art of the Leadership Team of Brothers United In Leadership Development after their First Annual Mother’s Day event May 15, 2021.

Funding Black Joy and Self-Care

By Jonathan Cunningham

Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I can’t help but reflect on what this civil rights activist and American writer meant by these words, that rest is not a luxury, but instead, is crucial for sustainability in the fight for liberation. Seattle Foundation has been on a long journey to support those on the frontlines of injustices and inequities – redirecting resources to communities and leaders of Black-led and serving organizations. In doing so, we have also examined the role that philanthropy, including our historic underinvestment among these groups, has played in their fight for liberation. We are all called to do philanthropy differently.

This month, in the days leading up to Black History Month, Seattle Foundation is proud to announce that 29 organizations collectively received $540,000 from the Black-Led Joy and Wellness Fund. This effort aims to support staff at Black-led and -serving organizations, and builds off of our REPAIR (Racially Equitable Philanthropy Aimed at Initiating Reparations) framework. REPAIR is a 5-year, $25 million commitment to the Black community of the Greater Seattle Region which we launched in June of 2021.

LRP's Black Trans Task Force is now the leadership council of all their work in the community

Many staff at Black-led organizations are on the verge of burnout after two years of responding to the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and anti-Black racism. Often, these smaller organizations don’t have the resources to provide paid time off to staff or reimbursement for wellness activities such as rest or sabbaticals. The Black-Led Joy and Wellness Fund is one approach Seattle Foundation has taken to center the importance of wellbeing among these organizations and their staff — allowing them to take a collective deep breath.

“We believe in the transformative leadership of Black trans femmes, but not at the expense of their health and well-being,” says Jaelyn Scott, Executive Director of the Lavender Rights Project, one of the 29 organizations to receive a Black-Led Joy and Wellness Fund grant. “The Black-Led Joy and Wellness grant will give our Black Trans staff and leadership the opportunity to rest, renew, and process all that we’ve accomplished so far.” 

The emphasis on a fund that supports joy and wellness stems from our meaningful work with the Black-Led Organization Cohort, also known as the BLOC. Leaders from the BLOC elevated to us the need for a new funding opportunity that focuses on supporting the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of staff at Black-led organizations. They shared examples where staff are exhausted from having to operate under insurmountable stress to meet the needs of their community as they continue to endure an ever-evolving pandemic. As we explained during the launch of the Fund for Inclusive Recovery, the pandemic has also surfaced centuries-long inequities. Many times, funds work to solve for the immediate effects of these inequities, but do not move towards true, sustained, or long-term equity.

“We are happy to see the work that the Seattle Foundation is doing to focus resources on the joy and wellness of Black-led organizations” says André Franklin, founding member of Brothers United in Leadership Development (BUILD), one of the 29 organizations to receive a Black-Led Joy and Wellness Fund grant. “We hope others will follow the leadership of the Seattle Foundation and shift their funding models away from trying to solve symptoms to a true focus on the root causes of inequities.”

Due to the above circumstances, all selected grantees are on the frontline of responding to the crises of the last two years or are organizations that have been under-resourced for generations. In many cases, grantees fit both categories. We intentionally created a short, streamlined application that focused on five questions and was easy for applicants to complete. We’ve tried new approaches, such as allowing video submissions to answer narrative questions. In addition to asking only organizations with budgets

of $500,000 or below to apply, we prioritized organizations with annual operating budgets of less than $250,000. This approach is in alignment our findings from The Case for Investing in King County’s Black-Led Organizations research project done in partnership with Byrd Barr Place and Cardea Services in which 44% of organizations surveyed reported having annual operating budgets of at or below $250,000.

We also opted to do a closed application process, partly due to limited resources, but mostly because we did not want to negatively impact anyone’s joy and wellness who may have applied to the fund and then been declined. Members of the BLOC and Seattle Foundation staff made recommendations for initial outreach, and we’re happy to share that every organization that applied received funding. All organizations received their funding at the end of 2021.

The Black-Led Joy and Wellness Fund and the REPAIR framework were created as part of the Blueprint for Impact, Seattle Foundation’s North Star. By following the Blueprint for Impact, Seattle Foundation is on a path to invest in community-led strategies and elevate the capacity of nonprofits and leaders to successfully transform systems. This latest funding announcement illustrates an approach that helps us advance towards our vision of centering community leadership. Rather than earmarking these funds for a particular kind of wellness activity, we are allowing grantees to make the best determination for themselves.

Marissa Green, Operations Manager with Abundance of Hope Center passing out supplies at the Back to School Pop-Up Shop event in 2021

“This grant is extremely on time, appreciated, and needed,” says Marissa Green, Operations Manager of Abundance Hope Center. “After going on three years of a global pandemic, burnt out is an understatement. Rest is not a reward; it is a necessity, and I truly hope to see more funding opportunities that will support the wellness of those on the ground working.”

We’re thrilled that by investing in wellness, we’re also highlighting the power of community. As a community foundation conceptualizing a brand-new fund, we catalyzed fundraising efforts to support the Black-Led Joy & Wellness Fund. Seattle Foundation seeded this fund with an initial $250,000 andour donor community joined us in this effort. We exceeded our fundraising goal, and we thank them! We hope to do another round of innovative, responsive grantmaking to the Black community in 2022.

Audre Lorde’s words about the importance of self-care speak to the importance of investing in wellness to correct our historic underinvestment in Black-led and -serving organizations. We must continue to recognize the harm that the philanthropic sector has caused, while calling on our counterparts and community to help us all become a more prosperous region. It is critical to invest in the outputs of Black-led and -serving organizations and the people who make that work possible. Together, we can re-imagine philanthropy.

2021 Black-Led Joy and Wellness Fund Grant Recipients

For any peer funders, philanthropists, or individual donors that wish to support Black-led organizations and emerging priorities lifted up by Black leaders, please join us by contributing to REPAIR.