How AFF’s Inaugural Movement Partner Advisory Council Will Help Build A More Aligned, Liberated Philanthropic Practice

Recently, movement leaders, board members and AFF staff gathered (virtually) for our annual board meeting. This meeting was a historic occasion for our fund because we welcomed our first cohort of Movement Partner Advisory Council members — a group of AFF grantee partners focused on youth justice child welfare policy that will collectively craft AFF’s strategic plan for the next 5 years.

MPAC & AFF Board

That day, we took another step toward making good on the lofty goals we identified last year during our board retreat at the Highlander Center with Reverend Allyn-Steele and Ash-Lee Woodard-Henderson. The three goals:

  1. Support the field’s demand to close youth prisons in 10 years and assist movement partners in ending the over-criminalization of BIPOC youth nationwide.
  2. Move more money to grassroots frontline movements.
  3. Help organize philanthropy to follow the lead of movement communities.

On that day, I asked the group to hold up four words: Community, Alignment, Power and Strategy.

Community in this context means that movement leaders and board members sit together (virtually) to explore how real change happens and how we can do our best work together. Through the expert facilitation of Rusia Mohiuddin, we are creating a culture of collaboration and connection that builds the power of movement organizations. Community also means grappling with the inherently flawed and unjust system of philanthropy and the toxic power dynamic it creates between movement partners and funders. In community, we discuss the places where we’re politically aligned and where we are misaligned in our vision of how change happens. In other words, in community, we learn what transformative change actually looks like.

Why do these encounters of board and movement leaders rarely happen? One major reason is because funders have never been held accountable to communities as stakeholders. It is standard practice for boards to approve strategies that are designed by program officers and directors who often do not collaborate with the communities they intend to serve. The other reason for the rare encounters is because movement partners are incredibly busy! Their time and brilliance are spent on the frontlines pushing for racial justice and building power for young people, and we take that commitment very seriously. But one thing we’ve all come to agree upon is that more authentic proximity — not less — will help us do our most aligned and impactful work. If we are to practice being in a more equitable, transformative relationship with one another — one rooted in interdependence, transformation, learning and grounded in the courage to change — then we have to foster a rigorous, long-term practice that is truly beneficial for communities, not just beneficial to funders who prioritize “learning” above action.

Alignment with today’s work is to follow the leadership of those directly impacted at the center. Not because funders and movements aren’t already aligned in racial justice values — although sometimes there’s a difference between espoused and practiced values — but because we are continuously refining our understanding and practice — PRAXIS — of who should lead and how to support them. The deployment and reclaiming of much-needed resources to support movements to actualize their visions is a necessary part of transformative change work. Bringing together those with the resources and those who need them, and building a practice rooted in anti-racism, healing, and transformation is a rigorous yet necessary endeavor. I believe this proximity between funders and movements will produce political clarity, sharpened focus and, dare I say, impact. Not just impact in communities, families and organizations, but also our own impact as philanthropic allies.

The heart of this work is not an intellectual exercise, but a personal commitment to examine how each one of us is personally implicated in the exploitation of another. Many of us — it is inevitable — are both the oppressed and oppressor in a society whose foundations were built on stolen land, slavery and extractive capitalism. We are here to do the hard work together, as Darnell Moore said in the “Black Freedom Dream” episode of the “Lady Don’t Take No” podcast hosted by Alicia Garza, of getting the “boot off the neck” of the person we are in an oppressive relationship with. Our collective liberation lies in the courageous work of seeing both the privilege and oppression and taking accountability for harm prevention. I invite you to step into self-care, compassion and courage as we witness the dimensions of ourselves (as funders or movement leaders) that we are often afraid to acknowledge — to own and transform our behaviors, and ultimately, our impact.

Finally, our time together is intended to build Power for directly-impacted youth and their communities. Despite the power dynamics between us–funders and movement leaders-–our collaboration is meant to interrogate and transfer power to where it is needed. Who has power in the legislative halls? Who is holding narrative and moral power? How does power show up on the blocks and streets where youth and communities are surviving and seeking to thrive? Who has the power to change the rules and relieve the material and social conditions of marginalized youth? To truly make good on our vision of liberation? Who has the power of resources and capital to ensure these visions come to life and how will they deploy it?

We have the opportunity to build a Strategy that is a model for the broader philanthropic community. A model that firmly believes community must be at the table to inform, lead and design the strategies meant to build long-term community power. Although we proudly see staff as advocates and champions who are often also directly impacted, we are well aware that staff should not be a proxy for directly-impacted communities and leaders. We affirm that it is sophisticated, intelligent and darn right strategic to build philanthropic structures meant to support and strengthen communities’ expertise and position them at the helm.

We are excited for our time together this coming year and hope that the rich conversations and thought partnership between staff, board members and movement partners will transform us all. Our ultimate hope is that the change we create together will live on in our philanthropic structures, policies and culture.

Let’s stay in deep awareness and enjoy building the spaceship for liberated futures we needed yesterday. It all starts with one step, one conversation, one Zoom icebreaker at a time.

Welcome in accountable love, community!

AFF Statement on Racial Justice

The Andrus Family Fund (AFF) stands in solidarity with our grantee partners and the movement for Black lives—a movement recently pushed forward by the gruesome murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. We recognize the countless other Black and Brown lives taken by systemic racism and discrimination leading up to—and since—this current moment. We also work to shine a spotlight on the especially targeted members of the Black, Brown, Native, Women/Girls and Trans communities who experience extreme violence and erasure—people like Breonna Taylor, whose experiences are readily forgotten, not centered, and to whom justice is not delivered.  We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in order to promote and uphold racial equity. We will not forget. 

As a social justice philanthropy, with a focus on racial justice and the liberation of youth, we recognize elements of power and privilege at play, notably in relationships with trusted grantee partners. It is these partners who have been leading on-the-ground organizing, advocacy and service work. Partners such as Youth First, aiming to close youth prisons which disproportionately impact Black youth, The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), mobilizing individuals and Black organizations to create a shared vision and agenda that defends Black lives, and Dream Defenders, an organization founded after the killing of Trayvon Martin to promote the organizing of Black and Brown youth and restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. We support you and stand in solidarity with our resources and connections to help you continue to build power for directly impacted youth in this current moment and for the long haul.  

Now is the time to collectively re-imagine a just society—a society where the work of AFF and its partners would not be necessary. Our mere existence as a foundation is evidence enough that justice is not a lived experience for many of the communities we aim to support. In order for this vision of justice—a vision that so many of our movement partners hold—to become reality, this moment is requiring more from all of us.  

Given the need for immediate action and response, AFF has shifted various grantmaking practices toward trust-based philanthropy models in order to move increased dollars more quickly to the field. We are also organizing with other funders and internally to educate family members about the systems, policies and biases upholding racial injustice that are pervasive in today’s society.  

In this critical moment, we invite other foundation boards to respond to the moral imperative presented by this moment. This is not a time to center white fragility and turn away from the sorrow, maintain status quo practices and funding levels, or ignore the urgent demands and needs of grantee partners. Instead, this is a time to commit to funding Black-led organizations, engage in deep education to undo racism at the levels of boards and senior leadership across foundations, diversify foundation boards, lean into trust-based philanthropic practices by removing barriers to funding, and organize other foundations to robustly fund groups at a level and scale “like we want them to win” (in the words of Ash-lee Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Center). This is a time to explore what accountability to social justice movements can look like. Foundation boards unilaterally have the power to vote and implement these powerful changes immediately. Bold, courageous action, like the actions being taken by frontline Black and Brown communities. 

We recognize the need to do more—that this moment requires more from us—and ask ourselves “if not now, then when?” This is our moment. We must act now. 

The AFF board resoundingly supports following the lead of our grantee partners and our nation’s young people committed to racial and social justice, and urges us all to stand behind them.  

In Solidarity,

The AFF Board & Staff

Learning Session: Immigration & Juvenile Justice Intersections

AFF’s learning sessions are an opportunity to highlight the work of our grantees and other leaders in the field, as well as a chance to help convene funders and practitioners to continue learning. Through these sessions, we seek to create a learning community that can help advance effective practices in service of all young people.
This learning session focuses on the intersection between immigrant detention, juvenile justice and mass incarceration. We are joined by the following organizers, policy advocates and direct service providers:
  • Natalia Aristizabal from Make The Road, NY explores how MRNY organizes youth to end the school-to-prison and deportation pipeline by addressing school discipline codes eliminating school pushout to jails and detention/deportation systems as well as exposing the corporate backers of privately owned immigrant detention facilities.
  • Angie Junck from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center explores the ways justice involved youth are impacted by recent immigration changes.
  • Rich Leimseider from the Safe Passage Project, which provides free lawyers to 700 immigrant children in the NYC-area who face deportation despite their strong legal claims to stay in the U.S.
  • Silky Shah from the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system.

#HayOtraForma: Another Way to Realize Justice

Over the past few years, I have tried to make #HayOtraFroma trend on social media. This hashtag is so relevant to me because it literally means that there is another way. In my professional and personal circles, we wholeheartedly believe that there is another way to do our work, care about this planet and live and fight for just communities and sustainable societies. We believe in loving our communities and healing from historical traumas. We believe in the power of speaking our truth. We know that #HayOtraForma.

I entered the new year with hopes of resolutions and change—both for myself and for the world. I hoped that this year would bring a bit of respite from the onslaught and offense that our current political climate constantly hurls. Yet, we are faced with the reality of our current discourse which does not aim to move us to another way, but to move us back to a time of fantasized greatness and forward into a day that democratic principles and institutions are but a distant memory.  We are no longer in a time of innuendo or hidden slight, but faced with an ever-growing insult to our psyches and a silence so deafening that—though it should stop us in our tracks—it does not surprise many of us. To this we welcome 2018 and, yes, I say more than ever there must be another way: #HayOtraForma.

As I sat with my 92-year-old grandmother this weekend, I realized it is she who teaches me that there is another way forward. Born a few decades after the United States colonized Puerto Rico, her life and stories of struggle and triumph make me hopeful. Her stories are of a feminism that is simply lived and not necessarily broadcasted. Her vocal reaction to the cruelty against our communities reminds me that we must create another way and invoke poet Nikki Giovanni’s words when we say to this moment: “…your desires will not be honored this season.”

We at the Andrus Family Fund understand that change is gradual and movements take time to cultivate. What does it look like when we really practice Dr. King’s philosophy to “develop and maintain the capacity to forgive?” Can we embed those beliefs and actions in public policy instead of hateful and punitive laws that continue to target certain groups and give no sense of hope?

Over the past few months, I have had the honor and privilege of speaking to individuals—through our latest podcast series—who know that “something else is possible.” Recent guests on our Out Of The Margins podcast have included Executive Directors of two incredible organizations: Jody Kent Lavy of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and Danielle Sered of Common Justice. We concluded the series with an emotional conversation with Xavier McElreth Bey. A fierce advocate for ending juvenile life without parole and harsh sentences for young people, Xavier exemplifies what is possible when we deeply believe, see, and practice #HayOtraForma.

I encourage you to listen and share our conversations on Out Of The Margins. Our most recent episodes are available here and on iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher.