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By Erin Barnes
Structural racism is a part of every day work at ioby. We work in communities with long histories of disinvestment, the majority of which are African-American neighborhoods where residents’ household incomes lie below the city’s median. Many of the neighborhoods we work in — Northend in Detroit, Buckeye in Cleveland, Soulsville in Memphis, Hazelwood, Uptown and the Hill District in Pittsburgh–were redlined, a structurally racist practice in the mid-twentieth century that marked off neighborhoods where residents could not access bank loans. Discriminatory practices like these led to a practice of giving circles, where marginalized groups could collaboratively fund each others’ financial needs, in a similar model to the age-old practice of susus in Africa, or the free loan societies and aktsiyes, or credit cooperatives, established by early Jewish immigrants to the US.
People of color in the U.S. still have far less financial equity than white Americans. ioby works with residents in neighborhoods like these, talks with them about their ideas for positive change in their communities, and they rely on their neighbors — just as many have done for generations through giving circles — to fund, design, and make projects come to life.
This is the context of our work. Every day our staff talk to city residents about their personal and community histories, and about ways they have encountered, experienced, accepted and thrown off oppression, how they have made positive change despite everything working against them. These stories are important and impactful, and often they are hard to hear. We all have an emotional connection to the people we serve. We call them ioby Leaders.
Together, as a staff, we are 20 people. Many of us identify as members of oppressed groups — we are queer, we are immigrants, we are black, we are brown, we are women, we are Jewish, we are gender non-conforming, we are religious. We are a lot like the people we serve. We live in the neighborhoods where we work. But we are not the same as the people we serve. As a team, we have many advanced degrees from excellent schools, we are paid well, we have 100% of our health care covered by ioby, and we emotionally support each other. Some of us grew up very wealthy, some of us have white skin privilege. Some of us — like me — grew up with white skin privilege and a lot of financial wealth. All of us — because of our positions at ioby — have a lot of access to power, decision-makers and money.
At ioby, one of our principles is “We Are Whole People,” which means that we bring our physical, emotional, spiritual and personal lives to work, and we bring our work into our whole lives. We do not come to work and pretend to be straight. We do not come to work on Monday when we have worked all weekend. We do not come to work when we need to be with our loved ones. We do not come to work when we are grieving because people who look like us are shot and killed in the streets.
Being whole people also means that we build relationships with ioby Leaders with our whole person. We push each other to leverage our access to wealth and power for the people we serve. We make decisions about the organization’s goals based on what would serve ioby Leaders best. And you know what? It’s not easy.
It’s hard to know how to work with a Leader living in a neighborhood that has been in crisis for four decades. It’s hard to talk to people living in poverty about money and investing in their community. It’s hard to answer a partner or funder’s request to learn about or be involved in a specific project without compromising or tokening a Leader. It’s hard and important to work with Leaders who have a passion for their work because their daughter was killed by a car, because they have been sexually harassed every day on the same city block, because a young boy was shot in a park they love, because they want their neighbors to have pride in where they live, because they can never forget what it was like in New York in September 2001, because their wedding 40 years ago was in this place, because they want their kids to have something more than they had.
We need time to process this work. We need facilitated discussions. We need safe spaces. We need to trust each other to make the right decisions. We need a common language to articulate our pain. We need guidance and tools for acknowledging and overthrowing our internalized biases. We need to protect each other. We need frameworks to evaluate our decisions. And these things add up to hard costs in terms of both money and time.
As we grow, we’re investing in the professional development of everyone on our team to access anti-racism workshops and diversity, equity and inclusion trainings. And we’re investing in the organization’s development of an antiracism framework through which we can evaluate internal decisions, like how we run our hiring practice and how we choose vendors, and our external decisions, like how we can leverage our own access to power, decision-makers and money to serve our Leaders best.
We estimate that we want to give everyone on staff about $800 in professional development to attend any anti-racism trainings, plus $1,500 in travel costs. We hired The Management Center to work with us in a facilitated training on internalized bias. We loved it. It was worth every penny (it was $18,000 worth of pennies). We expect we want to hire a group like the People’s Institute, Race Forward or the Center for Social Inclusion to work with us to create an anti-racism framework for ioby. We expect this will cost us about $25,000 – $35,000. We think it would be useful for us to have coaches available to our staff if they want additional support. We expect this will cost us about $15,000. Altogether this is about $96,000 annually.
I shared all this with Darryl Young, our program officer and the director of the Sustainable Cities program at the Summit Foundation. He had a great suggestion for how we could fund this work, understanding both how important it is and how difficult it is to fund professional development.
Based on Darryl’s idea, this is how we’re going to fund it. At the bottom of all of budgets that we submit with grant proposals, we are asked to include our Core Mission Costs (some people call this ‘overhead’ or ‘indirect costs’). These are the costs that, without which, ioby would not exist. Some funders allow us to put our actual Core Mission Costs here, other funders prescribe what the percentage can be at a maximum. Our Core Mission Costs are 10% of our budget. Below that we are going to add another 2%, and that 2% is going to go to our Racial Justice work and professional development for individual staff and our team.
Does this resonate with you? Try it out with us. We can be the nonprofits that dedicate 2% to antiracism. Trust us: We believe this should be much more than 2% if we as a field are going to actually dismantle structural oppression, but this is a start so that all of the social sector, no matter if our work is in formerly redlined neighborhoods or is in education policy or in climate change, can lead the change we need to see in all our sectors.
Erin Barnes, co-founder and Executive Director of ioby