Organizing the Neighborhood for Justice: Projects that sustain the present

As our nation continues to reckon with a 400 year legacy of racism, you might be surfacing and grappling with some of your own feelings, and coming to a place of action. Maybe you’ve participated in a protest, supported local Black-owned businesses, or contributed to a bail fund. These are all important ways we can center our Black neighbors and show that Black Lives Matter, and we know our work won’t end when the headlines fade. 

Anti-Black racism in America isn’t new, and it’s clear that it continues to this day in stark terms. Many American policies are deeply rooted in racist ideology and as a result have perpetuated racist beliefs and outcomes. This systemic racism affects all aspects of life for Black Americans. Extending far beyond the criminal justice system, it results in income inequality; disproportionately high Black maternal death rates; discrimination in the housing market; chronic stress from the psychological effects of racism; and much, much more. 

Today, we’re talking about sustaining the fight for racial justice in the present, and we’re also highlighting some recent ioby projects that are doing just that. (By the way, some of them are currently fundraising, so you might consider donating to help them achieve their goals.) This is the second piece of our three-part series on fighting for Black lives, so check out our previous post about why it’s important to honor Black history and movements in our past, then stay tuned for our final installment about building a racially just and equitable future for us all.

Neighbors in Memphis organized to take down confederate memorials in the city, and crowdfunded with ioby to support protest actions.

Get Started in Your Community

The fact is, everyone should be invested in justice for Black lives, especially in our own backyards. Maybe you’re ready to start a racial justice project in your neighborhood. That’s great! You’re an expert on your community, and we need people like you to organize for lasting change. Or maybe you have resources or skills you could contribute to an initiative already in motion. That’s great, too! Many existing racial justice and Black-led projects need ongoing support.

Not sure how to begin? Simply starting a conversation about race in your neighborhood can be a powerful first step. When we take the time to listen to other people’s perspectives, we can respond to the needs of our community in meaningful ways.

As you and your neighbors dive into your work, you might struggle with feeling uncomfortable. That’s okay. In fact, being uncomfortable is a good sign! It means you’re ready to change the status quo—and that’s what social justice is all about.

Gwen Garth, one of the leaders of the Cleveland-based project A Bridge that Bridges, puts it this way: “You have to say, ‘I don’t know everything. Let’s learn this together.’” Once we realize that none of us has the tools or knowledge to tackle racism on our own, we can give ourselves permission to not have all the answers. That’s good, too, because we need to listen to one another if we want our work to truly have an impact.

Neighbors in Cleveland organized community conversations about race, and then painted a mural on a bridge over a highway that divides a historically Black neighborhood from downtown Cleveland.

Get Inspired by Others

As Patrice Cullors, one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, states, “Black lives should matter in all stages of life — and to honor that truth, we must radically transform the system from its roots.” To help you get inspired to start or join the fight for Black lives in the present, we invite you to take a look at these ioby projects that are already involved in that kind of transformational work.

Take em down 901

As The Community Healing Network points out, “although the enslavement of Black people in the United States ended nearly a century and a half ago, the attitudes and behaviors that promoted and supported it remain a part of the cultural ethos of this country and the world.” Many of us live in places that still honor Confederate leaders with statues, buildings, and parks. Not only do these monuments glorify those who fought to maintain slavery, but their presence sends a hostile message to the people who live, work, and play in those communities. 

The folks behind #Takeemdown901 know that public spaces should be places where everyone feels safe and comfortable, so they’re working to remove Confederate memorials in Memphis, TN. “As a community, we get to choose how our public spaces look and feel,” says Shannon D, their project leader. “[They] must invite everyone in.” Statue by statue, their goal is to remove the legacy of oppression and establish their city as a place where all are welcome.

The Flatbush Caton Market crowdfunded to offer direct cash assistance to vendors in the market, many of whom had difficulty accessing government support for COVID-19, to ensure they can sustain their livelihoods.

Flatbush Caton Market Micro Entrepreneur Relief Fund

In 2000, The Flatbush Caton Market was established in Brooklyn as a way to provide stability for Caribbean vendors and protect them from police harassment. Many of the entrepreneurs whose micro-businesses are headquartered there are elders in the community, which means that they face increased health and economic risks due to COVID-19. “These mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers operate at the edge of the formal economy. They lack the banking relationships or operational capacity needed to access government responses to the COVID-19 economic crisis, including the PPP and EIDL programs,” their organizers say. So they’re fundraising to provide the business owners with direct cash assistance. “Our entrepreneurs know best what they need. Our goal is to support them in meeting their immediate needs and preparing for long term stability.” 

And Take Care of Yourself, Too!

Remember, you’re working to dismantle multiple systems of racism that have been in place for many years. It will take all of us working together to make things right, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see progress right away. Keep going! What you’re doing is making a difference.

Fighting for racial justice can be physically and emotionally draining, and it’s common for changemakers like you to experience burnout along the way. Don’t let it stop you, but remember to take care of yourself, too. Leah Lewis, leader of The X’s and O’s of Race/ism documentary project, acknowledges how difficult the work can be. “When you talk about people who are doing social justice work, and activists…you deal with the reality that you are going upstream. You know, you’re swimming against the tide. And so that in and of itself is exhausting…self care matters.”

If you’re feeling drained from the hard work you’re doing, check out our conversation with some recent ioby project leaders to learn more about how to prevent and manage burnout.

At ioby, we believe that you know your neighbors best, and that means you’re poised to make meaningful change by responding to the racial inequalities you notice around you. Change is necessary, and it’s going to take all of us doing intentional and ongoing work to dismantle white supremacy and build a just and equitable future.

Ready to lead your neighbors in a fight for racial justice? Whether you’re looking to give to a Black-led project that’s already in motion or you’re ready to start your own project, we’re here to help! We’re on this journey, too, and we’d love to support you as you grow