As Philadelphia counted mail-in ballots that helped turn the tide of the 2020 presidential election and a Count Every Vote rally-turned-dance-party kept vigil outside the Convention Center, three dancing mailboxes became social media celebrities. Photos of the mailboxes dancing in the streets were seen around the world. The cardboard mailboxes are the brainchild of Spiral Q, an Equitable Public Space Fund and Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing grantee that uses puppets and pageantry to amplify the messages of social justice movements.
Founded in 1996 amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis, Spiral Q works with grassroots organizers and artists to create giant puppets and banners that communicate complex ideas like gentrification and violence against people of color. Rooted in the tradition of street theater, Spiral Q infuses its work with an infectious joy and participatory spirit.“
The puppet at the party is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Spiral Q co-director Jennifer Turnbull.
“We are centering community voices and stories and creating space for collaborative ideation and artistic production that is accessible to everyone.”
The mailboxes were created with youth voting organization VoteThatJawn for community education events and voter registration drives. When the City slashed arts funding in the fallout of COVID-19, Spiral Q collaborated with the Artist Coalition for a Just Philadelphia on an Emergency Art Action for Black Futures in June. Every year, the group partners with 100 community groups. “We work with everyone who is fighting for a more just and equitable Philadelphia,” says Spiral Q co-director Liza Goodell. “The support of Bread & Roses allows us to respond to the moment.”
Through an Equitable Public Space Fund grant, Spiral Q is mounting Rise and Reconcile performances in public spaces around the city to reclaim erased histories of Black communities. The sunrise events enlist community members in choreographed movements to commemorate the people who once congregated there. “This is a way to take up public space and lift up the history of the Black community,” Turnbull says.
Within weeks of the pandemic erupting, Bread & Roses Community Fund launched the Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing, a rapid-response emergency fund for community organizing. Since April 8, 2020, the fund has distributed $743,000 to 76 grassroots community organizing groups in the Philadelphia region; over 20 were first-time Bread & Roses grantees.
“As soon as we saw the scale of the pandemic and how its economic fallout was landing hardest on communities already targeted by systems of oppression, we knew we were going to need community organizing more than ever,” says executive director Casey Cook. While local and regional foundations responded quickly to the pandemic, most restricted emergency funds to existing grantees or established social service organizations. This left out small grassroots groups that were struggling to survive due to loss of revenue and suddenly had to adapt to remote organizing during lockdown.
To respond to this critical need, Bread & Roses immediately began raising money. It also made an unprecedented decision: for the first time ever, grants were distributed to unincorporated non-profit associations. “New movements were emerging in response to the pandemic,” Cook says. “We wanted to support this urgent work and pivoted quickly to meet the moment.” Money for the Solidarity Fund came from hundreds of individuals and a half dozen foundations. The fund raised more money than any other Bread & Roses program. For One Fair Wage (OFW), the grant supports organizing restaurant workers during the pandemic. Tipped workers face particular hardships because unemployment is based on their $2.83/hour base pay. OFW is a national coalition campaigning for fair wages for tipped and subminimum wage workers. Their new Pennsylvania chapter is educating Philadelphia workers and training them as activists. “We are amplifying the voices of tipped workers,” says OFW’s Pennsylvania organizer Tsehaitu Abye. “We’re building their power to be leaders in the movement.”
For Asian Americans United (AAU), the grant helped combat anti-Asian violence, which rose sharply because of COVID-19’s origins in China. AAU hosted online community forums with Asian leaders to discuss the growing violence and share resources. It met with public school teachers to inform curricula addressing racism and violence. AAU also distributed thousands of masks and gloves with Chinatown Dragonboat and worked with Asian Mosaic Fund on a COVID-19 community relief fund drive. “The grant helped sustain us as an organization because we couldn’t earn money on programs that usually support our work,” says AAU executive director Alix Webb.
For Power Street Theatre, the grant supports its work connecting grassroots organizing and the arts. In June, the collective of multicultural, multidisciplinary artists organized a Digital Rally for Philly Arts in response to massive cuts in City arts funding in the wake of COVID-19. Livestreamed for 24 hours, the rally drew 11,000 views. Building on that success, it hosted a second digital rally in February, focused on the 2021 City budget process. “This grant affirms the work of artists,” says co-founder and co-artistic director Gabi Sanchez. “Bread & Roses trusts that the stories we share will have a big impact on the city.”
The Bread & Roses staff is still hard at work! While our offices are closed due to the pandemic, we are working remotely to keep moving money to grassroots organizing in Philadelphia. Like many of you, we have had to adjust the way we connect as a staff. One way we do this is through daily staff meetings we call “circle ups.” How is your organization staying connected? Let us know by leaving a reply.
“Black and Brown folks have been farming in Philadelphia for generations,” says Kirtrina Baxter, a community organizer with Soil Generation. The farmers transformed abandoned lots into community gardens and gathering spaces. Now, developers are buying the land out from under farmers to build condominiums, threatening food sources in neighborhoods that already lack grocery stores. People should be able to keep this land as a service to the community,” Baxter says. “Neighborhood farms and community gardens are so important, especially during COVID when people need healthy food in their community.”
Soil Generation, a coalition of Black and Brown farmers and advocates, is leading the fight to ensure that people of color regain community control of land for growing food. The coalition, an Equitable Public Space Fund grantee, formed in 2013 to advocate for urban growers in Philadelphia’s rapidly gentrifying environment.
In 2018, Soil Generation launched the Threatened Gardens Campaign, its most ambitious to date. The campaign kicked off with a protest at City Hall with hundreds of farmers and advocates. This show of community support led to Soil Generation winning the contract to write Philadelphia’s first-ever Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan with the planning firm Interface Studios. The plan will establish goals for how the city can support urban agriculture, including cutting through bureaucratic obstacles that impede Black and Brown farmers from purchasing land. “Over the next five years, we look forward to having more opportunities for collective ownership, which leads to community control of land,” Baxter says.
Soil Generation’s work is rooted in agroecology, a community-led process that values ancestral growing practices and aligns agricultural production with community organizing for land rights and food sovereignty. They are producing an agroecology manual, which will be available digitally in December 2020 and in print in spring 2021. Baxter hopes it can be used as an organizing tool for people working to reclaim land and as a guide for people starting community gardens.
For Soil Generation, there is power in gardening. Baxter emphasizes: “Gardening is a radical act of resistance. By growing food, you are taking control of your own community.”
The roots of our organization are in lifting up and providing financial support to radical leadership for Black liberation. In the decades since our founding, we have never wavered from our primary mission of funding grassroots community organizing, especially Black organizers and other organizers of color.
The Black Liberation Now Fund is a special initiative at Bread & Roses Community Fund that made one-time $10,000 grants to 50 Black-led grassroots community organizing groups in the Philadelphia region.
We are sad to announce the passing of Linda Richardson, an amazing activist who helped shape Bread & Roses Community Fund for more than four decades. She passed suddenly on November 2.
“Linda was an inspiring leader, activist, and champion for justice,” says executive director Casey Cook. “Her passing is a huge loss for our whole community and she will be missed.”
In 1972, Linda was hired as a co-director of The People’s Fund (the predecessor organization to Bread & Roses) alongside Michael Seltzer. Seltzer recalls that Linda “brought a real commitment to grassroots communities and held relationships with them.” They worked together for several years as co-directors and both went on to serve on the board. “Her determination and passion for all of the Delaware Valley’s community organizing efforts were an inspiration to all who knew her,” Seltzer says. “Decades before the term ‘intersectionality’ took upon currency in today’s political discourse, she incorporated it into her own world view and practice.”
When Linda and Michael came on as co-directors, The People’s Fund was making $12,000 a year in grants to groups like the Black Panthers that were too radical to get funding from traditional philanthropy. They worked together to raise funds and distribute them to grassroots community organizing groups in the region. “She was truly the best colleague that I ever had the privilege to work with in my 50 year-long social justice career,” says Seltzer. “She may also have been the first woman of color in Philadelphia’s history to lead a grantmaking organization. Linda touched so many lives through her activism and leadership. We are all her legacy.”
Throughout the decades to come, Linda remained connected and committed to Bread & Roses as a political home. Denise Brown served as associate director of Bread & Roses from 1998 to 2005 and served on the board from 2007 to 2019. “I had the honor and privilege of working with three generations of Linda’s family,” Brown recounts. Bertha Waters, Linda’s mother, was involved as a volunteer, Linda was a donor and committee member, and Aissia Richardson, Linda’s daughter, served on the board and on the community funding board. “Their commitment was very much a living, breathing thing,” she says. “I personally always felt their support and mentorship.”
Christie Balka, who served as executive director of Bread & Roses from 1997 to 2006, remembers Linda as “an astute political observer and a font of information about the city.” Balka describes Linda’s continued contributions to Bread & Roses during her tenure as executive director: “She advised Bread and Roses staff, referred potential grantees to us, and of course continued to hold Bread and Roses accountable to the needs of the city’s Black community and other communities of color.”
