By Shane Rogers, Communications and Network Weaving Strategist
It was a warm and sunny day at the end of June on the Boston waterfront. As the morning breeze blew in from the harbor, community organizers from around the Greater Boston area were descending downtown to meet in person for the first time. The Community-Led Climate Resilience in Boston Cohort, a cohort organized by the Grassroots Fund with support from the Barr Foundation, had met virtually a few times before, all in preparation for the shared gifting circle that was about to take place.
“Being in this vibe just gives me inspiration, not only for what I want to do in our own organization, but for what I want to do personally as a professional,” says Chai Hossaini of Revere Youth in Action, a group based in the Shirley Ave. neighborhood of Revere that’s dedicated to protecting and promoting the educational, cultural, and socio-political rights of Revere youth.
The Community-Led Climate Resilience in Boston Cohort is made up of 12 members from seven groups around Greater Boston. The groups were selected after an extensive community research process, including interviews and referrals from partners and folks living in the community, to identify groups and organizers working on the ground in their communities and at the intersection of Environmental Justice. The dozen organizers identified were then asked to join the Grassroots Fund and Barr Foundation in a new venture where they were to be tasked with working together to collectively decide how to distribute $180,000 in funding amongst themselves and the work they hoped to accomplish over the next year, no strings attached. All the groups were also guaranteed up to $5,000 in grants for their time.
“The Barr Foundation climate program has a commitment to building a diverse and inclusive climate movement and in particular, we want to be supporting organizations that are working with communities that are most impacted by the climate crisis such as working class communities, immigrant communities, Afro descendant communities,” says Kalila Barnett, Climate Resilience Program Officer of the Barr Foundation. “We also know that it's important to reduce the barriers that small grassroots organizations have around getting access to funding that they need.”
For many of the organizers this was the first time meeting each other in person, although the handful of virtual meetings before gave them some comfort and familiarity. As they settled in for the day after an all-too-brief hour of mingling, laughs, and “oh you know so-and-so!” the mood turned to the reason for their gathering. All seven groups had prepared a presentation about their community work along with a monetary ask to fund it. Not surprisingly, the hopes and dreams outlined were not only inspiring, but also familiar as the organizers saw more concretely the connections between the work they all hoped to accomplish in their own communities.
“Being here feels really powerful and there's that warm fuzzy feeling because you're here with people who are doing the same work as you in different communities, you’re here with people who understand you,” says Kathy Henriquez of Neighbors United for a Better East Boston (NUBE), an organization that develops abundant leaders who support social transformation and shifting political power. “Structurally we're used to having to always ask and over explain ourselves to try to make sure that our voices are being heard and when we're in a group with people who understand and are doing the same thing, that barrier is down and you feel like you can be yourself and just say what you want to say, what you have to say, without having to like over explain.”
As the day-long meeting began to come to a close, the organizers finished up their presentations and began a conversation about final decisions regarding funding. While expressing discomfort at times, as most of the organizers had not been part of a situation where they were given the freedom to make funding decisions, the discussion encompassed many of the difficult intricacies and nuances that are tied up with funding, ultimately leading to a final decision all organizers felt comfortable with.
“The conversation is really about the equitableness in the work that we do and not just having funding to spread around,” contributed Jamal Gooding of People Affecting Community Change (PACC), a provider of tangible resources, to assist the socially disadvantaged in reconnecting with their communities by providing hands-on outreach, empowerment and volunteer opportunities, during that final conversation.
Since the in-person meeting, the Community-Led Climate Resilience in Boston Cohort has continued to meet monthly, virtually to keep in touch, share updates, and coordinate work that aligns among their groups. As this was the first year of the shared gifting circle, the organizers also helped to evaluate the success and challenges of the cohort in order to adapt next year’s strategy to continue to meet the needs of the community.
“We are so inspired by the work taking place in Boston among these community organizers and are pleased that this model was able to lower barriers for them to access funding for their important community work,” says Sarah Huang, co-director of the Grassroots Fund. “As we continue with this process, we are in a constant state of learning and evaluating to improve and grow how funders are able to meet the needs of the grassroots wherever they are.”
The organizations participating in the Community-Led Climate Resilience in Boston Cohort are: