hall meeting in October. Byrd, who has worked closely with the community and built relationships with its members, said in an interview, “this community deserves better and what I see happening in this community should not happen anywhere in the United States.” 

She continued: “we are thrilled to be working with the community to ensure that this innovative technology can begin to help address these historic environmental injustices and provide renewable, reliable, and affordable water for community residents. Other environmental groups, federal, and state partners should invest in this and other similar efforts to address water insecurity in frontline communities in Texas and across the country.”

The members of this community have been oppressed by systemic racism and environmental injustice for over a century. Phyllis Gage, a longtime resident, said, “we’re paying taxes. So where’s my tax money going?” Her comments remind us that these Americans need far more than Hydropanels. These are a sort of band-aid — residents need city water and sewage services, food justice, land justice, and opportunity; and all of it must be rooted in a Just Transition.

“This innovative technology can begin to help address these historic environmental injustices and provide renewable, reliable, and affordable water for community residents.”

Food scarcity has become a central aspect of their plans: a centralized, community Hydropanel will maintain a community garden to grow fresh produce for Sandbranch residents. Meanwhile, residents point to their rising property taxes — in 2020 tax rates doubled and, in some cases, tripled for landowners. This despite the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designation that limits property improvements and buyout offers beginning in 2005 that offered some residents only $350 for their properties.

Sandbranch’s water crisis touches every part of every resident’s life — how could it not? Safe, clean water is essential — to people, to productivity, to the natural world. It’s all connected — much like the “waters of the United States” cited in Sackett v. EPA. We need the Clean Water Act to remain intact. And, in Sandbranch, we need to support the installation of Hydropanels — a first step in bringing equity to this tiny but mighty Texas community. Please donate what you can to the #SandbranchIsRising campaign; and please share this blog. Water is life.


Honoring the Legacy of Sandbranch:
Yesterday and Today

In its 142-year history, the town of Sandbranch, Texas, has seen many births and deaths. Today, this unincorporated village outside Dallas is attempting a long overdue rebirth — but residents here, devoted to their community but envisioning a safer, cleaner, and more flourishing version of it — don’t look forward without looking back. 

In 1878, an intrepid group of people from Louisiana — newly emancipated from slavery — traveled to Texas seeking a place to settle. Together, they bought a parcel of land and built a homestead. They wanted to provide financial security and opportunity for themselves, and for their descendants. At its peak, Sandbranch — the only unincorporated settlement in Dallas county, and its most impoverished area — was home to about 400 residents. Today, one hundred residents remain. 

Back in 1910, local residents Doc Glenn, Charlie Stark, and Cicero Floyd donated over an acre of land for a cemetery; and it’s said to contain the graves of many formerly enslaved people.

Like their founders, Sandbranch residents are determined to live in a place that is a sanctuary — a healthy and thriving place to call home. Their current efforts involve a wholesale revitalization of Sandbranch. Led by the Sandbranch Planning Committee, the first priority is to provide drinking water directly to 25 households through the cutting-edge, sustainable, regenerative technology of HydroPanels. For a town without running water, this technology and the water it pulls from thin air is life. But there is so much more to their vision — plumbing, street lights, garbage collection, rezoning and reconstruction, community gardens and access to healthcare, new residents (and, hopefully, a return for some previous residents). 

The community’s hub — for meetings, prayer, social interaction, bottled water and food distribution, and a community of volunteers — is the Sandbranch Baptist Church. And, adjacent to the original sight of the church, on Simonds Road, is the Sandbranch Cemetery. Back in 1910, local residents Doc Glenn, Charlie Stark, and Cicero Floyd donated over an acre of land for a cemetery; and it’s said to contain the graves of many formerly enslaved people. Like the town of Sandbranch, the cemetery has seen years of neglect — becoming overgrown, with many gravemarkers lost, destroyed, or illegible.

In 2011, a sign was put up at the Sandbranch Cemetery. While still tricky to find, it’s a start. And, luckily more information about those buried in the cemetery has been discovered.  

Scroll down to learn a bit about the folks that called Sandbranch home.

Donate to the Sandbranch Revitalization Fund’s #H20atHome campaign to support the installation of those Hydropanels.

Left, Bud Franklins was born June 10, 1870, and passed away at 71 on August 24, 1941; right, George Linscome was laid to rest in his 70s.

Top left, a headstone at Sandbranch Cemetery; top right, Wilson Lem Anderson, a veteran, was born on February 19, 1917 in Anchorage, TX. He married Alpha Odell Neal Anderson on June 25, 1942. He lived in Stephens, TX and Atascosa, TX; and died on November 7, 1989, at the age of 72; bottom, May Anderson, known as “8th of May” — her birthday was May 8 — was married to Ordon.

Left, Peter Elber McGrew, known as “Darling Pete,” was born on October 17, 1925. He lived to be 24 years old; Right, John William Crawford was born on August 21, 1877, and died at 61. He grew up on the Crawford Ranch, the land that his father, James O. Crawford, (also buried in the Sandbranch Cemetery), had homesteaded in the 1870s. John did not stick around: he sold the land and moved to Millett, TX, where he worked as postmaster and ran an ice cream parlor.

James O. and Sarah “Sally” Frances Bennett Crawford.

Left, Callie A Slaughter, born July 22, 1870, was laid to rest on August 9, 1926; right, Jessie Wright’s tombstone is one of a handful of gravestones that have become so timeworn that the inscriptions are difficult to read.


Everything You Need to Know About 988

Movement Strategy Center Chats with Tansy Hall McNulty, Founder and CEO of One Million Madly Motivated Moms (1M4), About the Launch of 988

On July 16, 2022, 988 is finally going live — a sort of sister service to 911, 988 will replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255, which will remain in service after July 16) as a nationwide number for individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts, mental health or substance abuse emergencies, or emotional distress. A first step in reimagining crisis support in the United States, this easy to remember, three-digit number (call, text, or chat) is confidential, free, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers will be connected to trained English and Spanish language crisis counselors with interpretation services in over 150 languages.

We (virtually) sat down with Tansy Hall McNulty, Founder and CEO of One Million Madly Motivated Moms (1M4), to discuss the launch of 988. As founder of 1M4, Tansy leads an ongoing effort to compile and share a comprehensive guide of local and regional Mobile Crisis Units all over the country — an often safer alternative to calling the police for Black families in need of mental health support. When 988 legislation was passed, in 2020, Tansy, 1M4, and their resource were in demand — this collection of crisis units and co-responders would be a jumping off point for 988’s network of operator-counselors and the mobile crisis units we all hope will follow, as 988 secures funding and expands.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MSC: What is 988? 

THM: 988 is a federal mandate that was created back in December of 2020, that we would have a short, easy to remember, three digit number for suicidal thoughts, mental health emergencies, and behavioral health emergencies. Effective July 16th of this year, 2022, 988 will go live nationally. 

MSC: When should we call 988 instead of 911? 

THM: 911 is for criminal behavior or medical and physical emergencies … 988 is for those who are having suicidal ideations and those who are experiencing mental health emergencies, or emotional distress. So these are times that you need a counselor, someone to talk to, someone to de-escalate … The hope and the intention is for it to be a national dispatching center for mental health emergencies. That infrastructure is still being built, however … It will not be ready on July 16th in all places — so I want people to be aware that when you call 988 in these situations, depending on where you live, you may still have an interaction with a law enforcement officer.

MSC: How is 988 funded?

THM: 998 will be funded much like 911, in some states … Look at your cell phone bill, and look at the breakdown. On your bill you’ll see something that says 911. Everybody who has a cell phone is paying … 12 cents a month or 15 cents a month for 911. And that’s so it’s a fully funded organization and entity and that means it doesn’t run out of money. Well 988, ideally, would be funded the same way, but some states are running into issues with this additional fee, because it’s become politicized. So, some states are actually leaning towards a one-time grant opportunity to fund 988 and to fund the call-takers, those who will be servicing the 988 systems. The issue with having a one-time grant is it’s one time. And this is something that needs to be sustainable, so that it can continue, stay funded, stay helpful.

 "The issue can be that sometimes the states take over and they don’t want communities to drive solutions, when we know communities keep communities safe."

MSC: What are some gaps that 988 does not address? 

 

THM: The hope is for 988 to one day be fully fleshed out, to be able to release mobile crisis response teams, or mobile crisis units as well call it on our website — it’s just not there yet, they’re still building the infrastructure for that. And a big portion of that, too, is the need for funding — you have to be able to fund things for them to work, you have to be able to pay people … When you’re this close to someone going through rough times you need to be compensated well for that. So the funding is needed; and consistent, sustainable funding — not these one time things.

We also need community involvement — we have some community response teams on our website but there are so many others out there … I’m hoping they’re able to be funded through 988 too. The issue can be that sometimes the states take over and they don’t want communities to drive solutions, when we know communities keep communities safe.

 

MSC: How can we help make 988 better?

 

THM: Our involvement is needed, because a system that you are not a part of, you’re not considered. It’s very important to be a voice at the table; or just a voice on the other side of the phone. The opportunities to become a call-taker, to become someone who is the voice … Listening to what they need, what they’re saying, providing them the best outlet for help — and the outlet could just be you, listening. It’s amazing to me what happens when people just listen; when people actually feel heard. 

We need people on the other end of the phone who sound like the community that’s calling them. So if you’re someone who is empathetic to other people, who has a will to listen … Look up opportunities for employment, to be the voice someone hears when they’re upset … If you are someone who cares about people, who cares about solutions, who cares about public safety, the safety of individuals going through rough times, consider being a call-taker, consider going through the training to become one of those counselors … who are trained to de-escalate, to provide a soothing voice to hear you out in your darkest hour. 

"We need people on the other end of the phone who sound like the community that’s calling them."

MSC: What can we do until 988 launches and while it’s being developed?

 

THM: Right now you can go to our website and look up our mobile crisis units. Look at your state, look at your area, find who’s in your area who can respond to your needs. Particularly if you’re someone who has had or knows of someone who’s had suicidal ideations, or someone who has manic episodes — become familiar now with the guide and the people in your area, before you need them. It’s always best to build familiarity before you need that help. So you can know what their processes are and you know the group that’s going to answer the phone … I encourage you to call [their administrative phone numbers and] just talk — say, what can I expect? I have a family member or a friend who has these things that happen every now and then, what would happen? I don’t want to engage the police — will they be encountered? 

On our site it will tell you. We interview the people to ask them — will you include law enforcement? Some said yes, every time; some said only if a weapon is involved — ask them those questions, talk to them. [Save their] numbers now, so if … something happens with [a] loved one, or [you] see someone going through some distress, and it seems like they need help, [you] can call this number and know they have a better chance of surviving that interaction.        

You can all help us build out our guide. If you look at our list and you know there’s a mobile crisis response team that’s local to you [that isn’t listed] … Please share with us: go to our website or email [email protected], and send us the name of the organization. We will call them [and ask] them the same questions … just to make sure we understand how they respond.       

 

MSC: How do I know 988 is something safe that I can trust?

 

THM: We want … to [hear] what’s actually happening in the community. So, after you call 988 we would like to know what happened — so we can document it, we can keep up with it, we can actually report back to the implementation team.

Even for our mobile crisis guide: when you contact these different units, we would like to know what happened, did they get you the help they needed? 

I was in contact with a woman in New York … Her nephew was having back to back manic episodes, and when they happen back to back they increase in intensity. They put him on a list — it was a six month wait to get in with a psychiatrist. The family did not want to engage law enforcement, it’s a Black family. So they went to our guide, and they called their local mobile crisis unit, who put them in contact with resources. They ended up actually taking him to the ER, because at some ERs – it should be all but it’s some – there are psychiatrists on staff that you can get in with. So he was able to avoid having to interact with law enforcement by referencing our guide. 

And his aunt, the one who contacted me, was extremely grateful that she had that resource, that information. So we want to know from others: when you use our guide, what happens? We want to hear your stories, hear your experiences, we don’t want to share your name … We just want to know your experience so we can get better. We can let individuals know, who are in positions of power — you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, or you did, you did an excellent job, tell your colleagues [and share your knowledge in] keeping people safe and truly caring for people when they need us.  


Navigating Tensions Within Capitalist Systems

Movement Strategy Center on Forging Authentic Relationships Between Funders and Movement Leaders

Movement Strategy Center (MSC) is values-aligned with the activist organizations we offer infrastructure to and thought partnership with; and dismantling white supremacy in philanthropy and intermediary services is fundamental to our goal and mission. But at the end of the day, we are a cog in the machine of capitalism; and capitalism is core to economic, racial, and environmental inequity we are fighting each and every day. 

It’s with this in mind that we cannot deny the obvious tensions between the philanthropic organizations that fund our works and the on-the-ground movement leaders we partner with.

 

 

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This thinking is by no means new or innovative — it’s ingrained enough within the greater philanthropic and activist ecosystems to warrant parody. There are dozens of social media accounts dedicated to poking holes in the nonprofit industrial complex. Two of our favorites, @nogodsnoprofts on Instagram and @philanthro_tea on Twitter, have amassed more than 4,000 followers thanks to a collection of memes and hot takes that are often humorous, honest, and entirely relatable.  

Dontay Wimberly, rapper and People’s Climate Innovation Center (formerly Climate Innovation) Young Black Climate Leader (YBCL), shared similar frustration in his Instagram stories. He noted that in 2020, $471 billion went to nonprofit organizations — nearly half a trillion dollars. “That’s how much money was given away — so imagine how much the ruling class has in the first place.” He continued, “capitalism is a zero-sum game … for the few to win, everyone else has to lose. That’s why nonprofits are so frustrating. They don’t really talk about capitalism … Then they would have to reconcile with the contradiction that nonprofits are a byproduct of capitalist exploitation.” 

And he’s right — without unfathomable wealth there would be no philanthropy. And without philanthropy, many of the activists behind crucial movement work would be hobbled. Wealth and philanthropy are essential — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do.   

Carla Dartis, MSC’s executive director, wonders: “how many philanthropic organizations and family foundations have direct access to small grassroots organizers? How many have activist organizers on their boards? Their advisory councils?” Without those folks involved in decision making how are funders supposed to fully understand needs? Without a seat on the table, where is the community and partnership? And when the organizers on the ground are honest about their needs, “they are seen as weak — they can never be seen as a true partner.”

Candace Clark, the resource organizing director at HEAL Food Alliance, one of MSC’s fiscally sponsored projects, agrees: “No one can tell you how to fix a problem in the community they aren’t a part of.” 

 

 

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Problems between philanthropic organizations and activists are compounded by what Dartis describes as a “model of scarcity.” These foundations have good intentions but the funding is rarely enough; the timelines too defined; the relationships too “episodic.” It’s nearly impossible for activists to secure enough funding and — crucially — unrestricted funding to support ongoing efforts, growth, or infrastructure. And, she adds: those deadlines and restrictions, that manufactured urgency, is “the white supremacy piece.” All organizations, large and small, need to be able to adapt or shift as circumstances change and hot button issues arise and established funding can rarely be diverted to tackle these issues.

Jose Pienda, executive director for After Incarceration, an MSC fiscally sponsored project, understands this scarcity sentiment. Since his release from prison in 2020, Pienda has worked with the Restorative Center to pursue a personal restorative justice journey and provide restorative outlets for others. Pienda believes “if we replace competition with collaboration, we all have access to everything … At the end of the day, we are all working for each other.” But he doesn’t believe Big Philanthropy always works that way, referring to the status quo as “a competitive rat race mentality of how and where we get our resources.” 

Intermediaries can seem to complicate the situation by standing between one or more foundations and grantees. But MSC avoids this; and part of avoiding roadblocks is acknowledging that we exist in a sort of paradox between capitalism and liberation. We do not try to ignore the inherent capitalist hypocrisy that is the backbone of philanthropy.   

And we make mistakes — all of us do, big philanthropy and otherwise. But the key is accountability. Clark says, “accountability can feel like being reprimanded but that’s not the intention, it’s dialog, it’s sharing, it’s willingness.” Crucially, she adds that “accountability is transparency” and that means being “open to correcting mistakes.”

Terry Marshall, the cofounder of Intelligent Mischief — a member of MSC Movement Strategy Network (MSN), tells us, “anything that is real, started as imagination first.” MSC imagined a leader-full ecosystem of dynamic and strategic leaders, projects, teams, strategic initiatives, collaborations, and organizations working to advance BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and women and LGBTQIA+-led power building. We started as a group of organizers addressing the overlapping issues of our time collaboratively; who know the climate crisis is connected to the immigration crisis; and that racial justice can not be separated from gender justice. Our purpose is to strengthen projects on the ground and reshape collective futures while working towards equity and community — even with funders, large and small. 

 “Accountability can feel like being reprimanded but that’s not the intention, it’s dialog, it’s sharing, it’s willingness. Accountability is transparency and that means being open to correcting mistakes.”

It all comes down to being in a relationship with one another. Our fiscal sponsorship programs are based on a cohort system that builds on a nested network approach. The idea — which brings in classes of activist organizations — speaks to the concept of Beloved Community and to the need for power-building. Onboarding starts with goal and intention setting; and many goals include relationship building. It’s a crucial, foundational part of the work, and determines our resilience and ability to move forward together. In her book, Emergent Strategy, social movement facilitator adrienne maree brown reminisced about an offering of advice that MSC cofounder Taj James once shared: “don’t thingify, humanify! Shifting our way of being is our tangible outcome. Systems change comes from big groups making big shifts of being.”  

Anya de Marie, who helped develop this approach during her time as MSC’s chief fiscal sponsorship officer, said, “we created as much community as we could inside complicated and contradictory philanthropic and nonprofit cultures and constraints. Rather than an individualized focus on organizational development, we use a network-centered approach that is relational and trauma-responsive.” That rationale reflects MSC’s employee culture — it has been and continues to be a community and political home. And that sense of belonging can take the edge off the very difficult work and very difficult conversations that come with transformative movement building.

Movement building is relational work, and our relationships with our programs and partners allows us to be innovative and agile in our approaches. Mariame Kaba, author of We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice, tells us, “being intentionally in relation to one another, a part of a collective, helps to not only imagine new worlds but also to imagine ourselves differently.” While most intermediaries offer a black and white, client-based approach, our services are designed to address a community’s complete need for resources; and our infrastructure is focused on access and transparency. 

This process extends to many of MSC’s partners. Clark, who is new to the HEAL Food Alliance team, notes that when they are working and planning with their member organizations — a diverse group comprised of rural and urban farmers, fisherfolk, farm and food chain workers, rural and urban communities, scientists, public health advocates, environmentalists, and indigenous groups — they strive for safe spaces, open communication, and the encouragement of all voices from all backgrounds and all geographies to speak their minds and “craft their stories.”

“Don’t thingify, Humanify! Shifting our way of being is our tangible outcome. Systems change comes from big groups making big shifts of being.”