Like Brown, Balka saw Linda as a mentor. “Linda was always available to me for any reason and taught me some enduring lessons about progressive philanthropy and working in coalition with other groups,” she says.
“She was a force,” says Brown. “Linda was strategic, fierce, committed, generous, and loving in the way that she loved her community, she loved Black people, she loved the work that she did. That came across.”
“Linda commanded respect because of her authenticity,” remembers Seltzer. “People followed her wisdom and trusted her.”
Outside of Bread & Roses, Linda was a prolific and tireless organizer. She founded the Black United Fund, Uptown Entertainment & Development Corporation, Uptown Cultural District, and led the fight to save and restore the Uptown Theater.
Elicia Gonzales, Bread & Roses board member and executive director of Women’s Medical Fund, shares a story about Linda’s legacy in today’s organizing. “The Women’s Medical Fund team had the privilege of meeting Linda last year and hearing about her fight for reproductive justice before it was a coined term,” she says. “In the 1970s, she and other Black women organized Triple Jeopardy (named that because they were poor, Black, women) and the fought for full healthcare access, including abortion. Her love of community, art, family, and justice will be her legacy for generations to come. May she rest in power.”
November 21: 74th Birthday Celebration and Memorial Service for Linda Richardson
Linda’s family has shared that they are holding a 74th birthday celebration and memorial service for Linda on Saturday, November 21 from 4pm to 6pm in front of the Uptown Theater at 2240 N. Broad Street. It will also be live-streamed on Facebook.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Uptown Entertainment & Development Corporation at 2227 N. Broad Street, 19132 or online at this link.
We invite you to share your remembrances of Linda’s life and legacy by writing a comment on this post.
Poe became involved with Bread & Roses through the Fall 2018 Immigration Justice Giving Project, which opened the door to her exploration of Philadelphia. We now welcome Poe to the Bread & Roses team as our development manager!
Prior to starting this role, Poe worked with a nonprofit legal aid organization writing and reporting on grants, overseeing compliance aspects of several grants, interacting with funders, and managing various databases. Poe also has a background in student affairs at the undergraduate level supporting first-year students in residential life communities.
Poe believes deeply in the power of youth, community, and resistance in the form of joy. She finds her joy in knitting, puzzling, and caring for her growing collection of plants.
Our executive director Casey Cook recently published an op-ed in WHYY describing the story behind the creation of our Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing. The Solidarity Fund was launched on April 8, 2020 to meet the urgent needs of grassroots community organizing groups that have either been impacted by COVID-19 or are organizing in response to the pandemic.
“The work of grassroots community organizers is critical to ensuring a just and humane response from governments, corporations, and other institutions… This pandemic is a time of historic disruption and pain. If we’re not careful, it could also be a time of historic injustice. Philadelphia’s robust and dedicated network of community organizers will work hard to prevent that — but they need our help.”
At Bread & Roses Community Fund, we believe that grassroots organizing led by communities most affected by injustice is essential to overcoming systems of oppression. Our 2019-2020 Equitable Public Space Giving Project, a partnership with the William Penn Foundation, brought together 18 determined volunteers from across differences of race, class, gender, and age to engage in a transformative process of collective giving, fundraising, grantmaking, and community building.
Over three months, Giving Project members raised $150,000 for grants from 366 donors! The money they raised was matched 2:1 by a generous grant from the William Penn Foundation, and in March 2020, Giving Project members made $450,000 in 2-year grants to 20 grassroots groups using community organizing to promote equitable public space.
The 20 Equitable Public Space Fund grantees are organizing their communities to create equitable public spaces in parks, libraries, recreation centers, greenways, waterways, community gardens, community centers, plazas, and play areas in Philadelphia and Camden.
Soil Generation — $50,000
Soil Generation is expanding their Threatened Gardens Campaign to push forward equitable policies that reduce barriers for people of color and low-income communities to access land and grow food.
Urban Tree Connection — $30,000
Urban Tree Connection is repurposing vacant lots in West Philadelphia’s Haddington neighborhood for communal growing and gathering, sustainable food production and affordable food distribution, and intergenerational health, wellness, and political education.
VietLead — $30,000
Vietlead is growing their intergenerational Resilient Roots Community Farm in Camden by cultivating neighborhood ownership and co-creation, making the farm more publicly accessible, incorporating art and cultural knowledge, and launching a campaign against gentrification.
