For Sara Giraldo, a 2021 Gender Justice Giving Project alum, giving to Bread & Roses is rooted in her passion for racial and gender justice: “As an immigrant and a person of color, I see how immigrants struggle. Because I had the opportunity to live in different cities in the U.S., I know there are not as many resources for the Latinx community in Philadelphia as in other places, like California. And because I’m fortunate to speak English, I feel called to get more involved in connecting people to resources.”
Sara works with Camadre Luna, a Bread & Roses grantee and feminist collective that organizes to build a network of support for Latinx women in Philadelphia. Through her work with the collective, she learned about the Giving Project.
“The Gender Justice Giving Project was a transforming experience for me. As a person of color, I think of myself as someone who is not so privileged, but in terms of gender, as a heterosexual, cis-gender woman, I am a privileged person. Working so closely with trans and non-binary people in the Giving Project and seeing their struggles was eye opening for me. I really appreciated all the conversations we had around ‘what is my privilege’ and ‘what is your privilege’ and ‘how do we come together and work this out to create a more just world?’”
“I love the work of Bread & Roses! They fund grassroots projects by regular people, like you and me. Building from the ground up like this totally changes the power dynamics.”
Last year, 562 people were murdered in Philadelphia—the highest number on record—506 died in shootings. Gun violence takes its heaviest toll in communities of color. The majority of shooting victims and people charged with violent crimes in Philadelphia are young Black and Brown men. Grassroots movements are organizing to reduce violence by addressing its root causes.
“There’s an illusion that suddenly there’s a spike in violence, but there’s been decades of disinvestment and starving communities of resources, so now we’re at a crisis point,” says Kris Henderson, Executive Director of Amistad Law Project, a grantee since 2018. “What we need are a lot more resources for things like libraries, recreation centers, afterschool programs, and jobs programs for young people.”
“Poverty, lack of access to education and healthcare, and the hopelessness that comes from those things has rendered young people powerless in so many aspects of life to where the only currency they have left is violence,” says Felix Rosado, Program Coordinator of Healing Futures at Youth Art & Self-empowerment Program (YASP), a grantee since 2011.
“Young people don’t feel safe walking the street, not even going to school, so they feel like they have to carry a gun just for protection,” says Don Ike Jones, Re-entry Coordinator for Youth Sentencing and Re-entry Program (YSRP), a grantee since 2015.
Movement leaders say more police and prisons are not the answer. “There is a wide body of research showing that other factors reduce violent crime just as much, if not more, than increased policing and incarceration,” Henderson says. That includes increased income, decreased unemployment, and community-based efforts addressing violence, addiction, mental illness, housing, and education, Henderson says.
“We have a system that, instead of asking the question ‘Why doesn’t this young person feel safe?’ and ‘How do we support them in creating safety?’ puts them in cages and separates them from their community supports and then expects them to do something different when they come out,” says YASP Director Sarah Morris.
“I would argue that prison is a cause of violence,” Rosado says. “Prison itself is violent but it also produces the kind of anger, frustration, and trauma that continues the cycle of violence.”
YASP’s Healing Futures program works to interrupt the cycle of violence by diverting young people and survivors away from the criminal justice system and into a community-based restorative justice process where youth take responsibility for their actions and work toward community healing.
YASP and YSRP are leaders of the Care Not Control campaign, which seeks to end youth incarceration in Pennsylvania and reallocate resources from the carceral system to schools and health care. In May, YASP helped introduce a landmark bill into the Pennsylvania Senate that would eliminate the practice of prosecuting youth as adults.
“True safety can’t come from outside—from police who occupy our neighborhoods or judges who send people to prisons hours away,” Henderson says. “The thing that’s going to keep us safe is each other.”
Currently, Pennsylvanians must provide proof of their legal status in the United States to apply for a driver’s license or learner’s permit. For the estimated 200,000 undocumented immigrants living in Pennsylvania, not having a driver’s license makes picking up children from school, shopping for groceries, or getting to work a daily risk. “A minor traffic stop can easily lead to deportation,” says Luis Larin, Statewide Coordinator for Driving PA Forward, a Racial & Economic Justice Fund grantee that is leading the fight to expand access to driver’s licenses to all Pennsylvanians, regardless of immigration status.