Moving forward, MSC envisions sharing our movement building expertise and ultimately expanding our intermediary model to other activist communities and intermediaries. This equitable service toolkit will be offered to other intermediaries as a guide to setting up their projects and their ecosystems up for success while collectively shifting the paradigm of philanthropy. Crucially, this system will actively engage activists and communities around the model — which will strengthen communities all over. 

MSC proudly focuses on projects that are most impacted by inequities; we don’t have minimum budgets; and we work hard to facilitate powerbuilding and education for our fiscally sponsored partners — with financial literacy, business acumen, and operational knowledge. This not only expands their mission’s impact and their role in systemic change but it helps them walk the walk and talk the talk when in conversation with potential funders, partners, and employers.

This strategic investment in professional development is crucial, as staff and leadership within grassroots organizations sometimes lack the operational literacy required to operate in philanthropic circles. Our focus on building skills and expertise is unique in the world of intermediaries — we believe strategic investment in staff and partner education builds capacity for the movement and the movement leaders, at MSC and beyond. MSC’s Movement Infrastructure Innovation Center (MIIC) project advisor Jamillah Renard‘s financial literacy coaching and resources has increased our organizational breadth while granting our activist partners transferable skills that will increase their income capabilities.

All of this requires funding. And sometimes to get the funding communities need, activists need to be open to partnering with foundations and funders that may not be completely aligned in terms of mission and vision. Per Clark, “it’s important to be strategic, and to look at alignment even if it’s indirect. Compromise is nuanced and sometimes there are still benefits.” It’s hard to know who or what else every philanthropist and foundation is involved with; but it’s safe to say that they don’t set out to be extractive. And here is where communication is again key: “you can walk them through and they may be willing to see things differently.” That said, there are differing opinions on this throughout the transformative movement ecosystem and activists will need to do what’s right for themselves and their communities on a case by case basis.


MSC's 73 Questions with Aisha Shillingford

Movement Strategy Center Chats with Aisha Shillingford of Intelligent Mischief in a 73 Questions-Style Interview

Movement Strategy Center and Intelligent Mischief present MSC’s 73 Questions with Aisha Shillingford, creative director of Intelligent Mischief. This is our take on Vogue’s iconic 73 questions and in it we discuss Afrofuturism, art and design, movement building, social justice, the Golden Girls — all for MSC’s first-ever #GivingTuesday and End of Year Giving campaigns.

Credits
T
alent: Aisha Shillingford 
Videographer: Auden Barbour
Produced by: Movement Strategy Center 


Essential Shifts in Funding Practices

Movement Strategy Center on How Philanthropy Must Evolve

To decolonize philanthropy, and support this crucial movement work, we must be open to the concept of Emergent Strategy policies and culture building. Emergent Strategy, a book and framework written by facilitator adrienne maree brown, suggests that western culture tends to work against the emergent strategies and processes that are realized over time as intended goals collide with the shifting realities at hand. The writer explains that “emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” By being cognizant of how needs and environments change — including a holistic focus on authentic relationships and the evolving needs of movement leaders — philanthropy can reshape their values and what they’re advocating for.

“When we are fueled with a scarcity mindset, as so many of our communities have been conditioned to be, organizations scramble to do as much as they can before the funds run out.”

Philanthropy for social movements must begin to level the playing field and move away from the current hierarchies that temporarily fund outcomes rather than sustainably funding relationships.


Reconsidering Regranting

Movement Strategy Center Re-imagines Equitable Regranting through Philanthropic Innovation

“We need to create spaces and resource opportunities for leaders to experiment and collaborate and also make mistakes, learn, and try again, which is difficult with limited resources and strict project specifications and requirements.”

Our flexibility and willingness to think outside the box allows those receiving funds to “work around challenges and limitations rather than expecting them to work within systems that don’t support their circumstances.”


It's Time For A Vision That Is More Humane

Movement Strategy Center Stands with Cuba, Haiti, and All Victims of Imperialism

“The Brothers in pain tinted with blood on the island of Cuba” by @alejandro_sin_barreras