Asian Americans United — $20,000
Asian Americans United is organizing around Chinatown’s changing public spaces, including protection of the Inch by Inch Garden, educational programming around public space equity, and publishing recommendations for equity in Chinatown.
Black and Brown Workers Cooperative — $20,000
Black and Brown Workers Cooperative is organizing to reclaim land, conducting teach-ins about community land trusts, and bringing art and disruption actions to public spaces.
Coalition of African Communities — $20,000
Coalition of African Communities is expanding access to public parks and libraries for African and Caribbean immigrants by hosting events and trainings in public spaces as well as conducting legislative advocacy campaigns to build more soccer infrastructure.
Cooper Grant Neighborhood Association and Concerned Citizens of North Camden — $20,000
Cooper Grant Neighborhood Association and Concerned Citizens of NorthCamden are working in coalition to expand access to public spaces controlled by Rutgers University Camden by organizing residents, distributing multilingual information, and creating guerilla marketing campaigns.
Healing Communities USA — $20,000
Healing Communities USA is using a restorative justice approach to expand access to public spaces for communities impacted by the criminal legal system.
Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden, an initiative of UC Green — $20,000
Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden, an initiative of UC Green, is amplifying its role in West and Southwest Philadelphia by serving as an accessible and therapeutic community space for events, education and arts.
MOVES — $20,000
MOVES is working to create access to community-controlled spaces in which Black and Brown LGBTQ people can create, critique, explore, enjoy, and perform art.
Mt. Vernon Manor CDC — $20,000
Mt. Vernon Manor CDC is partnering with the Friends of the Mantua Greenway and the Mantua Urban Peace Garden to organize community members, create a succession plan for the older generation of leaders, and steward local green spaces.
National Institute for Healthy Human Spaces — $20,000
National Institute for Healthy Human Spaces is working with the Camden NAACP and Friends of Cooper River Open Space Equity Group to push officials to remediate and open up public spaces that have remained polluted for over 20 years. In Philadelphia, they are working with Native American House Alliance to build awareness of local historic sites and promote open space and land justice.
Norris Square Community Alliance — $20,000
Norris Square Community Alliance is promoting equitable development through their Nuestro Barrio Project, which organizes to secure public ownership of vacant lots that have been used as public spaces for years and to steward these spaces to meet the needs and wants of their community.
One Art Community Center — $20,000
One Art Community Center is increasing community land ownership, expanding accessibility, cultivating educational programming, creating coworking spaces, and building a community kitchen and a library.
Philadelphia Black Pride — $20,000
Philadelphia Black Pride is organizing to make William Way LGBT Community Center more equitable and welcoming to Black LGBTQIA people by hosting events, developing leaders from the Black LGBTQIA community, and increasing the number of Black LGBTQIA people accessing resources and services at William Way.
Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign — $20,000
Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is partnering with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4889 to create a public “free store,” expand their community center hours, create a community farm, and build a labor history and activism library.
Senior to Senior Community Outreach — $20,000
Senior to Senior Community Outreach is expanding
their campaign to address food insecurity in senior communities by
developing a series of forums to discuss accessibility of public spaces
such as community gardens and libraries for seniors.
Spiral Q — $20,000
Spiral Q is claiming public space using art activism in order to center and honor people working against oppression and discrimination and to connect people and movements for change.
Urban Creators — $20,000
Urban Creators is investing in amenities that enable their neighbors to use their 2-acre farm on their own time and terms and establishing a neighborhood marketplace that offers local businesses and entrepreneurs opportunities to generate revenue and develop their businesses.
William Way LGBT Community Center — $20,000
William Way LGBT Community Center is expanding their free and low-cost space-sharing program to specifically meet the needs of people of color, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people.
Interested in joining an upcoming Giving Project at Bread & Roses? Visit our Giving Project page to learn more.
A piece of Bread & Roses history resurfaced recently in an unlikely place — Twitter. It started when Stephanie McKellop, a historian and archivist, found a cookbook at a flea market in West Philadelphia. It was called “The People’s Philadelphia Cookbook” and it had been published in 1976 by The People’s Fund, the predecessor to Bread & Roses. The cookbooks had been sold for $5 each to raise funds that would go to grassroots organizing for racial, social, and economic justice.
McKellop and her partner, David Ryskalczyk, carefully deconstructed the book’s binding, scanned every page, and put it back together. McKellop released the digitized version on Twitter to an enthusiastic response.
It’s a record of an optimistic era, when activists believed that the elimination of racism, homophobia, and capitalism was just around the corner. While the revolution would not be televised, it would certainly be well-fed.
You can explore the full cookbook below or at archive.org.