“Our community has been called ‘essential workers,’” Larin says. “We keep the agriculture industry going. We put food on the table across the country during Covid, and yet we can’t get driver’s licenses. This is not just about the ‘privilege to drive,’ it’s literally denying that we exist, that we have a name, that we are human beings.”
Driver’s licenses also provide critical identification people need to pick up medicine at the pharmacy or cash checks, Larin says, adding: “You are very limited in where you can rent and the kind of job you can get without some form of identification.”
Driving PA Forward is an immigrant-led coalition of community and faith-based organizations, businesses, farmers, and labor groups that began working together to change Pennsylvania law in 2013 and became a formal coalition in 2019. Working with state legislators, the coalition recently introduced a bill that would extend the right to a driver’s license to all Pennsylvanians regardless of residency status while also ensuring strong privacy and data protections for all licensed drivers.
To push the bill forward, the coalition is organizing across the state—educating legislators about the issues, holding rallies, circulating petitions, and going door-to-door in key legislative districts to garner support. “We are grateful to Bread & Roses for their support in helping us to keep our community and our families together.”
The fund will focus specifically on early childhood. Like all our funds, community input will drive the design of the fund and distribution of the grants, and the fund will focus on issues prioritized by parents and caregivers.
The fund will also be a platform for building community among its grantees and creating opportunities for them to support and learn from each other. After the first grant cycle, Bread & Roses will also convene grantees to identify common barriers and challenges, and to make recommendations to funders and policymakers on how to continue, adapt, and expand support for family voices and leadership.
Bread & Roses is currently recruiting parents, caregivers, and allies to serve on the Community Advisory Committee, which will design the fund criteria, as well as the Community Grantmaking Committee, which will review applications and make decisions about which groups will receive grants. Please fill out this form to be considered for either or both committees.
For the last decade, housekeepers at the University of Pennsylvania were trapped in a two-tier wage structure that kept half of them in a permanent bottom tier, earning $5 less per hour than coworkers performing the same work. In June, Philadelphia Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a Racial & Economic Justice Fund grantee, helped the 500+ housekeepers defeat the two-tier system and win raises for all 550 members of Teamsters Local 115, which also includes groundskeepers and truck drivers.
“The five-year contract puts every Teamster at UPenn on a progression to top pay,” says TDU staff organizer Liana Kallman. “This year, the first tier is making $25.12 and the second tier is at $20.90, but by the end of the contract every housekeeper will get $28.68.”
TDU is a worker-led organization that mobilizes Teamsters to fight for higher wages, build power on the job, and win new leadership and new direction for their union.
Longtime Teamster Local 115 members contacted TDU because they felt the two-tier system was destroying their union, Kallman says. TDU helped them organize the housekeepers, many of whom are East African immigrant women whose first language is not English. TDU created a bargaining survey, which was translated into Amharic and Spanish, and helped plan a rally outside the university president’s office that drew 70 workers, community members, and press.
“Housekeepers had never rallied on campus,” Kallman says. “Some of the Ethiopian women were told, ‘You’re not allowed to rally, not in your uniform. You could get fired for this.’ They were afraid, but they learned that they have power and they can win.”
TDU is currently organizing UPS workers, whose contract expires next year, staff organizer Paul Prescod says: “UPS Part timers, who are disproportionately workers of color, are in the union but it’s almost like another tier of workers—they’re paid very low, sometimes less than Amazon part timers. We want to create more full-time jobs and raise wages.”
For Melissa Melby, a 2021 Gender Justice Giving Project member, giving to Bread & Roses is about shifting the balance of power. Last year, after the stock market made record gains, Melby’s uncle gave each of his nieces a generous cash gift. “I felt so uncomfortable getting this gift when so many people were struggling because of the pandemic that I immediately started looking for places to give it away,” Melby says. When she learned about Bread & Roses’ focus on community-driven participatory grantmaking, she joined a Giving Project. “I am inspired by Bread & Roses’ vision and process of moving money from communities of donors to communities of people who need it.”
Her parents were her first “ask” and it led to some pivotal conversations: “My dad had reservations about giving money when the recipients had not already been decided—it was like giving up control over where their money was going. We talked about how people in positions of privilege should not have the power to decide where the money goes. Communities should decide how best to spend the money.” Her parents were so impressed by this community-based approach that they made a gift that was two and half times larger than they planned. Melby went on to raise more money for the Giving Project than she ever expected.
“Being in a group of people with so many different experiences and perspectives, all working toward the same goal, was a transformative experience. It showed me that together we can achieve so much more than any one individual can achieve.”
The recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade and revoke the federal constitutional right to abortion jeopardizes the health and safety of millions of people who need access to safe abortion care. This decision will be felt most acutely in communities of color and poor communities who already face deep inequities in healthcare access. As the dissenting opinion from the liberal Supreme Court justices points out, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization doesn’t just eliminate the right to abortion, it threatens other legal precedents that establish rights to privacy, sexual intimacy, and bodily autonomy—opening the door to the erosion of gender justice and human rights.
“Dobbs empowers ideologues to move beyond the abortion context and restrict a broad array of rights,” says Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We have folks in the courts and elected officials who are committed to revisiting what we believed were long-resolved rights, guaranteed to every American. That includes the right to marry, the right to contraception, the right to gender expression, the right to vote, and the right to learn what you want in school. There is a lot at stake.”
“We are seeing a very concerted effort to destroy people’s ability to make decisions about their health, their bodies, and their lives,” says Farrah Parkes, Executive Director of the Gender Justice Fund. “It’s not an accident that the two states with the most restrictive anti-abortion laws, Florida and Texas, are also states with some of the most restrictive anti-trans laws. Florida just started denying Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming treatments for trans adults.”
“We’ve been living in a post-Roe world in Pennsylvania since 1985, when the state implemented a racially and economically unjust law which prohibited Medicaid funding from covering abortions,” says Elicia Gonzales, Executive Director of the Abortion Liberation Fund of PA. “Dobbs is going to make abortion access even more difficult for Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks who are already burdened by poverty as a result of racialized capitalism.”
While abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania, state legislators are pushing through an amendment to the state constitution that says: “there is no right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” If the amendment passes, state courts would be powerless to recognize abortion as a right guaranteed by the state constitution. An amendment requires two consecutive votes and a ballot initiative. Legislators passed the amendment in July 2022 and will vote again in early 2023. Pennsylvania voters could decide on the amendment as early as May 2023.
Movements are fighting back. The Women’s Law Project of PA filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pennsylvania abortion providers challenging the state ban on Medicaid funding for abortions. The litigation, which will be heard this fall, also asks the state Supreme Court to affirm that Pennsylvanians have a fundamental right to abortion under the state constitution.
“The majority of Americans believe in abortion. Politicians should be listening to their constituencies,” Shuford says. “People need to vote in every election. You have to be in the fight. You cannot win unless you are fighting.”
In Pennsylvania, women returning from prison often have to wait more than a month to access critical Medicaid benefits. For women with substance use disorder who were receiving medication-assisted treatment in prison, this disruption in care can be fatal, says Rev. Dr. Michelle Anne Simmons, chief executive officer of Why Not Prosper, a Racial & Economic Justice Fund and Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative grantee that supports women’s re-entry journey from prison back to their communities.
“When women are released, they’re supposed to get their benefits activated in five days, but it usually takes 32 days,” Rev. Simmons says. “If a woman comes home with opioid addiction and can’t get her medication-assisted treatment, she’ll use and she’ll die. We lose too many women this way.”
Why Not Prosper is taking its fight to Harrisburg, educating legislators about the healthcare crisis women face inside and outside of prisons. “We want every woman to be released from jail with at least one month of their prescription,” Rev. Simmons says. “That way, if it does take that long to get their benefits, they’ve got a prescription to hold them for 30 days. We want that to be the state law. Women’s lives depend on it.”
Why Not Prosper has made powerful allies, including PA Senator Art Haywood, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, and First Lady Frances Wolf. Mrs. Wolf recently visited Why Not Prosper’s Germantown office to meet with formerly incarcerated women and bring their stories to Governor Wolf.
Rev. Simmons founded Why Not Prosper in 2001. As a formerly incarcerated woman who once experienced addiction, she brings the lessons she learned to help other women on their re-entry journey. Why Not Prosper offers a continuum of programs that include pre-release mentoring, residential services, job training, and help reuniting with family. “Formerly incarcerated people are human beings first,” she says. “They need to be approached with non-judgment, love, and support.”
For Veronica Rex, a 2021 Gender Justice Giving Project alum, donating to Bread & Roses is about giving back. Veronica was incarcerated in 2018 and the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, a Bread & Roses grantee, brought her home through their Mama’s Day Bailout. “As soon as I came home, I started [volunteering] as a core organizer for the bail fund. I had the opportunity to sit in with Bread & Roses for two grants the bail fund received, and it got me curious about where the money comes from. Who has money to just give to help underserved individuals?”
Then she learned about the Giving Project: “When my group dared to raise $150,000, I was thinking ‘How are we going to do that?’ But once I learned how to ask, I realized that everyone giving a little made the pot grow.” Veronica figured out how much she could give if she budgeted it over a few months and then asked friends and coworkers to donate. “At first, I was afraid of being turned down. I expected to hear no but instead heard yes! The first two people I asked each gave $100!”
“The Giving Project showed me that people from all walks of life can come together for a common goal. There were people that come from money and there were folks like me that come from poverty, but we were in it together.”
“It was a great feeling to be raising funds that would help bring people home from incarceration and fight injustice. Part of my journey is giving back.”
The economic fallout from the pandemic and drastic cost-of-living increases are exacerbating Philadelphia’s longstanding housing crisis. A recent Pew Charitable Trusts study found that 54% of Philadelphia renters and 28% of homeowners spend at least 30% of their income on housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that the Philadelphia region has only “29 affordable housing units available for every 100 extremely poor households”—well below the national average.
“26% of Philadelphia households earn less than $15,000 a year,” says Nora Lichtash, executive director of Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP), a Neighborhood Equitable Recovery Fund grantee. “Those folks can’t afford housing.”
Bread & Roses grantees are fighting for housing justice by demanding policy reform, pushing back against gentrification, and filing federal lawsuits on behalf of unhoused people.
Last fall, WCRP and other members of the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities won a major victory: They helped pass a bill mandating that the city put .5% of its general fund budget (roughly $26 million) into the Housing Trust Fund to create and preserve affordable housing. In November, Philadelphians voted to change the city charter to include the annual allocation.
Now, WCRP and other housing allies are fighting for access to vacant city-owned land to build more affordable housing. Currently, developers can get public land for a nominal fee if half the units are considered affordable. But the units aren’t affordable, and they often revert to market-rate prices after a 15-year compliance period, Lichtash says. A proposed bill in City Council would prioritize city-owned land for community land trusts to create permanent affordable housing. “The legislation would level the playing field and give communities control of land,” Lichtash says.
Germantown Residents for Economic Alternatives Together (GREAT), a Future Fund grantee, is mobilizing neighbors to stop predatory homebuying, which uses high-pressure tactics to convince vulnerable homeowners to sell below market value for cash. Working with Community Legal Services, GREAT created a Stop Predatory Homebuying toolkit and held community meetings to educate neighbors. GREAT is hosting Learning Circles “to understand how the community can have a stronger voice in the development process so we can prevent displacement and gentrification,” says Lindsay Stolkey, a founder of GREAT.
The Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), an Equitable Public Space Fund grantee, is working for housing justice at the national level. In July 2021, PPEHRC filed a federal lawsuit against the department of Housing and Urban Development to hold the Biden administration accountable for the lack of affordable housing in Philadelphia and throughout the country. A Federal judge recently dismissed the case but gave PPEHRC a road map for how to re-enter the lawsuit, says Cheri Honkala, PPEHRC’s director.
PPEHRC plans to file a new lawsuit this fall that would make cities legally responsible to house unhoused people. “We are taking a national approach to force every city to deal with the crisis,” Honkala says. “Instead of treating homelessness as a crime, not housing people would be a crime.”